The Mystery of the Nampa Image

In 1889, workers were drilling a water well near Nampa, in southwest Idaho. In his book Origin and Antiquity of Man (1912, pp. 266-267), geologist George Frederick Wright (1838-1921) reported, “The record of the well shows that…they had penetrated first about fifty feet of soil, then about fifteen feet of basalt, and afterwards passed through alternate beds of clay and quicksand…down to a depth of about three hundred feet.” One of the owners of the drilling company, Mark A. Kurtz, was checking the material brought up by a sand pump from a layer of clay over 300 feet down in the well boring. A strange object came into his hands. On washing it, he found it was a small human figurine. Kurtz later showed the figurine to Charles F. Adams, president of the Union Pacific Railroad, who happened to be passing through Idaho. Adams, who had recently read a book by Wright, wrote to Wright about the discovery. Wright, from the East Coast of the United States, wrote to Kurtz, requesting a photograph of the arti­fact. Kurtz replied that there was no way for him to make a photograph, so he sent Wright the figurine. Wright noted (p. 267): “The object is about an inch and a half long, and remarkable for the perfection with which it repre­sents the human form.” He added, “It was a female figure, and had the lifelike lineaments in the parts which were finished that would do credit to the classic centers of art.”

The object was not of recent manufacture. It was deeply colored with the iron oxides characteristic of the de­posits from the 300-foot level. Wright showed the object to archaeologist F. W. Putnam of Harvard University. Wright (p. 267) says that Putnam “at once directed attention to the character of the incrustations of iron upon the surface as indicative of a relic of considerable antiquity.” Wright gave the object to a professor of natural history, A. A. Wright , and a chemist F. F. Jewett, at Oberlin University in Ohio to see if they could duplicate the object with its old appearance. They could, to some extent, but it required laboratory equipment and chemicals. Jewett wrote in his report, reproduced in the Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History (January 1, 1890 gen­eral meeting, vol. 24, p. 448): “A careful examination of the Nampa image, and experiments made upon clay taken from the same well, lead me to the conclusion that the image must be of considerable age. I cannot account for the accumulation of the oxide of iron upon the grains of sand, lying between the body of the image and its arms, except by supposing it to have been the result of the slow decomposition of substances containing iron, in its im­mediate vicinity.”

Furthermore, it was not possible that the object, assuming it to be recent, could have fallen into the well bor­ing from some higher level. Wright stated (1912, p. 270): “The well was six inches in diameter and was tubed with heavy iron tubing, which was driven down, from the top, and screwed together, section by section, as progress was made. Thus it was impossible for anything to work in from the sides.”

When I first learned about this case, I asked my research assistant to inquire from the United States Geological Survey about the age of the deposits at the 300-foot level at the location where the figurine was found. In a letter dated February 25, 1885, a government geologist replied that the clay layer at the 300-foot level was “probably of the Glenns Ferry Formation, upper Idaho Group, which is generally considered to be Plio-Pleistocene Age.” This would give the object an age of about 2 million years.

According to current Darwinian theories of evolution, figurines like the Idaho image are made only by hu­mans of the modern type, who came into existence only about 200,000 years ago. The oldest statues of human fig­ures of a degree of artistry similar to that of the Nampa image only go back to the Late Paleolithic period of Eu­rope, about 20,000 or 30,000 years. According to the ancient Sanskrit writings of India, however, humans have been present since the beginning of life on earth. There are figures of gods and goddesses in Indian temples that, according to traditional sources, are as old as the Nampa image and older.

One of my critics, Michael Brass, proposed in his book Antiquity of Man (2002, pp. 46-47) that the figurine would have been destroyed by the drilling. But Brass neglected to carefully study the reports about the discovery of the Nampa image that I provided in my book Forbidden Archaeology (pp. 802-805). This is typical of the sloppy work done by skeptical debunkers, who are skeptical about everything except the theory of evolution. G. F. Wright noted in his book (p. 270): “The drill was not used after penetrating the lava deposits near the surface, but the tube was driven down, and the included material brought out from time to time by use of a sand pump.” Wright also noted that the sand pump “brought up numerous clay balls, some of them more than two inches in diameter.” These were larger than the figurine. So it is a false assertion that the drilling in this case would have destroyed the figurine if it really came up from the 300 foot level. Brass proposed that the figurine must have been tossed into the well from the top, but Wright sh-owed that if an object had been thrown in from the top, the sand pump would have destroyed it. Only if it had been sucked up from below would it have come out undamaged.

As often happens in cases like this, there was a report that someone had carried out a hoax. A Mr. McGee said that a famous geologist came to the area right after the find. According to McGee, the finders showed the figure to the unnamed geologist, and the geologist allegedly recognized it as a doll of the kind made by local Indians. One of the finders supposedly admitted the discovery was a hoax and supposedly said to the geologist, “Don’t give me away; I’ve fooled a lot of fellows already, and I’d like to fool some more.” Upon investigating the story, Wright found that the geologist was Major John Wesley Powell, of the U.S. Geological Survey. Powell wrote to Wright, say­ing that he had seen the figurine, but did not say that the men who showed it to him said they had hoaxed the dis­covery. This is recorded by Wright in the second edition of his book Man and the Glacial Period (1894, pp. xix-xx).

The discovery of the Nampa image came to the attention of William H. Holmes, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Holmes was a supporter of the Darwinian theory of evolution. In his Handbook of Aboriginal American Antiquities (1919, p. 70) Holmes wrote that “the apparent improbability of the occurrence of a well modeled human figure in deposits of such great antiquity has led to grave doubts about its au­thenticity.” This is how what I have called the knowledge filtering process works in the world of science. Evidence that contradicts evolutionary preconceptions about the antiquity of the human species is often rejected, just for that reason alone.

Of course, once such a discovery has been rejected on theoretical grounds, scientists will often go to great lengths to make up some story in order to explain it away. Holmes was no exception. Rather than repeating the by-then discredited hoax story, he wrote (p. 70): “It is not impossible that an object of this character could have de­scended from the surface through some crevice or water course penetrating the lava beds and have been carried through deposits of creeping quicksand aided by underground waters to the spot tapped by the drill.” Such powers of imagination! But offering such speculative tales cannot be taken as serious scientific explanations. If Holmes could have demonstrated that he could in that area find some place where he could drop a figurine and have it go down 300 feet into the ground by some natural pathway through a 15-foot layer of basalt, and further down to the 300-foot level, that might constitute some real evidence in support of his fantastic idea. But no such evidence was provided. We also have to take into account the testimony of Dr. Putnam and Dr. Jewett that the object was of con­siderable antiquity.

Another reason why it is extremely unlikely that the figurine could have been a recent artifact that worked its way down from the surface in recent years is given by Holmes himself (p. 70): “Forms of art closely analogous to this figure are far to seek, neither the Pacific slope on the west nor the Pueblo region on the south furnishing modeled images of the human figure of this character or of equal artistic merit.” This contradicts speculations by some, such as geologists D. G. Brinton and John Wesley Powell, that the figurine must have been a doll made by local Indians (Science 1892, vol. 20, p. 249).

What we have here is a quite credible case of archaeological evidence for extreme human antiquity. Today the Nampa image is kept in storage at the Idaho State Historical Society in Boise, Idaho.

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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