Update on the “Starchild skull”

The so-called “starchild” skull

The so-called “starchild” skull (source Wikipedia)

On the main site, I’ve added a page on the so-called ‘starchild’ skull. I originally wrote a short post about it here in January 2010; it is worth visiting this older page for the comments! The skull seems to arouse all sorts of irrational passions among its proponents…

What the new page attempts to do is to analyse the data in a more thorough way than the original blog post. This is difficult because the only access we have to any of the data is filtered through the distorting lens of Lloyd Pye, the “curator” of the skull. None of the scientists who has carried out tests has ever produced an independent scientific paper giving the results because the tests have been privately commissioned. This must cause us concern, particularly when Mr Pye starts playing number games and extrapolating wildly from the results. His analyses show none of the caution we would expect from a scientist, although he is always careful to label his analyses as “provisional”.


Why are the “Dropa Stones” the most searched for subject on Bad Archaeology?

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Looking through the search terms by which people have been brought to the main Bad Archaeology website, I’ve discovered that far and away the most common search term is “Dropa Stones”. What are they and why are people in search of information about them being directed to my website? Even more importantly, why is there apparently so little other information out there about them that Bad Archaeology is currently the second link provided by Google (not that I’m complaining about its popularity)?

The story of the Dropa Stones has been around since 1960, when Valentin Isaakovich Rich and Mikhail Borisovy Chernenko published the article “Hypotheses, assumptions and guesses: does the trail lead into space?” in the magazine Новое Русское Слово (Current Digest of the Russian Press, a Russian language newspaper published in the USA since 1910) Volume 12 No 9 (30 March 1960), p 24-6. This was a complete reprint of an article that had originally appeared in Литературная газета (Literaturnaya Gazeta) 9 February 1960, p 2, discussing the speculations of Matest M Agrest (1915-2005) that aliens might have visited earth in the remote past and left traces of their arrival.

An alleged Dropa Stone

An alleged “Dropa Stone”

According to the article, which is summarised on the main website, a Chinese archaeologist named Chi Pu Tei made an unusual discovery in January 1938 in caves in a remote part of the country, in the Bayan Kara Ula mountain range. The caves contained a series of graves, while their walls were decorated with drawings of people with elongated heads together with images of the sun, moon and stars. The graves were found to contain the remains of beings little more than a metre tall, with abnormally large skulls. The archaeologists also found a stone disk a little over 300 mm in diameter, with a hole in the centre. A groove on the surface of the disk spiralled outwards from the centre hole to the rim and back, forming a double spiral. Another 716 disks were found in the caves by subsequent investigations.

Reinhardt Wegemann's article in the July 1962 Das Vegetarische Universum

Reinhardt Wegemann’s article in the July 1962 edition of Das Vegetarische Universum

Two years later, the story turned up in the July 1962 edition Das Vegetarische Universum, a German vegetarian magazine, which published a story attributed to a Reinhardt Wegemann called Ufos in der Vorzeit? Die Hieroglyphen von Baian-Kara-Ula (‘Ufos in ancient times? The hieroglyphs of Bayan Kara Ula’). Intriguingly, the story is attributed to a news agency DINA, Tokyo; this is neither General Pinochet’s secret police nor the Mexican lorry manufacturer, so I am unsure what it is (it looks as if it could be the Deutsche Internationale Nachrichtenagentur”, although I can find no trace of such an agency). The same story, from the same (apparently non-existent) news agency, again credited to Reinhardt Wegemann, was published in UFO-Nachrichten, a German UFO magazine, in July 1964. The Belgian UFO organization BUFOI published a French translation in the March-April 1965 edition of its newsletter (number 4), to be followed by a Russian translation in 1967, bringing the story full circle.

Vyacheslav Zaitsev

Vyacheslav Zaitsev (not to be confused with the clothes designer Vyacheslav Zaitsev!)

The Russian translation of the story was condensed by Vyacheslav K Zaitsev in the English language magazine Sputnik: the Russian Digest dating from 1967, where it was called ‘Visitors from outer space: science versus fiction’. Sputnik is a sensationalistic magazine similar to Britain’s Daily Sport and the USA’s National Inquirer (please note that you may not be able to see its pages outside the USA) and the only other sources simply repeat the original 1960 story, with no additional information.

Some have suggested that Valentin I Rich and Mikhail B Chernenko never existed and were pseudonyms. However, they published a book in 1964, Сквозь магический кристалл: повесть о мысли (‘Through the Magic Crystal: a story of ideas’), on artificial diamonds, while Valentin Rich published Охота за элементами (‘The hunt for the elements’) in 1982 and В поисках элементов (‘In search of the elements’) in 1985 and so they appear to have been genuine popular science writers. However, no trace of either Reinhardt Wegemann or the DINA news agency can be found outside the story first published in Das Vegetarische Universum.

What can we make of all this? Firstly, that the story has a very, very dubious pedigree. A speculative article by a pair of science writers seems to have been expanded by an unknown writer into the story published in the name of Reinhardt Wegemann in 1962. Whoever was behind this seems to have been disappointed by the poor take up of the story (a page in a vegetarian newspaper can hardly have had the impact the author of the hoax would have wanted), so he pushed it out again in 1964. Although rewritten, there is a clue in the text that it was originally prepared two years previously: it describes the expedition in which Chi Pu Tei discovered the discs as having occurred forty-five years previously, which would have placed in 1939, rather than 1937 as originally claimed. It seems that 1964 was a better year for tall tales involving crashed UFOs, as the story was taken up in a variety of publications. It was through one of these that Vyacheslav Zaitsev’s popularisation made it known to a wider world, including the up-and-coming Erich von Däniken. From there, the story blossomed, giving rise to at least two works of fiction, one of which was to foist the non-existent Lolladoff Plate on the gullible through the fictional Sungods in Exile.

In a curious twist of fate, the Wikipedia article on the Dropa Stones currently redirects to an account of the Sungods in Exile hoax. In 2007, it carried a fairly extensive page about the stones under the heading of Dropa, with only a brief mention of Sungods in Exile; in 2009, there was a much shorter but completely uncritical page. It is always interesting to watch the evolution of Wikipedia pages. What is unusual in this case is the transformation of a relatively complete and reasonably balanced page into something very bland that does not justice whatsoever to the complexities of the case.

2012: the end of the world and “proof” that the Maya were guided by extraterrestrials

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Götterdämmerung! Even Erich von Däniken can’t resist the lure of 2012

While browsing Real Ufos (“Amazing! – the Best Real UFO videos & news posted from around the world”) yesterday, I came across what promises to be a huge story, if true: New Mayan film claims proof of aliens with government support? It’s a difficult phrase to parse, unfortunately. Is it a “Mayan film” (i.e. one made by Maya people) or a film dealing with the Maya? Are the aliens being supported by the government, or is the proof something that derives from government sources? I suspect the latter options in both cases.

The editor of Real Ufos has the grace to make it a question and the first sentence of the post reads “Is this all Public relations hype or can the movie makers back up their claims?”. Indeed. It’s clear that the editor (who posts weekly updates about the execrable Ancient Aliens series with a much less sceptical tone) has doubts about the item. It’s claimed to come from “a Mexican government official and the film’s producer”. The film in question, which is apparently currently in production, will be called Revelations of the Mayans 2012 and beyond. Unfortunately, the links on Real Ufos don’t work, but it’s easy to search for the film on Google, with about 21,700 results on 1 October 2011.

It turns out that the original press release was published by Reuters and its partner The Wrap on 17 August, although almost nobody seems to have paid it much attention. Undeterred, the film makers issued an updated press release on 26 September, and it is this one that has garnered the most attention. According to the original release, the film will disclose “state-held secretsprotected for 80 years” about Maya predictions of future disasters. It includes statements by Luis Augusto Garcia Rosado, currently Secretario de Turismo (Secretary of Tourism) in the state government of Campeche, who apparently “was quoted in a press release talking about contact between the Mayans and extraterrestrials. That statement has been recalled, and Rosado now paints this as a simpler, more archaeological-oriented documentary”.

Maya Cosmogenesis 2012

Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 by John Major Jenkins. No, I have no idea, either

So, is the film really going to reveal anything about ancient aliens? According to one of the producers, Raul Julia-Levy, “I’m not allowed to speak about that. Everything is going to come out in time, but I can’t comment on aliens or on 2012. I can just say that the Mexican government is preparing to tell humanity and the world things that are critical for us, for the way we live, for the way we’ve been handling the planet”. Still no aliens.

By 26 September, though, Luis Augusto Garcia Rosado was saying that new evidence has emerged “of contact between the Mayans and extraterrestrials, supported by translations of certain codices, which the government has kept secure in underground vaults for some time…” and mentioned “landing pads in the jungle that are 3,000 years old”. Are those involved in the film allowed to talk or not?

The updated version of the press release also quotes Guillermo Novielli Quezada, said to be the Guatemalan Minister of Tourism who, curiously, isn’t mentioned anywhere on the Guatemalan government’s own website. Hmm… Perhaps Google will enlighten us. Of 1010 hits on 1 October, the first takes us to a deleted Wikipedia page, while all the others take us to versions of the 26 September press release, mostly cut-and-pasted in typical churnalist fashion, even in supposedly respectable news sources (such as The Guardian of 29 September 2011). Guillermo Novielli is a real person, though; he replaced the previous “Minister” of Tourism (actually the Director of Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo, the Guatemalan Institute of Tourism (Inguat)) Dr Jorge Federico Samayoa Prado in July 2011.


Calakmul, Campeche (Mexico)

One archaeological site that is to feature in the film is Calakmul, in the Petén Basin area of… Campeche State. Wait, isn’t that where the Tourism Minister works? And rather than a government secret, kept hidden from the rest of us for eighty years, Calakmul has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2002. The city is known to have been founded toward the end of the Middle Pre-Classic Period (c 900-300 BCE) and developed into an important centre similar in status to the better known sites at Tikal or Palenque.

According to the first press release, “the filmmakers are talking to investors and waiting for the government to give them their first look at the material and the site”. So they haven’t even seen the site yet. The discovery of “rooms inside the pyramid that have never been seen or explored before” was apparently made by staff of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and History), and although no mention of work at Calakmul appears on its website, it’s entirely conceivable that this is a genuine discovery.

The Dresden Codex

A page from the Dresden Codex, one of only four Maya books to survive

The film is being produced by Raul Julia-Levy, Ed Elbert and Sheila M McCarthy, with Eduardo Vertiz as executive producer. Its director is Juan Carlos Rulfo. None of them is particularly known for documentary work, although it is evident that Sheila McCarthy has an interest in UFOs. That doesn’t disqualify them from making a documentary film, of course.

The question that has to be asked is why this information, supposedly “very important for humanity, not just for Mexico”, is being released through the medium of film. Pitching extraordinary claims straight to the media is often an indication of pseudoscience in action: there is no peer review, no critique of the interpretations on offer, no rival viewpoint. That is what worries me.

Coming from a completely different perspective, UFOHunterVlog has a rather foul-mouthed bilingual rant about the fact that it’s not being released as a news item, but as a documentary film (I like the way that certain English profanities seem to turn up in the Spanish version: what a wonderful cultural export!). But he has a point. If this material is genuine, then why is it first being promoted through cinemas?

And, even if the whole alien angle turns out to be a false lead, what are we to make of Raul Julia-Levy’s claim that he has proof that the Maya wanted to lead the planet for thousands of years? How could a society consisting of warring city states, which rarely achieved any kind of political unity over large areas, lead the planet? Did they even conceive of a world extending beyond Mesoamerica? And what of their escape from “men of dark intentions”? There are still Maya people in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, some of whom continue to fight the governments of these nations, refusing to submit to the European invaders of five centuries ago.

And the 2012 connection? The film makers say that they want their documentary to be released before 21 December 2012, the end of a Long Count Cycle. It’s a cynical ploy to engage with the conspiracy theorists who are deluded that the world will come to an end on that day.

Once again, we have over-hyped press releases, claims, counter claims and retractions. Is this really going to be a documentary, or it is hype for a forthcoming work of fiction? It wouldn’t be the first time that a “documentary” has turned out to be something quite different.

Pushing the “aliens built the Great Pyramid” lie

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The Great Pyramid of Khufu

The Great Pyramid of Ḫwfw (Khufu)

A certain George Rixon has published a post on UFODigest (“Ufo and Paranormal News from around the World”) on the subject of Extraterrestrials and the Great Pyramid, apparently based on “the knowledge Aramac (an extraterrestrial) has passed on to [him]”. This ought to grab our attention: after all, as an extraterrestrial, Aramac obviously knows more about Old Kingdom Egypt than any mere Egyptologist, although I can’t help but think that a particularly revolting sweet lurks behind his name…

Unfortunately, it’s not at all clear from Mr Rixon’s text which elements are his own and which derive from his extraterrestrial friend. This is a pity, as I’m sure it would help if we could separate the earthly dross from the heavenly wisdom, but until the poster achieves his true desire (“LOOKING FOR FULL PUBLICATION.OF MANUSCRIPT” (sic)), we’ll just have to go with what’s presented on UFODigest.

We start with accusations against the hieroglyphs containing Ḫwfw’s name:

To begin with it has been thought and taken for fact that the Great Pyramid was built for King Khufu as a burial tomb. This is because his name was written in hieroglyphic markings inside the construction. But, there is great doubt to its authenticity. Some were wrongly spelt, and some with bad grammar, making them appear to be fakes.

Khufu's name painted on a block in the pyramid

Ḫwfw's name painted on a block in the pyramid

Well, this can’t be from CAramac, as it’s just dead wrong: there is no doubt whatsoever about the authenticity of the painted marks, some of which are in gaps between blocks inaccessible to a modern forger, none is wrongly spelled or has poor grammar and the accusation that they were forged by their discoverer, Howard Vyse (1784-1853), made unjustly by Zecharaia Sitchin in his Stairway to Heaven, published in 1983, has been comprehensively debunked.

Next, we move on to the idea that the Great Pyramid was not a tomb:

The theory of a Royal tomb, historians have taken and speak about it as fact even though there is no firm evidence that this was so. The Egyptologist’s say the reason no body has been discovered in the Great Pyramid, was because before it was completed the treasures that were supposed to have been placed there, were stolen. The Pharaoh then abandoned the idea of using the pyramid as a tomb, and used a burial site underground instead.

Chair from the cache of Hetepheres's funerary furniture

Chair from the cache of funerary furniture beloning to Ḥtpḥrś’s (Hetepheres's), mother of Ḫwfw (Khufu)

That’s a slightly new idea: Ḫwfw’s treasure was stolen before construction work on the pyramid was over, so he decided to have an underground tomb instead. Those dastardly palace burglars! Always making off with Pharaoh’s goodies. It’s a pity that Mr Rixon (for I’m sure that Caramac wouldn’t have made this mistake) doesn’t tell us which “Egyptologist’s” (sic) have come up with this ingenious explanation for the lack of Ḫwfw’s mummy inside the pyramid. Going against family tradition, the bereft king decided not to follow in his ancestors’ footsteps by building a pyramid: perhaps he was put off by his father Śnfrw’s greed in having three of them. As George Rixon says, “One would have thought that the treasures would not have been placed in the pyramid until the Pharaoh had actually died”. Quite. Perhaps it was Aramac, after all, who fed him this implausible detail.

We are then vouchsafed the information that the Egyptians weren’t the only ancient people to build pyramids (“many believe it was a phenomenon which only belonged to the Pharaohs but that was not so”). Well, who’d have thought it? Anyone with a knowledge of world history, really. Apparently, “[t]here are the stepped pyramids in Central America, claimed to have been built by the Maya civilisation around 2,500 years ago? Also there are pyramids in Tiahuanaco Bolivia” (sic: punctuation in original). More astoundingly still:

In 1994, Hartwig Hausdorf a German explorer gained permission from the Chinese government, to explore a once forbidden area to outsiders. In doing so, he discovered 100 large pyramids, which had never been seen by anyone in the west before. He claims that some of the pyramids in Shensi Province in Central China are even larger than Egypt’s Great Pyramid, dating back some 5,000 years. Excavations in that area will not begin until sometime in this century.

A Chinese tomb mound at Xianyang, Shaanxi province

A Chinese tomb mound at Xianyang, Shaanxi province

Herr Hausdorf (born 1955) is not so much of an explorer as a former travel agent who has turned his talents to writing on pseudoscientific topics, with a particular focus on what is unnecessarily kindly termed PalaeoSETI. It is more often known as the Ancient Astronauts hypothesis, particularly associated with Erich von Däniken. Again, our information is presumably not from Mr Rixon’s alien chum, as it’s wrong: the mound tombs of Shaanxi province were known in the west long before 1994 (unless Aramac had not yet observed Earth when Emperor Qin’s terracotta army was discovered in 1974 close to his tomb mound). And this despite those secretive Chinese authorities informing “a New Zealand airline pilot named Bruce Cathic” in 1962 that there are no pyramids in their country. The cheek of it! Not deterred by this brush-off, good old Bruce “was nevertheless able to confirm the existence of several of them and in a book called the ‘Ridge of Infinity’ he suggested there is a network of pyramids over the surface of the earth, whose purpose is connected with leys lines and earth energies?” (sic: punctuation in original). Ah yes, “ley lines and earth energies”. We’re still not in the realms of Aramac: what ET would be so foolish as to believe in non-existent ley lines and earth energies?

A supposed pyramid in Bosnia

A supposed pyramid in Bosnia; actually a mountain called Visočica

The list goes on (and on…). There are pyramids “near the town of Guimar on Tenerife… [i]n Trujillo Peru… in Caral Peru… [i]n the valley of Mexico in ancient Teotihuacán… There are many small pyramids that can be seen across Europe from France to Greece. In 2003 in Italy a pyramid was found and in 2005 another was unearthed in Bosnia. Pyramids are still being discovered in some parts of the world where in the past they have been hidden underground such as Bosnia.” Aramac can’t have been misled by the ridiculous claims of Semir (Sam) Osmanagic about Bosnian pyramids, so we must still be reading George Rixon’s contribution.

Oh well, at least there are some pyramids elsewhere in the world. We can accept that much. Time to move on, this time to a discussion of construction techniques. Like typical Bad Archaeologist, Mr Rixon (for it is surely he, not Aramac, who is misrepresenting Egyptologists) frets that “[a] number of documentaries over the years shown on TV have seriously undermined the precision required to complete the Great Pyramid in its construction”. I think he means “underestimated” rather than “undermined”. An alien would be more careful with his English, I’m sure. Mr Rixon doesn’t like the idea that the pyramid builders might have used a plumb-bob, as it’s not sophisticated enough to “achieve the very precise measurements in that manner. And yet no one challenges the documentary makers” apart from the brave souls like George Rixon who know that you need complicated equipment to construct a heap of stones.

There then follows a section on averages. At least, I think that’s what being discussed, but it gets derailed by a discussion of the “national average wage… for the workers of this country” (I assume the country to be the UK as pounds are mentioned, unless Aramac’s home also pays its workers in sterling). We’ll avoid this section, not because it’s incoherent (which it is) but because there must be better stuff to come.

An unfinished obelisk in a limestone quarry at Aswan

An unfinished obelisk in a limestone quarry at Aswan: it is possible to see a line of holes prepared to receive wooden wedges on one edge of the obelisk

We move into a discussion about how the limestone blocks were quarried. Once again, Mr Rixon has been watching his television carefully. Not carefully enough, though, as he has completely misunderstood the use of heat as a means of fracturing the blocks. Fire was used to weaken the stone before using wooden wedges driven into the rock in lines, which would then be soaked in water to make them expand, pushing stone away from the quarry face. There are still quarries in Egypt where the rock has been prepared to take the wedges but abandoned before being used. He seems to think that the use of water-soaked wedges was a separate technique. Perhaps Mr Rixon was distracted by a telephone call from Aramac and missed that bit. He then brings some of his personal expertise to bear on the question of dressing the stone blocks:

With having a great deal of experience in the building trade I can tell you using stones as tools would have been impossible. You would not be able to get the very precise measurements required in the stone dressing process. Also the workers would have had to wear modern day gloves, especially made for that kind of hard work. To hold one stone as a form of chisel and the other as a pounder would mean after an hour or two both hands would ache so much where the workers would not be able to hold those stone implements. Their hands would soon become sore creating blisters and even if they had used gloves the same problem would arise. The heat of the sun through the gloves would make the hands extremely hot where irritation between the glove and the hand would become so severe again the hands would become sore creating blisters.

The cover of Egyptian Metalworking and Tools by Bernd Scheel

The cover of Egyptian Metalworking and Tools by Bernd Scheel: obviously a work of fiction!

Well, I’m not going to try to gainsay that. I’ve never worked as a quarryman, but just from trowelling on an archaeological site, I’m aware of just how painful blistered hands can be and how hot hands can get when wearing gloves. My heart goes out to Pharaoh’s workers. But wait! The workers on the Giza Plateau had access to copper chisels. That would have helped them a lot, although Mr Rixon dismisses the copper chisels as they “would have to be made in their hundreds of thousands if not more, and worn out ones would have to be sharpened every one or two hours as the soft metal would soon be blunt and of no use” and apparently no furnaces for making them have been found “even if they have in time been covered by sand”. Oops! It seems that Mr Rixon hasn’t done his research properly. Here are some Egyptian drawings illustrating the metalworking process from the tomb of Rḫmir‘ (Rekhmirē‘), while here are some photos of the copper working site at TImna, where Egyptians began mining copper long before the Great Pyramid was built.

After a lengthy and unconvincing argument from incredulity about the dressing of the stone, Mr Rixon considers how the finished blocks were moved from the quarry to the pyramid. He seems very taken with the idea of sledges but worries that “copper chisels could not possibly have cut the secure joints needed in the wood in order to hold the sledges together; they would simply have slid on the wood. That could only be achieved with metal chisels similar to those we have today”. According to this logic, nobody could ever have made a sledge (or any other wooden construction needing “secure joints”) before the advent of modern steel tools. It’s a shame, then, that we know that sleds were indeed used and there is a surviving example (complete with its “secure joints”) from the pyramid of Śnwsrt (Senusret or Sesostris) III at Dashur.

The funerary sledge of Senusret III from Dashur

The funerary sledge of Śnwsrt (Senusret or Sesostris) III from Dashur, complete with its “secure joints

We then have another argument from incredulity about the number of pyramids (Mr Rixon counts 94) and the impossibility of building them with the tools available to the Egyptians. Finally, we have the promise that:

The rest of the chapter continues to look at every theory put forward about the Great Pyramid. Such as the impossibilities of it being erected by simple workers. Aramac then gives his explanations of how and why all the pyramids were built that are scattered around the earth, along with those on other planets.

Those poor, simple Egyptians. They can’t possibly have had the mental capacity to build something as complex as a pyramid. But until some enlightened publisher has taken Mr Rixon’s manuscript and given it the “FULL PUBLICATION” it so evidently deserves, we aren’t going to learn anything from Caramac Aramac, not even about those fascinating pyramids on other planets! How disappointing…