Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson’s Hindu fundamentalist creationism

Forbidden Archeology

Forbidden Archeology: Cremo and Thompson’s magnum opus

Most creationists belong to fundamentalist Christian protestant sects. These two don’t, which is perhaps part of the popular appeal of their work. Their massive book Forbidden Archeology (published in 1994 – note the spelling of ‘archaeology’, which is usually a give-away that the writer is not an archaeologist, not even an American archaeologist) and its companion shortened ‘popular’ version, The Hidden History of the Human Race present evidence designed to back up their claims that human beings have been around much longer than the 200,000-odd years allowed by conventional palaeoanthropology.

The foreword to The Hidden History of the Human Race was written by Graham Hancock, which is an interesting comment on both his scholarship and the nature of the book. He claims that the book is “one of the landmark intellectual achievements of the late twentieth century… [that] will take more conservative scholars a long while, probably many years, to come to terms with… almost everything we have been taught to believe about the origins and evolution of our species rests on the shaky foundation of academic opinion, and on a highly selective sampling of research results…”. Graham Hancock’s critique of the methods of modern palaeoanthropology is at much the same level as his understanding of archaeological technique: he believes that there is a conspiracy perpetrated by science to keep the truth from the public, either as a face-saving exercise or for more sinister reasons. Once again, he demonstrates a faith in the anomalous to topple orthodoxy.

What makes his naive faith in the anomalies of palaeoanthropology all the more charming is his willingness to accept Cremo and Thompson’s Fort-like listing of other people’s work. Not only is it not their own work (and, to their credit, at no point do they claim it is), it is also predominantly nineteenth-century in date. They cite examples of anatomically modern human skeletons excavated from deposits of Tertiary date (in other words, from about 60 million to 2 million years ago), quoting the scientific papers in which the discoveries were first announced. They mention out-of-place artefacts (objects that appear to be of human manufacture found in deposits that appear to be geological), although in many cases, these come not from peer-reviewed scientific journals but from more popular accounts, sometimes even from newspapers. The evidence is all carefully documented and referenced in Forbidden Archeology, which is what makes it unusual among fringe publications.

At the same time, it is through following up the references that the claims are most easily disproved. Many of the scientific articles they quote were controversial at the time of publication and the source of lively debate before the matter was settled in favour of what would now be regarded as ‘orthodox’ interpretations. For instance, anatomically modern human burials in Tertiary strata were excavated before the principles of archaeological stratigraphy were fully understood; they were certainly not understood in even a rudimentary fashion by the excavators of these burials. The fact remains that, if these burials were really found in strata tens of millions of years old, more would have been found in the twentieth century. Some would have been subjected to scientific dating techniques. None have ever been reported, except by those committed to particular (usually religious) viewpoints; many have been exposed as crude hoaxes.

Cremo and Thompson are members of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, a branch of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Essentially, they are Hindu fundamentalist creationists whose reading of the Vedic literature of India has convinced them that humanity is a great deal older than conventional science will allow. This is precisely the opposite of the Christian fundamentalist creationists who nevertheless use the same evidence to back up their claims for a humanity little more than 6,000 years old! This highlights one of the principal flaws in this body of evidence: its interpretation is uncertain because the quality of the original data is poor.