The Cajoling Stones

The origin of many hoaxes is lost to history, but with the Ica Stones, skeptics and reporters chased down the origin, which lies with first the gullibility, and then the deceit, of Dr. Javier Cabrera.

Our tale begins in the mid-1960s when Cabrera received an engraved rock for his birthday. If I were so bequeathed, I would think there had better be some really good ice cream to make up for it. But the doctor was intrigued and recalled, “It was engraved on one side with a carving of a fish I did not recognize. The stone struck me as most unusual,” since he had thought the aquatic animal had died out long before humans encountered it.

At the time, the only other known pieces belonged to the brotherly duo of Carlos and Pablo Soldi, Peruvian looters and grave robbers who illegally excavated archaeological sites for profit. The siblings and doctor met through an intermediary, Basilo Uschuya Peering at their collection, Uschuya guessed the inscriptions to be ancient renderings of now-extinct creatures. The Soldis said the collection had been found in a secret cave and more could be produced for a price. Thousands (both stones and sols) would be forthcoming. Cabrera deduced that because the stones’ hardness would have precluded them from being carved into, aliens had to have done it. But the real source were terrestrial con artists, the artist part being literal.

Authorities arrested Uschuya for selling archaeological artifacts since, if the stones were what he alleged them to be, they weren’t his to sell. And if not, it was fraud, so he was cooked regardless.

At this point, Uschuya confessed to the hoax, saying he got the ideas for the images from various entertainment media. Hit with a cognitive dissonance overload, Cabrera claimed it was the confession that was a hoax.

He said that stones were too hard to carve, which is true, but the images had not been carved, they were etched. Second, he argued that the collection was too voluminous for just a few people to have perpetrated. This was untrue, as a skilled fraudster could knock one out in 15 minutes. A team of 10 or so working for a few weeks could produce a mammoth collection. But while the hoaxers had some artistic skills, they lacked in anthropologic knowledge and made some telling mistakes, such as the images reflecting outdated 1960s portrayals of dinosaur life. Further, the only animals depicted were known at the time; none that have been discovered since make an appearance. And no fossils of these types have ever been found in the region.

As to the humans, they are shown as having harnessed advanced technology such as surgery, telescopes, and airborne conveyances. Again, no corresponding archeological evidence supports this. If their society had evolved to such a point, it is reasonable to assume that they would leave remains on their existence in other artwork, architecture, and accomplishments, instead the lone remnant being a huge rock collection.

Since the stones contain no organic material, they cannot be carbon dated. Still, Cabrera claimed scientific analysis shows the stones to be made of andesite and that their was revealed through their oxidized patina. He was presented no evidence to support this, nor has it been independently verified. Even if all this were true, it would not verify the age since the engravings lack patina in the grooves. Later analyses indicated the clean edges of the incisions would have lost this distinction after a few centuries due to oxidation. Also, evidence suggests the engravings were made with acid, sandpaper, and modern saws. In the end, all Cabrera ended up with was a memorable birthday present.


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