Archaeology & Archaeologists in “Planet of the Apes”

In September 2007, I presented a paper at the annual meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists. This year, it was held in Zadar, a beautiful old town on the Adriatic coast of Croatia. I gave the paper in a section on “in­vented civilizations” and what they can tell us about the practice of archaeology. I chose to speak on the invented civ­ilization depicted in Planet of the Apes.

In the 1968 film version of Planet of the Apes, an American astronaut named Taylor, played by Charlton Heston, crash lands with his crew in a lake on an unknown planet. They escape from their sinking spaceship, taking a raft to the shores of a desolate mountainous desert, seeing no sign of life. After crossing the desert, they come to a green, semi-forested area, where they observe humans foraging for food in lush agricultural fields. The astronauts join the speechless humans, who appear to be on the level of animals, feeding on fruits and vegetables. Suddenly, the humans begin to flee, pursued by bands of gorillas, clad in dark military dress, riding on horses and armed with rifles. Some of the humans, including Taylor, are captured and taken to an ape city. In his captivity, Taylor learns that the ape popu­lation has three classes—the gorillas, who serve as soldiers and laborers; the orangutans, who serve as administra­tors; and the chimpanzees, who serve as research scientists and intellectuals. Speechless humans, of a low level of culture, are treated as animals. Mostly they live in the wild, but some are kept as research animals.

In his captivity on the planet of the apes, Taylor is studied by Dr. Zira, a chimpanzee scientist who does research in animal psychology. Taylor is one of her lab animals. During his capture, Taylor’s throat was wounded, and he lost his ability to speak. So at first he appeared to Zira like an ordinary speechless human animal. By writing messages on pieces of paper, Taylor convinces Zira that he is able to use language. This contradicts one of the main doctrines of ape science, namely that humans are incapable of language. Zira tells her chimpanzee colleague and fiance Dr. Cor­nelius, an archaeologist, about Taylor’s remarkable abilities. Cornelius himself has made some remarkable discover­ies related to the history of humans and apes. In a cave in the Forbidden Zone, the desert wasteland where Taylor’s spaceship crashed, Cornelius had found archaeological evidence for an advanced human culture preceding that of the apes. So Zira and Cornelius have two categories of evidence that challenge the orthodox views of ape science on hu­mans. They have evidence that humans can speak and that humans with a culture superior to that of the apes had once existed on their planet.

These ideas about advanced human intelligence and past cultural superiority of humans to apes are quite danger­ous to the established ape civilization. Dr. Zaius, an orangutan, who serves as the ape minister of science, cautions Zira and Cornelius. When they persist in trying to draw his attention to the abilities of Taylor, they are called along with Taylor before a government tribunal, which includes Dr. Zaius. Taylor is dismissed as a freak of nature (Zaius threatens to have him neutered and sent to a brain research lab for a lobotomy), and Zira and Cornelius are accused of scientific heresy.

Here a particular scientific party (represented by Zaius) maintains its views with the aid of the state over other sci­entific views (represented by Zira and Cornelius), with the aim of upholding an ape society that depends on keeping humans, including Taylor, in the status of subordinate animals. We see things like this happening on Earth today. A dominant scientific party committed to a particular theory of ape-human relationships (the Darwinian theory of hu­man evolution) seeks to maintain its authority and power by identifying its interests with those of the state and by us­ing the compliant state to suppress alternative views. In recent years in the United States, Darwinist scientists have used the state’s judicial system to suppress even the slightest expression of alternative views, such as creationism and intelligent design, in the state education systems.

To escape repression by the combined forces of orthodox ape science and the ape state, Zira, Cornelius, and Taylor (with a human female named Nova) escape to the Forbidden Zone. They go to the cave site that had been discovered by Cornelius.

As soon as Taylor, Nova, Zira, and Cornelius arrive outside the cave, which is situated high above them on a sea­side cliff, they are intercepted by a squadron of gorilla soldiers led by Dr. Zaius. But Taylor manages to capture Zaius. Together, Zaius, Taylor, Nova, Zira, and Cornelius go into the cave. Cornelius, the ape archaeologist, shows them the excavations. He points out a location where he found ape bones with primitive stone tools. He explains that below that level he had found human bones with signs of a culture much more advanced than that of the ancient apes. At one point, Taylor starts going through some of the objects, and finds some eye glasses and also some metal rings that he recognizes as part of an artificial heart. But the key artifact is a doll, in the form of a human female infant. It has a voice mechanism and speaks. The archaeological evidence challenges the whole orthodox ape science view of the rela­tionship between humans and apes. It turns out that humans of the past could not only speak but were once superior to apes, thus shaking the ideological foundations of the ape state and culture.

Emerging from the cave, Taylor ties up Dr. Zaius. Then Taylor and Nova, on horseback, decide to journey further into the Forbidden Zone. Taylor asks Zira and Cornelius to come with them, but they refuse. They are part of the ape civilization and do not want to leave their culture behind. As Taylor and Nova ride away, Zira and Cornelius release Dr. Zaius, who orders the gorilla soldiers to blow up the cave, destroying the archaeological evidence in it.

So what lesson can archaeologists learn from this popular invented civilization? One big lesson is that there might be the equivalent of an archaeological forbidden zone on this planet, with evidence contradicting current theo­ries of human origins and antiquity.

A few years ago, I was a consultant for a television documentary called The Mysterious Origins of Man. Produced by Bill Cote, it aired on NBC. The program featured, among other things, material from my book Forbidden Arche­ology, and both my coauthor and I appeared in the show. The show was hosted by Charlton Heston, who said in one of the opening scenes: “What happens when we find a modern human skull in rock strata far beneath even the oldest of man’s ancestors? In their controversial book, Forbidden Archeology, Michael Cremo and Dr. Richard Thompson have documented hundreds of these anomalous artifacts.” Here we find echoes of Planet of the Apes. Charlton Heston was still speaking like Taylor, and I was put into a role like that of Cornelius, speaking about forbidden archaeological evidence that challenges conventional accounts of human origins.

Then some characters like Dr. Zaius entered the scene. As far as I know, the broadcast of The Mysterious Origins of Man by NBC in February of 1996 was the first time a major American television network had aired a program chal­lenging Darwinian explanations of human origins. This apparently caught the orthodox scientific community in the United States by surprise. They thought they “owned” the mainstream media.

Although evolution scientists in America were outraged when the program was first shown, they became even more upset when they learned NBC was going to show it again. Scientists organized attempts to influence NBC not to show the documentary again. When these attempts failed, these scientists, like Dr. Zaius on the Planet of the Apes, wanted to convene a state tribunal to set things right. On June 17, 1996, Dr. Allison R. Palmer, president of the Insti­tute for Cambrian Studies, wrote to the Federal Communications Commission: “This e-mail is a request for the FCC to investigate and, I hope, seriously censure the National Broadcasting Company.” Palmer continued: “At the very least NBC should be required to make substantial primetime apologies to their viewing audience for a sufficient peri­od of time so that the audience clearly gets the message that they were duped. In addition, NBC should perhaps be fined sufficiently so that a major fund for public science education can be established.” Palmer’s attempt to get the FCC to punish NBC failed, but the very fact that such an attempt was made should tell us something. Palmer’s letter was widely circulated to scientists, who were asked to send letters of support to the FCC. This is reminiscent of the ef­forts of Dr. Zaius to suppress the archaeological finds of Cornelius. So perhaps in this respect, as Taylor found in the final scene of the 1968 film, the planet of the apes is really our planet.

Michael A. Cremo is author, with Richard Thompson, of the underground classic Forbidden Archaeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race. His latest book is Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory (see


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