Atlantis Rising’s Micheal Cremo and the Calaveras Skull

Michael Cremo is the author of the pseudo-archaeological tome Forbidden Archaeologist and has a regular column in that woo-woo rag Atlantis Rising. In the March/April column, Cremo revisits the so-called Calaveras skull, which was long-ago revealed as a hoax.

Cremo is an old-earth, Vedic creationist (weird, eh?) and his failed position has always been that man isn’t a recent addition to the animal kingdom, rather an old, old one. Cremo consistently argues, albeit without evidence, that Homo sapiens was not only on the planet millions of years ago, but with “high-civilization” as well.

In his “Calaveras skull” column, Cremo beats a very dead horse by arguing that this is the most “notorious human fossil discovered in the nineteenth century” and that it proves “[t]o have a human like us existing over 2 million years ago”, which, he notes, “would be devestating to the currently dominant evolutionary theory of human origins.”

It would be if it were the case. But it isn’t. This skull was discovered by miners in 1866, allegedly beneath a layer of Pliocene lava which was about 40 m below the surface. The state geologist, Josiah D. Whitney, which Cremo mentions, had already published his belief (unfounded) that humans lived with mastodons and elephants in ancient North America, so he was ripe for the hoax. The hoax was revealed as early as 1869 when the San Francisco Bulletin reported the hoax, admitted by a minor to a minister: “miners freely told him that they purposely got up the whole affair as a joke on Prof. Whitney” ((Notorious Calaveras Skull (2009). The Notorious Calaveras Skull. Archaeology. Retrieved from

Cremo writes:

However, there are several different hoax stories told by contemporaries of Whitney, which I have reviewed in my book… The cannot all be true, and if some of them are not true, perhaps all of them are not true.”

Uh… yes, Michael, they can all be hoaxes. This is fallacious thinking on your part. Indeed, a hoax is not only supported by evidence, but it’s the most parsimonious explanation for the skull.

The evidence:

Admission of a hoax published in 1869.
Admission of a hoax by the person who planted it, as revealed by his sister ((Weber, C. G. (1981). Paluxy Man – The Creationist Piltdown. Creation/Evolution Journal, 2(4). Retrieved from
Fluorine analysis in 1879 which showed recent age of the skull ((Weber, C. G. (1981). Paluxy Man – The Creationist Piltdown. Creation/Evolution Journal, 2(4). Retrieved from
The Skull has features consistent with recent Native American cranial morphology.
Radiocarbon dating in 1992 which established the age of the skull to about 1,000 years ago (consistent with recent Native American burial) ((Taylor, R. E.; Payen, L. A. and Slota, P. J., Jr (April 1992). The Age of the Calaveras Skull: Dating the “Piltdown Man” of the New World. American Antiquity 57 (2): 269–275))

Cremo mentions the radiocarbon dating and writes:

At first glance this seems damaging to the claim that hte skull is at least 2 million years old. However, the authors of the study admitted that because of the small sample size they were unable to perform adequate pretreatment of the sample.

But what Cremo fails (refuses?) to acknowledge is the rest of their admission. Perhaps Cremo expects his readers won’t bother to track down his sources. Taylor et al complete their discussion on the sample size and pretreatment thus:

We certainly acknowledge the possibility that non-in situ organics in the bone may not have been totally excluded by the pretreatment techniques employed. However, to adjust the age of UCR-2161 B/AA- 1879 from, for example, 10,000 to 740 years, more  than 85 percent of the final sample product would have to be contaminated with modern carbon.  Given the pretreatment techniques employed, this, in our view, is extremely unlikely ((Taylor, R. E.; Payen, L. A. and Slota, P. J., Jr (April 1992). The Age of the Calaveras Skull: Dating the “Piltdown Man” of the New World. American Antiquity 57 (2): 269–275)).

Cremo is full of it. He has a conclusion to which he seeks data to confirm. At best he’s ignorant and goes about his conjectures haphazardly and without regard for data. At worst, he’s deceptive for his “cause,” which is Vedic mythology.


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About Carl Feagans 348 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

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