THE DISCOVERIES OF CARLOS RIBEIRO:
A CONTROVERSIAL EPISODE IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY EUROPEAN ARCHAEOLOGY
Michael A. Cremo
Historian of Archaeology, Bhaktivedanta Institute
Presented at the European Association of Archaeologists Annual Meeting
2000, in Lisbon, Portugal
Carlos Ribeiro was director of the Geological Survey of Portugal and a member
of the Portuguese Academy of Sciences. In the years 1860-63, Ribeiro surveyed
discoveries of stone tools found at various sites in Portugal, and was surprised
to find that some of the sites were of Tertiary age. Ribeiro proceeded to
make his own collections of implements from Tertiary formations in Portugal.
He presented his discoveries in 1871 to the Portuguese Academy of
Sciences at Lisbon and in 1872 to the International Congress of Prehistoric
Anthropology and Archeology at Brussels. Some scientists accepted the
human manufacture of the object and their Tertiary provenance, others did
not. Ribeiro presented more specimens at the meeting of the International
Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archeology in Lisbon in 1880. A
special commission was appointed to judge them. As part of their investigation,
the commission took a field trip to the Miocene formations at Monte
Redondo, at Otta, and there one of the commissioners discovered an implement
in situ. For many decades, Ribeiro's discoveries had influential supporters
in archeology. But the discovery of Java Pithecanthropus erectus in Pleistocene
formations in Java ended any serious consideration of Tertiary toolmakers
among European archeologists. The discoveries of Ribeiro, and other evidences
for Tertiary man uncovered by European archeologists and geologists, are
today attributed (if they are discussed at all) to the inevitable mistakes
of untutored members of a young discipline. Another possible explanation
is that some of the discoveries were genuine, and were filtered out
of the normal discourse of a community of archeologists that had adopted,
perhaps prematurely, an evolutionary paradigm that placed the origins of
stone toolmaking in the Pleistocene. But as the time line of human toolmaking
begins to once more reach back into the Tertiary, perhaps we should withhold
final judgement on Ribeiro's discoveries. A piece of the archeological puzzle
that does not fit the consensus picture at a particular moment
may find a place as the nature of the whole picture changes.
Key words: Carlos Ribeiro, evolution, Pithecanthropus, Portugal, Tertiary
The first hint of Carlos Ribeiro’s work came to my attention quite accidentally.
While I was going through the writings of the nineteenth-century American
geologist J. D. Whitney (1880), who reported evidence for Tertiary human
beings in California,1 I encountered a sentence or two about Ribeiro having
discovered flint implements in Miocene formations near Lisbon.2 Later, I
found Ribeiro’s name again, this time in the 1957 edition of Fossil Men by
Boule and Vallois, who rather curtly dismissed his work. I was, however,
led by Boule and Vallois to the 1883 edition of Le Préhistorique,
by Gabriel de Mortillet, who gave a favorable report of Ribeiro’s discoveries.
From de Mortillet’s bibliographic references, I went to Ribeiro’s original
reports. Using all of this material, I wrote about Ribeiro’s discoveries
and their reception in my book Forbidden Archeology (Cremo and Thompson 1993).
When I learned last year that the European Association of Archeologists annual
meeting for the year 2000 was going to be held in Lisbon, I proposed this
paper on Ribeiro’s work for the section on history of archeology. In my research,
I visited the Museu Geológico in Lisbon, where I studied a collection
of Ribeiro’s artifacts. The artifacts were stored out of sight, below the
display cases featuring more conventionally acceptable artifacts from the
Portuguese Stone Ages.3 After spending a week examining and photographing
the artifacts, I went to the library of the Institute of Geology and Mines
at Alfragide to study Ribeiro’s personal papers,4 and later I went to visit
some of the sites where Ribeiro collected his specimens.5 These investigations
demonstrated how contemporary archeology treats reports of facts that no
longer conform to accepted views. Keep in mind that for most current students
of archeology, Ribeiro and his discoveries simply do not exist. You have
to go back to textbooks printed over 40 years ago to find even a mention
of him. Did Ribeiro’s work really deserve to be so thoroughly forgotten?
I think not.
A SUMMARY HISTORY OF RIBEIRO’S DISCOVERIES
In 1857, Ribeiro was named to head the Geological Commission of Portugal,
and he would also be elected to the Portuguese Academy of Sciences. During
the years 1860–63, he began conducting studies of stone implements found
in Portugal. Ribeiro learned that flints bearing signs of human work had
been found in Tertiary beds between Carregado and Alemquer, two small towns
in the basin of the Tagus River, about 35–40 kilometers northeast of Lisbon.
Ribeiro began his own investigations, and in many localities found “flakes
of worked flint and quartzite in the interior of the beds.” Ribeiro (1873a:97)
said: “I was greatly surprised when I forcefully extracted, with my own
hand, worked flints, from deep inside beds of limestone which had
been inclined at angles of 30–50 degrees from the horizontal.”6 Ribeiro
found himself in a dilemma. The geology of the region indicated the limestone
beds were of Tertiary age, but Ribeiro (1873a:97) felt he must submit to
the then prevalent idea that humans were not older than the Quaternary.7
Ribeiro therefore assigned Quaternary ages to the implement-bearing strata
(Ribeiro 1866, Ribeiro and Delgado 1867). Upon seeing the maps and accompanying
reports, geologists in other countries were perplexed. The French geologist
E. de Verneuil wrote to Ribeiro on May 27, 1867, asking him to send an explanatory
note, which was read at the June 17 meeting of the Geological Society of
France and later published in the bulletin of the Society (Ribeiro 1867).
On July 16, de Verneuil wrote once more to Ribeiro, again objecting to his
placing the Portuguese formations in the Quaternary. “I am still a little
astonished at the depth of your Quaternary formations and at the following
circumstances that you mentioned: 1. The Quaternary comprises 400 meters;
2. The formations are raised, with the stratification sometimes inclined
at angles approaching the vertical; 3. They contain masses of hard limestone
resembling the limestones of the Secondary. 4. Finally, and most curiously,
they contain implements made by the hands of humans from flint and quartrzite.
These implements are found at the base of the formations, which means that
after they were made they were covered by a deposit 400 meters deep.” (Ribeiro
1871:53-54, n. 1) Given these facts, de Verneuil thought the formations must
be Tertiary. But Ribeiro resisted the suggestion.
In 1867, the Abbé Louis Bourgeois, a reputable investigator, reported
finding stone implements in Tertiary beds in France, and some authorities
supported him (de Mortillet 1883:85). Under the twin influences of de Verneuil’s
criticism and the discoveries of Bourgeois, Ribeiro overcame his doubts
and began reporting that implements of human manufacture had been found
in Miocene formations in Portugal (Ribeiro 1871, 1873a:98).
From the standpoint of modern geology, Ribeiro’s assessment of the age
of the formations in the Tagus River valley near Lisbon is correct. Ivan
Chicha (1970, p. 50) said about this region: “The Oligocene beds, prevalently
of freshwater continental origin . . . are overlain by beds . . . which
are placed in the oldest Miocene—Aquitanian.” According to Chicha, these
Aquitanian beds are surmounted by limestones and claystones that ascend to
the Tortonian stage of the Late Miocene. Another study (Antunes et al. 1980,
p. 138) showed that Tagus Basin limestones, such as those in which Ribeiro
found stone tools, occur in the Middle and Early Miocene. Finally, the current
official geological maps of Portugal show the formations at Ribeiro’s key
sites to be Early to Middle Miocene (Zbyszweski and Ferreira 1966:9-11).
In the area around Lisbon, some of the later Miocene beds are of marine
origin. According to Ribeiro, implements of flint and quartzite are absent
from these marine beds. They are found only in the lacustrine Miocene formations
In identifying a stone object as an implement, three questions must be
answered: (1) is the specimen really of human manufacture? (2) has the age
of the stratum in which it was discovered been properly determined? (3)
was the implement incorporated into the stratum at the time the stratum
was laid down, or was the implement introduced at a later date? As far as
Ribeiro was concerned, he was convinced that he had satisfactorily answered
all three questions. The toollike flint objects he studied were of human
manufacture, they were found in strata mostly of Miocene age, and many appeared
to be in primary position, although some of his specimens were found on
In 1871, Ribeiro exhibited to the members of the Portuguese Academy of
Science at Lisbon a collection of flint and quartzite implements, including
those gathered from the Tertiary formations of the Tagus valley, and published
a study on them (Ribeiro 1871). The implements described in this study show
not only striking platforms, bulbs of percussion, and worked edges, but
also signs of use. For example, the implement shown in figure 7 has edges
that show use marks, to the extent that they appear polished (Ribeiro 1871:12).
About the large flint implement shown in figure 10(a), Ribeiro (1871:13)
said, “A great part of the surface appears to have been worn by rubbing.
One sees on one side a cavity, about 5 centimeters wide. Its surface, smooth
and glossy from wear, appears to indicate that hard substances, such as roots
and seeds, were ground upon it.” The object came from a sand pit on the Quinta-do-Cesar,
a farming estate at Carregado. Regarding a flint object found in one of
the beds comprising the hill at Murganheira, Ribeiro (1871:14) said, “This
specimen terminates in a point, and from the wear at this place, it appears
to have served as a tool.” According to Ribeiro (1871:17), “Figure 32 shows
a flint flake, six millimeters thick and of greyish color, shading to chestnut
brown. It is worked on its two edges, and is notched at the top. It appears
to be a tool designed for making grooves with the point, which extends from
the top of the notch, and which has been worn with use.” The implement came
from beds of coarse red Tertiary sandstone between Alemquer and Otta. Ribeiro
(1871:28) said, “Figure 95 is of brownish-yellow quartzite, with a maximum
thickness of three centimeters. One side, unworked, shows but a single face.
The other side, as shown in the drawing, presents three faces, two of which
are naturally fractured and while the third is intentionally worked. The
edge a-b is sharp and shows marks made by extensive use in cutting.” It came
from a sandy Pliocene bed near Melides. Other implements in the study, including
those in figures 37, 39, 54, 80, and 86 , also showed signs of use.
In 1872, at the International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and
Archeology meeting in Brussels, Ribeiro gave a anothre report on his discoveries
and displayed more specimens, mostly pointed flakes. Bourgeois found one
flint that he thought displayed signs of human work, but unfortunately it
had not been found in situ. He therefore suspended judgement (de Mortillet
1883:95). A. W. Franks, Conservator of National Antiquities and Ethnography
at the British Museum, stated that some of the specimens did appear to be
the product of intentional work, but he reserved judgement on the age of
the strata in which they had been found (Ribeiro 1873a:99).
To settle this question, Ribeiro himself (1873b:100) addressed the
Congress on “the exact geological situation of the beds in which he had
found worked flint flakes, the authenticity of which has been recognized
by Mr. Franks and other members of the Congress.” Ribeiro reported that
one of the flints had been found in the reddish-yellow Pliocene sandstone
on the left bank of the Tagus, to the south of Lisbon (Ribeiro 1873b:101).
“Concerning the other flints which Mr. Franks has declared bear evident
traces of human workmanship,” said Ribeiro (1873b:102), “they were found
in Miocene strata.” He explained that on the way north from Lisbon to Caldas
da Rainha, between the towns of Otta and Cercal, one comes to the steep
hill of Espinhaço de Cão. According to Ribeiro (1873b:102),
it was in the lacrustine Miocene sandstone beds of this hill, which lie
under marine Miocene strata, that he found “flints worked by the hand of
man before they were buried in the deposits.” This would indicate the presence
of human beings in Portugal at least 10 million years ago and perhaps as
much as 25 million years ago.
Ribeiro’s Miocene flints made an impressive debut at Brussels, but remained
controversial. At the Paris Exposition of 1878, Ribeiro displayed 95 specimens
of Tertiary flint tools in the gallery of anthropological science. De Mortillet
visited Ribeiro’s exhibit and, in the course of examining the specimens
carefully, decided that 22 had indubitable signs of human work. De Mortillet,
along with his friend and colleague Emile Cartailhac, enthusiastically brought
other archeologists to see Ribeiro's specimens, and they were all of the
same opinion—a good many of the flints were definitely made by humans. Cartailhac
then photographed the specimens, and de Mortillet later presented the pictures
in his Musée Préhistorique (G. and A. de Mortillet 1881).
De Mortillet (1883:99) wrote: “The intentional work is very well established,
not only by the general shape, which can be deceptive, but much more conclusively
by the presence of clearly evident striking platforms and strongly developed
bulbs of percussion.” Leland W. Patterson (1983), an expert in distinguishing
artifacts from “naturefacts,” believes that the bulb of percussion is the
most important sign of intentional work on a flint flake. The bulbs of percussion
also sometimes had eraillures, small chips removed by the force of impact.
In addition to the striking platform, bulb of percussion, and eraillure,
some of Ribeiro’s specimens had several long, vertical flakes removed in
parallel, something not likely to occur in the course of random battering
by the forces of nature.
“There can be no doubt,” wrote de Mortillet (1883:99) about Ribeiro’s stone
implements, adding, “In looking at the collection, one believes oneself
to be seeing Mousterian tools, only somewhat coarser than usual.”
In de Mortillet (1883:98, 81) one can find an illustration of one of Ribeiro’s
Miocene tools from Portugal and, for comparision, an illustration of a Mousterian
tool of the same general type. They share the typical features of
intentional human work on stone: the striking platform, bulb of percussion,
eraillure, and parallel removal of flakes. De Mortillet (1883:99–100) further
observed: “Many of the specimens, on the same side as the bulb of percussion,
have hollows with traces and fragments of sandstone adhering to them, a fact
which establishes their original position in the strata.”
Plate 3 in Musée Préhistorique (G. and A. de Mortillet 1881)
featured illustrations and of Ribeiro’s Miocene and Pliocene discoveries.
One of these depicts both sides of a flint flake recovered from a Tertiary
formation at the base of Monte Redondo. This formation is said to belong
to the Tortonian stage of the Late Miocene (de Mortillet 1883:102).
The Tortonian extends from 11.8 to 15 million years ago (Cicha 1970:97).
The ventral surface of the flint flake shows “a large striking platform,
bulb of percussion, and eraillure.” Sandstone, just like that found at the
base of Monte Redondo, adhered to the dorsal surface.
AN INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE VINDICATES RIBEIRO
At the 1880 meeting of the International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology
and Archeology, which was held in Lisbon, Portugal, Ribeiro served as general
secretary.8 Although very busy with all of the details of organizing the
event, and somewhat ill, he delivered a report on his artifacts and displayed
more specimens that were “extracted from Miocene beds” (Ribeiro 1884:86).
In his report (“L’homme Tertiaire en Portugal”), Ribeiro (1884:88) stated:
“The conditions in which the worked flints were found in the beds are as
follows: (1) They were found as integral parts of the beds themselves. (2)
They had sharp, well-preserved edges, showing that they had not been subject
to transport for any great distance. (3) They had a patina similar in color
to the rocks in the strata of which they formed a part.”
The second point is especially important. Some geologists claimed that
the flint implements had been introduced into Miocene beds by the floods
and torrents that periodically washed over this terrain. According to this
view, Quaternary flint implements may have entered into the interior of the
Miocene beds through fissures and been cemented there, acquiring over a long
period of time the coloration of the beds (de Quatrefages 1884:95). But if
the flints had been subjected to such transport, then the sharp edges would
most probably have been damaged, and this was not the case.
The Congress assigned a special commission of scientists the task of directly
inspecting the implements and the sites from which they had been gathered.
In addition to Ribeiro himself, the commission included G. Bellucci of the
Italian Society for Anthropology and Geography; G. Capellini, from the Royal
University of Bologna, Italy, and known for his discoveries of incised Pliocene
whale bones; E. Cartailhac, of the French Ministry of Public Instruction;
Sir John Evans, an English geologist; Gabriel de Mortillet, professor of
prehistoric anthropology at the College of Anthropology, Paris; and Rudolph
Virchow, a German anthropologist. The other members were the scientists Choffat,
Cotteau, Villanova, and Cazalis de Fondouce.
On September 22, 1880, at six in the morning, the commission memmbers boarded
a special train and proceeded north from Lisbon, getting off at Carregado.
By other means, they proceeded further north to Otta, and two kilometers
northeast from Otta arrived at the southern slopes of the hill called Monte
Redondo. At that point, the scientists dispersed into various ravines in
search of flints.9
Paul Choffat (1884a:63), secretary of the commission, later reported to
the Congress: “Of the many flint flakes and apparent cores taken from the
midst of the strata under the eyes of the commission members, one was judged
as leaving no doubt about the intentional character of the work.” This was
the specimen found in situ by Bellucci. Choffat then noted that Bellucci had
found on the surface other flints with incontestable signs of work. Some
thought they were Miocene implements that had been removed from the Miocene
conglomerates by atmospheric agencies, while others thought that the implements
were of a much more recent date.
De Mortillet (1883:102) gave an informative account of the excursion to
Otta and Bellucci’s remarkable discovery: “The members of the Congress arrived
at Otta, in the middle of a great freshwater formation. It was the bottom
of an ancient lake, with sand and clay in the center, and sand and rocks
on the edges. It is on the shores that intelligent beings would have left
their tools, and it is on the shores of the lake that once bathed Monte Redondo
that the search was made. It was crowned with success. The able investigator
of Umbria, Mr. Bellucci, discovered in situ a flint bearing incontestable
signs of intentional work. Before detaching it, he showed it to a number
of his colleagues. The flint was strongly encased in the rock. He had to
use a hammer to extract it. It is definitely of the same age as the deposit.
Instead of lying flat on a surface onto which it could have been secondarily
recemented at a much later date, it was found firmly in place on the under
side of a ledge extending over a region removed by erosion. It is impossible
to desire a more complete demonstration attesting to a flints position in
its strata.”10 All that was needed was to determine the age of the strata.
Study of the fauna and flora in the region around the Monte Redondo site
showed that the formations present there can be assigned to the Tortonian
stage of the Late Miocene period (de Mortillet 1883:102). “Therefore,” concluded
de Mortillet “during the Tortonian epoch there existed in Portugal an intelligent
being who chipped flint just like Quaternary humans” (1883:102). Some modern
authorities consider the Otta conglomerates to be from the Burdigalian stage
of the Early Miocene (Antunes et al. 1980:139).
Choffat (1884b, pp. 92–93) presented, in the form of answers to four questions,
the conclusions of the commission members. The first two questions dealt
with the flints themselves: “(1) Are there bulbs of percussion on the flints
on exhibition and on those found during the excursion? The commission declares
unanimously that there are bulbs of percussion, and some pieces have several.
(2) Are bulbs of percussion proof of intentional work? There are different
opinions. They may be summarized as follows: de Mortillet considers that
just one bulb of percussion is sufficient proof of intentional work, while
Evans believes that even several bulbs on one piece do not give certitude
of intentional work but only a great probability of such.” Here it may once
more be noted that modern authorities such as Leland W. Patterson (1983)
consider one or more bulbs of percussion to be good indicators of intentional
The remaining two questions concerned the positions in which the flints
were found: “(3) Are the worked flints found at Otta from the interior of
the beds or the surface? There are diverse opinions. Mr. Cotteau believes
all are from the surface, and that those found embedded within the strata
came down through crevasses in the beds. Mr. Capellini, however, believes
that pieces found on the surface were eroded from the interior of the beds.
De Mortillet, Evans, and Cartailhac believe there are two time periods to
which the flints may be referred, the first being the Tertiary, the other
being the Old and New Stone Ages of the Quaternary. The flints of the two
periods are easy to distinguish by their form and patina. (4) What is the
age of the strata of the worked flints? After only a moments discussion the
members declared they were in perfect accord with Ribeiro.” In other words,
the strata were Miocene.
In the discussion that followed the presentation of Choffat’s report, Capellini
said: “I believe these flints to be the product of intentional work. If
you do not admit that, then you must also doubt the flints of the later
Stone Ages” (Choffat 1884b:97–98). According to Capellini, Ribeiro’s Miocene
specimens were almost identical to undoubted Quaternary flint implements.
The next speaker, Villanova, was very doubtful, even about the Bellucci
find. He said that in order to remove all cause for suspicion one would have
to discover an unmistakably genuine implement firmly embedded not in a Miocene
conglomerate but in the middle of an undifferentiated Miocene formation
and alongside characteristic fossils (Choffat 1884b:99). Of course, it would
have been better if the flint had been found in an undifferentiated stratum.
But the number of human artifacts found in undifferentiated strata directly
alongside characteristic fossils is rather small. Furthermore, sometimes
anomalous finds are made in undifferentiated strata alongside characteristic
fossils, and then some other means will be found to discredit them. Indeed,
as previously mentioned, in his report to the International Congress of Prehistoric
Anthropology and Archeology at Brussels in 1872, Ribeiro (1873a:97) did tell
of finding flint implements “deep inside” apparently undifferentiated Miocene
Following Villanova, Cartailhac spoke. He said that if the question of
the Miocene age of the implements were to be decided on the grounds of actual
scientific evidence, the answer would have to be affirmative. Cartailhac
believed that the coloration of many of the surface finds indicated they
were eroded from Miocene beds, and he pointed out that some specimens had
remnants of Miocene sediments adhering to them.
Cartailhac then asked the members to consider a particular specimen from
Ribeiro’s collection, which he had previously studied at the anthropological
exposition in Paris. He stated: “I have seen on it two bulbs of percussion,
and possibly a third, and a point that seems to truly be the result of intentional
work. It has on its surface not a coloration that could be removed by washing
but rather a surface incrustation of Miocene sandstone tightly adhering
to it. A chemist would not permit us to say that such a deposit could form
and attach itself to a flint lying, for whatever amount of time, on a sandstone
surface” (Choffat 1884b:100). In other words, the flint must have been lying
within the Miocene bed itself, when it was formed. Cartailhac admitted that
natural action might in rare occasions produce a bulb of percussion, but
to have two on the same piece would be an absolute miracle. He believed that
the many very good specimens discovered on the Miocene surface, where there
was absolutely no trace of any other deposit, were really Miocene implements
that had weathered out of the rock.
After Cartailhac finished his remarks, Bellucci gave his own account of
his discovery of the implement in the Miocene conglomerate at Otta (Choffat
1884b:101–102). Before extracting it, he had shown it to many members of the
commission, who saw that it was firmly integrated into the stratum. It had
been so firmly fixed in the Miocene sandstone conglomerate that he needed
to use Cartailhac’s iron pick to break the sandstone. Bellucci stated that
the inner surface of the implement, the one adhering to the conglomerate,
had not only the same reddish color as the conglomerate but also incrustations
of tiny grains of quartzite that could not be detached even by vigorous washing.
Bellucci further pointed out that the elements composing the intact conglomerate
corresponded perfectly with those found loose on the surface. This led Bellucci
to conclude that the loose stones found on the surface at Otta were the
result of weathering of the conglomerate. This indicated that flint implements
found on the surface might also have come recently from the conglomerate,
which was of Miocene age (Choffat 1884b:103).
As for the signs of intentional work on the piece found in situ, Bellucci
noted: “This piece was detached from the surface of a flint core, and it
not only has a magnificent bulb of percussion, but also one of its surfaces
presents marks showing that another flake had been previously detached, in
the same direction, when the implement had been still part of the flint nucleus”
(Choffat 1884b:104). Successive parallel flake removal from a core, is recognized
today by experts in lithic technology as one of the surest signs of intentional
work. Patterson stated: “Humans will often strike multiple flakes
in series from a single core, usually resulting in the production of some
flakes with multiple facets on the dorsal face. In contrast, the removal
of a few flakes from cores by random natural forces would not be expected
to occur often by serial removals. . . . It is characteristic in human lithic
manufacturing processes to use the same striking platform for multiple flake
removals” (Patterson et al. 1987:98).
Altogether, there seems little reason why Ribeiro’s discoveries should
not be receiving some serious attention, even today. Here we have a professional
geologist, the head of Portugal’s Geological Commission, making discoveries
of flint implements in Miocene strata. The implements resembled accepted
types, and they displayed characteristics that modern experts in lithic technology
accept as signs of human manufacture. To resolve controversial questions,
a congress of Europe’s leading archeologists and anthropologists deputed
a committee to conduct a firsthand investigation of one of the sites of Ribeiro’s
discoveries. There a scientist discovered in situ an implement in a Miocene
bed, a fact witnessed by several other members of the committee. Of course,
objections were raised but upon reviewing them, it does not appear to me
that they justify rejection of Bellucci’s find in particular or Ribeiro’s
finds in general.
Ribeiro died in 1882. In 1889, his colleague Joaquim Fillipe Nery Delgado
conducted some new explorations at Monte Redondo, along with Berkeley Cotter
of the Geological Commission of Portugal. Delgado recovered some artifacts,
which he displayed at the 10th International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology
and Archeology. The collection was divided into two groups. The specimens
in the first group were recovered from four excavations into the Tertiary
sandstone and from vertical Tertiary sandstone surfaces exposed in ravines
and cliffs cut into the base of Monte Redondo. The second group included
flints that were found loose on the surface of the ground, having weathered
out from the Tertiary formations.11 None of the flints in the first group,
from the excavations or the exposures, showed signs of human work.
Delgado (1889:530) therefore declared he had not been able to duplicate
Ribeiro’s discoveries of worked flints in solid rock. Delgado said, “I have
no desire to raise any doubts about the authenticity of his discoveries; nevertheless,
the spirit of scientific truthfulness compels me to make my statement” (1889,
But Delgado did see signs of human work on the flints found loose on the
ground (1889:530). He said that many of these “are incontestably Tertiary
and have been naturally separated from the underlying beds solely by the
action of atmospheric agencies” (1889:529). He believed that others found
lying on the surface were from the Late Pleistocene, perhaps left by the
humans responsible for the kitchen midden at Mugem (1889:531).
In the discussion that followed Delgado’s talk, de Mortillet said he did
not think Delgado’s failure to find work flints in his four excavations
was all that significant. He pointed out that even in places very rich in
artifacts, such as Chelles and St. Acheul in France, one could go through
many cubic meters of sediment without finding any flints showing signs of
work (Delgado 1889:532).
In 1905, in a memorial volume dedicated to Ribeiro, Delgado further distanced
himself from the conclusions of his departed colleague. He wrote (1905:33-34):
“The question of Tertiary man still remains to be decided. If the discovery
made ten years ago by Dubois in the [latest] Pliocene of Trinil, on the
island of Java, appears to show the way to a solution for this problem,
then it is no less certain that the idea of the existence of a being ancestral
to man in the Tertiary has also lost much ground.” Delgado appears to be
saying that Pithecanthropus erectus, a precursor to modern humans, ruled
out the existence of humans like us in the Tertiary, anywhere in the world.
He also appears to be saying that Pithecanthropus made it unlikely that similar
precursors to modern humans would be found in the European Tertiary. Southeast
Asia, apparently, would be the place to look.
This interpretation of his statement is supported by what he said next.
Delgado (1905:34) mentioned his 1889 excavations at Monte Redondo, stating
that they failed to yield specimens like those that Ribeiro claimed to have
found in the Teritiary rock. He did not, however, mention that he had found
weathered out from the Miocene formations many worked flints, which, previously,
he himself had claimed to be of Tertiary age (Delgado 1889:529). He then quoted
Gaudry as saying, in a 1903 publication, that he despaired of finding any
remains of predecessors to Chellean man in the Pliocene of France, because
all reports annoucing evidence for Tertiary man in Europe had proved incorrect
Delgado concluded (1905:34): “Even though the discovery of Tertiary man,
or rather an intelligent precursor to man in the Tertiary epoch, has not
been confirmed, the name of our compatriot will not fail to be mentioned
in textbooks of prehistory, because the discovery of the flints of Otta,
to which his name is inextricably connected, will always remain among the
most valuable arguments in favor of this hypothesis.” But Ribeiro’s name
did not remain in the textbooks. And the flints of Otta also disappeared
from them, or were given far more recent ages.
In 1942, Henri Breuil and G. Zbyszewski of the Geological Service of Portugal
restudied the artifacts collected by Ribeiro. They determined that some
of them did not actually display any signs of intentional human work. And,
not accepting the Tertiary age of the rest, they reclassified them
as corresponding to accepted Pleistocene and Holocene industries, such as
the Clactonian, Tayencian, Levalloisian, Mousterian, Upper Palaeolithic,
Mesolithic, and Neo-Eneolithic (Zbyszewski and Ferreira 1966:85-86, Breuil
and Zbyszewski 1942).
Here is one example of such reclassification. Ribeiro (1871:14) described
an implement of light brown flint. He said it was one of several extracted
(retirès) from the series of beds forming the hill called Murganheira.
Ribeiro (1866:34) said these beds belonged to group one (groupe inférieur)
of his classification (1866:2). He originally considered the beds of the
groupe inférieur as earliest Quaternary, but later classified them
as belonging to the Lower Miocene (Ribeiro 1871:47-48), in line with the
modern attribution. The implement from the Miocene beds at Murganheira has
worked edges, two of them joining to form a point. The point shows signs
of use. On the tool itself is written “15.IV.1869 1.5 km N da Bemposta,”
indicating the artifact was found on April 15, 1869, 1.5 kilometers north
of Bemposta, a locality just south of the Murganheira hill. On the new label
prepared by the Geological Service of Portugal during the period of reclassification,
the artifact is identified as an Upper Paleolithic flint implement found
by Ribeiro at Murganheira, near Alemquer. Apparently, there was no disputing
the artifactual nature of the object, but its age was apparently assigned
on the basis of its form rather than its provenance.
Some time after this reclassification of Ribeiro’s collection, the artifacts
were removed from display at the Museo Geológico in Lisbon. Ribeiro
and his artifacts entered into an oblivion from which they have yet to emerge.
The history Carlos Ribeiro’s discoveries demonstrates the complex interpretative
interplay between geology and archeology and evolutionary theories. During
the early 1860s, the prevailing archeological view that human artifacts
were confined to the Quaternary caused Ribeiro to classify Tertiary formations
containing them as Quaternary. When opposition to this geological
classification arose from geologists, Ribeiro at first resisted their suggestions
that the terrains were certainly Tertiary. When a short time later archeologists
began to seriously consider evidence for human artifacts in the Tertiary,
Ribeiro changed his mind. He agreed that the Portuguese formations were
Tertiary, and now took the archeological remains found in them as evidence
for Tertiary humans. Prominent archeologists and geologists agreed with
him, and his work remained a topic of active discussion.
There were two possibilities as to the archeological significance of Ribeiro’s
work: it provided either evidence for humans like us in the Tertiary, or
evidence for a human precursor. De Mortillet, for example, favored the latter
interpretation, whereas de Quatrefages and others favored the former.12
In any case, at this time, even though most European archaeologists were
working within an evolutionary framework, the time dimension of the evolutionary
process had not been settled, mainly because of the lack of skeletal evidence
in appropriate geological contexts. The looseness of the evolutionary framework
therefore allowed archaeologists to contemplate the existence of Tertiary
That changed in the very last decade of the nineteenth century. With the
discovery of Pithecanthropus erectus, Darwinists began to solidify an evolutionary
progression that led from Pithecanthropus, at the Plio-Pleistocene boundary,
to anatomically modern humans in the Late Pleistocene. This left no room
for Tertiary humans anywhere in the world, and put the spotlight on Southeast
Asia as the place to look for Tertiary precursors to Pithecanthropus. Ribeiro’s
discoveries lost their relevance and gradually disappeared from the discourse
of human origins.13
A century later, things have changed somewhat. Africa is now generally
recognized as the place where hominids first arose. For some time, the earliest
tools were thought to date back only to the Early Pleistocene. But in recent
years archeologists are once more pushing the onset of stone toolmaking
well into the Tertiary. Oldowan tools have been found in the Pliocene at
Gona, Ethiopia (Semaw et al. 1997). The large number of tools, described
as surprisingly sophisticated, are about 2.5-2.6 million years old. Therefore,
we should expect to find stone tools going back even further into the Tertiary.
Conventional candidates for the Tertiary tool makers include earliest Homo
or one of the australopithecines (Steele 1999, p. 25). But there are other
possibilities. Footprints described as anatomically modern occur in Pliocene
volcanic ash 3.7 million years old at Laetoli, Tanzania (M. Leakey 1979).14
There is even evidence putting toolmakers close to the Iberian peninsula,
in Morocco, in the late Tertiary (Onoratini et al. 1990). At the Ben Souda
quarry near Fez, stone tools type were found in place in the Saissian formation,
which had for long been considered Pliocene. Onoratini et al. said: “The
typological characters are clear enough so as to allow one to propose that
this industry should be attributed culturally to the middle Acheulean. This
constitutes sufficient reason to anthropically date a formation that could
not be dated by any other method.” Noting the similarity of the Ben Souda
tools to the Acheulean tools from a Middle Pleistocene formation at Cuvette
de Sidi Abderrahman in the area of Casablanca, Onoratini et al. (1990, p.
330) decided to characterize the part of the Saissian formation containing
the tools at Ben Souda as also being Middle Pleistocene. Another possibility
that deserves to be considered is that there are tools of Acheulean type
in the Tertiary of Morocco.
It may be noted that anatomically modern human skeletal remains have been
found in the Tertiary (Pliocene) of Italy at Castenedolo15 (Ragazzoni 1880,
Sergi 1884, Cremo and Thompson 1993: 422-432) and Savona (de Mortillet 1883:70,
Issel 1868, Cremo and Thompson 1993: 433-435). There may therefore be some
reason, once more, to consider the possibility of Tertiary industries in
Such a possibility is not much in favor today, as can be seen in a recent
critical survey for evidence for the earliest human occupation of Europe
(Roebroeks and Van Kolfschoten 1995).16 The basic thrust of the book, which
is a collection of papers presented at a conference on the earliest occupation
of Europe held at Tautavel, France, in 1993, is to endorse a short chronology,
with solid evidence for first occupation occurring in the Middle Pleistocene
at around 500,000 years. Other discoveries favoring a long chronology, perhaps
extending into the earliest Pleistocene (1.8 to 2 million years) are, however,
mentioned, although the consensus among the authors of the Tautavel papers
is that such evidence is highly questionable. Two kinds of doubts are raised
against the evidence for the long chronology: doubts about the age of the
sites and doubts about the intentional manufacture of the artifacts found
there. The sites and the artifacts are nevertheless mentioned, and are not
entirely dismissed. The editors, and authors of individual chapters, simply
say, in many cases, that better confirmation of the age of the site and
the intentional manufacture of the artifacts are required.
Given this liberal approach, Ribeiro’s artifacts should have been mentioned
in the chapter on the Iberian peninsula (Raposo and Santonja 1995). In that
chapter, the authors give the impression that the oldest reported stone
tool industries in Portugal are Early Pleistocene pebble industries documented
by Breuil and Zbyszewski (1942-1945). Raposo and Santonja (1995, p.13) called
into question the dating of the pebble tool sites, concluding that they
“do not document beyond doubt any Early Pleistocene human occupation.” But
the main point is this: although the industries reported by Breuil and Zbyszewski
were not accepted, they were at least acknowledged. The same is true of
other controversial sites indicating a possible Early Pleistocene occupation
elsewhere in the Iberian peninsula. Raposo and Santonja did not accept them,
but they acknowledged their existence, thus offering current archeologists
the option of conducting further research to more firmly establish either
the dates of the sites or the artefactual nature of the stone objects found
there. Ribeiro’s discoveries deserve similar treatment.
One possible objection is that although there is some reason to believe
in a possible early Pleistocene occupation of Europe, or even a very late
Pliocene occupation, there is none to support a Miocene habitation. But there
is a body of evidence that can provide a context in which the Miocene discoveries
of Ribeiro might make some sense. Miocene flint tools are reported from
Puy de Boudieu, near Aurillac in the department of Cantal in the Massif
Central region of France (Verworn 1905). Today, many archeologists
will assume that the discoverer, Max Verworn of the University of Göttingen,
was deceived as to either the geological context or the artifactual nature
of the implements. But Verworn’s reports show that he gave extensive attention
to both problems. He was not an eolithphile, but a skeptical investigator
who employed a rigorous method of analysis.
Concerning the provenance, Verworn (1905:16) noted that the worked
flints were found in isolated small groups in layers of sediment, apart
from unworked flints. This suggests that the worked flints were not picked
out of large masses of broken flint. The worked flints showed little or
no signs of transport, indicating they had not moved much since they were
deposited, whereas unworked stones from the surrounding areas showed signs
of transport and rolling (Verworn 1905:16). The flint implements were found
in layers of fluviatile sands, stones, and eroded chalk, along with fossils
of a typical Miocene fauna, including Dinotherium giganteum, Mastodon longirostris,
Rhinocerus schleiermacheri, and Hipparion gracile. The implement-bearing
layers were covered with basalt flows (Verworn 1905: 17). Considering the
objection that Miocene fossils from lower layers had been mixed into upper
layers with Pleistocene implements, Verworn pointed out that no Pleistocene
animal fossils were to be found in the same layers as the Miocene fossils
and the flint implements. He also observed that the layers bearing the flint
implements of the type he collected were always found in the lowest part
of the sequence overlying the Oligocene basement formation (Verworn 1905:19-20).
Paleolithic and Neolithic implements of the standard type are found only
in the upper terraces, above the sequence of Tertiary sedimentary and volcanic
layers (Verworn 1905:17).
Concerning the artifactual nature of the implements, Verworn (1905, 24-25)
considered the various causes of natural flaking, including frost, heat,
movement by water, rock falls, glaciers, and so forth, and found they could
not account for the objects he found at Aurillac. He believed that even the
presence of bulbs of percussion, striking platforms, and apparently intentional
flaking were not enough to establish the artifactual nature of a flint object.
Retouching of a working edge was a good sign of intentional work, but he
recommended very careful study of the individual flake removals on the edge,
including their depth, size, similarity of planes of impact, and arrangement
in regular rows. But even this was not enough, for him. He especially recommended
looking for use marks. Verworn expected that implements used for scraping
wood, bones, or skin would display characteristic use marks. He conducted
experimental research to help in identifying such marks on working edges
of flint implements. (Verworn 1905:25-26).
Summarizing his methodology, Verworn (1905:29) said, “Suppose I find in
an interglacial stone bed a flint that bears a clear bulb of percussion, but
no other symptoms of intentional work. In that case, I would be doubtful
as to whether whether or not I had before me an object of human manufacture.
But suppose I find there a flint which on one side shows all the typical
signs of percussion, and which on the other side shows the negative impressions
of two, three, four or more flakes removed by blows in the same direction.
Furthermore, let us suppose one edge of the piece shows numerous successive
small parallel flakes removed, all running in the same direction, and all,
without exception, are located on the same side of the edge. Let us suppose
that all the other edges are sharp, without a trace of impact or rolling.
Then I can say with complete certainty—it is an implement of human manufacture.”
(Verworn 1905, p. 29). Verworn found about 200 specimens satisfying these
criteria, and some of these also showed use marks on the working edges.
Similar discoveries come from various places around the world. They include
stone tools from the Miocene of Burma (Noetling 1894), stone tools and artistically
carved animal bone from the Miocene of Turkey (Calvert 1874), incised and
carved animal bones from the Miocene of Europe (Garrigou and Filhol 1868,
von Dücker 1873), stone tools from the Miocene of Europe (Bourgeois
1873), stone tools and human skeletal remains from the Miocene of California
(Whitney 1880), and a human skeleton from the Miocene of France (de Mortillet
1883:72). For an extensive review of such evidence from all periods of the
Tertiary, from all parts of the world, see Cremo and Thompson (1993).
Much of this evidence, like Ribeiro’s evidence, disappeared from active
consideration by archeologists because of their commitment to a human evolutionary
progression anchored on Pithecanthropus erectus (Cremo, forthcoming). For
example, the influential anthropologist William H. Holmes (1899:24), of the
Smithsonian Institution, rejected the California gold mine discoveries reported
by J. D. Whitney by saying: “Perhaps if Professor Whitney had fully appreciated
the story of human evolution as it is understood today, he would have hesitated
to announce the conclusions formulated, notwithstanding the imposing array
of testimony with which he was confronted.” Holmes (1899:470) specifically
appealed the the Java man discovery, suggesting that Whitney’s evidence
should be rejected because “it implies a human race older by at least one
half than Pithecanthropus erectus of Dubois, which may be regarded as an
incipient form of human only.”
Not all of the evidence for Tertiary Homo comes from the nineteenth
century. K. N. Prasad (1982:101) of the Geological Survey of India described
“a crude unifacial hand-axe pebble tool recovered from the late Miocene-Pliocene
(9-10 m.y. BP) at Haritalyangar, Himachal Pradesh, India.” He added (1982,
p. 102), “The implement was recovered in situ, during remeasuring of the
geological succession to assess the thickness of the beds. Care was taken
to confirm the exact provenance of the material, in order to rule out the
possibility of its derivation from younger horizons.” Describing the tool
it self, he said (1982:102): “The quartz artefact, heart-shaped (90mm x 70mm)
was obviously fabricated from a rolled pebble, the dorsal side of which shows
rough flaking. . . . On the ventral side much of the marginal cortex is present
at the distal end. Crude flaking has been attempted for fashioning a cutting
edge. Marginal flaking at the lateral edge on the ventral side is visible.”
Prasad concluded (1982:103): “It is not impossible that fashioning tools
commenced even as early as the later Miocene and evolved in a time-stratigraphic
period embracing the Astian-Villafranchian.”
The discoveries of Ribeiro, and other evidences for Tertiary man uncovered
by European archeologists and geologists, are today attributed (if they
are discussed at all) to the inevitable mistakes of untutored members
of a young discipline. Another possible explanation is that some of
the discoveries were genuine, and were filtered out of the normal discourse
of a community of archeologists that had adopted, perhaps prematurely, an
evolutionary paradigm that placed the origins of stone toolmaking in the
Pleistocene. But as the time line of human toolmaking begins to once more
reach back into the Tertiary, perhaps we should withhold final judgement
on Ribeiro's discoveries. A piece of the archeological puzzle that does
not fit the consensus picture at a particular moment may find
a place as the nature of the whole picture changes.
As an historian of archaeology, I believe that the discoveries of Ribeiro
remain worthy of being considered in discussions of the earliest human occupation
of Europe. I am pleased that the Museo Geológico in Lisbon is once
more considering exhibiting the artifacts.19 I also encourage new investigations
at Monte Redondo and other sites identified by Ribeiro. Ribeiro himself
made an appeal, which remains relevant today (1871:57): “If in spite of
all the considerations we have put forward, one still hesitates to accept
the Miocene man in Portugal, we invite geologists to explore the escarpments
formed by the beds of group (a) [Upper Miocene] in the region of Lisbon,
and the beds of group (b’) [Lower Miocene] along the routes from Carregado
to Caldas and from Villa-Nova-da-Rainha to Rio Maior. It is there they will
find the authentic facts and conclusive proofs, which serve to demonstrate
the contemporaneity of our species and the Tertiary formations of our land.”
1. Whitney was a prominent geologist, and his reports on the discoveries
were published by the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology.
The discoveries included anatomically modern human skeletal remains and
stone artifacts, such as mortars and pestles and obsidian spear points.
They were found in gold mining tunnels that reached Eocene river channels,
sealed under hundreds of feet of Miocene and Pliocene basalt flows in the
Sierra Nevada Mountains, at places such as Table Mountain in Tuolumne County,
California. See Cremo and Thompson (1993: 370-393, 439-452) for a review
2. Whitney (1880: 282) mentioned that in 1871 Carlos Ribeiro had published
a report that “cut flints, evidently the work of human hands, have been
found in abundance in the Pliocene and Miocene even, of Portugal.” Whitney
criticized Charles Lyell for omitting this report in The Antiquity of Man,
his comprehensive survey of evidence for human antiquity.
3. The Museu Geológico is located on the second floor of the 17th-century
building in the historic center of Lisbon that also houses the Academia
das Ciências de Lisboa (19 Rua da Academia das Ciências, Lisbon
1200 003). The director of the museum, Dr. Jose Manuel Brandão, showed
me the collection of Ribeiro’s artifacts. They are stored according to the
sites (the principal ones being Abrigada, Alemquer, Bemposta, Carregado,
Encosta da Gorda, Espinhaço de Cão, Murganheira, and Otta)
but are mixed with objects collected by others. Most of Ribeiro’s artifacts
are, however, recognizable by his handwritten labels affixed to the artifacts,
or written directly upon the artifacts. Others are attributed to him by
old museum labels. I was able to match artifacts to twenty-one of the 128
drawings of artifacts shown in Ribeiro’s principal publication on them (Ribeiro
1871). Artifacts were matched to figures 13, 15, 16, 26, 27, 29, 36, 36b,
43, 45, 46, 55, 62, 63, 64, 73, 74, 77, 80, 82, 94. These twenty-one artifacts,
along with some others, were photographed for me by Rita Jeney, a student
of archeology from the Eötvös Loran Science University in Budapest.
With the permission of Dr. Brandão, I separated these artifacts in
the collection drawers, putting them in individual small boxes along with
handwritten labels associating each with the corresponding figure and plate
numbers in Ribeiro’s 1871. Assuming that all of the artifacts figured in
Ribeiro’s 1871 were originally in the collection, it appears that most are
now misplaced or otherwise missing.
4. The Instituto Geológico e Mineiro is located at Estrada de Portela,
Apartado 7586, Zambujal, Alfragide, in the newer western suburbs of Lisbon.
The library of the Museu Geológico was transferred there from central
Lisbon a few years ago. The library contains collections of Ribeiro’s field
notes. The notes are in small notebooks, written mostly in light pencil
and sometimes in more legible ink. In my quick scanning of all the pages
of the notebooks, I was disappointed not to find much in the way of exact
descriptions of the circumstances of discovery of the stone artifacts collected
by Ribeiro. The library has a collection of Ribeiro’s correspondence (Arquivo
Historico, Armario 1, Prataleira 2, Maço 9, Correpondência
de Carlos Ribeiro). The collection includes mostly copies of letters to
Ribeiro, with only a few of his replies, most of which appear to be first
drafts. The letters did not contain information that revealed anything more
about Ribeiro’s discoveries than can be found in his publications.
5. The main guide to the localities I visited was Ribeiro’s 1866. The localities
I found, with considerable help from Portuguese friends who served as drivers
and translators, were: (1) A site at the base of an escarpment that runs
along the north side of the road that goes from Carregado to Cadafaes (Ribeiro
1866:28). The site is about half the distance between Carregado and Cadafaes
(now spelled Cadafais), and can be reached by a small dirt road going through
some vineyards. (2) Quinta de Cesar (Ribeiro 1866:32) in Carregado. (3) The
hill called Murganheira, east of Alemquer (Ribeiro 1866:34). (4) Encosta
da Gorda (Ribeiro 1866:34), near the eastern side of the Murganheira hill.
(5) The site on the right bank of the River Otta, where it passes the village
of Otta (Ribeiro 1866:42). (6) Monte Redondo, about 2 kilometers northeast
of Otta (Ribeiro 1866:45).
6. It appears that the implements were sometimes found in layers of sediment
lying between the layers of limestone. For example, de Mortillet (1883:100)
says that implements were found in layers of sandstone running between layers
of limestone and clay.
7. Ribeiro’s dilemma is also reflected in other writings. In his annual
report for the Geological Commission of Portugal (Ribeiro 1865:97), Ribeiro,
as director, wrote about his investigations from the Serra de Monte Junto
to the left bank of the Tagus River, northeast of Lisbon. He said that the
work had resulted in important corrections for the official geological map
of Portugal, soon to be engraved and printed. Formations that just three months
ago had been classified as Tertiary were now to be recognized as Quaternary.
In his main report justifying his attribution of these formations to the
Quaternary, Ribeiro (1866:59-62) acknowledged his doubts and reservations.
He gave several geological reasons that indicated a Tertiary age for the
region in question (Ribeiro 1886:60). The lacrustine deposits were concordant
with marine Tertiary formations. The deposits were of great thickness, and
in some places were greatly deformed. Furthermore, the normal kinds of Quaternary
shells were absent from them. He then said, “It is therefore not very surprising
that when we encountered worked flints in these formations, subjacent to
the conglomerates of Carregado, we were greatly astonished. But because the
authenticity of the discovery was incontestable, and because of the incontestablity
of the human remains later encountered at other localities, where the sandy
part of the deposit had been greatly eroded, we were forced to refer to the
Quaternary all of the sandstone rock that constitutes the surface of the
Otta depression, and along with that a great portion of the sandstone rock
of the same kind that covers the left side of the Tagus valley” (Ribeiro
In this monograph on the implements he discovered, Ribeiro (1871:52) gave
a similar account of his early astonishment: “At first we believed we had
become subjected to an illusion. We tried to persuade ourselves that the
chipped flints and quartzites presented no signs of human work. But that
effort was contradicted by the clear evidence of such signs. As the number
of specimens increased, and the conditions of their provenance became better
understood, our conviction became stronger and stronger as to the true origin
of the objects. Finally, it became necessary to announce the proofs, the
inconstestable indications shown by the stone objects, which had been held
by human hands before they were covered by the beds from which we extracted
8. A most interesting collection of documents related to the Congrès
International d’Anthropologie et d’Archéologie Préhistoriques
of 1880 can be found in the historical archives of the library of the Institute
of Geology and Mines in Alfragide, Lisbon (Armario 6, Prataleira 3, Maço
69, IXe Congresso de Antropologia e Arqeuologia, Lisboa 1880). The documents
include numerous drafts of the conference schedules, lists of participants,
lists of hotels and restaurants, etc., many apparently in Ribeiro’s handwriting.
Also to be found are the stenographic copies of papers delivered at the
Congress, letters of invitation, and other correspondence. In total, they
provide an excellent picture of the whole process of organizing an international
scientific conference in nineteenth-century Europe, from the first letters
of invitation to the final details of publishing the proceedings. The Congress
was held in the ornate main hall of the library in the building housing
the Academia Real das Sciencas, located on the floor below the Museu Geológico.
The hall, still there today, is worth a visit.
9. In July, 2000, I retraced the commission’s route. There is a road leading
east from Otta to Aveiras de Cima. Just as this road leaves Otta, one turns
onto a small dirt road leading north, and following it, one eventually comes
to Monte Redondo. Monte Redondo and the surrounding area remain in a natural
condition, undisturbed by any construction. The area has, however, been
reforested with trees not native to Portugal. Although I suspect the landscape
has changed somewhat, ravines on the southern slopes of Monte Redondo, like
those described in the report of the conference expedition, are still visible.
Their profiles resemble the one figured by de Mortillet (1883:101).
10. At the Tenth Congress in 1889, Villanova claimed that de Mortillet’s
figure (1883:101) showing the position of Belluci’s discovery at Otta was
inaccurate. Villanova maintained that the artifact was not found in
the interior of the bed, but on the surface (Delgado 1889:531). But the
figure does not show the implement was found inside the bed. It is in fact
shown on a surface, the under surface of a ledge, and thus appears to me
accurate. De Mortillet was present at Otta when the discovery was made,
and his account seems reliable.
11. Delgado said that the specimens in one group were marked with numbers
in red circles and in the other group with numbers in blue circles. In the
various collections of artifacts from Otta in the Museu Geológico,
one can see many bearing the numbers with red and blue circles. It would
be good to assemble them into a single subcollection.
12. De Mortillet stated: “If we see in the flint objects found at Thenay
signs of intentional work, we can only conclude it was not the work of anatomically
modern human beings but of another human species, probably representative
of a genus of human precursors that fills the gap between humans and animals”
(de Quatrefages 1884:81-82). De Mortillet called this precursor genus Anthropopitheque,
existing in three species, the oldest, that of Thenay, being the link with
the apes. Thenay is the site of the early Miocene discoveries reported by
Bourgeois (1873). The other two species were the makers of the flint tools
found by Ribeiro in Portugal and by Rames at Aurillac, in France (de Mortillet
1883:97). “For de Mortillet,” stated de Quatrefages (1884:82-83), “the existence
of anthropopitheques in Tertiary times is a necessary consequence of Darwinist
13. In the Pithecanthropus erectus discovery, Dubois associated a femur
with a skullcap. Considering the historical impact of Pithecanthropus on evidence
for Tertiary humans, it is noteworthy that modern researchers no longer consider
the association genuine. When Day and Molleson (1973), carefully reexamined
the femur, they found it not different from anatomically modern human femurs
and distinct from all other erectus femurs.
14. Leakey herself (1979:453) said the prints were exactly like anatomically
modern human footprints, a judgement shared by some physical anthropologists
(Tuttle 1981:91, 1987:517). Tim White said, “Make no mistake about it. They
are like modern human footprints” (Johanson and Edey 1981:250). Some have
suggested that an australopithecine could have made the prints. But such
proposals were not supported by a complete Australopithecus foot. White and
Suwa (1987) attempted to put together such a foot (using bones from three
different hominids of different genera), but the exercise was quite speculative.
In 1995, Clarke and Tobias reported the discovery of a partial Australopithecus
foot from Sterkfontein (Bower 1995), and in 1998 announced the discovery
of a fairly complete australopithecine skeleton, to which the foot bones
had originally been attached. The partial foot reported in 1995 featured
a big toe that was long and divergent, like that of a chimpanzee. Like White
and Suwa, Tobias and Clarke used bones from East African hominids to reconstruct
a complete foot, which Tobias said matched the Laetoli prints (Bower 1995).
However, physical anthropologist Michael Day asserted that the Sterkfontein
foot could not have made the Laetoli footprints and questioned the accuracy
of a reconstruction that made use of bones from different parts of Africa
(Bower 1995). Stern and Susman (1983) proposed that an australopithecine
foot with long toes curled under made the prints. But others (Tuttle 1985:132,
White and Suwa 1987:495) pointed out that the prints showed no knuckle marks,
and that surely, in the case of so many prints some would have shown the
extended toes. Deloison (1997) claimed, in opposition to almost all previous
reporting, that the Laetoli prints displayed distinctly primate (chimpanzoid)
features. Others (Tuttle et al. 1998) replied that Deloison’s observations
were “false interpretations based on artifactual taphonomic features, reliance
on a partial sample of the . . . first generation casts of the Laetoli prints,
and her not accounting for the orientation of the prints on the trackway.”
15. According to Oakley (1980:40), the nitrogen content of the Castenedolo
bones was to that of human bones from the Italian Late Pleistocene and Holocene.
But nitrogen preservation varies from site to site, problematizing such
comparisons. Oakley (1980:42) reported a high fluorine content for the bones.
Low fluorine levels in local groundwater indicated a potentially great age
for the bones, but Oakley explained this away by positing higher levels
of groundwater fluorine in the recent past. The Castenedolo bones also had
an unexpectedly high concentration of uranium, another indicator of great
age. A radiocarbon date of less than one thousand years was obtained in
1969 (Barker et al. 1971), using a method not adequate to prevent falsely
young dates from contamination with recent carbon. Ragazzoni’s original
stratigraphic observations provide the most reliable age estimate.
16. I received my copy of The Earliest Occupation of Europe from Wil Roebroeks
in Amsterdam, where he visited me for a conversation about Forbidden Archeology
in October of 1997. I later gave a lecture to some of his students at the
University of Leiden.
17. It is encouraging that Roebroeks and van Kolfschoten (1995:297) at
least acknowledge in a very general way evidence of the kind reported by
Ribeiro, although they do not mention him directly: “One century ago, Palaeolithic
archeologists were involved in a fierce debate over the alleged existence
of Tertiary humans in Europe. Eolithphiles, both on the continent and Europe,
presented thousands of flints from Tertiary deposits, that in their opinion
were human worked implements.” Regarding the material from the Iberian peninsula,
they say (1995:305): “Iberian river terraces have yielded isolated pieces,
whose human manufacture or precise age have been doubted by various researchers.
. . . Claims for the existence of Early Pleistocene artefacts and human
fossils come from localities in the Gaudix-Baza basin near Orca-Vente Micena,
but further fieldwork is necessary to turn these claims into compelling
evidence.” Again, the point is that these sites, although controversial
and not accepted by the authors, are at least acknowledged.
18. Prasad attributed the tool to Ramapithecus, then accepted by some researchers
as being the first hominid. Since then, Ramapithecus has been dropped from
the hominid line.
19. A proposal by me for an exhibit of Ribeiro’s artifacts was approved
by the organizers of the European Association of Archaeologists 2000 annual
meeting in Lisbon, but after an initial expression of interest by the director
of the Museu Geológico, the plan was dropped by him for unspecified
I am grateful to the trustees of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust for their
grants in support of my work and to Lori Erbs for her research assistance.
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Michael A. Cremo is a research associate in history and philosophy of science
for the Bhaktivedanta Institute, the science studies branch of the International
Society for Krishna Consciousness. His work in the history of archeology
is informed and inspired by his studies in the ancient Sanskrit writings
of India. Among these writings are the Puranas, or histories, which speak
of a human presence going back many millions of years, contradicting
the current evolutionary theories of human origins. His most recent publication
is “Puranic Time and the Archeological Record,” originally presented as
a paper at the World Archeological Congress 3, New Delhi, 1994, and included
in the WAC3 proceedings volume Time and Archaeology, edited by Tim Murray,
and published by Routledge (1999). Another paper, “The Later Discoveries
of Boucher de Perthes at Moulin Quignon and Their Bearing on the Moulin Quignon
Jaw Controversy,” has been selected for publication in the proceedings of
the XXth International Congress of History of Science, held in Liège,
Belgium, July 19-26, 1997. His most recent book is Forbidden Archeology’s
Impact (1998). It documents the varied responses to his controversial book
Forbidden Archeology (1993).
Address: 9701 Venice Blvd. #5, Los Angeles, CA 90034, USA. [email:
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