Virginia Steen-McIntyre and the Hueyatlaco Saga

Geologist Virginia Steen-McIntyre (Ginger to her friends) is a courageous person, a scientist who became involved in one of the best-documented cases of “knowledge filtration” in the world of archaeology. Her name first came to my attention in the late 1980s, when I was doing research for my book Forbidden Archeology. That book deals with archaeological evidence for extreme human antiquity—-archaeological evidence showing that humans like us have been present on Earth for longer periods of time than most conventional archaeologists accept. At the time I was putting the book together, most archaeologists believed that humans like us first appeared less than one hundred thousand years ago. So I was looking for cases demonstrating that humans like us have been present for more than one hundred thousand years. I found many such cases in the professional scientific literature, past and present, but they are absent from the current textbooks because of a process of knowledge filtration. Discoveries that conform to the dominant views in science today pass through the filter. Discoveries that radically contradict the dominant views do not pass through the filter. Virginia Steen-McIntyre was involved in one of these cases that do not pass through the filter, the Hueyatlaco case.

Hueyatlaco (pronounced Way-at-lah-ko) is an archaeological site near the city of Puebla in Central Mexico. The site is one of several near the Valsequillo Reservoir there. These Valsequillo sites were located during the early 1960s by archaeologist Cynthia Irwin-Williams, who was working with the Mexican researcher Juan Armenta Camacho. At Hueyatlaco, Irwin-Williams found stone tools in her excavations. These stone tools, which were of a kind normally attributed to humans like us (not apemen), were associated with fossil animal bones. Irwin-Williams interpreted the finds as a “kill site.” Of course, she wanted to know how old these finds were.

Over several years, a team of geologists investigated the age of the Hueyatlaco site. Geologist Barney Szabo used the uranium series method to date animal bones from the tool bearing layers at Hueyatlaco. He got ages ranging from greater than one hundred eighty thousand to greater than two hundred eighty thousand years. A layer of volcanic ash, called the Hueyatlaco Ash, lies above the stone tool bearing layers at Hueyatlaco. Geologist C. W. Naeser used the zircon fission track method to date this ash and got an age of three hundred and seventy thousand years. Geologists Hal Malde and Virginia Steen-McIntyre, then a graduate student at the University of Idaho, looked for further confirmation of the dates obtained by Naeser.

Virginia Steen-McIntyre used the tephra hydration method, which she helped develop, to date the volcanic crystals (tephra) in the Hueyatlaco ash. These crystals contain tiny air bubbles. Over time the crystals become hydrated, and water molecules begin to infiltrate into the air bubbles. By seeing how much water has accumulated in the tiny air bubbles, one can get some idea of the age of the crystals are. The most reliable way to do this is to compare the amount of water in the crystals (from the site) with the amount of water in crystals (from other sites) that have been accurately dated using other methods. The amount of water in the Hueyatlaco crystals matched that found in crystals dated at about two hundred fifty thousand years. Hal Malde, an expert in stratigraphy, determined that the stratigraphy of the Hueyatlaco site was consistent with an age of two hundred and fifty thousand years for the layers containing the stone tools. All the geologists involved in the investigations agreed that this was the most likely minimum age for the site.

But Cynthia Irwin-Williams rejected this date of two hundred and thousand years. In a scientific publication (Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 1969, vol. 6, p. 241) she said about the stone tools found at the Hueyatlaco site near the Valsequillo Reservoir, “These tools surely were not in use at Valsequillo more than two hundred thousand years before the date generally accepted for development of analogous stone tools in the Old World, nor indeed more than one hundred thousand years before the appearance of Homo sapiens.” Most archaeologists believed that humans entered North America less than fifteen thousand years ago, and that humans capable of making tools of the kind found at Hueyatlaco did not exist anywhere in the world before one hundred thousand years ago. The dates were simply too old for Cynthia Irwin-Williams, and therefore she never published a complete report about the Hueyatlaco site. So Virginia Steen-McIntyre and her colleagues decided to independently publish their findings about the age of the site in a scientific journal called Quaternary Research (1981,vol. 16, pp. 1-17). Archaeologists and anthropologists reacted with extreme negativity to their findings.

Virginia Steen-McIntyre wrote in a letter (March 30, 1981) to Estella Leopold, associate editor of Quaternary Research:  “The problem as I see it is much bigger than Hueyatlaco. It concerns the manipulation of scientific thought through the suppression of ‘Enigmatic Data,’ data that challenges the prevailing mode of thinking. Hueyatlaco certainly does that! Not being an anthropologist, I didn’t realize the full significance of our dates back in 1973, nor how deeply woven into our thought the current theory of human evolution has become. Our work at Hueyatlaco has been rejected by most archaeologists because it contradicts that theory, period.”

During the 1980s, the Hueyatlaco case went into scientific oblivion, and Virginia Steen-McIntyre’s scientific career suffered. Searching through some obscure scientific publications, my research assistant and I encountered some brief mentions of Hueyatlaco and Virginia Steen-McIntyre. We tracked her down, and I corresponded with her. She sent me a lot of unpublished documents and letters relating to the case. Using this material, I wrote about Hueyatlaco in Forbidden Archeology, which was published in 1993. The book began circulating among researchers interested in archaeological mysteries and anomalies. One of them, Jean Hunt, told me I should send a copy of the Forbidden Archeology to Bill Cote, a television producer who was working on a documentary about human origins for NBC. I did that. Bill came to interview me and my coauthor, Richard L. Thompson. Bill Cote said that he wanted to include some cases from the book in the documentary, The Mysterious Origins of Man. I told him that one of the best cases was the Hueyatlaco case. I put him in touch with Virginia Steen-McIntyre. Bill flew her down to the site in Mexico and filmed interviews with her.

The Mysterious Origins of Man, which was first broadcast in 1996, contained segments about many different cases from the work of many different researchers, but Virginia Steen-McIntyre and the Hueyatlaco case were prominently featured. Suddenly, after a decade of silence, she was speaking through television to millions of people all over the world. The show came to the attention of a philanthropist interested in archaeology, and he decided to fund new research at Hueyatlaco. He engaged Virginia Steen-McIntyre as a consultant. A new team of geologists and archaeologists investigated the site and conducted new dating studies. Much of the new research confirmed the dates originally obtained by Virginia Steen-McIntyre. The new research is summarized in a United States Geological Survey paper by Steen-McIntyre and other geologists involved in the Hueyatlaco case ( New zircon fission track dates (two hundred and twelve thousand and two hundred thousand years) confirmed the original zircon fission track dates for the Hueyatlaco Ash. The paper also reviewed the work of Sam Van Landingham, who at Hueyatlaco collected diatoms, aquatic microorganisms that leave as fossils their tiny silica cell walls. The kinds of fossil diatoms he collected were consistent with an age of two hundred  fifty thousand years for the site. Paleomagnetic dates on the sediments in the tool-bearing layer at Hueyatlaco were also consistent with an age of two hundred fifty thousand years or more for the site. Of course, there are still scientists who disagree with all of this.

I have only given a brief sketch of the history of the Hueyatlaco mystery in this column. For more information, one can see a series of articles by Virginia Steen-McIntyre in the Pleistocene Coalition News, published by an organization of open-minded archaeological researchers. The series starts with the May-June 2011 issue. Copies are archived at See also Readers may also consult the book The First American by archaeologist Chris Hardaker, who gives an excellent review of the history of the research at Hueyatlaco.

In 2003, I was co-organizer of a session on history of archaeology for a meeting of the World Archaeological Congress, which took place in Washington, DC. I invited Virginia Steen-McIntyre and Sam Van Landingham to present papers on their work at the conference. I am happy that I was able to do something to make better known to the world the Hueyatlaco site, a site that challenges dominant ideas about human antiquity and the peopling of the Americas, and the work of Virginia Steen-McIntyre, a courageous and tenacious scientific truth seeker. It is an ongoing struggle. However, plans for even more research at Hueyatlaco had to be abandoned when in 2011, a landowner walled off the site, graded it, and planted it with trees.


Michael A. Cremo is the author, with Richard Thompson, of the underground classic Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race. He has also written Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory (see