About This Site
One of the most controversial archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere is located in the Mojave Desert of California, near the town of Barstow. The site, in low hills east of the Calico Mountains, displays evidence for the presence of tool-making humans in the Americas some 200,000 years ago, far earlier than any Western Hemisphere site that has been accepted by the majority of the archaeological community. The Calico site has been developed since 1964 by Ruth DeEtte Simpson with the active involvement of Louis B. Leakey, one of archaeology’s greatest names, famed for his pioneering work on the African Paleolithic at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.
Controversy centers on two issues: the authenticity of the Calico lithic artifacts and the age of the deposits in which the artifacts are found. At present, more than 11,000 inferred chert and chalcedony tools and detached flakes have been recovered from trenches and pits up to 10 meters deep, excavated in alluvium and fanglomerate cemented to an almost rocklike state by calcium carbonate either leached downward from the surface or deposited by capillary rise from an ancient high water table. The artifacts identified range from crude choppers, scrapers, and handaxes to delicate gravers, reamers, and burins. There is a conspicuous absence of spear or projectile points in any form, suggesting that the artifacts were those of a culture based on collecting rather than the pursuit of large animal prey.
The objective of this internet site is to permit interested parties to view the controversial Calico Site specimens, to answer specific questions about them and their geological context, and to open an informed dialogue about their origin and wider implications.
The site is dedicated to the memories of “Dee” Simpson and Louis Leakey, who had the courage to persevere in the face of academic criticism and even derision. We remember when Alfred Wegener’s “preposterous” theory of “continental drift” was derided similarly, eventually to be reincarnated and embraced as the ruling geological paradigm in the form of “plate tectonics”–a term and concept yet unknown when work at the Calico Site was beginning.
It is easy to scoff at the Calico “tools” the first time one sees them. They are far from the familiar beautifully-crafted arrowheads and spear points we find in surface and near-surface Indian/PaleoIndian sites across North America. A variety of evidence (presented on subsequent pages) indicates that the Calico tools are some 200,000 years old. Thus they have little resemblance to Indian/PaleoIndian material, which has a maximum age of 11,000-13,000 years. To compare the crude Calico tools with finely-worked Indian/PaleoIndian projectile points is to compare technologies separated in time by well over 100,000 years.
A much more appropriate comparison is with the crude choppers, scrapers, and hand axes of the Old World Paleolithic (Acheulean, Clactonian, etc.), well illustrated in Francois Bordes’ “The Old Stone Age,” or by Googling “Acheulean” (see “image results”). Looking at 200,000-year-old tool assemblages from well-authenticated Old World sites, one sees that Old World Paleolithic tools are, in fact, the very tools unearthed at Calico. Observers familiar only with the North American Neolithic toolkit of refined arrowheads and spear and dart points, will not easily recognize Paleolithic artifacts, which include no projectile points at all. Before assessing the Calico material, such observers should consult illustrations of accepted 200,000-year-old artifacts–the Old World Paleolithic.
In fact, the Calico Site appears to open the door to the New World Paleolithic!!!