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

Bad Archaeology logo

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.


More alien nonsense: the Lolladoff plate

Bad Arcaheology logo

By Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

The cover of Sungods in Exile

Sungods in Exile: the only known publication of Karyl Robin-Evans

According to Sungods in exile: secrets of the Dzopa of Tibet, a book published in 1978 and attributed to an Oxford Professor of ethnology, Karyl Robin-Evans (1914-74) but edited form his papers by his secretary David Agamon, a Polish Professor Sergei Lolladoff made an intriguing discovery in India. Shortly after the end of the Second World War in 1945, Lolladoff had purchased a Tibetan or Nepalese disc at the nineteenth-century hill station of Mussoorie (मसूरी Masūrī, Uttarakhand, India), which was attributed to the Dzopa people of the region. He showed the disc to Robin-Evans, who subsequently mounted an expedition to Tibet in 1947. Robin-Evans was received by Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso (ལྷ་མོ་དོན་འགྲུབ་) the fourteenth Dalai Lama (born Lhamo Döndrub) but, after his Tibetan guides deserted him, he befriended the people of the Baian-Kara-Ula region and learned their language, from which he was able to piece together the story behind the disc.

The Lolladoff Plate

The “Lolladoff Plate”

The disc was made from stone, although its dimensions do not seem to be recorded. It is flat, with a sun-like design at its centre, from which two spiral arms turn in a clockwise diection through about 450° to its edge. There are designs on the disc partly superimposed over the spirals and partly following them. The most striking is a humanoid figure depicted (naked?) facing forward with arms and legs away from the central axis of the body, and a large domed bald head, resembling the archetypal ‘Grey’ alien. To its left are two spider-like objects, with circular “bodies” and eight sinuous “legs”. Beyond these is a reptilian creature seen in profile resembling a bearded dragon. To the right of the humanoid, beyond a poorly defined mushroom-shaped smudge, there is a series of character-like impressions apparently in two registers of six characters each. Beyond these is a lenticular shape with a central bar; beyond that are four more characters and finally, another quadruped seen in profile with a tail that suggests something mammalian rather than reptilian. All these designs occupy one of the spiral arms, the other being blank. The humanoid figure is the only design to extend beyond this decorated spiral into the blank.

The Lolladoff Plate colourised

The “Lolladoff Plate” colourised

All the available images of the disc appear to derive from a single pair of photographs from Robin-Evans’s book, which show it from above and from an angle of around 45°. The two published photographs are monochrome, but there is a version commonly found on the web that has evidently been colourised. As the disc is said to be in a Berlin museum (although it is not specified which, at least one source says that it was a museum in the former East Berlin, so it ought to be a relatively simple task to identify which), it is curious that no-one has approached the museum for a better image than the two currently available.

What are we supposed to make of the disc? The humanoid figure is presumably meant to represent an alien, which, according to Professor Robin-Evans, would be one of the Dzopa. The lenticular shape is probably supposed to be an archetypal UFO of “flying saucer” type, although it also resembles ancient depictions of female genitalia. Quite what the two (perhaps terrestrial) animals are meant to mean is unclear. According to Robin-Evans’s research and conversations with their religious leader Lurgan-La, the Dzopa crashed in Tibet in 1014 CE following a previous exploratory visit around 20,000 years ago. They had arrived from a planet in the Sirius star system and were unable to return home.

An alleged photograph of the fourteenth Dalai Lama receiving Professor Robin-Evans in 1947

An alleged photograph of the fourteenth Dalai Lama receiving Professor Robin-Evans: remember that this is supposed to be in 1947!

Does any further information exist among the papers of Professor Robin-Evans who, as Professor of Ethnology at the University of Oxford, must have left a collection of research notes, diaries and other materials? There is a problem. There is no record, outside Sungods in exile of anyone called Karyl Robin-Evans, professor or not. If he went to Tibet in 1947, he cannot have met the fourteenth Dalai Lama, as the thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, had died in 1933 and Lhamo Döndrub was still plain twelve-year-old Lhamo Döndrub; after his recognition as the reincarnation of his predecessor in 1935, he was educated to become the next Dalai Lama but was not enthroned until 17 November 1950. Phillip Coppens has published a photograph which, although not captioned, has a name (evansdaililama.jpg) that makes it clear is supposed to depict the Dalai Lama receiving the Professor. If the Dalai Lama was really twelve when this photograph was taken, he was a remarkably precocious developer (not to mention prematurely aged), while the good Professor does not look as if he would live another thirty years. The Dzopa’s technology was also evidently very advanced, as the Dalai Lama appears to be looking at a laptop computer, the likes of which would not be seen again until the 1980s! Clearly, the photograph was not taken in 1947 (or, for that matter, at any date before Robin-Evans’s supposed death in 1974). Sergei Lolladoff is as elusive as Robin-Evans. All records of the two, outside the story of the “Lolladoff Plate”, have vanished. What is going on?

Tibetan nomadic herders, known as dropka

Tibetan nomadic herders, known as dropka

Actually, the whole thing is resolved very easily. A quick check of Sungods in exile reveals that it was published as a work of fiction. French Ufologist Patrick Gross found the real David H Gamon (not Agamon!), the author of Sungods in exile and asked him about the story. He was quite open about it being fiction, describing it as “his best hoax” (as he told Fortean Times in 1992 (Volume 62: 63)). The ‘Dropa’ – David Gamon seems to have been the first to spell the name ‘Dzopa’ – are more correctly know as Dropka, a nomadic people of western Tibet and Nepal and not an alien species at all! In fact, the name means “herder” and is not an ethnic designation at all.

One of the alleged Dropa Stones

One of the alleged “Dropa Stones”

So why has it been taken seriously (by some, at least)? The way it has been treated as factual is symptomatic of the nature of what passes for “research” among fringe authors, including Bad Archaeologists and Ufologists. Too often, statements made by one fringe writer are accepted as truthful without further checking (and, all too frequently, without acknowledging the original source). Worse, they are often unaware of the debunking work of others (or perhaps they choose to ignore it) and rarely seem to recognise acknowledged hoaxes. This is not the way that real scientists (and even archaeologists!) work: contentious statements need to be checked and re-checked, the reasoning behind unusual deductions must be stated in full, the hypotheses of others can never be repeated as facts and possible objections must be addressed before following new ideas to their conclusions. It is disappointing when even well regarded Ufologists such as Jacques Vallée repeat poorly researched (or even, it must be suspected, unresearched) assertions taken from earlier writers: this is particularly the case when such writers are dealing with historical documents or fieldwork carried out more than twenty or so years earlier.

The reason why the “Lolladoff Plate” has been welcomed in some alternative circles is that it appears to be independent verification of the so-called Dropa stones. The Bad Archaeology website deals with this alleged discovery in some detail; the basic story is that a 1938 expedition to a remote part of China located the graves of a mysterious short people known as the Dropa together with 716 stone discs which, after translation, recorded the arrival of these people when their space-ship crashed. Although there are still those who maintain that it first appeared in the German magazine Das Vegetärische Universum in July 1962, the story can be traced back to a magazine called Новое Русское Слово (Russian Digest) published in 1960; it was called “Were Alien Visitors on Earth?” and was written by V Ritch and M Chernenko. None of the people it mentions ever existed and the story was clearly a hoax. The “Lolladoff Plate” has been the only apparently confirmatory discovery; both stories turn out, with little research, to be fictional. And the picture? David Gamon told Patrick Gross that “he probably made a rough sketch of the plate for one of his friends who had a forgery talent and who made a black and white painting of the plate and photographed it just enough out of focus so that it appears real”. The “Lolladoff Plate” is testimony to the laziness of some “researchers” and their willingness to accept wild tales that happen to confirm their beliefs, nothing more.