In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many archaeologists and geologists in Europe were investigating crude stone tools they called eoliths, or “dawn stones”. The eoliths were being found in geological contexts of astonishing antiquity, reaching much further back in time than most scientists considered possible. One of the places where eoliths were discovered was Belgium.
In 1906, Émile de Munck, a collector of artifacts, explored a sandpit near Boncelles, Belgium, and found some crude flint implements in an Oligocene stratum. According to the International Chronostratigraphic Chart (2013) the Oligocene extends from 23.03 to 33.9 million years ago. De Munck reported his initial discoveries to Aimé Louis Rutot (1847-1933), of the Museum of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. Rutot (1907) wrote about the Oligocene discoveries at Boncelles in a report titled: Un grave problem: une industrie humaine datant de l’époque oligocène (A serious problem: a human industry dating back to the Oligocene era), published in the Bulletin de la Société Belge de Géologie de Paléontologie et d’Hydrologie (vol. 21, pages 439-482). Were the flint objects really stone tools, or were they just naturally broken pieces of stone that resembled tools? The evidence suggested that they really were stone tools.
Among the first specimens gathered by De Munck were many flint flakes showing signs of fine retouching and utilization. “It was these implements, including a scraper with a clear bulb of percussion and nicely retouched sharp edge, which convinced me that at the place pointed out by De Munck there existed a deposit of eoliths that deserved to be explored and studied,” said Rutot (1907, pp. 442-443). Rutot and de Munck collected additional artifacts from Boncelles. Rutot pointed out that the eoliths from the Oligocene of Boncelles resembled the simple stone tools made in the nineteenth century by aboriginal people recently living in Tasmania. I included Rutot’s discoveries at Boncelles in my book Forbidden Archeology as evidence for extreme human antiquity. At that time I knew about the discoveries only through Rutot’s published reports.
In the early twentieth century, when Rutot was still living, his Oligocene eoliths were displayed to the public in the Museum of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. After his death, they were removed from display. After Forbidden Archeology was published I learned that the Boncelles artifacts are still in the collection of the archaeology department of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. I made a request to see them. My request was granted and I went to the Institute and saw the Boncelles artifacts. I also visited the site of Boncelles, discovering that the sandpit where the eoliths were discovered was still there.
Recently I learned that Rutot had sent samples of his Boncelles artifacts to other museums in Europe and America. I suspected one of the museums might be the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. So, in planning my trip to India in October 2016 (described in my column for AR 122), I decided to stop in England on my way back to the United States and visit the Pitt Rivers Museum. I had to start my planning for my visit before I even left for India. I had to make a formal research request. Here is an excerpt from my letter of request: “I am an independent historian of archaeology. Although I am not a professional academic, I have presented many papers at meetings of the World Archaeological Congress, the European Association of Archaeologists, the International Union for Protohistoric and Prehistoric Sciences, and the International Congress for History of Science, some of which have been published in academic journals and books…
I am especially interested in the artifacts (eoliths) that Rutot collected at the Boncelles site in Belgium. In addition to depositing them in the Royal Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels, where he was curator of archaeology, he also provided sets of artifacts to researchers, collectors, and institutions elsewhere. Because I am coming to Oxford for a few days in October (Oct 19–23), I thought I would check your online catalog to see if you had in your collections any of Rutot’s Boncelles artifacts. I found that in December 1920 the Pitt Rivers Museum [PRM] purchased a collection of the Boncelles artifacts from Archibald Colquhoun Bell, who had them from the estate of his late father Alexander James Montgomery Bell (who apparently had acquired them from Rutot). The PRM catalog numbers for the 31 objects are 1921.91.275-305 (nos. 39–69). The site is given in the catalog as: Belgium, Wallonia, Liege, Boncelles, Ourthe Valley. Rutot is given as the collector and Oligocene as the age.
The purpose of my research would be to compare the set of objects in the PRM with the ones I saw in Brussels, seeing how representative the PRM collection was of the larger collection. I would be bringing one assistant with me, to help in taking study photographs. My eventual goal would be to present the results of my research at PRM in a paper at an archaeology conference and if possible get it published. If my request meets with your approval, I would like to see the objects on Thursday, October 20 and Friday, October 21. It is possible that I could be finished in just one day, if all the 31 objects could be made available.”
I sent this request on September 19, 2016, a month before my scheduled arrival in Oxford. I waited. No reply. I left Los Angeles for India on October 4. No reply. I spent a couple of weeks in India. No reply. I arrived in Oxford on October 19 and checked into my hotel. Still no reply. I suspected that perhaps my request had been ignored because of my controversial reputation. The next morning I went to the Pitt Rivers Museum. I decided I was just going to look around at the public displays. To get to the Pitt Rivers Museum, you first have to enter the Oxford Natural History Museum. The two buildings are connected.
So I walked through the ground floor of the Natural History Museum, with its huge skeletons of dinosaurs. Along the back wall of the ground floor of the Natural History Museum were some panel displays of the geological ages. I looked at the one for the Oligocene, which extends from 23 to 33.9 million years ago. During the Oligocene the only primates that existed, according to the standard Darwinian ideas, were small primitive apes and monkeys. I thought it was interesting that right next door, in the Pitt Rivers Museum, were some of the Oligocene Boncelles artifacts. Scientists influenced by Darwin’s ideas think that the first tool-making human predecessor (Homo habilis or a variety of Australopithecus) existed around 3 million years ago. Was there toolmaking in the Oligocene? Impossible!
I walked through some doors at the back of the Natural History Museum into the Pitt Rivers Museum. Even though I was resigned to not being able to see the Boncelles artifacts, I decided to go to the museum office and inquire about my research request. A secretary kindly took my information and phone number. Still not expecting too much, I left the museum and went into central Oxford to find a restaurant where I could get something suitable for my vegetarian diet (no meat, no fish, no eggs). I found a pub where I got a green salad, grilled cheese sandwich, and fries, with a lemonade to drink. My phone rang. I pulled it out of my pocket and answered. It was the museum. The secretary told me that if I would come at 10 o’clock the next morning, the artifacts I requested to see would be available.
So I went the next morning to the Pitt Rivers Museum and met one of the collections managers, who took me to one of the private research rooms in the museum. Laid out on a lab table were the 31 artifacts from Rutot’s collection that I had requested to see. I was also provided with copies of the museum catalog entries for the collection. The museum catalog entry says: “31 very rude ‘implements’ and flakes of flint, discovered by E. de Munck and A. Rutot in alluvial deposits, believed to be of Middle Oligocene date, at Boncelles, valley of the Ourthe, c. 1907. These are regarded by many archaeologists as non-artefact, and the very early geological horizon appears to preclude Man’s intervention.” This is a good example of what I call the knowledge filtration process—the writer thought these objects could not be tools because tool makers, and especially not-human tool makers, should not be present in the Oligocene.
After a day’s research in the Pitt Rivers Museum, I walked out into the Natural History Museum. In the rear of the Natural History Museum there is a huge statue of Charles Darwin, the founder of the theory of evolution by natural selection. I have spent a good part of my adult life writing and speaking about things that contradict the Darwinian picture of human origins and antiquity—for example, Rutot’s Oligocene artifacts, some of which are stored in the adjacent Pitt Rivers Museum. Seeing the statue of Darwin, I recalled how someone once told me, “Michael, maybe you are a reincarnation of Charles Darwin, and that’s why you have to do so much writing and speaking—to correct your mistake.” I laughed. But sometimes I wonder if it might be true.
Michael A. Cremo is the author, with Richard Thompson, of the underground classic Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of Human Race. He has also written Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory. (Visit HumanDevolution.com).