(Originally published in Gnosis Magazine #35, Spring 1995.)

Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race

by Michael Cremo and Richard L. Thompson.

Govardan Hill Publishing, distributed by the Bhaktivedanta Institute, P.O. Box 99584, San Diego, CA 92169, 1993; 914 pp., $39.95.

Reviewed by Jay Cornell

All cultures have myths of human origins, but it was Darwin who turned the topic into the hottest science vs. church conflict since the days of Galileo. After all, if finches evolved, then why not humans? Thus began a scientific race to find evidence of human evolution, and a controversy that continues to this day. Adding fuel to the fire is the rarity of hominid fossils, and the fact that no one can really "test" a process that takes millions of years. With a major issue at stake and the objective means to settle it so constrained, it's no wonder this field generates more heated discussion than, say, chemistry.

Unfortunately for those of us who enjoy a good controversy, the battle has been pretty lopsided so far. On one side are most scientists, to whom questions of evolution are more a matter of when and how rather than whether. They have the bulk of the evidence and, by now, popular culture on their side. Opposing them are smaller numbers of creationists, who challenge the entire theory, or at least want an exception for one species (guess who). Sometimes creationists mount feeble attacks on well-established techniques of geologic or radiometric dating. Sometimes they quote evolutionists out of context. Sometimes they brandish a 500 million year-old "shoeprint" that they say proves that not only did humans predate the dinosaurs, but that they knew the secrets of cobbling as well. On the whole, rather unimpressive.

But along comes an articulate, well-documented challenge to human evolution from Govardan Hill Publishing of the Krishna Consciousness Movement! (Co-author Thompson is also the author of another surprisingly good book from Govardan Hill, Alien Identities: Ancient Insights into Modern UFO Phenomena, reviewed in Gnosis #31.) The authors follow the Vedic view that the human race is extremely old, and that humans and more apelike hominids have coexisted for millions of years. Though not professional paleontologists, they have produced an impressive tome chock full of anomalous evidence challenging accepted theories of human evolution. (They don't seem bothered by the idea that other species evolved.) The book is good enough to give pause to even a staunch evolutionist like myself.

Now, scientists are understandably reluctant to allow a few easily ignored anomalies to destroy large and self-consistent theories that fit with most observations. Still, a stray fact (say, a small anomaly in the perceived orbit of Mercury) can destroy a major theory (Newton's view of the universe) and give birth to another (Einstein's view). The trick lies in judging the importance of the anomalies. Cremo and Thompson take no chances here, and include every anomaly they can find.

Many of these anomalies date from the nineteenth century, when scientists began discovering, interpreting, and dating large quantities of ancient stone artifacts. Though they lacked radiometric dating, the strata in which the stones were found indicated great antiquity: two, five, 25, or even 50 million years of age. These eoliths ("dawn tools") generated controversy at the time, but many were eventually accepted by the leading scientists of the day as evidence of the work of humans or near-humans. The authors do an admirable job of uncovering this largely forgotten work, much of it never before translated into English. They include many simple but astonishing illustrations: a shell with a carved face, from 2-2.5 million year-old strata in England. (Conventional opinion says the first art was produced by Cro-Magnons about 30,000 years ago.) Even more astonishing, the illustrations of accepted eoliths (considered to be 3 million years old at most) look to me to be virtually identical to supposed "pseudoliths" from the Eocene, 50 million years ago.

In the twentieth century, scientists made some crucial discoveries of ancient hominid remains, such as Java Man and Peking Man. These near-humans, however, were too "young" compared to much of the previously accepted evidence for humans or near-humans. The new evidence seemed stronger, so the mainstream shifted: the oldest eoliths were now disparaged as mere naturally-broken rocks, the geological evidence challenged, and old-fashioned ad hominem attacks launched against their discoverers. Through subsequent controversies and adjustments, the old views were forgotten, and we arrive at the currently accepted view that humans evolved in Africa, and that tool-making began no more than 3 million years ago.

The anomalies in Forbidden Archeology don't all come from dusty Victorian journals. One interesting discovery was made by the venerable Louis Leakey himself. Convinced that humans inhabited the Americas for far longer than generally thought, he began excavating the Calico site in California in 1964. Many stone tools were found, dated by standard methods as roughly 200,000 years old. Still, conventional opinion continues to hold that humans crossed into the Americas from Siberia only about 35,000 years ago.

Not content with anomalies, the authors also challenge currently accepted evidence. For example, they quote others who claim that the Java Man and Lucy fossils are not as near-human as generally believed, and interpret them as hominids that coexisted with humans of modern form.

Of course, the book's omnibus nature means some chaff along with the wheat. I found the sasquatch/yeti section unconvincing. Most of the oldest evidence, like that Cambrian shoeprint, is similarly weak: either ambiguous or deriving from questionable sources such as single nineteenth century newspaper accounts or Brad Steiger books. It's like the old comedy bit: "They said Galileo was crazy! They said Einstein was crazy! They said my Uncle Herbie was crazy!" "Who was your Uncle Herbie?" "Oh, nobody, he really was crazy." Sometimes the stodgy conformists are right.

There is also some special pleading. Radiometric dating of some of their prize fossils shows them to be uninterestingly recent, so we are treated to dozens of pages of detail as to how such dating can be thrown off by contamination. Well, maybe.

As uneven as it is, Forbidden Archeology is clearly a Fortean classic. Unlike many creationists, the authors seem to understand and respect the ways of science. Their work is good enough to deserve a fair hearing from academic paleontologists, a hearing that it seems unlikely to get. I can only hope that some well-credentialed scientist will overlook the religious motives of the authors and publishers and give this book the serious reply it deserves. Cremo and Thompson are the latest hard-working amateurs to challenge accepted scientific theories. It's a long and honorable tradition, and if they succeed, it wouldn't be the first time.