The Calaveras Skull

Danish Modern Stoneware Woolly Mammoth by Knud Kyhn for Royal Copenhagen (LEO Design)

On this day in 1866, miners digging in Calaveras County, California, discovered a portion of a human skull, some 130 feet below the surface and beneath an ancient lava flow.  Josiah Whitney, State Geologist in California (and a professor at Harvard University) studied the remnant, announcing that the skull was real and that it dated from the Pliocene Period—some 2.5 to 5 million years earlier.  This made the “Calaveras Skull” the oldest human remains yet found in North America.  It also confirmed Professor Whitney’s earlier publications which had asserted that man and mastodon had lived together in the same period.  This was big news!

Later, one of the Calaveras miner’s told his priest that the skull had been planted in the mine as a practical joke.  It seems that the miners did not like the Massachusetts professor and his East Coast ways.  They were only too happy to play along with Whitney, leading him along the plank.  Chemical analysis proved that the artifact was much more recent.  Furthermore, Whitney’s fellow scientists asked, how could a multi-million year old human skull be so similar to modern man’s?  Wouldn’t human skulls have evolved more over 2.5 – 5 million years?  The Calaveras Skull became a punch line and Professor Whitney became a punching bag. A poem was written, “To the Pliocene Skull” in 1899.

In 1992, radiocarbon dating proved that the skull was merely 1,000 years old—indeed modern.

Interestingly, today’s Creationists cite the Calaveras Skull hoax as proof that evolution cannot exist.

What is incontrovertible is that the Danish Woolly Mammoth (dating from 1975), pictured above, does exist.