Progress Notes

Forbidden Archeology: Early Man in the Western Hemisphere, Part 3

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The legend of the Calico Early Man Site continues:

Calico 019 copy.jpg

When Dee Simpson met Louis Leakey in 1959, he was already famous in the fields of Archeology and Paleoanthropology. Also in 1959, Mary Leakey, his wife and partner would find the fossilized skull cap of Zinjanthropus in Africa, pushing the origins of mankind back to 1.75 million years ago. Her discovery would make the Leakeys world famous and Louis Leakey a household name.

Dee Simpson needed the support of someone with clout in Archeology to get the Calico Early Man Site looked at seriously and Louis Leakey was the man. He had been thinking outside the box, making important finds and writing scholarly articles and books since the 1920s. He was also known to encourage women in the field at a time when it was mostly a man's world. Louis Leakey gave Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey a helping hand early in their careers. Dee Simpson dared to hope that lightning might strike for her, too. She had her box of samples and had followed Leakey from place to place on his latest speaking (fundraising) tour but had not been able to get any time with him. She was discouraged but she was never one to give up without a protracted fight.

Now, in a last desperate chance she had spent what little money she had and flown to England to try one last time. Tired, frightened of failure, and almost not daring to hope she waited, clutching her box of broken rocks. A door opened and an assistant came up to her. "You have five minutes," he said.

Dee Simpson sat down across from the great man.

"What do you have there?"

"Stone tools." She handed him the box. He looked inside.

"Where did you get these? These look just like those I have been finding in Africa."

"California. The Mojave Desert."

He looked up and his eyes searched her eyes and her face. She was serious and she didn't look crazy.

"Tell me everything."

Five minutes became four hours. When they parted, Louis Leakey said that he would be in touch.

Calico 022 copy.jpg The samples Dee Simpson brought to Louis Leakey

Leakey was as good as his word. He came to Calico in 1963, did an extensive survey of the area and thought he found the alluvial fan from which the tools had been eroding. He didn't like the bank and the cut where the tools had been found so far, it was too unstable. His solution was simple and effective. He said, "That mudslide over there looks very old, maybe 80,000 years. If you dig down through it to the bottom, anything you find will be older than the mudslide above. It should be not that hard to date the strata. Dig here, here, and there." Then he arranged funding for the project through National Geographic. He lead the project for the next eight years.

He was right about where to dig. They dug in the places that Louis Leakey had marked and started finding artifacts. Each inch of excavation was meticulously documented and soil samples were collected for dating. Each artifact and shard was bagged, labeled and sent to the museum. Eventually the bags would number over 40,000.

The initial thermoluminescence results gave a range of 80,000 to 120,000 years for the strata in which the artifacts were being found. That was an amazingly old date range and a signal of trouble to come. There were problems testing the Calico soil, problems that would give skeptics a way to dismiss the age of the site. The other problem was political. Orthodox Archeology said no humans lived the area earlier than 12,000 years ago. There had been a hell of a fight to move the date back from the accepted 7,000 year age for man in the Western Hemisphere that had stood for so long to the currently accepted 12,000 year old date. Leakey, who claimed expertise in languages as well as his other areas of expertise had thought for some time that the diversity of languages among native peoples in the Americas would have taken over 100,000 years to develop. The battle lines were drawn.