NBC Program The Mysterious Origins of Man

© 1996 Frank Steiger; permission granted for retransmission.

On February 25, 1996 NBC aired a program, "The Mysterious Origins of Man," narrated by Charlton Heston. The program was rebroadcast on June 8, 1996. The talk.origins web page has posted a number of detailed reviews of the program. The conclusion of the program is that the scientific community processes information through a "knowledge filter" that screens out data that doesn't fit its preconceived ideas.

In fact, it's just the other way around. The statements in this video do not stand up to critical examination, and in most cases consist of old arguments that have been repeatedly and conclusively refuted as far back as 1984 and earlier. There is a great deal of contradictory information that could have been presented by scientists intimately familiar with these hoaxes. This information was not presented because it would have destroyed the goal of the program: to attack science. The program was nothing more than a one-sided propaganda video with strong overtones of religious fundamentalism masquerading as science.

The program continually stressed the notion that scientists were unable to explain these findings, but no opportunity was given to legitimate scientists to provide any alternative explanations!

Executive Producers: Michael Gerber, Robert Watts
Produced by: John Cheshire, Bill Cote, Carol Cote
Directed by: Bill Cote
Writers: John Cheshire, Bill Cote
Sponsored by DC Video Inc., and the National Broadcasting Company.

Statements were made by the following persons (occupational descriptions are those of the program; click on name for background information):

The above individuals are claimed to represent a "new breed" of scientific investigators. When their statements are subjected to critical examination, however, it becomes evident that their ideas are neither new nor scientific, as we shall see.

The program did not reveal that Don Patton has strong ties to the creationist movement. (For example, he appeared on Trinity Broadcasting Network's "Bible Prophesy" program of March 3, 1996, preaching creationist propaganda.) It also did not reveal that Carl Baugh is a fundamentalist minister with very little knowledge of geology.

To go directly to a discussion of a particular claim made by the program's producers, click on one of the following:

Tools and Artifacts

Heston stated that stone tools were "reportedly" found in Table Mountain in California in 55 million year old strata. This discovery was reported in detail in the fall, 1981 issue of Creation/Evolution: conclusive evidence was presented to show that the tools were planted by a local shopkeeper and in fact resembled modern, not ancient, artifacts. Yet the claim was made that the conclusion of an age of 55 million years for these tools "seems to have been well documented." For a detailed analysis by Paul Heinrich (heinrich@intersurf.com) of this and related claims, click here.

Heston reported that conventional theory holds that early man originated in Africa about 100,000 years ago, migrated into Asia about 40,000 years ago, and into North America between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago. The statement was made that "numerous artifacts" have been found that threaten to "completely overturn" this theory. The program claimed that this data has been suppressed by "conventional" scientists. He cited the experience of Virginia Steen McIntyre as an example, claiming that she was "silenced at the height of her career because of her determination to report the facts."

According to the program, Dr. McIntyre was blacklisted because she dated some stone tools found in Hueyatlaco, Mexico at 250,000 years old, indicating that humans were living in the Americas far earlier than the time accepted by the scientific "establishment." In actual fact, Dr. McIntyre did continue to work in her chosen field, but not achieve a high degree of success and recognition. Subsequent to her involvement in the Hueyatlaco project in 1973, she published technical papers in 1975, 1977, and 1981.

The program stated only that the stone tools were "uncovered," and that a team of experts from the U. S. Geological Survey was called in to date "them," meaning the stone tools. The program implied that it was Dr. McIntyre's project. This was not the case. In fact, at that time she was a graduate student working on a temporary basis under Harold Malde, the head of the USGS team which was called in to date the site, not the artifacts.

The archaeologist in charge of the project was Dr. Cynthia Irwin-Williams. It was she who directed the project and published the results and conclusions of the investigation. The 250,000 year date for the age of the artifacts was included in her published data. Although her colleagues disagreed with her on the age of the artifacts, they never persecuted her; they merely claimed that there were errors in her dating procedures. She continued as a respected and influential member of the American Anthropological Association and the Society for American Archaeology. The 250,000 year date definitely did not ruin her career.

The video stated that the "...site was closed and permission for further investigation denied, forever." The implication was that evidence at the site which could disprove conventional theories on when man migrated into the Americas was suppressed by a conspiracy between the scientific community and the Mexican government.

Investigations like the one at Hueyatlaco require a permit from the Mexican Government agency Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, or INAH. Jose Luis Lorenzo of the INAH had also investigated the site, and there was disagreement and professional jealousy between him and Dr. Irwin-Williams. This appears to be the reason the site was closed; Virginia Steen McIntyre's test data may have been a factor, but only a minor one, since it was not her project.

Background information and references were obtained from a paper published by Steen-McIntyre, et al, in the publication Quarternary Research, 16, pp 1-17, 1981, plus verbal information supplied by Harold Malde and Virginia Steen McIntyre (see also QR September, November 1981, letter to Editor). Irwin-Williams died about 6 or 7 years ago, so no direct information could be obtained from her.

This much appears to be fairly certain: Conditions at the site were much more complex than implied by the video. To obtain samples, trenches were cut into the formation, which consisted of different layers of sand, silt, and clay interspersed with layers of volcanic ash. The site was near a lake and had been subjected to flooding. In some cases the strata had been tilted considerably. Sampling location was a critical factor and there was considerable disagreement among Steen-McIntyre, Irwin Williams, and Jose Lorenzo concerning sampling location and interpretation.

The Hueyatlaco and other related projects comprise a complex set of studies, and it is not surprising that there were some disagreements concerning the data and its interpretation. I do not presume to second guess the validity of the test data and/or conclusions of the scientists involved in these projects.

However, it is clear that the video distorted the facts: it implied that a graduate student assistant hired on a temporary basis was actually in charge of the project; it concealed the fact that sampling location was a critical factor and that there could be honest disagreement among the principles; it implied a conspiracy between the scientific community and the Mexican government to suppress information; it stated falsely that Steen-McIntyre was silenced; it never revealed that the 250,000 year age date did not jeopardize the career of the person in charge, Cynthia Irwin-Williams.

Paluxy Footprints

Carl Baugh, described in the video as an archaeologist, but actually a fundamentalist minister, presented "evidence" purporting to show that fossilized human footprints were found alongside those of dinosaurs in the cretaceous limestone formations in and near the Paluxy River in Glen Rose, Texas. None of the in situ prints shown displayed any human toe marks. Claims that these "footprints" were human have been subjected to detailed and lengthy investigations by numerous scientists and have been found to be entirely without foundation.

An obviously fake footprint was sectioned, and "load bearing structures" in the cross section were pointed out by Dale Patterson and Don Patton. However, the claim that mud would form load bearing structures when walked upon has to be met with considerable skepticism. These "structures" have been closely examined by legitimate scientists and found to be fossilized burrows.

Many scientists, such as Laurie Godfrey, John Cole, R. J. Hastings, J. D. Schafersman, Jim Farlow, and Glen Kuban have conducted exhaustive and detailed on the site of the Paluxy formation, yet their work was not even mentioned. This is strongly indicative of a massive cover up by the producers of this program. Al West, a Baugh co-worker for two years, told reporters (Potter, 1984; UPI, 1984) that Baugh's prints were "totally contrived in his imagination." West noted that he had seen some plaster casts, which, when they were transformed into fiberglass casts, were made to look more human in the process.

Fossilization preserves only hard parts, like bones, shells, and wood. The fleshy parts of an animal are never preserved as fossils, although a mold or imprint of soft parts are sometimes fossilized. The video displayed what is claimed to be a fossilized finger, whole and complete. A cat scan was shown of the "finger," revealing what appeared to be a core with two dark patches in locations roughly corresponding to finger joints. It was claimed that these shadows corresponded to the bones of the finger. It was also claimed that the cat scan revealed the ligaments of the finger, although they could not be seen by the viewer. The "finger" had been diagonally sectioned, and would have presumably revealed these structures if they were present. However,the section was never revealed; the two pieces were always held tightly together.

Some grooved metallic spheres, collected in South Africa from 2.8 billion year old strata were displayed, with the interpretation that they must have been made by human beings, and therefore humans might have been in existence 2.8 billion years ago. However, no conclusive evidence was presented to show that either these objects must necessarily be human artifacts, or that they were necessarily occluded in the the ancient strata at the time it was formed.

Childress Claims

David Hatcher Childress, described as an "author researcher," claimed that the geologic time scale had been compressed by cataclysmic events so that what appears to have taken place over millions of years actually occurred over the last several thousand years. Of course, this claim is contradicted by the detailed historical records of the ancient Egyptians and others, which go back 5000 years. Childress also claimed that dinosaurs are still alive today. As an example a photograph of the badly decomposed body of a marine animal hauled in by a Japanese fishing vessel was shown. It was never proven to be a plesiosaur, as claimed. But Heston reversed the burden of proof by stating: "Although its authenticity has never been disproven, skeptics claim that it's merely the body of a decomposing shark." Charlton Heston is a very accomplished actor, and has the ability, by gesture and facial expression, to make make even the most flimsy "evidence" sound convincing. (That, of course, is why they hired him.) Even if it had been the body of a plesiosaur, it would not have repudiated evolution; it would merely show that a species thought to have become extinct was still living. Evolution is a branching process; species branch off from pre-existing species. The original parent species may or may not survive, and likewise, the branching species may or may not survive.

Milton and Cremo claims

With respect to "Lucy," the hominid skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Richard Milton and Michael Cremo made the statements that it is "hardly distinguishable from an ape or monkey," and that it is "merely an extinct ape." These statements are entirely at odds with the appearance of the skeleton and the evidence presented in Dr. Johanson's book. Furthermore, the skeletons of monkeys are considerably different from that of "Lucy.". Comparing Lucy to a monkey reveals that Milton and Cremo are merely making up their "facts" as they go along. Photographs of the skulls of ancient hominids like Australopethicus and Pithecanthropus show very clearly that they are intermediate between apes and humans.

Java Man

Richard Thompson stated that the "Java Man," fossil remains, discovered in 1892, was a hoax that was covered up and ignored until 1984. This statement is based on claims made by Duane Gish, chief propagandist for the Institute for Creation Research, a biblical fundamentalist organization. It is based on distortions of the factual record. A complete chronology can be found in pp. 489-490 of "Science and Earth History," by Arthur N. Strahler.

Heston stated: "So far conclusive evidence of a missing link has not been found" and "there is little support for man's connection to the apes." This statement is a complete falsehood. The numerous fossil skulls of Pithecanthropus, Australopithecus, and Neanderthal hominids provide conclusive evidence that the missing link(s) has been found.

Niel Steede/Tiahuanaco

Niel Steede made the statement that "astronomical evidence" shows that Tiahuanaco, an ancient city in the Bolivian Andes, is 12,000 years old. This conclusion was based on data that indicate that the inclination of the axis of the earth's rotation to the plane of its revolution around the sun undergoes a periodic change of significant magnitude over a period of 41,000 years. The angle between the point at which the sun rises at the winter solstice and the point at which it rises at the summer solstice depends on this angle. The smaller the angle of the earth's axis of rotation, the smaller the angle along the horizon between summer and winter solstice sunrise. The larger the axis angle, the larger the horizon angle.

Steede claimed that because the sun rises at the summer and winter solstices beyond the the corner markers of a Tiahuanaco gateway complex aligned in a true east-west direction, at some time in the remote past the rising sun must have been in conjunction with the corner markers of the gateway structure. This would indicate that the angle of the earth's axis to the plane of its revolution around the sun was smaller at the time the gateway structure was erected.

Based on information on how the earth axis angle varied over the past 41,000 years, it would be possible to calculate the horizon angle between summer and winter solstices for any given year in the past, and therefore the number of years in the past that would correspond to that horizon angle. The argument used in the video is that the angle subtended by the temple gate post markers is narrower than the present day horizon angle, and therefore corresponds to a date 12,000 years ago.

Of course the horizon angle indicated by the gatepost markers depends on the position of the observer. The closer the observer, the wider the angle. Conversely, the further back the observer, the narrower the angle. The video never made this clear. Although the position of the observation point was never mentioned, the program's producer has claimed that was indicated on a diagram showing it to be centered on an offset apron adjacent to the west wall.

I carefully reviewed the only diagram that depicts the observation point. Indeed, the diagram does show a faint line with an even fainter square patch adjacent to it. However, I failed to note any description to indicate what the line and patch were supposed to represent. No description of the observation point was supplied anywhere in the video. There was no evidence presented to indicate that the selected spot was indeed the observation point.

But the real surprise comes from the producer's admission in a subsequent e-mail post that the corner posts of the original structure could not even be seen from the assumed observation point, because a presumably newer structure was erected in front of it. A person had to stand on top of the old markers with an arm upraised in order for the old corner post positions to be observed from the offset apron observation point. The corner posts of the new structure correspond exactly to the present day solstice horizon angles. The video's diagrams definitely did not show anything in front of the "original" corner markers.

A more logical interpretation is simply this: the ancients built a newer, wider, structure in front of the original, and moved the observation point back to the offset apron location in order to maintain the same observation angle. If, in fact, the horizon angle had changed over time to become wider, why didn't the ancients merely widen the gateway by constructing new markers on each side? Isn't it more logical to conclude that the ancients merely wanted to build an even larger and more impressive temple?

Radiocarbon dating (much maligned but never disproven by religious fundamentalists) shows that the civilization that constructed Tiahuanaco existed from about 500 to 1000 AD. The argument has been made that carbon dating does not necessarily show that persons living in Tiahuanaco at that time belonged to the same civilization that constructed Tiahuanaco. Although this argument has merit, it doesn't prove that the occupants were merely squatters in a complex constructed thousands of years before.

Metal staples were discovered holding the large stone blocks of the structure together. The assumption was made that this indicated that some advanced civilization existing in the remote past (presumably 12,000 years ago) had the ability to work with metals that natives living in the early Christian era lacked. No evidence was presented to support this hypothesis, other than the unproved assumption that the Tiahuanaco civilization existed 12,000 years ago.

Ancient Egypt

John Anthony West stated that "geological evidence" showed that the sphinx could be 12,000 years old, but did not present any data to verify his claim. Robert Bouval stated that "astronomical evidence" and a computer model of the Giza plateau show that the sphinx was constructed around 10,5000 BC. No explanation of how he came to that conclusion was given, other than an assumed relationship between the appearance of the sphinx and the position of the constellation of Leo.

A detailed written record of the history of Egypt goes back to 3100 BC. 500 years later, around 2600 BC, Khufu and his successors constructed the great pyramids and sphinx at Gizeh. Are we to throw all this recorded history in the trash dumpster and replace it with a crackpot theory that the sphinx is somehow related to some constellation as it appeared 12,000 years ago?

Ancient Maps

The claim was made that a 1513 Turkish map shows the coastlines of Africa and South America with an accuracy of 1/2 degree of longitude. This was taken as further "evidence" that an "advanced" civilization (presumably the same bunch that constructed the Sphinx, Tiahuanaco, and the great pyramids 12,000 years ago) accurately mapped the entire globe. The map was not shown, other than a brief glimpse of something that did not even remotely resemble either Africa or South America.

Charles Hapgood displayed a 1532 Oronteus Finaeas map showing the mythical continent of Atlantis in the center of the Atlantic Ocean. Based on the fact that the Atlantis "continent" had a superficial resemblance to Antarctica, the conclusion was made that Antarctica must be the lost continent of Atlantis. Not very compelling evidence, to say the least!

Rand Flem-Ath and Charles Hapgood touted the theory that around 12,000 years ago the entire outer crust of the earth moved 2000 miles, moving temperate areas into polar regions. Their only evidence presented was that a wooly mammoth carcass found frozen in polar ice had the remains of buttercups in its stomach. The possibility the animal had lived at the edge of an advancing icecap, had died, was preserved by cold conditions and later covered by snow and the advancing icecap was not even considered. Claims that the mammoths died as the result of a sudden shifting of their habitat from temperate to polar latitudes have been completely refuted; for further information, click here.

Hapgood/Flem-Ath Icecap Nonsense

Hapgood and Flem-Ath touted an idea so ignorant and ridiculous as to be bizarre. An animation was displayed indicating that gravity pulled the northern ice cap in a southerly direction, taking the earth's crust with it. The animation shows north as "up," and south as "down"! According to the animated diagram, persons living below the equator would fall off the earth. They also claimed that the weight of the northern ice cap being pulled south ("down") pulled the entire crust of the earth, en masse, to a new position where polar regions became temperate, and temperate regions, such as Atlantis, became polar.

With respect to the video claim that polar ice cap shifting caused a displacement of the entire outer shell of the earth, Bill Cote, one of the producers, had this to say: "To put it simply, the earth rotates! Does that help? It is centrifugal force that spins the ice mass away from its center of rotation (the earth's axis) and toward the perimeter of rotation (the equator)."

The video said nothing about centrifugal force; it merely stated that the movement was caused by an "imbalance" due to the ice shifting and dragging the earth's crust with it. With respect to centrifugal force (actually the reaction to the gravitational centripetal acceleration vector) the magnitude of this force can easily be calculated from the equation familiar to any beginning physics student: force = mass X radius X (rotational speed squared).


       Let R = radius of the earth
           m = mass of object under consideration
           L = angle of latitude
           # = rate of rotation, radians per second

The centrifugal force directly away from the earth's axis is then:

          F = mR#2(cos L)

Where:   #2 rate of rotation squared

The component parallel to the surface of the earth is:
          F = mR#2(cos L)(sin L)

The trigonometric factor (cos L)(sin L) varies from zero at the poles and equator to a maximum of .50 at latitude 45 degrees. Thus the component of centrifugal force parallel to the earth's surface is zero at the poles and equator and is at a maximum at a latitude 45 degrees.

From the above equation, we can calculate that at a latitude of 70 degrees the centrifugal force component parallel to the earth's surface on a one-kilogram weight is 0.00027 kilograms. Since the centrifugal force is directly proportional to the mass of the object, it will always be 0.027% of the object's weight at 70 degrees latitude, regardless of whether the object is an ice cube or the 5.3 million cubic mile ice pack covering Antarctica.

The laws of physics, as developed above, show that the centrifugal force is proportional to the mass of the object. By Newton's law, force is equal to mass times acceleration, or F = mA. Therefore A = F/m, and since we have already seen that F/m for centrifugal force depends only on the latitude (neglecting friction), it follows that a small object, like an ice cube, will be impelled in the same manner as a very large object, like a polar ice cap. Therefore, if an ice cube, which has very little friction, doesn't experience enough centrifugal force in temperate latitudes to make it move, then we can conclude that an ice cap on rough terrain in polar latitudes will not experience enough centrifugal force to make it move. Of course, it could be argued that movement may be so slow as to be imperceptible. However, if that is the case, the ice cap would be melted before it reached temperate latitudes.

If indeed centrifugal force should result in movement, it should be possible to observe experimentally. To check on this possibility, I placed an ice cube (not frozen hard, but starting to melt and quite slippery) on a smooth horizontal surface in my home at latitude 34 degrees. I watched closely for a number of minutes, comparing its position to an adjacent ink point. I detected no discernible movement.

The video claimed that the polar ice cap shifting would displace the entire crust as one unit. Antarctica, for example, contains 5.3 million cubic miles of ice. This calculates out to 2.43 X 1016 tons. However, the earth's crust calculates (based on 20 km av. thickness and av. density of 150 pounds per cubic foot) out to a weight of 2.7 X 1019 tons. The ice mass in Antarctica, great as it is, is only about one-thousandth the weight of the earth's crust. Hardly enough to cause any significant movement, let alone move the entire crust of the earth en masse! If polar ice can move continents, why isn't Antarctica moving? Finally, with respect to the claim that the entire crust moved as a single unit, it should be noted that this is contrary to the experimental evidence supporting plate tectonics, which shows that crustal movement occurs as the movement of large plates, and not as a single movement of the entire crust.

At this point the reader may well ask why the producers went to such extremes to make a case that had so little merit? The answer is clear: the object was not to pursue genuine scientific inquiry, but instead to try to discredit legitimate science and replace it with unsubstantiated dogma. It is interesting to note that even though the program directly contradicts ICR's "young earth" position, it was given lukewarm support in ICR's Acts and Facts. It is evident that ICR will not attack anything that attacks science!

This entire production was an absolute travesty; it attacked reason and knowledge with outrageous lies and distortions. The show's producers aim was to disseminate falsehood without the responsibility of having to defend it; that is why the script continually uses phrases like "compelling evidence suggests to some."