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The Nampa Figurine: 2-million-year-old Relic or Just a Hoax?

In 1889, a group of workers was searching for water near the town of Nampa in southwestern Idaho. To create a well, they drilled a borehole down about 295 feet (90 meters), at which point their steam pump began to spit out bits of clay. Amongst the projectiles, the workers discovered a tiny clay form (the size of a dime) that appeared to have been formed into the shape of a skinny clothed woman. Was this a real figurine or just a coincidence? Who crafted it and why? Or, as some suspect, is the whole story a hoax?

A Professional Description

Professor Albert A. Wright of Oberlin College described the figurine and its authenticity in 1979: “It was not the product of a small child or amateur, but was made by a true artist. Though badly battered by time, the doll’s appearance is still distinct: it has a bulbous head, with barely discernible mouth and eyes; broad shoulders; short, thick arms; and long legs, the right leg broken off…There are also faint geometric markings on the figure, which represent either clothing patterns or jewelry - they are found mostly on the chest around the neck, and on the arms and wrists. The doll is the image of a person of a high civilization, artistically attired.” (Jochmans quoted in MessageToEagle, 2014).

The Region of the Find

The workers would have drilled through a geological stratum known as the Glenns Ferry Formation. Composed mainly of clay, the Formation was created approximately 2 million years ago during the Pliocene-Pleistocene transition. Since 1975, the area has been designated as a US National Natural Landmark known as Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. It is considered the world’s richest collection of plant and animal fossils that lived in North America just before the Ice Age. Notably, paleontologists have found the greatest collection of fossils of the Hagerman horse (also known as the American Zebra, this ancient horse became extinct about 10,000 years ago). Today, the town of Nampa is 124 miles (200 km) from the national monument park.

Equus simplicidens Cope, 1892 - fossil horse bones (real) from the Pliocene of Idaho, USA

Equus simplicidens Cope, 1892 - fossil horse bones (real) from the Pliocene of Idaho, USA.( CC BY 2.0 )

The Initial Authentication of the Discovery

The clay of the Glenns Ferry Formation was sealed beneath a layer of basalt formed by volcanic activity. There is a good deal of iron throughout and much of the clay evinces iron oxide discoloration. Much of what we know about the Nampa figurine’s discovery comes from the description written by George Fredrick Wright, a geologist from the Boston Society of Natural History at the time of the find. Wright argues “There is no ground to question the fact that this image came up in the sand pump from the depth reported” (Ancient Code, 2016). Wright goes on to explain how the artifact was found. Then he describes why he is confident that it is a genuine artifact: “In visiting the locality in 1890 I took special pains, while on the ground, to compare the discoloration of the oxide upon the image with that upon the clay balls still found among the debris which had come from the well, and ascertained it to be as nearly identical as it is possible to be. These confirmation evidences, in connection with the very satisfactory character of the evidence furnished by the parties who made the discovery, and confirmed by Mr. G. M. Gumming, of Boston (at that time the superintendent of that division of the Oregon Short Line Railroad, and who knew all the parties, and was upon the ground a day or two after the discovery) placed the genuineness of the discovery beyond reasonable doubt.” (Ancient Code, 2016)

Reasonable Doubt

Much was made of the discovery and many drew parallels between the Nampa Figurine and the Aurignacian figurines found in caverns in France and Belgium, especially the female figurine dubbed ‘The Venus impudica from Laugerie-Basse.’

Vénus impudique, 1907 drawing

Vénus impudique , 1907 drawing ( Public Domain )

Yet, the Nampa Figurine flies in the face of generally accepted timelines of history, evolution, and humanity. Both then and now, scholars believe that the authenticity of the Nampa Figurine is impossible.

“Other than  Homo sapiens sapiens , no hominid is known to have fashioned works of art like the Nampa Figurine,” write Richard Thompson and Michael Cremo in their book  The Hidden History of the Human Race (The Condensed Edition of Forbidden Archeology) . “The evidence, therefore, suggests that humans of the modern type were living in America at the Plio-Pleistocene age which dates about 2 million years ago.” (Ancient Code, 2016)

This is considered impossible as the modern human only evolved (it is believed) about 2 million years ago while still living in Africa.

Possible Explanations

There are several ways in which the figurine could have worked its way down to the 2-million-year-old layer: fissures in the rock, volcanic activity, mining activity, etc. Indeed, some skeptics argue that the very same drill that brought the figurine to light initially pushed it down so deep. It is important to remember that no other human artifact of such an ancient age has been found anywhere in the New World. And people have looked. Southwestern Idaho in particular is subject to frequent digs, albeit for ancient plant and animal remains.

Did Expert Fall Prey to a Prank?

At least one authority who saw the figurine shortly after its discovery is confident that the whole thing is a joke, even after reading George Fredrick Wright’s analysis.

John Wesley Powell with Native American at Grand Canyon Arizona, 1871-74

John Wesley Powell with Native American at Grand Canyon Arizona, 1871-74 ( Public Domain )

Famed American explorer and geologist J.W. Powell saw the figure while in Idaho territory and wrote about the figurine’s discovery in Popular Science Monthly :

“Hold the figurine at the height of your eye and let it fall on the hearth at your feet, and it would be shivered into fragments. It was claimed that this figurine had been brought up from the bottom of an artesian well while the men were working, or about the time that they were working at the well, and that as it came out it was discovered.

When this story was told the writer [Powell], he simply jested with those who claimed to have found it. He had known the Indians that live in the neighborhood, had seen their children play with just such figurines, and had no doubt that the little image had lately belonged to some Indian child, and said the same. While stopping at the hotel different persons spoke about it, and it was always passed off as a jest; and various comments were made about it by various people, some of them claiming that it had given them much sport, and that a good many “tenderfeet” had looked at it and believed it to be genuine; and they seemed rather pleased that I had detected the hoax. When I returned to Washington I related the jest at a dinner table, and afterward it passed out of my mind. In reading Prof. Wright’s second book I had many surprises, but none of them greater than when I discovered that this figurine had fallen into his hands, and that he had actually published it as evidence of the great antiquity of man in the valley of the Snake River.

Consider the circumstances. A fragile toy is buried in the sands and gravels and boulders of a torrential stream. Three hundred feet of materials are accumulated over it from the floods of thousands of years. Then volcanoes burst forth and pour floods of lava over all; and under more than three hundred feet of sands, gravels, clays, and volcanic rocks the fragile figurine remains for centuries, under such magical conditions that the very color of the burning is preserved. Then well-diggers, with a pump drill, hammer and abrade the rocks, and bore a six-inch hole down to this figurine without destroying it, and with a sand-pump bring it to the surface, to be caught by the well-digger; and Prof. Wright believes the story of the figurine, and places it on record in his book!” (Powell quoted in Cfeagans, 2007).

The Nampa Figurine can be seen on display at the Idaho State Historical Society in Boise.

Top image: Nampa Image or figurine (You Tube screenshot)

By Kerry Sullivan

Resources:

Ancient Code. "The Nampa Figure: A 2 Million-year-old Artifact That Will Rewrite History."  Ancient Code . Ancient Code, 13 Mar. 2016. Available at: http://www.ancient-code.com/the-nampa-figure-a-2-million-year-old-artifact-that-will-rewrite-history/

Cfeagans. "Forbidden Archaeology? The Nampa Image Hoax."  Hot Cup of Joe . Hot Cup of Joe, 10 Dec. 2007. Available at: https://ahotcupofjoe.wordpress.com/2007/12/10/forbidden-archaeology-the-nampa-image-hoax/.

Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keith. "The Nampa Figurine."  Bad Archaeology . Bad Archaeology, 3 Jan. 2011. Available at: http://www.badarchaeology.com/out-of-place-artefacts/very-ancient-artefacts/the-nampa-figurine/.

MessageToEagle. "Nampa Figurine That Strongly Challenges The Evolutionary Scenario: Controversial Case Of Extreme Human Antiquity." MessageToEagle.com. MessageToEagle.com, 11 May 2014. Available at: http://www.messagetoeagle.com/nampa-figurine-that-strongly-challenges-the-evolutionary-scenario-controversial-case-of-extreme-human-antiquity/.

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