Large numbers of incised stones were collected by Dr Javier Cabrera Darquea (1924-2001) in the village of Ica, around 300 km northwest of Lima, Perú. His first stone was given to him by a local farmer as a birthday present in 1966. He subsequently amassed around 20,000 individual stones, ranging in size from a few centimetres to over half a metre, that are now displayed in the Museo de Piedras Grabadas (Museum of Engraved Stones) in Ica. What piqued his interest was that the first stone he was given depicted what he identified as an extinct species of fish.
After talking with the locals, he claimed to have discovered many more stones hidden in a cave near the coastal mountains, where there are at least 100,000 more that he had not removed. He never revealed the location of the cave to archaeologists who might assess this cache of stones in situ. Having made his discovery, the Doctor gave up his medical practice in Lima and opened his private museum, dedicated to portraying the earliest culture of Perú as a technologically advanced civilisation deriving ultimately from a planet in the Pleiades a million years ago. The Pleiades have become a favourite location for the origins of messages ‘channelled’ to New Age practitioners. Quite how the million-year-old chronology permits the depiction of dinosaurs, which were extinct at least sixty million years earlier, is not explained.
Most of the stones are fist-sized pebbles of grey andesite, with a granitic semi-crystalline matrix. It is a hard stone that is difficult to carve, but the images are scratched through the oxidised surfaces. Engraved stones were first recorded in the region by a Jesuit missionary Padre Simón, who accompanied Pizarro to Perú in 1525 and examples were sent to Spain in 1562.
The engravings collected by Cabrera show allegedly very surprising images, with medical procedures, the use of telescopes and, most surprisingly of all, humans interacting with dinosaurs, including brontosaurs, stegosaurs, tyrannosaurs and pterodactyls. Unfortunately, the images are all highly stylised and it is curious that Dr Cabrera never indicated what features of the fish on the first stone he was given led him to believe that it is an extinct species, or, indeed, what that species might be and when it became extinct.
The farmer who gave Cabrera his first stone was subsequently arrested for selling the stones to tourists. In his defence, he said that he had not in fact found them in a cave, as he had told Dr Cabrera, but made them himself. Other local people continue to make these engraved stones. They are selling forged hoaxes – a Bad Archaeology double whammy! However, Cabrera countered this claim with the sheer numbers of stones. As well as the 20,000 or so in his collection and those sold to tourists, he said that locals have found about 50,000, while the cave contains another 100,000. This is too great a number to be the effort of a single poor farmer with little spare time to create so many hoaxes. Nevertheless, he maintained that he carved at least some of them. Neither he nor Dr Cabrera revealed the location of the cave that is supposed to contain the huge cache of stones.
It is possible that some of the stones are genuine examples of pre-Columbian Peruvian art, but at least some are forgeries. Many of the allegedly anomalous images are so highly stylised that it is difficult to see exactly what is being depicted. Some are so plainly bizarre that they can be discounted, as in the example showing a human riding on the shoulders of a pteranodon, a species of pterosaur that (should the bizarre act ever have occurred) could never have supported such a weight. Those that show dinosaurs, especially, show them as reconstructions popular in the early to mid twentieth century did: as lumbering beasts, dragging their tails along the ground. We now know that this was not how they walked, a clear demonstration (as if any were needed) that the stones are a twentieth-century product and not the creations of people who saw living dinosaurs.