Ica Stones: Yabba-Dabba-Do!
We all know that humans and dinosaurs actually coexisted, even if that only happened in Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones cartoons and in some popular sci-fi movies. But what about reality? Was there ever a time when a triceratops snorted at some bearded man crossing its path? Or when some desperate girl ran away screaming with a hungry T. Rex on her heels?
All scientific evidence so far tells us that this has never been the case. Modern man first appeared on Earth a few million years after the last dinosaur thought something like: “Hey, where’s everybody?”
This fact alone should rest the case once and for all, one thinks, but as it usually happens, things on this strange world of ours are never that simple. As we have recently seen (Polidoro 2002), until a few years ago there were some people who were sure that a pterodactyl had survived up until the Civil War era only to be shot down by some overweight Union soldier. There was even a photograph that someone apparently snapped in the 1860s to commemorate the event. As we now know, the whole thing turned out to be just a hoax, courtesy of the creators of The Blair Witch Project.
Such revelations obviously never stop those seeking evidence of something they intuitively know to be true: dinosaurs and men shared the same land and sometimes the same stomach.
Is there, then, any better evidence for this idea than fake pictures and intuition? Well, would you consider good evidence the existence of, let’s see, some ancient drawings depicting dinosaurs done by man at the dawn of time? Of course, you would, right? Good, now brace yourself because such drawings exist!
Welcome the Rolling Stones
In 1994 scientists were stunned by the accidental discovery of some spectacular prehistoric paintings of horses, rhinoceros, lions, buffalo, and mammoths on the walls of a cave at Ardeche Valley, south-eastern France, considered to be the world’s oldest paintings (between 29,700 and 32,400 years old) (Chauvet 1996). Are there, anywhere in the world, similar paintings depicting dinosaurs?
Yes there are, according to some, but they are not drawn with charcoal on some obscure grotto, instead they are carved on thousands of rocks of various shapes and dimensions, apparently hand-etched some 65 to 230 million years ago. And what do these etchings show? You guessed it: brontosaurs, triceratops, stegosaurs, and the whole dino collection of beasts!
That alone would have made the most sensational discovery ever, not only able to eclipse the beauty of the Chauvet paintings, but also most everything else discovered so far.
But wait, there’s more! Some other stones, in fact, depict pictures of primitive men hunting and killing dinosaurs and other men flying on the back of pterodactyls. What tops them all, however, are some precisely detailed drawings of ancient men watching the heavens through what look like telescopes and others piloting flying machines or performing open-heart surgery, cesarean section births, and brain transplants!
Are we then in the presence of the astounding proof that not only dinosaurs lived until “recent” times but also that ancient men were far more advanced than we ever thought possible? Just give me a few more minutes before jumping to conclusions, will you?
The story begins in 1966, in Ica, a small town on the south coast of Peru, when a Peruvian physician, Dr. Javier Cabrera Darquea, received a small carved rock as a gift for his birthday. The carving looked ancient but when Dr. Cabrera saw it the first thing he thought was that it was a drawing of an extinct fish.
From that moment on, hearing of the extreme interest that the good doctor showed for that rock, local natives approached him with the fantastic news that if he wanted more stones they had a few and could sell them to him. He wanted them and he got them. Actually, he got so many of them (about 15,000) that he allegedly abandoned his career in medicine in Lima to open up the Museo de Piedras Grabadas (Engraved Stones Museum) in Ica where he housed his collection.
News of the opening of such a museum were greeted with hurrahs by at least three groups of people, as Robert Todd Carroll points out in his Skeptic’s Dictionary (Carroll 2002): “a) those who believe that extraterrestrials are an intimate part of Earth’s 'real' history; b) fundamentalist creationists who drool at the thought of any possible error made by anthropologists, archaeologists, evolutionary biologists, etc.; and c) the mytho-historians who claim that ancient myths are accurate historical records to be understood literally.”
Please, allow this poor European to dispense with the creationists’ pretenses, considered on this side of the ocean to be totally absurd not only by any sensible people hearing them but also by many Catholics, the Pope included.
The question, however, remains: since man first appeared on Earth about 2 million years ago, while dinosaurs were already extinct approximately 60 million years earlier, how could these stones be authentic?
Now, there are many things in this story that ring more than one alarm bell: 1) since when does one need to get specialized knowledge in extinct fish to become a medical doctor?; 2) exactly what kind of extinct fish is depicted on that famous first stone and when did it become extinct?; 3) How is it that if there once was such an evolved civilization able to build telescopes and flying machines, and perform microsurgery, the best they could do to preserve the memory of their existence was to carve crude drawings on some stones?; 4) If such a civilization really existed, why is it that nowhere else in the world can traces of their existence be found?; 5) And finally, why is it that no dinosaur’s fossils can be dated to an age contemporary with man?
Please, spare me answers like: “There are no traces of that civilization simply because they left the planet (taking everything with them, except the stones) to colonize another solar system!"; or: “It’s all just a test of your faith from the Lord, brother"; or even: “It’s a coverup! That’s it, I said it! Ah-ah, and you are in it! Along with those hidden powers that planned Kennedy’s assassination and Elvis Presley’s death-simulation and . . .” Thank you, thank you, I've got the picture: don't call us, we'll call you.
We are trying here to examine the facts from a scientific point of view and would like to get scientific (or, at worst, scientific “sounding”) answers.
The matter could be easily solved by dating the stones. Have they been dated yet? Nope, sorry. Carbon dating can only be done on artifacts that contain organic material, and the stones do not. The only way to date them would be to examine the strata in which they were found.
Okay, then: what about that strata? Well, there’s another little problem here: no one knows exactly were the stones come from. Some say they were found by locals on the bed of a river, others in an unidentified cave.
As compensation for these shortcomings, however, one could read a very revealing interview with a Basilio Uchuya and his wife, Irma Gutierrez de Aparcana, two peasants from Callango, published some years ago by Mundial magazine (Anonymous 1975). In it, Basilio and Irma admit that all of the stones they sold to Cabrera they had carved themselves. As for the subjects to be depicted on the stones it was easy: they chose illustrations from comic books, school books, and magazines.
Cabrera objected that andesite is too hard to carve well by mere mortals using stone tools. “True,” says Carroll in his entry on the Ica stones, “but the stones are not carved. They are graved, i.e., a surface layer of oxidation has been scratched away. Cabrera assumes that the creators of the stones only had stone tools available to them. The Inca, Maya, and Aztec cultures all (already) had advanced metallurgy by the time the Spanish arrived. Cabrera and the Ica locals certainly have more than stone tools available to them.” That yellowish, ancient layer that covered the stones was as easily obtained, said Basilio: once the etching was done, the stones were placed in a poultry pen and chickens did the rest. Finally, a recent examination of the stones, done in Barcellona by José Antonio Lamich, founder of the Spanish “Hipergea” research group, revealed signs of sandpaper and recent carvings, thus fueling the hoax hypothesis. When questioned why they did it, the hoaxers answered that etching stones was easier than tilling the soil.
Great! What time is it, now? Oops, that late! Maybe I can make it for a late night showing of Attack of the Clones: it’s still science fiction, agreed, but at least in the movie they have better special effects.
- Anonymous. 1975. “Confront: . . . Las hizo Basilio Uchuya.” Mundial, No. 6, January 17.
- Cabrera Darquea, Javier. No date. The Message of the Engraved Stones of Ica. Ica: Privately Printed.
- Carroll, Robert Todd. 2002. “The Ica Stones,” in: The Skeptic’s Dictionary (skepdic.com/icastones.html).
- Chauvet, Jean-Marie, Eliette Brunel-Deschamps, and Christian Hillaire. 1996. Dawn of Art: The Chauvet Cave: The Oldest Known Paintings in the World. New York: Harry N. Abrams.
- Polidoro, Massimo. 2002. “A Pterodactyl in the Civil War.” Skeptical Inquirer, 26(3), May/June 2002: 21-23.