The Mysterious Stone Head of Guatemala: A Case Study in Willful Ignorance and Deception
Last week meditation instructor and ancient astronaut theorist April Holloway posted on Ancient Origins, a fringe history website, an article suggesting that historians and archaeologists are working to suppress the truth about a large stone face allegedly discovered in rural Guatemala in the 1950s. According to Holloway, the stone face had “Caucasian features” and thus implied the presence of a lost white civilization that predates the Maya and the Olmec.
The stone head of Guatemala is a largely apocryphal artifact, something that doesn’t have a firm existence outside fringe literature. The story begins in 1987 when a lawyer named Oscar Rafael Padilla Lara, a well-known ufologist and conspiracy theorist—he’s the author of the Enciclopedia ufológica de Guatemala (1999)—published in what was then the Ancient Astronaut Society newsletter Ancient Skies an article about the stone head. According to his article, the previous year he had received a photograph of a large stone head taken by a Guatemalan landowner who died before revealing the location of the head.
Of course he dropped dead. Isn’t that always the way?
The photograph was allegedly taken in the 1950s and is reproduced below.
Somehow, even though the story went that the photographer had died before revealing the location of the head, Padilla later began claiming that he knew exactly where it was located, near the town of La Democracia. According to Padilla, he spent fifteen years searching for the statue only to find it sometime around 1990. (His timeline does not quite square with other published accounts.) He did not, however, provide any documentation of the site to professional archaeologists, nor did he provide any additional photographs of the site.
David Hatcher Childress saw the article in Ancient Skies and obtained a copy of the photograph from Padilla, and he flew to Guatemala to meet with Padilla sometime before 1991. Childress pressed Padilla for details about the location of the stone head. Wouldn’t you know it, it conveniently ceased to exist when Childress wanted to see it. As Childress reported in 1991 in World Explorer vol. 1, issue 1 (reprinted a year later in Lost Cities of North and Central America), when he asked Padilla about his discovery, Padilla reported that the statue had been destroyed in 1981 when revolutionaries used the statue for target practice, and they “totally disfigured it.”
Oddly enough, later fringe writers would claim the face still exists.
Padilla, of course, failed to photograph the destruction or report the site to archaeological authorities who could still have excavated beneath and around the monument, in theory, to determine its age and origin—if it existed. When Childress asked to see the site, Padilla pointed to a spot on the map and then refused to accompany him to the site. That location was La Democracia, a small town famous for its Olmec-style stone heads, which, from an angle, bear a decent resemblance to the alleged giant head. They are typically attributed to the Monte Alto culture and are conventionally dated to 1800 BCE.
Obviously, though, these stone heads are much cruder than the giant head. Childress claims that they cannot be related to the giant head because the La Democracia heads are “Negroid” while the giant head is “Caucasian.” (In discussing this he also went off on a tangent about how he became “fascinated” that the Mayan homeland of Tulan sounds like “Thule” which raises the “bizarre” question, he said, of whether Hitler and the Nazis were onto something in speculating about a Caucasian Master Race colonizing the New World.)
Childress viewed some of the various Monte Alto statues: “The varied racial nature of the different statues, everything from Negroid heads, Asiatic types and bearded Mediterraneans seemed to be in evidence here.” The Olmec heads and their imitators in La Democracia depict actual Native people of Mexico, and the features seen on those heads can be seen in the people of the region to this day. Claims that the heads depict “Negroid” people are the remnants of Victorian racial theories, and they derive from nineteenth century claims that a lost white race ruled Mexico and had imported Africans to rule over the savage Natives.
But let’s not tar Childress unfairly. He dutifully reports that American archaeologist Lee A. Parsons solved the mystery of the stone head in question long before Padilla received his mysterious photograph of it. In 1991 Childress didn’t know the source of Parsons’ article, but I do: “A Pseudo Pre-Columbian Colossal Stone Head on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala,” Proceedings of the International Congress of Americanists (41st session, Mexico, 1974) vol. 1, pp. 519-521.
The head had been carved from soft volcanic pumice by a farm administrator near Las Victorias in April of 1936, possibly modeled on the colossal heads of Easter Island or Mount Rushmore. It was meant as a monument to his deceased wife and marked with a plaque bearing the date of construction. (Childress thinks the face too mannish to be a woman.) The Carnegie Institution reconnaissance survey of 1941-1942 visited the statue and found the plaque (visible in survey photos viewed by Parsons), and even met with people who had seen it carved, but when Parsons visited the site in 1970 (as he reported in 1974), the head lacked its plaque and was covered in vines. It had already eroded due to the wet climate and soft, porous nature of the volcanic rick. An intermediate stage is clearly visible in Padilla’s photo, which includes some vines. (Though, for all I know, the Padilla photo is actually one of the 1941 photographs.)
Parsons’ description of the statue is an exact match for Padilla’s photograph, and most later writers admit they are one and the same. In fact, Parsons, in writing up the head, specifically warned about the potential for confusing the monument for an ancient site:
Whatever the inspiration, its very existence could confound future archaeologists and lead to unwarranted explanations of transpacific contact or even mysterious Pre-Columbian megalithic complexes. Anticipating such interpretations, I have titled this paper a ‘pseudo’ Pre-Columbian colossal stone head, actually there was no intention whatsoever to defraud, but through the years the sculpture has become increasingly difficult to identify. Therefore, it is here recorded that the Las Victorias stone head is recent, having been carved in 1936. Further it has no meaningful relationship to any American Indian, living or dead. I regret that I am unable to supply the name of the Guatemalan for whom the monument is a true modern memorial.
Does it surprise anyone that none of Childress’s successors read this far in his discussion?
Childress himself doubted Parsons’ conclusions and speculated that Parsons (labeled as one of the “so-called ‘experts’”) was part of a “big cover-up.” He speculated that the Guatemalan farm administrator merely claimed a monument of a lost white culture for his own and added a plaque to a preexisting sculpture. He failed to note that the geology of pumice made it impossible for the statue to be fabulously old; it was already eroding into a shapeless blob by 1970, and had fallen completely to pieces by 1990 (probably more likely than the target practice story, which even Padilla likened to the story of Napoleon and the Sphinx on which it may have been modeled). Instead, Childress called it incredible that Guatemalans of 1941 could not remember who had carved the head five years earlier. But here he purposely misreads Parsons’ article: Parsons said that one of the Americans who visited in 1941, A. Ledyard Smith, could not remember in 1970 the name of the farm administrator or his wife, not that no one ever knew it. And why should he remember thirty years later? Being new, the head was irrelevant to the 1941-1942 survey, a mere roadside attraction; it would be like asking a road crew to recall who operated the World’s Largest Ball of Twine roadside attraction three decades ago. That the local people of 1990 did not remember is hardly surprising; five decades and a major revolutionary civil war had intervened.
Nevertheless, Childress suggests a cover-up and a lost white civilization without ever actually visiting the site (something many later summarizers fail to realize thanks to his circuitous style of writing) and without ever stating anything definitive. He concludes his account by telling readers how he spent a chaste night with a revolver and a Guatemalan woman as “wild and unpredictable” as Guatemala itself.
So ends Childress’s involvement.
The story would have stopped there, but the late Philip Coppens decided to write an article about the site, and he simply cherry-picked Childress’s unusually honest reporting, leaving out any archaeological doubt about the site’s antiquity. Instead, he provided a false choice: “The next question is therefore whether the Padilla head is an anomaly of the Olmec period, or whether it is part of another – unknown – culture that predated or post-dated the Olmecs, and whose only artefact identified so far is the Padilla head.” That it is neither did not cross his mind, and in his typically circuitous way of saying nothing while seeming to say everything, he hinted that the head could reveal a lost civilization buried underground, and he claimed to have fairly summarized Childress’s account, all while leaving out key pieces of evidence.
This wasn’t enough, of course. In 2011, the son of the late actor Raul Julia, Raul Julia-Levy, used the old picture of the Las Victorias head as “proof” of aliens in the run up to the 2012 Maya Apocalypse. Now, however, the same photograph first described in the 1987 Ancient Skies was no longer claimed to be from the 1950s but from the 1930s, and Julia-Levy said he had an endorsement from an archaeologist that the head—which you will recall was carved from pumice in 1936—dated to between 3500 and 5000 BCE. According to a letter said to have been written by the archaeologist, the carving was so advanced that only a super-civilization (“una civilización extraordinaria y superior”) could have carved it. The letter has the archaeologist say (as I translate it):
I certify that this monument presents no feature of Maya, Nahuatl, Olmec or any pre-Hispanic civilization. The building style is not consistent with the civilizations that inhabited the southern coast of Guatemala prior to the arrival of the Spaniards.
As if the idea of an archaeologist certifying a site as non-native were not weird enough, ridiculously, the letter makes the archaeologist say he determined all of this solely from Oscar Rafael Padilla Lana’s photograph. Nevertheless, media sources reproduced the claims, often uncritically, throughout late 2011 and early 2012.
This “revelation” was to be included as part of Julia-Levy’s film Revelations of the Mayans: 2012 and Beyond, which claimed to have archaeological proof from the Mexican government of extraterrestrial contact with the Mayans—what Julia-Levy called “every archaeologist’s nightmare.” The project fell apart over a contract dispute, with the arbitrator called in to adjudicate the dispute revealing that there was no government evidence or cooperation and that the film’s evidence had been falsified.
The archaeologist said to have supported Julia-Levy’s claims, Hector E. Mejía of Guatemala, posted on Facebook that the typed, photocopied letter circulated by Julia-Levy claiming a date for the head, which he had never examined in person, had been altered. He instead thought the photo a fake. This matches the arbitrator’s revelation that the archaeological evidence in the film had been faked.
Despite all of these facts being relatively easy to find, April Holloway resurrected the story last week and simply accepts Philip Coppens’ version of the story at face value and chides Julia-Levy for casting doubt on the story with is botched documentary!
Note carefully: The actual facts of the story were known in 1942 and confirmed in 1974 by the only witnesses (Parsons and Smith) to have actually visited the site before writing about it. The “mystery” was invented out of whole cloth in 1987 by a ufologist looking for ancient astronauts and by Philip Coppens, who purposely ignored facts even David Childress was honest enough to include. But because Childress wrote books (with multiple pages—the discussion of Parsons comes most of a chapter after the “mystery” is introduced) locked away in the real world and Coppens posted online where Google could quickly return his text pretending to fairly summarize Childress, only one version became canonical fringe history.
12/17/2013 07:23:56 am
I do love how Childress doesn't seem to find anything at all odd about the fact that so many of his informants refuse to give specific locations. Why would someone promoting this as a truly ancient artifact refuse to give Childress the exact location? What possible motive could they have to hide it?
6/23/2020 02:18:58 am
Because of the revolution happening at that time in Guatemala, it was too dangerous, and anything a Guatemalan did was taken as rebellion
12/17/2013 07:37:11 am
12/17/2013 08:11:40 am
Oddly enough, Childress actually did go to Guatemala and viewed artifacts in the area around the head. He just didn't go to the stone head for whatever reason, at least so far as I can make out from his convoluted storytelling. You'd think any of these authors might have wanted to take a picture of the site; even in ruins, if ancient it would have still been important.
12/17/2013 06:05:54 pm
12/17/2013 07:43:20 am
"I certify that this monument presents no feature of Maya, Nahuatl, Olmec or any pre-Hispanic civilization. The building style is not consistent with the civilizations that inhabited the southern coast of Guatemala prior to the arrival of the Spaniards.
12/17/2013 07:45:16 am
I meant, "I don't know what's so questionable about this."
12/17/2013 05:39:18 pm
12/17/2013 06:31:53 pm
But here's the catch..the aliens are white too.lol
12/18/2013 01:36:12 pm
Yes, I remember that throughout the 50s till the 70s, most "contactees" reported that the extra-terrestrials were virtually indistinguishable from Caucasians. Most of these contacts happened right here on Earth. It wasn't until the introduction of the Greys simultaneously with abductions, that suddenly, there were several extra-terrestrial species making our planet their favorite stop-over.
3/2/2014 07:54:51 am
i agree with most of your knowlegde of the statues background the nordics and the mayans were very much alike in both cultures they practice human sacrifice the belief in many gods both war like and possed knowledge of navigation to as well so yes its very pissble that aliens back in ancient times mated with humans and produce demi gods which give ideas to giants white bearded god threw south central and american south west u can see storys of white gods i dont think they were what we think of caucasun i think they were more of an earlier stage of human hybrid cause no normal size human in the ancient times know how to either cut or transport a stone of that magnatude
1/17/2014 07:26:50 am
This photo has really taken off after the ancient astronaut blog posted about it. As the world increases in complexity it is increasingly difficult for ordinary folks looking at photos on Facebook to tell truth from falsehood.
3/2/2014 09:02:54 am
there also another subject that sorta falls into the giant heads to is the caves in the grand canyon egyptain and budhist artifacts mummys were found casue mayans had tombs and i notice the stone head in the picture shows the facial feautures u see in egypt the vegatiation on the statue also show it must have been ther for a couple hundred years to grown that high on the statue cause alot of the mayan structure had the same thing when the spanish came it depicks that in there drawing that cortez made a couple of his men do to send back to spain
7/6/2016 12:21:23 pm
Hey Uriel, try reading the damn article (I'm assuming you can read, although you can barely write).
4/21/2014 06:58:39 pm
nice post thanks for sharing this
11/24/2014 07:07:06 pm
You should better ask Padilla, instead of affirming thing you bearly know!
5/14/2015 09:03:52 am
Thanks for taking the time to write this up!
6/2/2015 08:16:05 pm
Peten, where this statue supposedly is, is in The North...not The South, huge difference if you happen to know anything about Guatemala.
11/21/2015 12:25:19 am
To anyone interested in reading the Ancient Skies article on the Stone Head of Guatemala, it can be found here: http://pdfsr.com/pdf/ancient-skies-newsletter-march-april-1987-1
6/9/2017 05:06:20 am
It matters not to me whether it was made 7000 years ago or last Tuesday; I still think things like this are neat.
6/27/2018 10:50:32 pm
Soooo, where's the other pics?
11/8/2018 05:36:36 pm
Here — https://imgur.com/a/ZJOAvlG — Scan of page 520; Actas del XLI Congeso Internacional de Americanista; Mexico 1975; Vol. 1
6/14/2020 02:33:17 pm
Outstanding article, debunking this “mystery”. Childress may be fun to watch on tv, but you can’t take anything he says very seriously. His stuff is chewing gum for the mind - it tastes good in the moment, but eventually you must spit it out.
7/19/2020 04:03:11 pm
Thank you for exposing the blatant racism inherent in the Ancient Astronaut theory. I am so tired of insecure white guys giving extraterrestrials THEIR features so they can feel special. It detracts from the ancient history of many non-white cultures, promotes the lame ass lie of whites as saviors and even worse, makes ancient brown and black people look savage and incapable of many of the great feats they were 100% capable of doing. And did without help from white space guys. It’s played out. Childress is on my shit list.
6/22/2022 03:22:53 am
Yeah I forgot the Wakandans made all civilization.
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