Reports of the National Center for Science Education

Review: Forbidden Archaeology's Impact

Forbidden Archeology's Impact: How a Controversial New Book Shocked the Scientific Community and Became an Underground Classic
Michael A. Cremo
Badger, CA: Torchlight Publishing, 1998. 592 pages.
Reviewed by
Tom Morrow

What if somebody published a 592-page book to answer all the critics of his previous book? That's what Michael Cremo does in Forbidden Archaeology's Impact. In 1993, Cremo and Richard Thompson published Forbidden Archaeology (FA), a voluminous exposé of "anomalous archaeological artifacts" that suggested modern people possibly lived on earth almost as long as the world existed, some 4.3 billion years ago.

Like Christian creationists who accommodate science to the Bible, Cremo and Thompson are Hindu creationists that harmonize science with their sacred Vedic scriptures. The Bhagavata Purana says that men and women have lived on earth for a vast period of time called the Day of Brahma, which is composed of a thousand yuga cycles. Each yuga cycle lasts 12,000 "years of the gods." And since each "year" equals 360 earth years, one yuga cycle equals 4.32 million years while a thousand yuga cycles total 4.32 billion years, summing up the Day of Brahma.

Forbidden Archaeology's Impact describes the notoriety Cremo's first book triggered by including all his personal correspondence, interviews, journal articles, conference papers, and even Internet postings. But Cremo mostly confronts his critics head-on, reprinting their harsh book reviews verbatim while following them up with lengthy rebuttals that he mailed to each reviewer in protest.

And Cremo doesn't suffer critics gladly. He mailed a copy of this book to the NCSE because it includes a voluminous rebuttal to Wade Tarzia's review published 5 years ago in Creation/Evolution 34. So I'll choose my words carefully.

Cremo strenuously protests the ad hominem attacks targeted at Forbidden Archaeology and its abridged edition, Hidden History of the Human Race. And in the reviews he cites, some critics did unnecessarily tease, trivialize, and spoof the authors' deadly serious presentation of their major evidences for human antiquity. And I agree that those reviewers should have analyzed FA's claims more seriously and professionally.

But their scorn could have been provoked by the book's blunt, in-your-face debut. As a publicity stunt, Cremo and Thompson mailed dozens of free, unsolicited copies to various paleoanthropologists to trigger a response. And when these recipients opened their packages to discover a book from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness dedicated to His Divine Grace AC Ghaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and consisting of a thousand-page assault on their profession, accusing them of unwittingly and deliberately suppressing evidence, what were they to think? Perhaps that this book was someone's spooky, surreal prank?

Paleoanthropologists have have grown to expect the taunts of Christian anti-evolutionists who appeal to biblical authority. Now they have to put up with Hindus attacking evolution by invoking cyclical kalpas, manvantaras, and yugas while accusing anthropologists of worshiping at the altar of Darwinian fundamentalism and metaphysical materialism. Gee, where have we heard that before? What kind of reception did Cremo expect?

Besides, many critics had genuine problems with Forbidden Archaeology that went beyond "Darwinism". For all its densely technical discussions of archaeological anomalies, many critics complained that Cremo and Thompson bombarded readers with abundantly useless data. For example, FA devotes 400 pages to analyzing anomalous stone tools depicted in obscure literature over the past 150 years. Worse, these specimens no longer exist. So FA compensated by providing page after page of drawings taken from their original sources. But in his reprinted review on page 103, Kenneth Feder frets that these illustrations are absolutely useless because it is impossible to determine whether these Paleolithic tools are drawn to scale or accurately rendered.

In Forbidden Archaeology's Impact, Cremo boasts that he's overthrowing the Darwinian worldview; but Darwinism is the study of biology, not Stone Age finds. And Cremo ignores animal evolution entirely. In 2 reprinted letters, Cremo says he's writing a book that cites land plants found in Cambrian strata (from reports published 50 years earlier) and fossils of flowering plants found in Jurassic strata (about 213-144 million years ago). Most paleobotanists say that angiosperms didn't appear until the late Cretaceous period (about 70 million years ago). But Cremo never explains why these potential revelations threaten biological evolution.

In their separate reviews reprinted in this book, Tarzia and Bradley Lepper revealed Cremo's biological misunderstandings while critiquing his "ape-man" chapter. Forbidden Archaeology and its abridged version, Hidden History of the Human Race, claimed that Bigfoot, Yeti, and other backcountry "wildmen" really exist and threaten evolution. Why? Because if someone caught a live Sasquatch, that would prove ancient hominids still coexist with modern humans.

But on page 159, Tarzia accuses Cremo and Thompson of "ignoring the possibility of shared common ancestry." Cremo's 14-page rebuttal to Tarzia ignores that criticism. On page 203, Lepper says, "Cremo and Thompson 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 recent 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 theory."

Cremo's response to Lepper on page 213 is oddly revealing: "While evidence of the coexistence of anatomically modern humans with more apelike hominids today does not do any violence to evolutionary theory, their coexistence in the distant past would do some violence to it. And the evidence documented in Hidden History suggests that they did coexist in the distant past."

I read that passage over and over, trying to make sense of Cremo's response. If he concedes that humans and nonhuman hominids coexisting today would not undermine human evolution, then what was the purpose of his ape-man chapter to begin with? And if modern humans and apelike hominids coexisted in the distant past, paleoanthropologists will always presume that they shared an even earlier ancestry. For example, even though some paleontologists and ornithologists currently disagree over whether birds diverged from Cretaceous maniraptorans (a specific group of dinosaurs) or earlier Triassic thecodonts (tree-dwelling reptiles), neither side claims their disagreement invalidates the conclusions of common ancestry for dinosaurs and birds.

What's more, Cremo is oblivious to biological context. One of many reasons why scientists accept evolution is because humans share numerous anatomical traits with all living mammals, not just primates. But if we embrace the notion that modern people lived on earth 600 million years ago, long before the arrival of other mammals, reptiles, fish, vertebrates, or any animal with a skeleton or hard body part, then biological patterns would be rendered senseless.

Even if we overlook the implausibility of humans' thriving in an oxygen-starved world without available food sources, think about what it would mean to have people living on earth, eons before the first arthropods arrived. Finding fossilized humans at every level of the geologic column would not be anomalous at all. Those finds would be the rule, not the exception, and a Darwinian paradigm would have never seized a foothold to begin with.

But of all the criticisms aimed at Forbidden Archaeology, Cremo objects most to those who labeled it pseudoscience, which is understandable. Cremo and Thompson toiled for 8 years on this comprehensive reference work, and calling it a pseudoscience is the same thing as labeling it a fraud. But when I read Forbidden Archaeology's Impact's reprinted correspondence that Cremo exchanged with his sympathizers and supporters, he appears too stubborn and sanctimonious to follow scientific rules. For example, if Cremo and Thompson wanted their debut to be taken seriously, they should have first submitted their findings through an extensive peer-review process, but Cremo thinks "peer-review" simply means conspiracy and censorship. Like all creationists, Cremo's not looking for real answers - just believers.

Next, let's examine portions of the two following letters that Cremo wrote to his supporters. This first one on page 300, is addressed to Dr Horst Friedrich:

In your review, you note that Richard Thompson and I did not discuss the idea of recurring catastrophes or the evidence for advanced civilization mentioned in the Vedic literatures of India. That was deliberate on our part. In Forbidden Archaeology we wanted first of all to demonstrate the need for an alternative view of human origins. In our next book, tentatively titled The Descent of Man Revisited, we shall outline the alternative, drawing extensively upon Vedic source material. This will include, of course, the recurring cataclysms of the yuga cycles and manvantara periods, as well as discussion of Vedic descriptions of advanced civilization in ancient times, and in an interplanetary context as well. I hope that will satisfy you! A new picture of human origins will have to be comprehensive, in the manner you suggest in your NEARA Journal article, incorporating evidence not only for archaeological and geological anomalies, but also paranormal phenomena of all types, including evidence for extraterrestrial civilization.

That's only the beginning. Cremo goes on to describe, in complete detail, 3 unique avatarian manifestations of the Godhead and explains how Shrila Prabhupada spread Krishna consciousness around the world through God's "confidential empowerment". The religious significance of Cremo's research is paramount.

However, Forbidden Archaeology's harshest critics were paleoanthropologists, and it was amusing to watch Cremo lecture professional scientists on how to do their jobs. He even admonished Lepper for not properly understanding Thomas Kuhn's prerequisites for scientific revolutions. Yet despite all this, read the following portion of this letter addressed to Dr William Howells on page 337:

Historically, I would say that the Judaeo-Christian tradition helped prepare the way for the mechanistic worldview by depopulating the universe of its demigods and spirits and discrediting most paranormal occurrences, with the exception of a few miracles mentioned in the Bible. Science took the further step of discrediting the few remaining kinds of acceptable miracles, especially after David Hume's attack upon them. Essentially, Hume said if it comes down to a choice between believing reports of paranormal occurrences, even by reputable witnesses, or rejecting the laws of physics, it is more reasonable to reject the testimony of the witnesses to paranormal occurrences, no matter how voluminous and well attested. Better to believe the witnesses were mistaken or lying. In my opinion, there is even today quite a lot of evidence for paranormal phenomena. Unfortunately, this evidence tends to be suppressed in the intellectual centers of society by the same process of knowledge filtration that tends to suppress physical evidence that contradicts general evolutionary ideas.

In other words, Cremo not only accuses the "scientific establishment" of rejecting the paranormal; but also claims that mainstream scientists are immersed in a conspiracy to suppress its evidence. And he has the effrontery to wonder why scientists won't take him seriously?

Frankly, I appreciate Cremo's courage to express his paranormal leanings so candidly. "Intelligent Design" creationists, in contrast, often wriggle and squirm when confronted with theirs. Let me say that if anybody is interested in the cultural and religious groundwork, sincere personal motivations, and epistemological methods employed by Hindu "creation science", Forbidden Archaeology's Impact is the most comprehensive, conclusive reference work on this topic.

This version might differ slightly from the print publication.