Hoax Archive: Time Periods
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Rogue Archaeology (1866-1913)
The Calaveras Skull, 1866 (February 1866)On February 25, 1866, workers found a human skull buried deep inside a mine on Bald Mountain in Calaveras County, California. The skull was located 130 feet below the surface, beneath a layer of lava. The owner of the mine gave the skull to a merchant who in turn passed it on to a local physician until it eventually found its way into the possession of J.D. Whitney, the State Geologist of California and Professor of Geology at Harvard University. Whitney determined that the skull was evidence of the existence of Pliocene age man in North America. This made it the oldest known record of human existence in North America. It also suggested that humans had lived in the Americas far longer than previously thought, perhaps as long as they had lived in Europe.
However, the authenticity of the skull was challenged by other scholars. What ensued was a long controversy between those who insisted the skull had been planted at the mine, and those who insisted it was a genuine find.
It took many years before the skull was decisively determined to be a fake. The skull was simply too modern in character to be from the Pliocene age. In addition, the sediment attached to it was not from the mine deposit, indicating it had been planted. It is not known who planted the skull, but the fraud may have been perpetrated by miners playing a practical joke. More→
The Holly Oak Pendant, 1889 (1889)In 1889 Hilborne T. Cresson, an archaeological assistant at Harvard's Peabody Museum, announced he had discovered a prehistoric seashell pendant that bore an engraving of a woolly mammoth. He said he had found it in a peat and forest layer near the Holly Oak railway station in northern Delaware. The pendant was an important find, since it suggested that prehistoric man must have been present in the Americas at the time when woolly mammoths still existed, tens of thousands of years ago. However, the pendant was almost immediately suspected of being fake. More→
The Piltdown Man, 1912 (1912)In 1912 amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson unearthed a skull and jawbone from a gravel pit near Piltdown, England. The skull was unmistakably human, whereas the jaw appeared to be from an ape, but their proximity within the pit suggested they came from the same creature. The discovery was believed to be of great significance. The fossil was possibly the long-sought missing link between man and ape. For almost forty years the authenticity of the Piltdown fossil remained unquestioned. But in 1953 researchers at the British Museum took a closer look and realized the fossil was a fake. The skull belonged to a prehistoric human, but the jawbone (stained brown to make it appear older) came from a modern orangutan. More→
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