Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Calico remains, proof of Homo erectus in America

This post will deal with the stone tools found at Calico site, in the U.S. and the possibility that they were made by Homo erectus.

Calico is located in the Mojave Desert of California, near the town of Barstow. The Calico site dates back to 1942, when some amateur archaeologists found some very primitive stone tools in the sediments of what once was Lake Manix.

This lake is now a dry basin in the desert, but it held considerable water during the Pleistocene Period, and there are records of “highstands” in its water levels during the following periods: [5]

  • 28 to 38 ka (thousand years ago)
  • approx. 89 ka
  • approx. 244 to 199 ka
  • approx. 279 ka
  • approx. 412 ka
  • approx. 505 ka
  • 1.0 to 1.2 Million years ago, wet period in the Mojave

It is very likely that hominids (either modern humans or, as the Calico findings suggest, Homo erectus) would have lived, hunted, gathered food close to this lake during the “wet” periods shown above.

The formal excavations began in 1964 with Ruth DeEtte Simpson and later, Louis B Leaky, a famous archaeologist who made some amazing discoveries at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, Africa.

The controversial stone tools

The stone tools (or, “Calico Lithic Industry”) found at the site have been dated to about 200,000 years ago. Which is long before the first modern humans H. sapiens appeared, and obviously long before they even ventured out of Africa and walked all the way to America.

This dating matter has made “orthodox” archaeology dismiss the findings and class them as “geofacts” that is, naturally shaped stones instead of “artifacts” or man made tools.

Calico’s controversial lithic industry has sparked many debates and the crude stone tools do indeed look antique and lack the beauty of the artfully crafted stone arrowheads, scrapers and tools made by Indians or Paleo Indians in more recent times (since 15,000 years ago).

However, they are very similar to the stone tools made by H. erectus whose stone tools are classified as the “Acheulian lithic tradition” which first appeared in Eastern Africa about 1.6 to 1.4 Million years ago and expanded to Asia where it persisted until about 125 ka.

The H. erecuts chose specific raw materials from which they would make their tools, they then prepared these cores and knocking them against an “anvil” stone to obtain bifacial pieces with sharp cutting edges. The flakes produced in the process were also used as cutters or scrapers.

The image below shows a hand axe from Calico (left) [1], and one from Africa that was made by H. erectus 1.2 Million years ago [6]. They are very similar, hard to tell apart.

erectus hand axes Calico and African
Left: Bifacial pick or handaxe-like core tool of chalcedonic chert from Master Pit II. Face-flaked from tip to butt on dorsal side. Flat from midsection to tip on ventral side. Powdered aluminum coating reveals careful work at tip, which could not result from natural processes. D. Griffin. Photo From [1]
Bottom: Tool Type: Hand Axe, Acheulian tradition from East Africa, Pleistocene Epoch, Accepted Age: 1.2 mya. From [6]

But not all believe that the stones are man-made ([2] and [3] uphold that they are artifacts made by humans). Others that they are natural [4]. The natural origin theory says that stones originally broke off from the Calico Mountains due to weathering and flowing down their slopes, banged against others, chipped and flaked. Then subjected to the rolling of waves (Lake Manix), pressure against other stones, removal and redeposition, etc, got shaped even further and resemble man-made tools.

Man made tools display delicate working and flaking while natural sources wear down the stone and round off sharp edges. This can be easily seen while walking by a stream: one does This means that geofacts are not so common. Why would there be so many of them at Calico?

My personal opinion is that the stone tools seem to be very (see the photographs at the Calico site's official website) similar to those made by men in other parts of the world, and at least some of them appear to be definitively human, man made. Their age is also a clear indication that they could have been crafted by H. erectus. But I am not absolutely swayed by them.
Nevertheless, and despite my own amateurish opinion, several scientific papers have been written on this subject and look into many factors such as the angle of the fractures in the stones, to decide if they are or not man made. The conclusions are mixed some opt for a natural origin others for artificial one.

Further research my clarify the point. Digging continues at the site Update: 2019: it was closed by the BLM.


[1] Calico Early Man Site. The Calico Lithic Industry. Online.
[2] Christopher Hardaker, (2009). Calico Redux: Artifacts or Geofacts?. Earthmeasure Research SCA Proceedings, Volume 22, p. 18.
[3] Leland Patterson, Louis Hoffman, Rose Marie Higginbotham and Ruth Simpson, (1987). Analysis of Lithic Flakes at the Calico Site, California. Journal of Field Archaeology Vol. 14, No. 1 (Spring, 1987), pp. 91-106
[4] Vance, Haynes, (1973). The Calico Site: Artifacts or Geofacts?Science 27 July 1973: Vol. 181 no. 4097 pp. 305-310.
[5] USGS, (2009). Changing Climates and Ancient Lakes. Online
[6] Image source. Anthro Tools: acheulian.

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  1. they are clearly man-made. nature does not produce stones like that. Natural stones are often rounded by rolling in a river for thousands of years or even from being in an ocean at times. They are specifically chipped into arrowhead type shapes.

  2. Thanks for your comment. It is a pity that orthodox science does not support our point of view!

    1. Sadly too many "orthodox" nay sayers make too much money while they "attempt" to explain away history instead of embracing these great works. I have personally recovered in Mariposa county Ca., similar pieces including many, many bifaces that "seem", in my amateur opinion, to mature into more modern man based on find location/topographic erosion. I continue to pray that I will see the day when this Hx is embraced and not dismissed.

  3. Too bad science is burying almost as much evidence as they are excavating. If these tools were found in Africa no one would be saying nature made them.

    So there were people in America atleast 200,000 years ago. Figures. Like I always thought, Kennewick man is the tip of the ice berg.

  4. Hello Austin

    Calico site is simply “too old for America”, for the eyes of the mainstream of archaeology,... so I think it is expected to be denied for much longer, and by any possible form.

    One of the authors mentioned in your sources, Christopher Hardaker, has also published the “Calico Lithics Photographic Project”, where he analyzes relevant aspects, related to flaking and taphonomical considerations, that suggest that at least the shown lithics, could not have been made by nature in any way.
    Refering particularly to this material, the lithic assemblage seem to me to have the following reminiscenses;
    - From the Clactonian, a particular facies of the Acheulian industry in Europe, with few handaxes and mainly based on flakes, whose earliest datings ar as old as 600 Ka. In fact, Calico flakes seem to be sensibly more rudimentary than typical Mode 3 ones (based principally on Levallois method) . Aditionally, some of the notches in them have a well defined identity in the Bordes typology, as “Clactonian “ones
    - From the so called Denticulate Mousterian, a facies of the Mousterian present in some sites of Europe and Africa since MIS 7 (240 Ka), because of the high proportion of denticulates and notches in most of the material.
    But, what makes this assemblage somewhat enigmatic, and extremely interesting (at least for me), is the presence of blades...indicative that they applied some sort of laminar technology too... which sometimes may be considered as a sign (among others) of modern behaviour in humans.
    My opinion, as only an amateur in archaeology, is that they are real tools.
    Accordingly to the dated geological context, which seems to be undisputed, I agree with you that this site is likely to be inhabited by the last H. Erectus, coming from Asia via the Behring Strait.
    At this respect, the mean depth of this strait is about 37 m, so a minimum conservative sea level in the range of -50/-55 meters, would allow the terrestrial passing. In every Pleistocene climatic cycle, there has been several time windows (during the interstadial stages) in which this sea level requirement was complemented with the other needed requirement, a path reasonably free from ice.
    So H. Erectus could perfectly enter into America during a convenient stage, perhaps before the Illinoian (or Riss for europeans) glaciation (190- 130 Ka).
    Furthermore, if we consider that they could have had some skilling in navigation, as you suggested in other post, they could do the travel with even higher sea levels (chronologically closer to the previous interglacial period), with an inherently warmer climate, by “jumping into islands”. As the latter mentioned was the presumable way the first xenarthrans entered in North America via Panamá Strait in the Late Miocene, well before the land pass was fully consolidated,... why not consider similar possibility for humans through Behring Strait?

    It is right to say that this same reasoning could apply to H. Sapiens (or even archaic H. Sapiens) too, but only during the Wisconsin glaciation (85 – 11 Ka).

    I include the link of the referred site; (same link as in your sources, but to the home page)

    Your site is really interesting.
    Best regards
    Marcelo Bruyere, from Buenos Aires, Argentina

  5. Thanks for the photo. It is surprisingly hard to see photos of tools from Calico. Acheulian hand axe, for sure!


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