From Skeptic vol. 4, no. 1, 1996, pp. 98-100.
The following article is copyright ©1996 by the Skeptics Society,
P.O. Box 338, Altadena, CA 91001, (626) 794-3119. Permission has been
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Hidden History, Hidden Agenda
A Review of The Hidden History of
the Human Race
by Michael A. Cremo and Richard L. Thompson.
Badger, CA: Govardhan Hill Publishing. 1994.
Reviewed by Bradley T. Lepper
The Hidden History of the Human Race, by Michael A. Cremo and
Richard L. Thompson, is an ideologically motivated assault on the conventional
view of human evolution and prehistory. The authors claim "various
humanlike and apelike beings have coexisted for long periods of time"
(hundreds of millions of years, in fact) and that scientists have "systematically
suppressed" the evidence for this incredible notion (p. xvii, 133).
The Hidden History of the Human Race is an abridged edition of
Forbidden Archaeology, published by the Bhaktivedanta Institute
in San Diego, and dedicated to "His Divine Grace, A. C. Ghaktivedanta
Swami Prabhupada," the implications of which will be apparent below.
In the preface to the abridgement Michael Cremo states the rationale for
this leaner version: it's "shorter, more readable, and more affordable."
In other words, they hope to reach a wider audience with their message
that human evolution didn't happen the way the textbooks claim, and that
generations of archaeologists and paleoanthropologists have conspired to
conceal the truth from the public. The original book has been reviewed
in various places (Feder, 1994; Marks, 1994; Tarzia, 1994) and, as the
substance of the work has not changed, the interested reader might want
to consult these other reviews for different, if concordant, perspectives.
It is worthwhile to consider the new abridgement because it is likely to
be more widely read than its rather ponderous predecessor (in fact, it
can be found in many mainstream bookstore chains, including Barnes and
The Hidden History of the Human Race is a frustrating book. The
motivation of the authors, "members of the Bhaktivedanta Institute,
a branch of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness" (p.
xix), is to find support in the data of paleoanthropology and archaeology
for the Vedic scriptures of India. Their methods are borrowed from fundamentalist
Christian creationists (whom they assiduously avoid citing). They catalog
odd "facts" which appear to conflict with the modern scientific
understanding of human evolution and they take statements from the work
of conventional scholars and cite them out of context to support some bizarre
assertion which the original author would almost certainly not have advocated.
Cremo and Thompson regard their collection of dubious facts as "anomalies"
that the current paradigm of paleoanthropology cannot explain. Sadly, they
offer no alternative paradigm which might accommodate both the existing
data and the so-called anomalies they present; although they do indicate
that a second volume is planned which will relate their "extensive
research results" to their "Vedic source material" (p. xix).
Kuhn noted that "To reject one paradigm without simultaneously substituting
another is to reject science itself" (1970, p. 79); and that is precisely
what Cremo and Thompson do. They claim that "mechanistic science"
is a "militant ideology, skillfully promoted by the combined effort
of scientists, educators, and wealthy industrialists, with a view towards
establishing worldwide intellectual dominance" (p. 196). The work
is frustrating because it mixes together a genuine contribution to our
understanding of the history of archaeology and paleoanthropology with
a bewildering mass of absurd claims and an audaciously distorted review
of the current state of paleoanthropology.
Cremo and Thompson are quite right about the extreme conservatism of
many archaeologists and physical anthropologists. While an undergraduate
at a prominent southwestern university, I participated in classroom discussions
about the claims for a very early occupation at the Timlin site (in New
York) which had just been announced. The professor surprised me when she
stated flatly that, if the dates were correct, then it was "obviously
not a site." This dismissal of the possibility of such an ancient
site, without an examination of the data or even a careful reading of the
published claim, is dogmatism of the sort rightfully decried by Cremo and
Thompson. George Carter, the late Thomas Lee, and Virginia Steene-McIntyre
are among those whose claims for very early humans in America have been
met with unfortunate ad hominem attacks by some conservative archaeologists;
but, regardless of how shamefully these scholars were treated, the fact
remains that their claims have not been supported by sufficiently compelling
evidence. Cremo and Thompson are wrong, however, when they condemn scientists
for demanding "higher levels of proof for anomalous finds than for
evidence that fits within the established ideas about human evolution"
(p. 49). It is axiomatic that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary
Cremo and Thompson have little understanding of history and almost no
understanding of the disciplines of paleoanthropology and archaeology.
In the introduction, Thompson is identified as a generic "scientist"
and "a mathematician," while Cremo is "a writer and editor
for books and magazines published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust"
(p. xix). Their naive approach to history is revealed in their discussion
of the alleged discovery of broken columns, "coins, handles of hammers,
and other tools" quarried from limestone in France between 1786 and
1788 (p. 104). In order to establish the credibility of this report they
note that it was published in the American Journal of Science in
1820. They attempt to support their charge that modern scientists are dogmatic
by observing that "today, however, it is unlikely such a report would
be found in the pages of a scientific journal" (p. 104). The American
Journal of Science in the 1820s published many reports that would not
be found in modern science journals. Mermaids (Shillaber 1823), sea serpents
(American Journal of Science and Arts, 1826), and the efficacy of
divining rods for locating water (Emerson, 1821) were topics of interest
to scientists of that era. That such material was presented in a 19th century
journal with "Science" in the title is no measure of its reliability
or its relevance to modern science; likewise, that modern marine biologists
no longer consider mermaids a worthy subject for research is no measure
of their dogmatism. Cremo and Thompson might disagree, however, for they
devote an entire chapter to reports of "living ape-men" such
as Bigfoot, which, even if true, contribute nothing to their thesis that
anatomically modern humans lived in geologically ancient times. Chimpanzees
are "ape-men" of a sort, sharing 99% of our genetic makeup, and
their coexistence with Homo sapiens sapiens does no violence to evolutionary
Cremo and Thompson's ignorance of the basic data of archaeology is exemplified
by their reference to the Venus of Willendorf as a work of "Neolithic"
rather than Paleolithic art (p. 84) and their mistaken identification of
a nondescript stone blade from Sandia Cave as a "Folsom point"
(p. 93). Folsom points are highly specialized and distinctive artifacts
and, although the excavators of Sandia Cave did recover several from that
site, a Folsom point is not what is depicted in the photograph reproduced
by Cremo and Thompson (p. 93). Moreover, although they have plumbed the
depths of 19th-century literature in search of crumbs of data that support
their rather vague notions about the extreme antiquity of Homo sapiens,
they are not abreast of the latest developments in the field of archaeology.
They refer to claims of great antiquity for artifacts from the Calico,
Pedra Furada, Sandia Cave, Sheguiandah, and Timlin sites, but are apparently
unaware of recent (and some not so recent) work concerning these sites
which substantially refutes (or calls into serious question) the claims
of the original investigators (e.g., Cole and Godfrey, 1977; Cole et al.,
1978; Funk, 1977; Haynes and Agogino, 1986; Julig et al., 1990; Kirkland,
1977; Meltzer et al., 1994; Preston, 1995; Schnurrenberger and Bryan, 1985;
Starna, 1977; Taylor, 1994).
This is a book designed to titillate, not elucidate. The authors discuss
a weathered rock more than 200 million years old which they identify as
a fossilized partial shoe sole (p. 115-116). They allude to "microphoto
magnifications" of the fossilized stitches which allegedly show "the
minutest detail of thread twist and warp" (p. 116), but do not present
these magnified images. Instead, they reproduce a somewhat blurred photograph
of the weathered outlines which do not, at least to this reviewer, resemble
any portion of a shoe sole.
Cremo and Thompson discuss the three to four million year old fossilized
footprints discovered at Laetoli, and note that scholars have observed
"close similarities with the anatomy of the feet of modern humans"
(p. 262). Cremo and Thompson conclude that these footprints actually are
the tracks of anatomically modern humans, but they offer no explanation
for why these individuals were not wearing the shoes which supposedly had
been invented more than 296 million years earlier.
Cremo and Thompson are selectively credulous to an astonishing degree.
They accept without question the testimony of 19th-century goldminers and
quarrymen, but treat with extreme skepticism (or outright derision) the
observations of 20th-century archaeologists. That Von Koenigswald purchased
Pithecanthropus fossils from native Javanese causes Cremo and Thompson
"uneasiness" (p. 164); but they blithely accept Taylor's purchase
of the "Foxhall Jaw" from "a workman who wanted a glass
of beer" (p. 133) without similar unease. The authors are critical
of archaeologists for rejecting the very early radiometric dates for technologically
recent stone artifacts at Hueyatlaco, Mexico (pp. 91-93), but they are
as quick to reject radiometric dates which do not agree with their preconceived
interpretations (pp. 125, 139-140).
Cremo and Thompson's claim that anatomically modern Homo sapiens sapiens
have been around for hundreds of millions of years is an outrageous notion.
Accepting that there is a place in science for seemingly outrageous hypotheses
(cf. Davis, 1926) there is no justification for the sort of sloppy rehashing
of canards, hoaxes, red herrings, half-truths and fantasies Cremo and Thompson
offer in the service of a religious ideology. Readers who are interested
in a more credible presentation of the overwhelming evidence for human
evolution should consult Ian Tattersall's wonderful recent book The
Fossil Trail: how we know what we think we know about human evolution.
American Journal of Science, and Arts, 1826. "Sea Serpent."
American Journal of Science, and Arts, 11:196.
Cole, J. R., R. E. Funk, L. R. Godfrey, and W. Starna. 1978. "On
Criticisms of 'Some Paleolithic Tools from Northeast north America': rejoinder."
Current Anthropology, 193):665-669.
Cole, J. R. and L. R. Godfrey. 1977. "On Some Paleolithic Tools
from Northeast North America." Current Anthropology, 18(3):541-543.
Davis, W. M., 1926. "The Value of Outrageous Geological Hypotheses."
Emerson, R. 1821. "On the Divining Rod, With Reference to the Use
Made of it in Exploring for Springs of Water." Oct. 23, 1820. American
Journal of Science and Arts, 3:102-104.
Feder, K. L. 1994. "Review of Forbidden Archaeology: The Hidden
History of the Human Race." Geoarchaeology, 9(4):337-340.
Funk, R. E. 1977. "On Some Paleolithic Tools from Northeast North
America." Current Anthropology, 18(3):543-544.
Haynes, C. V., Jr. and G. A. Agogino. 1986. "Geochronology of Sandia
Cave." Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology, No. 32.
Julig, P. J., W. C. Mahaney, and P. L. Storck. 1991. "Preliminary
Geoarchaeological Studies of the Sheguiandah Site, Manitoulin Island, Canada."
Current Research in the Pleistocene, 8:110-114.
Kirkland, J. 1977. "On Some Paleolithic Tools From Northeast North
America." Current Anthropology, 18(3):544-545..
Kuhn, T. S. 1970. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd edition.
International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, Vol. 2, No. 2. University
of Chicago Press.
Marks, J. 1994. "Review of Forbidden Archaeology: The Hidden History
of the Human Race." American Journal of Physical Anthropology,
Meltzer, D. J., J. M. Adovasio, and T. D. Dillehay. 1994. "On a
Pleistocene Human Occupation at Pedra Furada, Brazil." Antiquity,
Preston, D. 1995. "The Mystery of Sandia Cave." New Yorker,
12 June 1995, pp. 66-83.
Schnurrenberger, D. and A. L. Bryan. 1985. "A Contribution to the
Study of the Naturefact/Artifact Controversy." In Stone Tool Analysis,
M. G. Plew, J. C. Woods, and M. G. Pavesic, (eds.) pp. 133-159. Albuquerque:
University of New Mexico Press.
Shillaber, J. 1823. "Mermdid." (sic) American Journal of
Science and Arts, 6:195-197.
Starna, W. A. 1977. "On Some Paleolithic Tools from Northeast North
America." Current Anthropology, 18(3):545.
Tarzia, W. 1994. "Forbidden Archaeology: Antievolutionism Outside
the Christian Arena." Creation/ Evolution, 14(1):13-25.
Taylor, R. E. 1994. "Archaeometry at the Calico Site." The
Review of Archaeology, 15(2):1-8.