You probably saw the news that broke yesterday that a new paper in the journal Nature claims that an unknown human species occupied the Americas around 130,000 years ago and butchered a mastodon found in California with large rocks. The study used uranium-thorium dating to date the bones, which were originally discovered 25 years ago, and the team conducting the study used experimental techniques involving rocks and elephant bones to attempt to prove that the damage to the mastodon’s bones had been caused by intention butchering with stone tools.
This is exceptionally shocking because our species is not believed to have left Africa before 120,000 years ago, meaning that the species using the tools must have been a different member of the genus Homo—or possibly a nonhuman species that had learned to bang rocks.
No hominin bones were found at the site, nor any other signs of human or pre-human occupation.
I don’t really have much to add to this because it’s way beyond my area of expertise. National Geographic noted that many experts are unwilling to accept the claims without more evidence. Overnight, more news outlets ran reports raising questions about the claims. Several experts unconvinced that the rocks found near the mastodon are actually stone tools. As National Geographic reported:
For one, the paper doesn’t satisfyingly rule out the possibility that natural processes carried the large rocks to the scene, says Vanderbilt University archaeologist Tom Dillehay. Nor does it fully rule out the possibility that the wear patterns on the stones were a result of rocks bumping against one another in a stream, he says.
Dillehay is one of the archaeologists who worked at Monte Verde, one of the most important pre-Clovis sites in the Americas. He is no stranger to breaking paradigms. My sense, for what it’s worth, is that this story will follow the trajectory of most major stories. The initial claim will be found to be overstated, and further research will either find that the uranium-thorium date was thrown off by unsuspected errors or contamination, or the stone tools aren’t actually tools. Nevertheless, it is interesting to consider whether the findings could be true, and however it shakes out the fact of the matter is that the findings received publication in a major journal and were reported around the world in the news, and therefore if nothing else serve as evidence that the scientific establishment isn’t trying to suppress the “truth.”
Vedic Settlement in the White City?
Meanwhile, in a different archaeological controversy, a Hindu supremacist website called Detechter ran a story claiming that the so-called White City of Honduras is actually a Vedic Indian settlement. Regular readers will recall that a team of adventurers and filmmakers claimed that an archaeological site they explored in Honduras is actually La Ciudad Blanca, a legendary lost city of white buildings and white walls whose story was first recorded in the twentieth century. The modern legend of the White City became conflated in the 1940s with a completely fictitious “Lost City of the Monkey God” first reported by Theodore Morde in 1939. Morde had claimed to have found a walled city with statues of a monkey god resembling the Hindu deity Hanuman. According to his journals, he never found any city and had made up the story for publicity.
The article in Detechter simply accepts that Morde’s city is La Ciudad Blanca and that both are the same city that the filmmakers explored, even though the archaeological site promoted today as La Ciudad Blanca lacks the massive stone structures and white walls visible from the air that characterize the (fake) reports of the city in the past. Consequently, the writer concludes that Morde’s comparison to Hanuman refer to an actual Vedic settlement in Honduras. The writer then adds this howler:
In the Ramayana, Kishkinda Kanda tells the story about the Trident of Peru in South America, and also about Yuddha Kanda, a war episode where Hanuman travels to Paatala Loka, somewhere in Central America and Brazil, trying to meet his son Makaradhwaja, who resembled him.
This is a bizarre claim. Many of you will recall that in Peru there is a large geoglyph called the Paracas Candelabra, dating to about 200 BCE and likely representing the lightning-trident of Viracocha. However, for the past two decades or so, Hindu extremists have claimed that the trident is actually inspired by the Ramayana, an ancient Hindu epic, in discussing the Kishkindha, a monkey-kingdom. The relevant passage occurs in Book 4, chapter 40, and is a rather big stretch:
A triple-headed palm of gold--
This is the “evidence” for the Paracas Candelabras in the Ramayana. The claim is part of an elaborate Hindu extremist reading of the Ramayana in which the epic’s mythical geography has been transposed onto the entire globe, with little more than wishful thinking and a political agenda to attribute all world cultures, from Australia to the Andes to the Aegean, to Vedic origins. I’ve found references to this claim going back at least to 1996, but I am not sure where it originated.
Ancient Aliens Again
And this is the reason that I wasn’t too happy with Jason Wright’s speculative article on how to look for ancient aliens in our solar system. USA Today completely misunderstood the hypothetical nature of Wright’s paper and produced this video alleging that Wright actually claimed that these ancient astronauts really existed, and they mistook to the article for an academic case for a lost alien civilization a billion years ago. Watch for it on Ancient Aliens any week now.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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