Monday, April 16, 2007


During a recent archeological dig in my garden, I found the perfectly preserved fossilised remains of an ancient creature - subsequently identified as canis miniaturis lassiei. It was unearthed in a location previously covered with concrete, dating it to really quite a long time ago. Nearby a number of red bricks were also discovered, leading to conjecture of an ancient civilisation of miniature dogs living underground in red brick houses.

This does of course bring to mind the supposed communication between the Smithsonian Institute and a backyard archeologist, and I'm obviously just attempting a very poor imitation of it, so instead of rambling on, I'll reproduce here the alleged letter.
     Paleoanthropology Division
Smithsonian Institute
207 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20078

Dear Sir:

Thank you for your latest submission to the Institute, labeled
"211-D, layer seven, next to the clothesline post. Hominid skull."
We have given this specimen a careful and detailed examination, and
regret to inform you that we disagree with your theory that it
represents "conclusive proof of the presence of Early Man in
Charleston County two million years ago." Rather, it appears that
what you have found is the head of a Barbie doll, of the variety
one of our staff, who has small children, believes to be the
"Malibu Barbie". It is evident that you have given a great deal of
thought to the analysis of this specimen, and you may be quite
certain that those of us who are familiar with your prior work in
the field were loathe to come to contradiction with your findings.
However, we do feel that there are a number of physical attributes
of the specimen which might have tipped you off to its modern

1. The material is molded plastic. Ancient hominid remains are
typically fossilized bone.

2. The cranial capacity of the specimen is approximately 9
cubic centimeters, well below the threshold of even the earliest
identified proto-hominids.

3. The dentition pattern evident on the "skull" is more
consistent with the common domesticated dog than it is with the
"ravenous man-eating Pliocene clams" you speculate roamed the
wetlands during that time. This latter finding is certainly one of
the most intriguing hypotheses you have submitted in your history
with this institution, but the evidence seems to weigh rather
heavily against it. Without going into too much detail, let us say

A. The specimen looks like the head of a Barbie doll that a
dog has chewed on.

B. Clams don't have teeth.

It is with feelings tinged with melancholy that we must deny your
request to have the specimen carbon dated. This is partially due to
the heavy load our lab must bear in its normal operation, and
partly due to carbon dating's notorious inaccuracy in fossils of
recent geologic record. To the best of our knowledge, no Barbie
dolls were produced prior to 1956 AD, and carbon dating is likely
to produce wildly inaccurate results. Sadly, we must also deny your
request that we approach the National Science Foundation's
Phylogeny Department with the concept of assigning your specimen
the scientific name "Australopithecus spiff-arino." Speaking
personally, I, for one, fought tenaciously for the acceptance of
your proposed taxonomy, but was ultimately voted down because the
species name you selected was hyphenated, and didn't really sound
like it might be Latin.

However, we gladly accept your generous donation of this
fascinating specimen to the museum. While it is undoubtedly not a
hominid fossil, it is, nonetheless, yet another riveting example of
the great body of work you seem to accumulate here so effortlessly.
You should know that our Director has reserved a special shelf in
his own office for the display of the specimens you have previously
submitted to the Institution, and the entire staff speculates daily
on what you will happen upon next in your digs at the site you have
discovered in your back yard. We eagerly anticipate your trip to
our nation's capital that you proposed in your last letter, and
several of us are pressing the Director to pay for it. We are
particularly interested in hearing you expand on your theories
surrounding the "trans-positating fillifitation of ferrous ions in
a structural matrix" that makes the excellent juvenile
Tyrannosaurus rex femur you recently discovered take on the
deceptive appearance of a rusty 9-mm Sears Craftsman automotive
crescent wrench.

Yours in Science,
Harvey Rowe
Curator, Antiquities

Have you ever found anything unexpected in your garden?