The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

The Mysterious Origins of Man:
The Mortar and Pestle

Copyright © 1996 by Paul Heinrich
[Last Update: May 1, 1996]

Both the video Mysterious Origins of Man and the book Forbidden Archaeology, claim that artifacts found in the gold-bearing gravels of California provide convincing evidence of the existence of modern man in California around 55 million years ago. In the 1880's, they claim that gold miners found pestles, mortars, ladles, and spear points within Tertiary gravel deposits underlying volcanic rocks that cap Table Mountain within Tuolumne County, California. These finds were reported by both D. J. Whitney (1880) and Becker (1891).

The findings of Dr. Whitney and Dr. Becker, including the artifacts found in the Montezuma Tunnels, were studied by Sinclair (1908) and found to lack any convincing evidence for being of Tertiary age. He found serious problems of provenance and other incongruities that argue against a Tertiary age for them as have other investigators, i.e. Holmes (1899). These finds were also widely discussed in other papers and in the popular press as indicated by the references at the end of this article.

The Claims of Mr. Neale

The principle evidence for artifacts found in gold-bearing gravels cited by Forbidden Archaeology and Mysterious Origins of Man consists of an affidavit prepared and signed by Superintendent J. H. Neale of the Montezuma Tunnel Company. It was published by Becker (1891, p. 191-192). Strangely, both the video and book ignore the contradictory statements made by Mr. Neale to and documented by Holmes (1889) and Sinclair (1908).

The affidavit of Mr. Neale as presented by Becker (1891) is:

In 1877 Mr. J. H. Neale was superintendent of the Montezuma Tunnel Company, and ran the Montezuma tunnel into the gravel underlying the lava of Table Mountain, Tuolumne County. The mouth of the tunnel is near the road that leads in a southeasterly direction from the Rawhide camp and is about three miles from that place. ....(material omitted)...
At a distance of between 1400 and 1500 feet from the mouth of the tunnel, or of between 200 and 300 feet beyond the edge of the solid lava, Mr. Neale saw several spear-heads, of some dark rock and nearly one foot in length.
The statement of Mr. Neale given to Becker (1891) is very vague as to exactly where these spear-points were found. The reader is not told directly that these artifacts were embedded in the gravel, but rather is left to guess it from statements such as _and close to the bed-rock_ and _it utterly impossible that these relics could have reached the position in which they were found except at the time the gravel was deposited._ Such vagueness would have offered him protection against any sort of perjury charges.

Later on, the story changes. According to statements given to Dr. Holmes (1899), Mr. Neale claimed that it was one of the miners, not him, that found these spear-points some 1500 feet inside the tunnel. Later on when he talked with Dr. Sinclair, he reversed his story again to say that his discovered the artifacts except for a stone dish or platter discovered by a miner named Joe. In this version, the artifacts were discovered while he and Joe were excavating to set a timber (Sinclair 1908). Interestingly, this is the first time he definitely claims to found the points in place. The shifting stories and the lack of mention of any specific context for these finds in the first statement make Mr. Neale's testimony unsatisfactory evidence that any of the artifacts were found embedded in rock, if found by him at all. This evidence is much too vague and contradictory to be the basis for any claims, much less an extraordinary claims, for the antiquity of man.

Also, Mr. Neale specifically claimed that the spear-points consisted of obsidian and were found in the bed of the he called a 'side channel' or branch of the main stream in gravel close to bedrock (Holmes 1899, Sinclair 1908). These two observations raise major problems with these spear-points being in any way associated with the Tertiary gravels. First, obsidian is very brittle. The bottom of a stream channel is not a readily accessible place where a person can bury artifacts. Had the points been transported to this site, the high-energy perennial streams that deposited these gravels would have both dispersed the spear points, instead of concentrating them at one place, and would quickly have broken up the brittle obsidian points of which Mr. Neale boasted of their 'size' and 'perfection'. Furthermore, just as miraculous was that the obsidian points were not shattered during the excavation of the tunnel and could be extracted from tightly cemented gravel without breakage (Holmes 1899).

Another significant problem posed by these obsidian points is that obsidian hydrates. It is this hydration that makes obsidian hydration dating possible (Trembour and Friedman 1984). Had these spear-points been buried as long as the ten million years, the cumulative hydration of the obsidian should have left them obviously weathered. Instead, these points are described as if they are composed of fresh obsidian. The lack of described weathering clearly contradicts the age of the gravels from which the points are alleged to have come.

Finally, Holmes (1899) noted that these spear-heads, as described by Mr. Neale to him were very similar to identical in outline to the obsidian points used by local Native Americans. Mr. Neale explained that the spear-points had gotten lost, taken by other people, or become otherwise lost (Holmes 1899,Sinclair 1908).

The Mr. Neale affidavit continues on about a mortar and pestle illustrated by Becker (1891) in his Plate 7:

On exploring further, he himself found a small mortar three or four inches in diameter and of irregular shape. This was discovered within a foot or two of the spear-heads. He then found a large well-formed pestle, now the property of Dr. R. I. Bromley, and near by a large and very regular mortar, also at present the property of Dr. Bromley.
Again there is a problem of different versions of events. First, the signed statement of Becker (1891) is very unclear about exactly where the artifacts were found. In his statements to Holmes (1899), Mr. Neale claims that these and other artifacts were found by an unnamed miner after Mr. Neale advised him upon returning to work to look for more. Finally, it is only in the interview for Sinclair (1908) that Mr. Neale clearly claims that he found the artifacts in situ while setting a timber. It is curious that in the initial statement that nothing is said at all about the setting of the timbers. In fact, there is a glaring lack of specific details in his first statement as to the circumstances of the finds . Each version differs not only to the specifics of the discovery of the artifacts, but also the number and type of artifacts recovered.

As has previously noted by Sinclair (1908), the other stone artifacts have the same problems as the spear-points. First, it is highly unlikely that artifacts lost or eroded into a high energy stream would come to rest in such close proximity to each other. Furthermore, Sinclair (1908) also noted that these and other artifacts alleged to have been found in the gravels failed to exhibit any sort of wear despite the fact that they would have been transported and tumbled within the bedload of a perennial high energy stream in order to be deposited where they were found.

Another disturbing aspect of the stone artifacts that Mr. Neale and others claim to have been found in the Tertiary gold-bearing gravels of the region is that they are virtually identical to the stone artifacts in shape, construction, and composition used in late prehistoric and protohistoric times by the local Native Americans (Holmes 1899, Sinclair 1908). In fact, Sinclair (1908) and many others have noted that archaeological sites containing an abundance of similar and identical artifacts can found within a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand feet of the entrance of the Montezuma tunnel. The lack of any similar artifacts at any of the many documented older Paleo-Indian and other sites in the area clearly demonstrate that the production of such artifacts occurred rather late in the prehistory of this area. Furthermore, Sinclair (1908) noted that many of the artifacts consist of volcanic rocks that apparently were erupted and formed after the gold-bearing gravels were deposited. For example, the large mortar consists of andesite which is first found in the lahar overlying the gravels. However, andesite is common as the stone artifacts found at the many sites found around the tunnel. Given these problems, these artifacts fail to give any support to the statements of Mr. Neale. In fact, if anything the artifacts contradict his statements (Holmes 1899, Sinclair 1908).

The affidavit of Mr. Neale continued:

All of these relics were found the same afternoon, and were all within a few feet of one another and close to the bed-rock, perhaps within a foot of it. Mr. Neale declares that it is utterly impossible that these relics can have reached the position in which they were found excepting at the time the gravel was deposited, and before the lava cap formed.
Curiously, Mr. Neale fails to clearly state that the artifacts were embedded in the gold-bearing gravels. Rather, it has to be inferred by the reader. Such documentation is clearly insufficient to prove an extraordinary claim. People who claimed to have been abducted by space aliens have given much more detailed notarized, even sworn, statements then this one. Yet, these statements, although more detailed, fail just as much to be proof of the extraordinary claim that space aliens exist. In both cases unambiguous physical evidence is lacking.

The affidavit of Mr. Neale continued:

There was not the slightest trace of any disturbance of the mass or of any natural fissure into it by which access could have been obtained either there or in the neighborhood.
True enough, but there is no proof that the artifacts were associated with the gravel because the vague initial statement and the contradictory nature of the later statements by Mr. Neale. Given the closeness of archaeological sites to the tunnel containing an abundance of similar ground-stone artifacts, it would have been easy for someone to salt the mine with artifacts.

Geologist George F. Becker (1891) stated:

It would have been more satisfactory to me individually if I had myself dug out these implements, but I am unable to discover any reason why Mr. Neale's statement is not exactly as good evidence to the rest of the world as my own would be.
Given the contradictory statements given by Mr. Neale, I would concluded that Dr. Becker's trust was greatly misplaced. Because of the conflicting stories, the statement by Mr. Neale fails to qualify as proof the artifacts were associated with the Tertiary gravels. >From personal experience, I know that even the best of geologists can be fooled if they are not careful.

Age of the Gold-Bearing Strata

A minor discrepancy by Mysterious Origins of Man concerns the age of the gold-bearing stream gravels involved in the controversy.

In Mysterious Origins of Man, Charleston Heston stated:

Incredibly, the rock strata from that the tools reportedly were found is dated to 55 million years.
Currently, the latite and overlying welded tuff have dated as being 9.2 to 9.5 million years and a valley-filling lahar has been dated as being 10 million years old (Huber 1990). Given that the lahar, a volcanic mudflow, filled what was an entrenching valley, the age of the gravel deposits and the valley very likely varies from being the same age as the lahar to being not much older than it.

Although a minor point, the failure to note recent changes in the accepted age of the gold-bearing gravels shows that this segment of Mysterious Origins of Man was very poorly researched. The Geological Society of America Bulletin is a widely available, well known publication that even an undergraduate student would have consulted. It is part of a chronic problem that data or studies that either contradicts or reduces the sensationalism of the segment being told ends up ignored.


Despite the very public discussion of the age and cultural association of these artifacts and the related Calaveras skull and other human remains, Mysterious Origins of Man claimed:
This bizarre evidence seems to have been well documented, yet the general public and many within the scientific community are unaware of these finds. The question is why haven't we heard of these finds before?
As numerous published references attest, both the scientific community and public were very aware of these finds during the late 1800's and early 1900's. They were hotly and openly debated in a way that falsifies any claims of scientific censorship by Mysterious Origins of Man. They are largely unknown today because their authenticity has been disproven. However, the evidence and arguments concerning the authenticity of these artifacts are freely available to anybody willing to take time and trouble to do a proper literature review. Their claims of scientific censorship is clearly shown to be false by the fact that a person can quickly find many of references about either these artifacts and the Calaveras Skull in few minutes using a bibliographic database, i.e. GEOREF (tm). There is a significant different between beating a dead horse and censorship that both the book and video segments fail to understand.


Contrary to the claims of the Mysterious Origins of Man, the evidence for the presence of artifacts within the Tertiary gravel is highly suspect and unreliable. For example, the characteristics of the artifacts and later testimony by Mr. Neale contradict his claims that the artifacts were found in place. Furthermore, given the lack of any notes or drawings documenting his claims, his affidavit is useless as evidence for the presence of artifacts within the Tertiary gravels beneath Table Mountain in Tuolumne County, California. This and other claims had been investigated by Holmes (1899), Sinclair (1908), and others and found to be similarly lacking as proof.

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Becker, George Ferdinand, and Wright, George Frederick, 1891, Antiquities from under Tuolumne Table Mountain in California (with discussion by G. F. Wright). Geological Society of America Bulletin. vol. 2, pp. 189-198.

Blake, William Phipps, 1899, The Pliocene skull of California and flint implements of Table Mountain. Journal of Geology. vol. 7, pp. 631-637.

Holmes, William Henry, 1899a, Review of the evidence relating to auriferous gravel man in California First Paper. American Anthropologist new series, vol. 1, pp. 107-121.

Holmes, William Henry, 1899b, Review of the evidence relating to auriferous gravel man in California Second Paper. American Anthropologist new series, vol. 1, pp. 614-645.

Holmes, William Henry, 1901, Review of the evidence relating to auriferous gravel man in California. Smithsonian Institute Annual Report. 1899, pp. 419-472.

Huber, N. K., 1990, The Late Cenozoic evolution of the Tuolumne River, central Sierra Nevada, California. Geological Society of America Bulletin, vol. 102, pp. 102-115.

Marcou, Jules, 1883, Note sur la geologie de la Californie. Soc G France, B vol. 3, no. 11, pp. 407-435.

Marcou, Jules, 1883, Note sur la geologie de la Californie. American Naturalist. vol. 17, pp. 1271-1273.

Merriam, John Campbell, 1910, The true story of the Calaveras skull. Sunset Magazine vol. 24, pp. 153-158.

McGee, W. J., William, John, and Holmes, W. H., 1899a, Geology and archeology of the California gold belt. American Geologist. vol. 23, pp. 96-99.

McGee, W. J., William, John, and Holmes, W. H., 1899b, Geology and archeology of the California gold belt. Science new series. vol. 9, pp. 104-105.

Sinclair, W. J., 1908, Recent investigations bearing on the question of the occurrence of Neocene man in the auriferous gravels of the Sierra Nevada. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 107-131.

Trembour, F., and Friedman, I., 1984, The present status of obsidian hydration dating. in W. C. Mahaney (ed.), Quaternary Dating Methods. Developments in Paleontology and Stratigraphy, no. 7, Elsevier, New York, pp. 141-151.

Whitney, Josiah Dwight, 1880, The auriferous gravels of the Sierra Nevada of California. Harvard Coll, Mus C Z, Memoir 6 no 1. 659 pp. Another edition is called Contributions to American geology, vol. 1.

Winslow, Charles Frederick, 1873, Particulars relating to the discovery of human remains in Table Mountain, Cal. Boston Society of Natural History, Proceedings no. 15, pp. 257-259.

Winslow, Charles Frederick, 1891, Additional notes concerning the Nampa image. Boston Society of Natural History, Proceedings no. 25, pp. 242-246.

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