Archaeological Forgeries

…and forgeries palæontological, anthropological, historical, et cetera

“None of the experts who have scrutinized the specimens and the gravel pit and its surroundings has doubted the genuineness of the discovery.”

— William Gregory, in Natural History reporting on the Piltdown Man fossils

There’s really no big secret to Archæological Forgeries. If you dig up something that looks old and obscure, you can tell all sorts of stories about it and people will believe you — if you have the trappings of authority (and sometimes even if you don’t).

Of the many petrified people who have (been) turned up over the years, the granddaddy of them all is the famous 3,000-pound hunk of gypsum known as the Cardiff Giant.

My favorite part of the story is when P.T. Barnum fails to obtain the rights to display this fake prehistoric fossilized giant in his museum, so he has his own version carved and displays it as the original!

More sophisticated, but in the same vein, was the “Piltdown Man.” A fossil skull “discovered” in Britain (actually fabricated from a human braincase and a chimp jaw) was believed to be the missing link that would support the then-current theories about the origin of humanity. The scientific establishment welcomed Piltdown Man into the family tree of our species, and it took forty years to uncover the hoax and to start correcting the textbooks. The responsible party never confessed and remains unknown, although everyone seems to have a pet theory.

One of Japan’s most accomplished archæologists, Shinichi Fujimura, was recently caught on film planting relics in the pre-dawn hours. A lot of cherished Japanese archæological dogma now must be reëvaluated.

More recently, the University of Frankfort’s Professor Reiner Protsch von Zieten got caught making up his data on the age of Neanderthal skulls. “‘Anthropology is going to have to completely revise its picture of modern man between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago,’ said Thomas Terberger, the archaeologist who discovered the hoax.”

The Vinland Map (which allegedly proves that the Norse had discovered America long before that Columbus fellow), the runeful Kensington Stone, and the plate of brass planted by the Clampers that places Sir Francis Drake on the Pacific coast of North America are a few fine examples of pickled relics.

The Kelsey Museum of Archeology has put together a nice collection of fake phæronic antiquities in an on-line exhibit called The Art of the Fake and The Fakebusters show you how it’s done.

Dr. Hohann Beringer had a feeling that God had manufactured fossils just to use up excess creative energy (in opposition to the more accepted view nowadays, that they are the impressions of long-dead creatures). He was amusingly willing to theorize about any carved up rock that was planted at his digs, which gave the grad students in his crews something to do with their excess creative energy. The wonderful Beringer’s Stones included impressions of “Hebrew characters, [and] the figures of a winged dragon.”

That reminds me of the fascinating fossils of Homo sapiens miniorientalis that were discovered by Chonosuke Okamura.

When allegedly historical artifacts are also religious relics, things get turned up a notch or two and you end up with such phenomena as the discovery of Noah’s Ark, and the endless ballyhoo surrounding the Shroud of Turin.

Don’t get me started about the mountain of bullshit that has been piled higher than Mount Ararat in an attempt to “scientifically” prove the version of divine creation found in Hebrew mythology. It’s not polite to make fun of the mentally ill, and it’s especially unwise when they outnumber you.

Joseph Smith was probably not the first person to invent an archæology in order to found a religion, but his Book of Mormon takes the cake wherever cake is served, spawning counter-hoaxes in the form of the Kinderhook Plates and so forth, and ongoing attempts to shore up the original story with further pseudoarchæology.

More recently, an ancient ossuary was discovered that allegedly once contained the remains of “Jacob son of Joseph brother of Jesus” according to the (faked) inscription.

Oh, and did you hear the one about the Mandelbrot Monk?

Grins to the folks at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, who created an exhibit called “The Centaur Excavations at Volos” complete with a centaur skeleton from the excavation. For more on invented creatures and monsters and aliens and such, check out our pages on Cryptozoölogy.

And you can learn more about the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and other hoaxes of that ilk on our Literary Forgeries page.

The Piltdown Man
The Piltdown Man

The Cardiff Giant
The Cardiff Giant

One of Beringer's Stones
One of Beringer's Stones

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On This Day in SniggleryJune 25, 2001: Michael Kinsley, editor of Slate, finally admits that the magazine’s report on the bizarre sport of monkey fishing was “willful inaccuracy.” (See News Trolls for more info)