wanted to know how old it was.
That was the question that began to burn in Howard's imagination.
He studied the shape of the gently sloping brow every night
in his room. He poured over every textbook on early man in America
that he could find, trying to match it up to something similar,
but he couldn't find any pictures or drawings of skulls that
matched up very well. They all seemed to have a strong vertical
rise from the eyebrow ridge to the top of the skull, yet what
he was holding looked somehow more graceful and delicate. Was
it just the way this individual was shaped? Or was it a genetic
trait of an entire population, and this was just the normal
shape of one of it's members?
To answer that question, he needed to know how old it was to
see if it was a member of the recently arrived Jaunaneos, or
maybe one of the far more ancient "Oak Grove" people.
He suspected the latter, as the skull was found in rock, and
rock takes a great amount of time to form. But then again, how
long was that he wondered? In 1933, dating archeological material
was a pure estimate based on a number of clues - Where it was
found, what tools were found with it, how deep it was found,
local sedimentation rates...a long list of "guesstimates"
that would point to a general age, but nothing definite.
He decided to ask an expert.
In 1935, he wrote a letter, and included a detailed drawing,
to the respected Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, the local
authority on the Indians of California. He received an answer
from Dr. Frances E. Watkins, the Assistant Curator, who wrote
that while it was most likely a prehistoric skull, he felt that
it was not an especially primitive type.
Click on image to read the original
reply from the Southwest Museum in 1935
Dr. Watkins took the time in his letter to further elaborate
on some of the scientific and historical knowledge of the coastal
Indians at that time, meager as it was, and this fires Howard's
enthusiasm by validating his own theory. Here it was...an actual
scientist confirming his suspicions of the skull possibly being
older then the recent Jaunaneos, and maybe even of the ancient
"Oak Grove" people! Although it was not a positive
endorsement of a great age, he now knew the skull might be something
important, maybe very important. It fueled his desire to answer
the one big question that he had started with:
How old was the skull?
It began a lifelong quest, and Howard never wavered in his
focus. There would eventually come an answer. A positive, definite,
scientific answer...but it would be an answer that nobody