In 1863, Jacques Boucher de Perthes found stone tools and an anatomically modern human jaw at a depth of 16.5 feet in an excavation at the Moulin Quignon quarry in Abbeville, France. The discovery of the human jaw was especially controversial. A commission of leading French and English scientists met at the site to conduct investigations and arrive at conclusions. Several of the English scientists believed that the stone tools and jaw had all been fraudulently introduced into the deposits at Moulin Quignon, to fool Boucher de Perthes. But initially they could not prove this. Commission members made a surprise visit to the site and conducted excavations that yielded stone tools. One of the skeptical English scientists, Sir John Prestwich, in a report published in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London (1863, vol. 19, pt. 1, p. 505), noted that “the precautions we took seemed to render imposition on the part of the workmen impossible.” The commission also concluded that there was no direct evidence the human jaw had been fraudulently introduced into the deposits (The Natural History Review, 1863, vol.3, p. 452). A resolution adopted by the commission stated: “All leads one to think that the deposition of this jaw was contemporary with that of the pebbles and other materials constituting the John Evansmass of clay and gravel designated as the black bed, which rests immediately above the chalk” (The Natural History Review, p. 452). Only two members of the committee, George Busk and Henry Falconer, from England, abstained in the vote on this statement.
Back in England, despite the commission’s findings, John Evans, who did not come to France for the commission meeting, maintained his firm conviction that the Moulin Quignon discoveries were fraudulent. He sent Henry Keeping, a trusted assistant, to Moulin Quignon to find evidence for fraud. Keeping conducted excavations and found five stone tools that he believed were planted, because he observed “fingerprints” on them. Based on his man Keeping’s report, Evans published a negative assessment of the Moulin Quignon discoveries (The Athenaeum, July 4, 1863, pp. 19–29). Boucher de Perthes, in Antiquités Celtiques et Antédiluviennes (1864, vol. 3, pp. 207–208), said he studied the artifacts found by Keeping and did not see the alleged fingerprints. He also pointed out that Keeping was daily choosing his own spots to excavate, making it difficult for workmen to know where to plant artifacts (1864, pp. 197, 204). Nevertheless, current textbooks on archaeology generally dismiss all the finds at Moulin Quignon, including the human jaw, as fraudulent.
In the account published in my book Forbidden Archeology (pp. 402-404), I leaned toward the idea that the jaw was a hoax perpetrated on Boucher des Perthes by quarry workmen. But later I did more research on this case and reported my findings in a paper I presented at a conference on the history of science. That paper appeared in a peer reviewed publication (Proceedings of the XXth International Congress of History of Science, Vol. X, 2002, pp. 39–56).
Although it is not well known, Boucher de Perthes, responding to the negative report from Evans, conducted additional excavations at Moulin Quignon, under conditions that ruled out fraudulent planting of bones and artifacts. The excavations were carried out when the quarry at Moulin Quignon was closed, so the usual workmen were not present. The excavations were not announced in advance, and the places were selected in random fashion. In almost all cases, witnesses with scientific training were present. Dozens of human bones were discovered in these excavations, including pieces of arm and leg bones, pieces of skulls, and teeth (Antiquités Celtiques et Antédiluviennes, 1864, vol. 3, pp. 238–240). A prominent French anthropologist, Armand de Quatrefages, stated, “Examination of the bones does not allow us to retain the slightest doubt as to their authenticity. The matrix encrusting the bone is of exactly the same material as the beds in which they were found… Because of the precautions taken by Boucher de Perthes and the testimony given by several gentlemen who were long disinclined to admit the reality of these discoveries, I believe it is necessary to conclude that the new bones discovered at Moulin Quignon are authentic, as is the original jaw, and that all are contemporary with the beds where Boucher de Perthes and his honorable associates found them” (Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires de l’Académie des Sciences, 1864, vol. 59 p. 111). I agree with de Quatrefages. According to modern scientists (E. Carbonell and X. P. Rodriguez), the artifact-bearing layers at Abbeville, where the Moulin Quignon site is located, are about 430,000 years old (Journal of Human Evolution, 1994, vol. 26, p. 306). If the Moulin Quignon jaw and the other anatomically modern human bones and teeth found in those layers are that old, this would extend the age of our species beyond the 200,000 or 300,000 years now accepted.
A few weeks ago, one of my correspondents called my attention to a fairly recent scientific report on the human bones found at Moulin Quignon (L’Anthropologie, 2016, vol. 120, pp. 389-427). In the anthropology collection of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, researchers located 28 human bones and teeth. Boucher de Perthes sent them to the museum in the nineteenth century. They represent only a fraction of the bones he collected in his excavations at Moulin Quignon. Significantly, they include the original Moulin Quignon jaw, discovered in 1863. The other bones and teeth came from the later excavations by Boucher de Perthes. The authors of the new report identified all of the bones and teeth as Homo sapiens. They found this problematic, given the age of the site.
So they dated two bones (a skull fragment and a fragment of a tibia) using the radiocarbon method, obtaining young ages of a few hundred years (L’Anthropologie, p. 416). The original Moulin Quignon jaw was not dated, and it is possible that the dating of it and some of the other bones in the museum collection may have resulted in older ages, and what to speak of the many bones that are now missing.
Even the ages of the two bone fragments that were dated are problematic. The skull fragment had a radiocarbon age of AD 1269–1382. But the fragment of tibia had a radiocarbon age of AD 1644–1951. So the radiocarbon age range extended to the 1950s, which is strange, considering the bone was discovered in the 1860s! The radiocarbon dating was performed on samples of collagen (bone protein) extracted from the two fossils. But there is a potential problem. Sometimes bones lying in museums (in this case for more than 150 years) may have been treated with substances that contain collagen, such as glues produced from the bones of animals. The description of the methodology employed in the extraction of the collagen samples does not appear to rule out this possibility. If the bones did contain recent animal bone collagen from being dipped in glue at some point of their long stay in the museum, which could explain the very recent part of the date range given by the radiocarbon method. The authors of the report were puzzled by the fact that their radiocarbon date for this bone indicated it was possibly from the 1950s. It’s possible that the fragment of tibia is really 430,000 years old but gave a radiocarbon age range extending into the 1950s because of contamination by recent collagen.
And there are other problems. The authors of the new report concluded it was still mysterious how so many bones had gotten into the positions in which they were found by Boucher de Perthes. They offered only a speculation that the bones might have come from a nearby cemetery. But they admitted they did not know who moved the bones from the cemetery, how they did it, or why they did it (L’Anthropologie, p. 425).
In summary, the recent radiocarbon dates can be taken as points in favor of some of the Moulin Quignon bones being not very old. But I do not see them as decisive proof that none of the bones at Moulin Quignon are of extreme antiquity. The history of the discoveries at Moulin Quignon illustrates the complex nature of studies in forbidden archaeology. Although there is a lot of evidence in favor of the Moulin Quignon jaw, and the subsequently discovered human bones, being anomalously old, contrary evidence also has to be considered. As far as I am concerned, the case is still open, even after 150 years. Boucher de Perthes has provided us with a set of discoveries that quite possibly demonstrate the existence of human beings like us in northwestern Europe over 400,000 years ago. Even in terms of mainstream archaeology, this is not entirely out of the realm of possibility. In this column (November/December 2017 AR #126), I noted that in 2017 archaeologists published a report in which they identified skulls from the Jebel Irhoud site in Morocco as being anatomically modern human and gave them ages of about 300,000 years. Another 100,000 years doesn’t seem like too big a step, even for mainstream archaeologists.
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 http://www.humandevolution.com.