According to geological
evidence, the Age of Dinosaurs and the Age of Man are separated by roughly
60 million years. That has not deterred the dream-spinners of Hollywood
from supposing that dinosaurs survived into the present (The Lost World),
or that they can be genetically recreated (Jurassic Park). other movies
in this genre have played with the idea that, somehow, man and the dinosaurs
may have co-existed.
story has several possible beginnings, but we’ll start on
13 May 1966 in Ica, the capital town of a small Peruvian coastal
province, some 186 miles (300 km) south of the capital Lima. It
was the 42nd birthday of a local physician, Dr Javier Cabrera
Darquea and his old friend, photographer Felix Llosa Romero, had
presented him with a seemingly innocent gift – a curiously
Dr Cabrera – who had a long-standing interest in the prehistory
of the region – examined the design on the stone and identified
it as a species of fish that had become extinct millions of years ago.
News of his excitement reached the ears of Carlos and Pablo Soldi, brothers
and well-known collectors of pre-Inca artifacts. They showed Cabrera
thousands of similarly-marked stones found in the nearby Ocucaje region
and told him that they had repeatedly failed to interest archæologists
in investigating the area. Cabrera bought 341 stones from them for the
equivalent of UK£30.
private museum includes a collection of stones belonging to his father
– Bolivia Cabrera, a Spanish aristocrat – gathered from
the fields of the family plantation in the late 1930s. They resembled
his new acquisitions and soon he found another supplier – a farmer
named Basilo Uschuya – and bought many thousands more from him.
By the late 1970s, Cabrera estimates, he had over 11,000 of these anomalous
stones vary in size from pebbles to hefty boulders and have a dark patina
into which the designs are incised. They bear an astonishing variety
of images (including some showing bestiality which have been described
as “pornographic”) and Cabrera has arranged his collection
into groups, including star maps, maps of unidentified lands, scenes
of complex surgery, men using telescopes to observe stars and comets,
and what seem to be humans in flying machines. Here, too, are depictions
that challenge the accepted view of the history of life on Earth. They
show people interacting with extinct animals; hunting and domesticating
a variety of dinosaurs, in particular the brontosaurs, Tyrannosaurus
rex, stegosaurs and flying pterodactyls. According to connoisseurs,
the real gem of the dinosaur series is a scene in which men use hand-axes
to kill a dinosaur. What impresses, they say, is that the hunters seem
to display a knowledge of the animal’s anatomy in chopping at
a critical nerve centre in the dinosaur’s spine that would inflict
a quick and sudden death.
medical career was distinguished – he’d retired as
professor and head of the Department of Medicine at the University
of Lima – so it is natural that, at first, he kept quiet
about his ‘dinosaur stones’, preferring to draw attention
to those that displayed advanced scientific knowledge, such as
the astronomical and medical images. The ‘surgery stones’
imply – if you believe Cabrera’s supporters –
that the makers possessed an advanced knowledge of medicine millions
of years before the earliest modern civilisation, for here, in
gory detail, are scenes of heart, liver and kidney transplants,
a cæsarean-section, brain operation, sophisticated equipment,
acupuncture and genetic engineering. In short, this highly controversial
‘library in stone’ is an archæological anomaly
– a prime example of what the fortean pioneer Ivan Sanderson
called ‘oops-art’ or out-of-place artefacts.
the late 1960s – after he had bought thousands of the engraved
stones from the farmer Basilo Uschuya – Cabrera tirelessly promoted
his ‘discovery’, telling anyone who would listen about his
speculations… and it soon came to the attention of revisionists
like Erich von Däniken and Robert Charroux. Predictably, the Ica
artifacts shot up the hit parade of the ‘ancient astronaut’
school, which enthusiastically embraces any discovery that can be used
to suggest that a highly-developed ancient culture existed where none
was supposed to; and the more bizarre or anomalous the discovery, the
more likely it was, in their view, to have extraterrestrial origins.
in the slipstream of von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods?
– a world-wide best- seller in 1969 – a spate of similar
books emerged in the early 1970s, almost all of them including the Ica
enigma. Most claimed it was clear, if puzzling, evidence of an advanced
civilisation from a time before the dinosaurs perished 65 million years
ago. More recently, Creationists – who place biblical ‘truth’
above Darwinian theory – have used the Ica stones to substantiate
their beliefs that the ‘behemoth’ of the Book of Job is,
in fact, a dinosaur. 1 Rejecting the mooted antiquity of the stones,
they believe the stones show, instead, that dinosaurs survived into
relatively modern times, co-existing with early man, and offer proof
of the Genesis account of the Creation some six millennia ago.
to the reigning scientific opinion, a span of some 60 million years
separates the living dinosaurs from our earliest human ancestors. This
huge gap in time, supported by geological evidence and modern dating
methods, makes the idea of the co-existence of dinosaurs and man hard
to entertain scientifically. In addition, the theoretical consequences
of accepting the validity of the Ica stones are equally difficult. For
example, if humans existed that far back, how did they survive the several
global cataclysms that contributed to the demise of the dinosaurs and
huge percentages of other extant life-forms? If dinosaurs lived into
the Modern Era, why did they suddenly disappear? 2
it seems, the bubble burst. A BBC TV documentary was severely critical
of the Ica stones, drawing the attention of the Peruvian press and resulting
in the arrest of Uschuya by the local authorities. Interrogated, he
soon admitted he had carved the stones himself; he wanted to bilk the
tourists and claimed he never thought it would get out of hand on such
a large scale. After his release, Uschuya continued to make and sell
stones, presumably with official knowledge.
Ica stones were a hoax and officially a branch of the tourist industry.
It was over… or was it? When dealing with controversies of this
sort, nothing is ever simple. Believers in the antiquity of the stones
claimed that the farmer admitted to the hoax for a very simple reason:
if the stones were genuine, he had been selling government possessions.
Peruvian law dictates that archæological discoveries should be
turned over to the government and he faced prison if found guilty. By
admitting it was a simple hoax, the farmer was let off the hook…
and was able to provide his family with an income. When von Däniken
visited the farmer in 1973, Uschuya confirmed to him that he had faked
the stones; but later on, in an interview with the German journalist
Andreas Fischer, Uschuya claimed the opposite. They were genuine, he
insisted, and he admitted to a hoax to avoid imprisonment.
is sometimes alleged against Cabrera that he colluded in the making
of fakes and must have profited from them but there is no evidence of
that. In any case, Cabrera’s original motive, to preserve the
stones, is clear from the record. Along with the Soldi brothers, he
tried to attract the attention of a top-level archæological investigation
into what he believed was a genuine pre-Incan mystery. The Soldis’
interest began in 1961 when, according to Herman Buse, the Ica River
flooded and “uncovered in the Ocucaje region a large number of
engraved stones which ever since have been an object of commerce for
the huaqueros who found them.” 3
interested in the objects was an architect, Santiago Agurto Calvo, then
rector of the Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria, who bought many and,
in 1966, began excavating pre-Inca tombs around Ocucaje. In an article
that year, he described the designs as “Unidentifiable things,
insects, fish, birds, cats, fabulous creatures and human beings [..]
in elaborate and fantastic compositions.” 4 In 1968, Calvo donated
a great number of engraved stones to the Ica museum but failed to have
the province’s cultural department declare the Ocucaje region
a special preserve to prevent the illegal removal of ancient objects.
earliest Peruvian artifacts seem to date back to around 20,000 years
ago, and discoveries of engraved stones in the Ica region go back to
Spanish records of the mid-15th century. The curator of the Ica museum
accepted Calvo’s collection at first as examples of pre-Inca burial
art, but they were withdrawn from open display in 1970, when Cabrera’s
ideas gained international notoriety. When Cabrera visited the museum
to compare his artifacts with Calvo’s, the curator said he withdrew
them because he now believed the huaqueros (grave- robbers) had made
Uschuya’s damning admission, Cabrera continued to feed the “cult
of the dinosaur stones” – he called them ‘gliptoliths’
– and became their biggest promoter. He put his collection on
display in his house. Shelves line every wall, organised by subject:
the races of the planet, ancient animals, lost continents, etc. Arguing
for their genuine origins cast Cabrera into the camp of the von Dänikenites;
this is both comical and ironic as von Däniken himself has written
that he believes the stones are most likely fakes. Cabrera devoted more
and more time to deciphering the images and came to astonishing conclusions
“in strange and difficult circumstances”.
considered that his hypothetical ancient people – Gliptolithic
Man – had larger brains than ours (even though no skeletal remains
exist) and were therefore more intelligent than us. These humans supposedly
used a form of concentrated psychic energy with which they were able
to influence celestial events, and record on their stones, the approach
of a great comet. Further, he believed that some of the ‘machines’
depicted look like spacecraft and probably travelled through space “without
consuming fuel.” Other designs echoed the great images laid out
on the plains of Nazca – so, he concluded that Nazca really was
an ancient spaceport.
Cabrera ascends into a realm all his own, leaving behind his puzzled
and more conventional colleagues for the increasing isolation of his
contemplation among the strange stones. He believes he has come to know
what they are saying. “I can only deduce,” he writes, “that
the men who carved these stones co-existed with these animals. This
means, of course, that man is at least 405 million years old.”
to him, Gliptolithic Man came to Earth to genetically engineer the ancestors
of the human race and left Earth before the impact of the Great Comet
65 million years ago, leaving their intellectual legacy on indestructible
stones. Cabrera theorised that they took off from the Nazca plains –
their craft fired from electromagnetic launchers – to travel to
a planet in the Pleiades. Some of the stones, he says, show the hemispheres
of that distant planet as well as other places in the Universe where
life existed… which would imply a fair bit of space traffic prior
to the catastrophe.
reading of the stones has little support; especially as the engraved
images lend themselves to other, less dramatic, interpretations and
there is not enough corroborating detail to substantiate any of them.
For example, even if we assume they are genuine and millions of years
old, they do not necessarily contain the type of information Cabrera
maintains; the heart and brain transplants could just as well be mutilations
or acts of cannibalism; and the “flying machines” resemble
birds more than high-tech craft. The American archæologist-publisher
David Hatcher Childress said, half in jest, that the scene showing ancients
using telescopes could equally show them playing a game of prehistoric
25 February 1996, NBC TV showed a documentary titled The Mysterious
Origins of Man. It marshalled evidence seeming to support the idea that
there have been civilisations far older than the earliest accepted ones
and that the eras of man and the dinosaurs overlapped. Neil Steede –
an independent archæologist and director of the Early Sites Research
Society – was one of its researchers who, in 1995, travelled throughout
Southern America, gathering material for the programme. He investigated
the Ica stones first hand, but thought they should not be included in
documentary because they did not add any scientific weight to the debate.
1997, the documentary’s producer, Bill Cote, decided to cash in
on two controversial items dropped from the original broadcast. The
segment concerning the Ica stones was called Jurassic Art and was marketed
for cable television and the video sales market. The production centred
on Steede’s research as he was the latest archæologist to
investigate the collection. When Steede met Basilo Uschuya, the farmer
confirmed that he had engraved the stones from drawings that Cabrera
had brought to him. Why? “Making these stones is easier than farming
the land.” Uschuya stated that Cabrera had about 5000 ‘genuine’
stones – ie. stones that Uschuya himself had not made –
and that he had not fabricated all of the others, contrary to what he
had previously stated. We have no clues as to who else might be making
explained Uschuya’s implication by admitting that a large number
of stones had indeed been copied, but they were only for sale to tourists.
There is of course little harm in creating replicas; a position most
museums will be happy to agree with. Doubters will argue that Cabrera
only confessed to his part in these forged stones when faced with his
accomplice’s statement – so how can we rely on any of his
other statements? We also wonder whether Cabrera had asked anyone else
to fabricate stones. Cabrera continues to maintain that his stones are
genuine and that there is still a hoard of genuine stones, whose secret
location is guarded by Uschuya and others. Cabrera claims he was shown
a cave in which the cache of stones had remained hidden for millions
of years. This cave was revealed, he says, after a severe rainstorm
washed open a new area near the Ica river. (This may or may not be the
event referred to by Herman Buse in 1965.) Cabrera remains tight-lipped
on who took him to the cave and as no maps or pictures of it exist we
have only Cabrera’s word for it. Cabrera has stated that he hopes
it will not be found. Even Erich von Däniken, who describes Cabrera
as a “warm friend”, was denied the privilege. Steede, who
offered to be blindfolded throughout the journey to the cave, was also
rebuffed and now believes the cave never existed.
you ask, couldn’t the matter be settled once and for all by dating
the stones? Unfortunately, though some testing was done, the results
remain inconclusive. Cabrera himself sent stones to the Universities
of Lima (Peru) and Bonn (Germany) and to NASA scientist (and ancient
astronaut buff) Joseph Blum. At Bonn, a Professor Frenchen apparently
confirmed that the stones were andesite (an extremely hard volcanic
rock composed mostly of silica) and that the oxidized patina on their
surface indicated “significant” age.
1967, Cabrera asked friend Eric Wolf, a mining engineer, to arrange
an analysis and published the results in his book. The stones were indeed
andesite, worn smooth in ancient rivers. “I have not found any
notable or irregular wear on the edges of the incisions,” Wolf
notes, concluding: “These etchings were executed not long before
they were deposited in graves or other places where they were discovered.”
6 Cabrera adds, specifically, that “the coating of natural oxidation
covers the incisions as well.” This would suggest the stones were
indeed ancient. However, this has to be balanced by the first-hand observation
by Neil Steede that, even though the stones he examined did have this
patina, there was no patina in the grooves. This suggests that while
the stones were certainly very old, the carvings were clearly of far
more recent origin.
While some investigators claim that they were refused permission to
see the Calco collection in the Museum of Ica stash, Neil Steede was
granted access. He concluded that these “definitely genuine”
stones show a finer workmanship and have less deep cuts than Cabrera’s
stones. This is a clear indication of a more highly skilled manufacturer
than Cabrera’s artisan. Furthermore, they are restricted to depicting
conventional humans and existing animals, not extinct animals; nor do
they include any examples of the more exotic motifs of the Cabrera stones.
the same year that the Mysterious Origins of Man documentary aired,
the German cable channel Kabel 1 broadcast its own investigation.7 The
team had filmed secretly as Cabrera took them into one of his ‘secret’
rooms. Here, instead of incised stones, were astonishing clay sculptures:
small dinosaurs crawling out of an egg, kangaroos, people with odd-shaped
heads and other similar themes. The team decided to confront Basilo
Uschuya with this new footage. He claimed to have made these sculptures
as well, for what in his opinion was a minimum salary, and showed the
team such a sculpture, which seemed indistinguishable from those in
Cabrera’s secret room.
story became stranger when, that same year, Erich von Däniken launched
the German version of his book Arrival of the Gods, in which he reported
on his 1996 trip to Peru… and said that Cabrera had allowed him
to visit and photograph the figurines! Von Däniken stated that
he was first shown these clay figures during his visit in 1983. The
point is that, unlike the stones, these clay figurines can be tested.
Von Däniken sent one to the University of Zurich for carbon-dating
and they reported that the figurine was modern. His fellow researcher,
Johannes Fiebag, sent two other samples to the University of Weimar
who, likewise, concluded that the samples were “relatively young”
and still contained water. Conclusion: these figurines were not “a
hundred thousand” years old, as Cabrera claimed; they could have
been made 20 years ago.
is quite possible for the engraved stones, if authentic, to have a simple
anthropological origin. An alternative explanation – not considered
by Cabrera or others – is that the engravings are votive renderings
by the tribe’s shaman; after all, the dream-flight of the shaman
is, in many cultures, linked to the flight of birds. Could not a shaman
have picked up a dinosaur bone (which can be found easily in the area),
entered a trance, connected with the bone’s previous owner and
seen the dinosaur age in a vision?
seems increasingly likely that the Ica stones have been fabricated,
but it is difficult to believe that they are all – estimates run
to 50,000 pieces – made by one poor, uneducated farmer. No independent
study has been made, if only to separate any possibly authentic artifacts
from the fakes. Nor do we know to what extent Cabrera’s interpretations
have been based on any of the fakes. The one researcher who has known
Cabrera the longest, Erich von Däniken, has repeatedly stated that
some stones are definitely fakes. He has also cast doubt on the origins
of the entire collection. In the end, perhaps von Däniken understands
Cabrera’s motive best. He is convinced Cabrera tells stories:
“And stories is the right word, for they do not fit in with any
scientific scheme of things. The old man uses engravings which he must
know are fake to substantiate his beliefs. Why? Has he become so enamoured
of his own theories that he thinks imitations will back them up?”
Cabrera’s interest in medicine and archæology might have
made him susceptible to an ingenious fraud, but if so he is not the
one who has profited from it. Or perhaps he has fooled himself, seeing
evidence of his wishful thinking everywhere. In 1966, the media were
rife with the theme of men and dinosaurs interacting, especially in
the movie One Million Year BC (1966). Was Cabrera inspired by this?
Or was he inspired by the so-called ‘Acambaro figurines’,
named after their place of origin in Mexico where, in 1925, Waldemar
Julsrud, a Danish storekeeper, found hundreds of clay figurines of dinosaurs
which – like their Ica counterparts some 40 years later –
are cavorting with men? 9 Clearly, more research must be done to settle
the doubts about the Ica stones.
77 years old, Cabrera remains the sole custodian of the enigma and seems
to enjoy the position. Without giving anything away, he still offers
a jovial welcome to visitors to the Museo Cabrera – his own Jurassic
Library. It is, he is convinced, “the most important legacy of
1977, two producers for BBC TV travelled to Peru to film a number of
stories for a programme called ‘Pathways to the Gods’, in
the Chronicle series. Tony Morrison and Ray Sutcliffe, who specialise
in film reportage from South America, were chiefly interested in ancient
trackways and the Nazca lines, but included the mystery of the Ica stones.
Morrison – who has visited Peru on a regular basis since 1961
– went on to write the book Pathways to the Gods (1978). He was
told by local informants that, despite the esteem with which Cabrera
was originally regarded, his ‘crazy’ ideas had isolated
him and created some bad feeling in the community Sutcliffe told FT
that they had located and filmed Basilo Uschuya, the only forger of
the stones ever identified. Uschuya’s homestead stood out from
those surrounding it as the only one with a TV mast and an electricity
generator. Far from being an illiterate peasant, Sutcliffe said Uschuya
was intelligent, proud of his achievement and had “a great sense
of humour.” He proved it to the TV crew by taking a fresh stone
about an inch a half long – its patina the result of being baked
in cow dung and massaged with boot polish – powered up his dentist’s
drill and carved an ‘ancient’ legend of ‘BBC TV’.
Today, the stone sits on Sutcliffe’s desk as one of the most unusual
paperweights in the world.
since this article was written, Dr. Javier Cabrera has passed away.
1. See, for
example, Ankerberg Theological Institute
2. According to some, of course, they didn’t all disappear.
Cryptozoological books often argue for the possible survival of
dinosaurs in remote parts of Africa or elsewhere. And, everyone’s
favourite lake-monster, Nessie, has also been identified (partly
in jest) as a remnant of a Jurassic species.
3. Herman Buse, Introduccion al Peru (1965).
4. Santiago Agurto Calvo, ‘Las piedras mágicas de
Ocicaje’ in El Comercio (supplement) 11 Dec 1966.
5. David Hatcher Childress, Lost Cities and Ancient Mysteries
of South America (1990), p50.
6. Cabrera, The Message of the Engraved Stones of Ica, pp40-41.
7. Kabel 1, 7 August 1997.
8. Erich von Däniken, Arrival of the Gods (Element Books,
1998), p64. Von Däniken claims he broke an arm off one of
the figurines for dating, adding “May Cabrera and the ancient
gods of Peru forgive me!”
9. A study of the Acambaro figurines is being prepared for a future
article originally appeared in Fortean Times 151, October 2001.
It was also featured in Kadath,
issue 101 (2005).