On Suppression

Since my book, The First American: The Suppressed Story of the People Who Discovered the New World (New Page Books, 2007), was published, it has come under fire for including the word “suppressed” in the subtitle. Actually, it has nothing to do with secret illuminatis preserving the prehistoric status quo or the Indiana Jones mystery warehouse. It is a personal experience. In 1977, I first heard of Valsequillo’s quarter million year old bifaces. I would ask various big guns about it during the next decade or so, always leaving with more questions than answers because nobody knew anything for sure. A couple articles were out there but they were by geologists. Where were the archaeological reports? Compared with the relative stratigraphic chaos of Calico, the Valsequillo sites seemed perfect: primary burials in sands and silts. What’s the problem? I wondered. The Valsequillo sites apparently lived up to the level of perfection required by the Clovis Firsters, both in artifacts and their geological context – see the 1967 article in Pleistocene Extinctions. To make matters worse, all artifacts and art pieces had vanished. And worse yet, no professional in Mexico or the US seemed to care, bar one, maybe two.

Decades pass. Then boxes arrive: xeroxed archives of Dr. Cynthia Irwin-Williams, principle investigator of the Peabody/Harvard excavations, 1962-66.

When I started going through the archives, the notes, the photos, I had to deeply ponder the idea that I had awakened in a alternate universe – not because of the incredible data pouring out of the boxes, but because the profession found it reasonable to ignore extremely valid and intriguing data. It wasn’t just really old bifaces that were uncovered along with remains of extinct species. She had uncovered a string of sites contained in a single 100-foot geological column known as the Valsequillo Gravels. In that column slept one of the greatest dragons ever found in the Americas: a sequence of archaeological horizons that revealed a technological evolution of projectile points, from retouched blades to full blown bifaces and at least two artifacts suggesting pressure flaking.


The primary source of suppression was the person, Jose Lorenzo (INAH). After 1967, he lied that the discoveries were a hoax with affidavits elicited at gunpoint, along with saying CIW’s project threatened the local economy; six years later he told USGS they could finally revisit the site but that they could do no archaeology. From that point on he only allowed a couple paleontologists. Starting in 1966, he dug his own huge trench at the site behind CIW’s back, and continued once she was banned. Earlier, he even tore up at least two feature blocks with bones next to lithics removed from the excavations: ready-made exhibits. He destroyed them in front of witnesses. He confiscated Armenta’s entire collection and banned him from any future fieldwork. I would definitely call that suppression, and probably a lot worse.

These were primary archaeological features, not redeposited. The evidence is overwhelming. And the sandy silts are very hard, indurated. Clovis Firsters demanded perfection for sites involving preClovis claims. Calico’s alluvial chaos easily failed that test. But Valsequillo was different, as the photos show. The Valsequillo sites were as “perfect” a context as one could rationally hope for.

And professional archaeology just said no to Valsequillo?
Finding all the right things that constitute sites with high integrity, dug by the right folks and funded by the right institutions, bifaces next to butchered bones, in the vicinity of America’s oldest art – and then, silence? The treasures are relegated to or lost within some warehouse gathering dust? Some are even rumored to be in Lorenzo’s house itself?

Whatever the reason, the famous Valsequillo discoveries were removed from the table and thus from the collective memory. What was the official justification? Nobody’s talking. Bottom line: Valsequillo didn’t count. In his Earlier Than You Think, George Carter chalked this professional preClovis neglect up to human nature. He was very diplomatic. It shows little sign of abating.


In the last few years, scientifically troubling comments have been made by leading US paleoarchaeologists about another site in Chile near the Monte Verde site dated to 14,000 years. This other site was discovered with blood-soaked lithics and dated to 33,000 years. The discoverer is on record saying, “I wish those [33k] dates would go away.” A prominent Texas archaeologist seconded that motion at an event in 2008 proposing that those dates and/or artifacts should be put in a box for ten years until they figured out what to do with them.

Of course not everyone feels this way, but from reports, nobody spoke out against this suggestion, at least publicly. Maybe it is not suppression at all, but a mindset, a groupthink? Or is it actually a matter of policy? In October 2005 there was a paleoarchaeology conference in South Carolina. During the group question and answer period, I asked the question, if I were to submit a proposal to NSF, what is the earliest date that I should state for the First Americans? Answer: 25,000 years.

Sure, 200,000 year old bifaces are not something archaeologists generally think about, even in their worst moments. The whole idea was regarded as off-planet by CIW herself. It still is. It rankles to the bone; an immediate intolerance erupts with such a proposition. One might as well say the universe was created in seven days, or black is white? Tough. Valsequillo is real, it is material, not a phantom. Valsequillo is controversial, no doubt about it. So it’s avoided or rejected for over thirty years?

However history works all this out in the end, for me it was definitely a personal feeling of betrayal by the paleo leadership (“Clovis Firsters”), and a betrayal of their brand of science. I wasn’t alone. Things got so bad that the Meadowcroft Rockshelter director, John Adovasio, coined a name for the leadership: the Clovis Mafia.


At the end of this journey into the Valsequillo discoveries, the specific variety of suppression is difficult to pin down since several meanings seem to intertwine, as noted below. But a bottom line may be summed up in the fear shared by both Irwin-Williams and Wormington when imagining what the reaction of the national and international community would be to the “crazy” dates. They both portended absolute disbelief as the reaction, ‘folks falling out of their chairs laughing’ kinds of reactions.

In 1968, quarter million year old dates for Upper Paleolithic blades and bifaces were ludicrous. Not only would it be irresponsible to officially assign those kinds of dates to those kinds of artifacts, it would have been an insult to the entire profession in lieu of what was known about human evolution at that time. How can you publish something ridiculous and impossible, and still love your profession?

The other consideration to just leave it alone might have come from persons in the U.S. academic community who also worked in Mexico. Without saying, gringos had to maintain good international relations with INAH, which is to say, Jose Lorenzo, the name that signed their Mexican archaeology permits. If you were a Mayanist from Harvard who knew CIW’s excellence as an archaeologist and that there was no way she could have been hoodwinked by laborers who would have had to have been masters of geological science to pull the wool over her eyes – but you also depended on Lorenzo’s signature for your professional career: what would you have done?

It’s probably true that, for most pros, the crazy dates are still as off-planet now in the 21st Century as they were back then. The major difference now is that there is a precedent for quarter million year-old Upper Paleolithic technology, in Africa, during the Middle Stone Age, complete with the evolution of simple retouched blade points into full-blown bifaces. A fascinating google (+McBrearty). [1]

Hopefully these webpages and the book will inspire the same fundamental curiosity that took hold 50 years ago. This is not a political thing between Mexico and the U.S. It is a fascinating thing about our species. We should act like that. And act with the urgency the Valsequillo discoveries deserve. In the US, the best place to start is CIW’s Smithsonian archives.
Chris Hardaker
EarthMeasure Research

Merriam Webster Online: Suppress
Function: transitive verb
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin suppressus, past participle of supprimere, from sub- + premere to press — more at press
Date: 14th century


•1. To put an end to forcibly; subdue.

•2. To curtail or prohibit the activities of.

•3. To keep from being revealed, published, or circulated.

•4. To deliberately exclude (unacceptable desires or thoughts) from the mind.

•5. To inhibit the expression of (an impulse, for example); check: suppress a smile.

•6. To reduce the incidence or severity of (a hemorrhage or cough, for example); arrest.

"1+2" Juan Armenta Camacho & Cynthia Irwin-Williams banned by Lorenzo; George Carter, Thomas Lee, Michael Xu – fired by their respective institutions.

"3+4" Cynthia Irwin-Williams -- self-censorship. She did not accept the geological interpretation and the geologists would not recant, so she wouldn't write up the sites.

"5" “To inhibit the expression of (an impulse, for example); check: suppress a smile.” In this case, was there a felt need to inhibit her own great curiosity about the discoveries in favor of academic survival? Or was there the greater need to protect the discipline from national and international ridicule and disgrace, which both she and her mentor, Marie Wormington, feared would happen?


Middle Stone Age, Africa
Diachronous dawn of Africa's Middle Stone Age: New 40Ar/39Ar ages from the Ethiopian Rift Leah E. Morgan and Paul R. Renne 2008

The Middle Stone Age (MSA) of Africa, like the Middle Paleolithic of Europe, is thought to represent a time period wherein toolmakers acquired significant increases in cognitive abilities and physical dexterity. Existing data fail to resolve whether the MSA emerged gradually, abruptly, or discontinuously, and whether this industry reflects the activity of Homo sapiens. Here we present new 40Ar/39Ar geochronological data revealing that advanced MSA archaeology at two sites in the main Ethiopian Rift is older than 276 ka, much older than technologically comparable MSA archaeology from elsewhere. An age of 183 ka for a unit farther upsection, along with the technological stasis observed throughout the section, indicates that similar technology was used here for ~93 ka. These results suggest that MSA technology evolved asynchronously in different places, and challenge the notion of a distinct time line for either the appearance of the MSA or the disappearance of the earlier Acheulean. These and other recent results indicate that the oldest known MSA consistently predates fossil evidence for the earliest Homo sapiens.

African Middle Stone Age Technology
1. http://geology.gsapubs.org/content/36/12/967.abstract
2. McBrearty, S. & A. Brooks, 2000. The revolution that wasn’t: a new interpretation of the origin of modern human behavior. Journal of Human Evolution 39, 453–563.


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