Laguna Woman, found in Laguna Beach in 1933 by Howard Wilson, are the Oldest human remains in the western hemisphere. At 17,000 years old, Laguna Woman is the first American.
Laguna Woman - The First American

But Howard didn't forget about it....

 

Howard on BeachHe 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.

 

Southwest Museum 1935

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.

Letter from Southwest Museum
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 expected!

 


 

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last updated February 22, 2014