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The Ica Stones

Part of “Pseudoscience A to Z”, a series of articles in the Skeptics Canada newsletter.

Ica Stones reveal an interesting facet of human history. The etchings on their faces show ancient humans as an advanced people, riding pterodactyls through the South American skies, performing complex transplant surgery with anti-rejection techniques, and possessing the ability to travel interstellar space without fuel. Wondrous stuff! They could outperform us technologically in almost every way, but left their only records… carved on stones?!

The “interesting facet” I am referring to is the ability of humans to deceive and be deceived, and Ica Stones exemplify this sad fact of our society. To the skeptic they are about as irritating as kidney stones. They are stones, that much is certain, and seem to exist as fossilized human gullibility. A volcanic material known as Andesite, they are naturally covered in an oxidized layer which, in contrast to the very hard rock, can easily be scratched away by an artist. And when that is done we learn, as with much art, more about the artist than the subject. We learn that they are frauds.

It was 1966 when a Peruvian physician, Dr. Javier Cabrera Darquea (usually known simply as Dr. Cabrera), first brought these curiosities to the attention of the world. (Actually there are conflicting claims about when he first saw the stones, but this is the one I’ve picked!) He called them Gliptoliths, and said they came into his possession when he was allegedly contacted by an illiterate farmer who claimed that he had found them in a cave. The story goes that Peru’s Ica River had overflowed its banks, destroyed a nearby mountain (no small feat in itself), and exposed a previously unknown cave. In a move which thickens the plot and muddies the waters the farmer refused to reveal the cave’s location, but kept on bringing more stones to Dr. Cabrera and selling them for a tidy sum. Hey, who ever said that illiteracy equals stupidity?

After a BBC report on the “artifacts”, the Peruvian government was under some understandable pressure to ascertain whether genuine antiquities were being hawked as souvenirs. An investigation was launched. The farmer, afraid of the severe penalties for such an offence, confessed to carving them himself, but as there were about 15,000 of them in existence by then it seems unlikely that he produced them all. There must have been a cottage industry at work in the area, with whole families feverishly scratching Andesite in between watering the yams and feeding the llamas.

Photographs show stones of various sizes, from mere pebbles up to the size of pumpkins, with the odd boulder thrown in for good measure. The carvings are often extremely intricate, if rather stylized, and believers claim that this is proof that the simple peasants of the area cannot be the artisans; therefore they must have been made by an advanced civilization. Probably the same ones who helped those dimwit Celts erect Stonehenge, those backward Egyptians build the Pyramids, and the inept Easter Islanders carve all those statues. Perhaps they had cultural strictures on how to record facts, but a few Kodachromes and leather bound journals would have been more convincing to me.

Where did this civilization go? According to Dr. Cabrera they foresaw some sort of planet-wide catastrophe and decided to find a new home in the Pleiades star cluster. This was actually a simple procedure, as they just climbed aboard their hi-tech magnetically-driven spaceships and waited for a passing comet to haul them off those well-known landing strips on the Nazca plains.
The response from the archaeological community was, to put it mildly, underwhelming. Yet forty years later the Ica Stones are still discussed breathlessly on internet chat rooms and web forums, especially amongst the Atlanteans and ufologists.

Those amateurs showcase another unfortunate facet of human behaviour: the ability of educated people to waste their talents. Many of their web sites are beautifully designed and well written, and could easily convince the casual observer that they are serious, scholarly treatments of the subject. Unfortunately, credulity reigns in this field, unhindered by trifles such as provenance, corroborating evidence, Occam’s Razor, and plain old common sense.

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