The platypus, with its ducklike bill and beaver tail and webbed feet, is easily one of the strangest animals on earth. When the first (dead) taxonomic specimens arrived in England from Australia, the scientists who examined them thought they had been put together from parts of different animals as a hoax. But there is something else strange about the platypus. It seems human beings were carving images of platypuses on rocks in Australia millions of years ago.
I learned about this when I read a report by anthropologist Herbert Basedow, titled “Aboriginal Rock Carvings of Great Antiquity in South Australia,” published in 1914 in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (vol. 44, pp. 195-211).
In 1906, Basedow first saw some ancient aboriginal carvings of various animals and birds on rocks in south central Australia, south of the dry Lake Eyre basin. He reported on them in a paper given at the Anthropological Society of Berlin in 1907. In 1910 Basedow returned to the sites and in 1911 visited them again.
One of the sites was at Red Gorge. There Basedow found a carving of a species of platypus (Ornithorhyncus anatinus) on the surfaces of stones. The carving was very realistic. Basedow (p. 205) wrote: “The prolonged snout or ‘duckbill,’ the head, the plump body, the stumpy tail and the short legs may be recognized; even the claws of the right hind limb are visible.” Basedow noted the platypus no longer lives in that part of Australia. Basedow wrote, “Consequently, one explanation of the picture being upon the rocks would be that, in the days when the aboriginal artist carved its form the habitat of the platypus extended inland into those regions.”
After reading Basedow’s report, I went online to the website of the Australian Museum at Sydney and put in a scientific research request, asking about the times platypus was present in the Lake Eyre region. On June 23, 2007, I received the following reply from Fran Dorey, an “interpretive officer” at the museum. “The only platypus material from the Lake Eyre region is Obuduron insignia.The area around Lake Eyre at this time (i.e. about 20 million years ago) was probably lush rainforest and woodlands, with fauna similar to the contemporary Oligo-Miocene at River-sleigh in Queensland. Salinity was steadily increasing after the mid-late Miocene, which had a huge impact on the local fauna.” Especially the platypus.
In another letter, Fran Dorey wrote, “Please let me know if you need anything else. We have one of the experts here on fossil platypuses (Dr. Musser), so I can ask her specific questions if you have any.” I replied, “Well, you could ask her what she thinks the absolute latest is that platypus could have existed in the Lake Eyre region (the part north of Adelaide, around Deception Creek. Pliocene? Early Pleistocene? Middle Pleistocene? Late Pleistocene.”
Dorey replied on July 1, 2007, “I have spoken to Dr. Musser and she confirmed exactly what I wrote to you in the email. The only fossil evidence for platypus around Lake Eyre is the Obdurodon dated to about 20 million years. The next dated fossil evidence for a platypus is from Riversleigh about 17-20 million years old.” As for the latest date that platypus could have existed at Lake Eyre, Dorey wrote, “They may have lived there 20-25 million years ago, or may well have lasted up to about 10-15 million years ago. The fact that no platypus live there now is because of the salt. This means that it is highly likely that the increasing salinity of this region led to the disappearance of platypus from Lake Eyre—they cannot cope in any salt water (salt affects their electro-receptors).” The electro-receptors allow the platypus to detect the presence of prey in the water, because the movements of the prey generate tiny electrical signals.
So the basic idea is that in the Early Miocene, Lake Eyre was a huge freshwater lake, supporting a platypus population. But during the Middle Miocene, the climate changed. The lake started to dry up, and thus the salinity of the lake’s water increased to such an extent that the platypus could no longer survive there.
I still have this case under study, but from the preliminary information at my disposal it seems that the platypus disappeared from the Lake Eyre region about 10-15 million years ago, in the Middle Miocene period (which extends from 5 to 20 million years ago). This suggests that the realistic carvings of platypus found in the Lake Eyre region are older than 10-15 million years old. Archaeologists and anthropologists believe carvings and paintings of animals to be the work of humans of our type. Such art work requires cognitive abilities beyond those of apemen.
Basedow mentions in his report some additional evidence for a very ancient human presence in Australia, including “a petrified human calvarium [skull] from the Pliocene or Pleistocene mammaliferous drifts of Tennant’s Creek in Central Australia.” The boundary of the Pliocene and Pleistocene periods is about 2 million years ago.
Today, conventional archaeologists believe that humans of our type first came into existence between 100,000 and 150,000 years. Interestingly enough, Such archaeologists would therefore find it hard to believe that humans could have existed in Australia either 2 million years ago (as the Tennant’s Creek skull suggests) or perhaps as much as 10 or 20 million years ago (as the platypus carving suggests). But there is further archaeological evidence that humans existed in the Miocene period in various parts of the world.
In 1874, in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (vol. 3, p. 127) Frank Calvert described a discovery he made in Turkey: “I have had the good fortune to discover, in the vicinity of the Dardenelles, conclusive proofs of the existence of man during the Miocene period . . . . From the face of a cliff composed of strata of that period, at a geological depth of eight hundred feet, I have extracted a fragment of the joint of either a dinotherium [Deinotherirum] or a mastodon, on the convex side of which is deeply incised the figure of a horned quadruped, with arched neck, lozenge-shaped body, straight forelegs, and broad feet. There are traces of seven or eight other figures . . . . I have found in different parts of the same cliff, not far from the site of the engraved bone, a flint flake and some bones of animals, fractured longitudinally, obviously by the hand of man for the purpose of extracting marrow, according to the practice of all primitive races.”
Calvert gave some additional information about the date: “There can be no doubt as to the geological character of the formation from which I disinterred these interesting relics.” An expert on the geology of the region, Pierre Alexandrowitsch de Tchihatcheff visited the site. Calvert said, “He determined it to be of the Miocene period,” adding that “the fact is further confirmed by the fossil bones, teeth, and shells of the epoch found there.” Calvert sent detailed drawings of the fossils to British scientists who “identified amongst them the remains of dinotherium, and the shell of a species of melania [a kind of snail], both of which strictly appertain to the Miocene epoch.”
In my book Forbidden Archaeology, I document many more cases of discoveries of human bones and artifacts in Miocene formations on all continents except Antarctica. The discoveries were made in the nineteenth century or early twentieth century. In East Asia, stone tools were found in Miocene formations in Burma. These were reported by paleontologist Fritz Noetling in 1894 in the Record of the Geological Survey of India. Several discoveries of human artifacts were made in the Miocene formations of Europe. For example, in Portugal, geologist Carlos Ribeiro found stone tools in Miocene formations about 20 million years old. He displayed them in the Museum of Geology in Lisbon, but after he died his colleagues in the museum wrote new labels for them, giving them far younger ages. Then the next generation of officials put the whole collection away. In France, L. Bourgeois found human artifacts in Miocene formations at Thenay and gave reports about them at several scientific conferences. In 1905, Max Verworn found stone tools in Miocene formations at Aurillac in France. At several places in France (Billy, Sansan Clermont, Pouancé), researchers found animal bones with cut marks on them in Miocene formations. In Greece, Baron von Dücker found bones of Hipparion (a kind of horse) with butchering marks on them in Miocene formations at Pikermi. In North America, the geologist Clarence King found a stone pestle in a Miocene formation at Table Mountain in Tuolumne County, California. Several other discoveries of human artifacts were made in Miocene formations elsewhere in the gold mining region of California. And in South America, in the early twentieth century, Florentino Ameghino found signs of a human presence in Miocene formations there.
Against the background of this evidence for a human presence in the Miocene around the world, it is not surprising that evidence for a human presence should also be found in the Miocene of Australia.
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 www.humandevolution.com).