Return of the Red-Headed Cone-Heads: A Review of "Elongated Skulls of Peru and Bolivia" by Brien Foerster
Today I’d like to start with a look at fringe history tour guide Brien Foerster’s new self-published book, Elongated Skulls of Peru and Bolivia: The Path of Viracocha (2015), released on March 19. I am reading the book as an epub file on Adobe Digital Editions, and I will do my best, but in places the pictures cover parts of the text and it’s a bit hard to follow some of the text because there are no paragraph breaks or indenting to separate paragraphs. The writing is also terribly dull, as Foerster attempts to ape academic writing by referring to himself in the third person (“the author”) and presenting his text in pseudo-academic prose.
(Disclosure: Last year Foerster accused me of libel for taking him at his word that he was exporting fragments of Tiwanaku and Puma Punku from South America to the United States without the required export license needed to send pre-Columbian material to the United States. Foerster admitted to collecting samples of the site’s stonework from “outside the fenced area” at Tiwanaku but did not provide evidence of having a permit or an export license.)
In the introduction, Foerster explains the process of artificial cranial deformation, which he calls ACD, done by head-binding and found worldwide. The text could use a good editor since it is repetitive, but Foerster provides a fairly standard list of ancient cultures that practiced head-binding. This material is drawn from standard sources and, aside from accepting some older claims at face value, is nothing exceptional. Foerster moves into the Americas and discusses head-binding in Peru, the artificial nature of which he can’t deny since Garcilaso de la Vega described it being done. Foerster provides no specific references, but I will. It appear in Royal Commentaries of the Incas at 5.5:
The Palta Indians distinguished themselves from their neighbours by flattening their heads. When a child was born they put a small board on its forehead and another on the back of its head, and tightened them a little each day, the child being always on its back. They did not take the boards off until the child was three years old. Their heads became very ugly, and it became the custom to call any Indian, who had a head flatter than usual, Palta-uma or “Palta head”, as a term of opprobrium. (tans. Sir Clements Markham)
However, Foerster has a vested interest in seeking out a mystery where none might appear to exist, so he doesn’t present this text lest we learn that, at least in the colonial era, elongated skulls weren’t considered divine but hideous among most Peruvians—the practice of weird rustics. He also declares it “doubtful” that the practice originated in one place in Peru and spread outward to other cultures. Instead, he’d like us to believe that many elongated skulls are wrongly associated with various Peruvian cultures because they haven’t been carbon dated.
In chapter 2 (the introduction does double duty as chapter 1), Foerster begins to show his fringe face. He notes that elongated skulls are often found near stone constructions, and he then asserts that while it is “logical” to assume that the stone constructions are associated with the pottery found in and around them he nevertheless would like to entertain the idea that megalithic stone walls may be so old “that the archaeologists have not dug deep enough to take the possibility of a greater antiquity into account.” He asserts that archaeologists are wrong to use material taken from “shallow” excavations to date Tiwanaku and other South American sites, whose cultural affiliations he doubts. Instead, they need to dig much deeper, presumably beneath the actual layers that contain the foundations of the structures, to find his presumed lost civilization.
In chapter 3, Foerster tells the myth of Viracocha, summarizing it from various Spanish accounts and standard sources, to which he adds no insight. In chapter 4, he describes the Inca road system and the earlier roads from the cultures that preceded them. So far, this has nothing to do with elongated skulls. In chapter 5 he tries to make this make sense by claiming that the roads connect places associated with elongated skulls. Or, as we might more logically assume, places where people lived. Foerster calls this connection between the roads, the so-called “path of Viracocha,” and elongated skulls as “pattern.” Yes, the pattern that roads connect places where people live. The chapter stops after asking why the Chinchorro people were the first to elongate their skulls.
The next few chapters take readers on a superficial tour of various elongated skull sites. Foerster presents the scientific consensus for their dates and adds that “some estimates, largely unsubstantiated by scientific data” make them many thousands of years older. Following this, Foerster surveys Tiwanaku, where he implies that Native Americans can’t grow beards and mustaches, so the statue found there with facial hair implies a non-Native origin. He also claims that archaeology refuses to investigate Puma Punku’s true age. Otherwise, his overview is rote and fairly standard until he begins inveighing against archaeologists for not radiocarbon dating the elongated skulls found in the area, and for proposing that the Tiwanaku culture moved the stones for the sites using the same types of methods that the Inca were later seen to deploy during Spanish colonial times. He particularly dislikes the suggestion that stone blocks were floated across Lake Titicaca on boats: “This idea is simply ludicrous, and to the author’s knowledge has never been tested in the field, even with scale models.” Foerster argues that the Puma Punku stones are too perfect to have been made by “primitive” Native people, and he accepts Arthur Posnansky’s astronomical re-dating of the site to 15,000 BCE based on incoherent assumptions about the subterranean temple at Tiwanaku.
In trying to make the case for a lost culture, Foerster presents this little gem:
According to the chronicles of one of the first of the Spanish conquistadors to venture into this area in the early 1600s, Garcia de la Vega asked the Inca residents of Tiwanaku at that time if they had built the stone structures. The response was laughter, followed by statements that it was the Viracochas who had done the work, thousands of years before the Inca existed.
Try again. Garcilaso (not, as he mistakenly writes, Garcia) de la Vega was not a conquistador—he was half-Incan, as, weirdly, Foerster himself notes later. He lived a century after the Conquest, and he was actually quoting Pedro de Cieza de Leon from the Chronicle of Peru 1.105:
I asked the natives, in presence of Juan de Varagas (who holds them in encomienda), whether these edifices were built in the time of the Yncas, and they laughed at the question, affirming that they were made before the Yncas ever reigned, but that they could not say who made them. They added that they had heard from their fathers that all we saw was done in one night. (trans. Clements Markham)
Garcilaso de la Vega quotes this in Royal Commentaries of the Incas 3.1, adding that a priest told them that for their sins the Tiwanaku people were turned into statues. Foerster, who claims to be an expert on Peruvian prehistory, really ought to know the texts he claims to paraphrase—and misstates by attributing to the text Viracochas who don’t appear in the original.
The next few chapters review various archaeological sites and try to make the case that older structures are more perfectly constructed than later ones, implying a lost civilization. Working with Giza Power Plant fantasist Chris Dunn and fringe geologist Robert Schoch, Foerster determines that some structures were “tuned” to the note A-sharp, which causes them to amplify the sound, to no known purpose. In chapter 13, he asserts that the ancient Huayqui skeleton “stunned” doctors, nurses, and dentists (?) because the elongated skull seems disproportionately large in comparison to the body, an effect caused by the elongation of a toddler’s skull early in life, and apparently not terribly long before her death. Foerster has previously used this skeleton as tourist bait for his Nephilim-Aliens-Other Species tours of Peru, and it was featured on the Science Channel’s Unexplained Files (also with Foerster), where scientists explained that the cranial deformation created the unusual effect. Foerster believes the skull to represent an extinct species of hominid, the evidence for which he saves for later.
In the next chapter, Foerster repeats his summary of Garcilaso de la Vega’s passage about skull deformation, but he misunderstands it and assumes it applies Inca royalty and not to one particular and ostracized tribe. He therefore cites it as support for his view that the Inca were ruled by royalty with elongated skulls mimicking a lost species of cone-headed humans. He asserts that these god kings were also white and red-headed, citing a gigantology website and confusing Francisco Pizarro for Pedro Pizarro, the author who wrote in the Relation of the Discovery and Conquest of the Kingdoms of Peru that the Chachapoya were “as white as Spaniards” and had “light colored” hair. He also falsely asserts that the text claims that these white Aryan superheroes were “the last of the Viracocha.”
At this point, as the book begins to move toward its end, I was getting bored reading essentially the same thing over and over again for each new site on Foerster’s itinerary across Bolivia and Peru. He refuses to believe “primitive” people could move large rocks but that, thanks to trepanning, they were somehow genius enough to devise medical interventions. He believes skull elongation was due to an attempt to mimic a lost species.
Finally, we come to the private Paracas museum where Foerster serves as assistant director. He discusses the Paracas culture to no great interest and then offers observations on the elongated skulls at his museum and the government-run museum in Ica. Of special interest is Foerster’s revision of his earlier positions on aliens, Nephilim, and other weird claims. In what is a transparent bid to become more mainstream than his current image as “that guy from Ancient Aliens,” he attacked both the Nephilim and ancient astronaut theories:
One in particular has been viewed, at least digitally around the world, and has been mislabelled as being Nephilim, Anunnaki, alien or alien/human hybrid. As it has never been radiocarbon or DNA tested, such claims are based on ignorance and sensationalism. […] As both the Nephilim and Anunnaki are subjects pertaining to the Middle East, no rational evidence has been presented to the author that they ever existed as well in Peru.
Instead, Foerster promotes his own brand of fringe theory. He argues that because some Paracas skulls display an unusual (but not unprecedented) deformation in the sagittal sutures that crisscross the skull and mark where the bones of the skull fused, that therefore these skulls represent a unique species of cone-heads who colonized Peru for its fish. His ideas about this were referenced on In Search of Aliens last year, and he appears to be quite sore that Giorgio Tsoukalos and Foerster’s erstwhile writing partner, David Childress, declared the skull alien rather than hominid. After some largely irrelevant discussion of climate change and Nazca, Foerster asserts that many South American mummies have red hair and therefore came from European or Near Eastern stock. He doesn’t seem to consider that after death dark hair fades to brown or red over time due to the decay of pigments. As a result he declares that royal cone-heads were white-skinned redheads.
Foerster concludes with a quotations from an 1854 (!) book on Peru that asserted, wrongly, that based in part on phrenology (!!) there was once a naturally cone-headed race in Peru and proceeded to try to prove it by citing a fetus with an elongated skull. Bad Archaeology explained that the drawing Foerster uses from the book is in fact a normal human fetus.
The Elongated Skulls of Peru and Bolivia isn’t much of a book (it runs 106 pages, with very generous space given to photos and maps), and it lacks such things as a coherent narrative, a purpose, or a main idea. As an argument, it offers little in terms of evidence and support for claims Foerster never really gets around to stating clearly. As a travel guide for his tour groups, it is useless because it offers little to nothing in terms of travel information. As a travelogue, it is a failure because the author discusses nothing of himself except to praise his own insight. I can’t quite figure who would want to read essentially a series of twenty-two encyclopedia-style blog posts arranged geographically and connected only by the thin and largely unsupported tissue of Foerster’s belief in a lost race of red-haired cone-head fishermen.
The book, though, serves in one sense as part of Foerster’s rehabilitation tour. After his involvement with Lloyd Pye and his participation in various ancient astronaut, Atlantean, and Nephilim hypotheses, he is obviously trying for more mainstream credibility. Witness his recent appearances on the Science Channel and last month on Expedition Unknown. Yet the bottom line that he can try to hide by aping the third-person constructions and dullness of academic prose remains unchanged: He’s proposing a lost race of white-skinned, red-haired cone-heads from Europe who were a separate species from brown-skinned Natives and ruled over South America as living gods and built all of the continent’s ancient wonders. No amount of image rehabilitation is going to change the fact that a really white guy from the U.S. went carpet-bagging in Peru and declared that all of the indigenous wonders were “really” the work of a lost white race of Europeans, even if this time they’re a separate and superior species.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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