A very popular recurring theme within the world of Forteana and paranormal phenomena is that of what are called out of place artifacts, those anomalous objects that should not exist, defying understanding and inducing amazement and bafflement. A branch of these phenomena are those objects that seem to suggest that humans once lived side by side with dinosaurs, and as absurd as that may seem to many there is a shocking amount of supposed “evidence” put forward, which is enough to keep debate and discussion going on the matter. One such controversial collection of artifacts is a series of bizarre figurines that were allegedly found in remote wilderness, crafted by an unknown civilization and supposedly showing humans and dinosaurs living together.
In July of 1944, a German immigrant and shopkeeper named Valdemar Julsrud was allegedly out riding his horse in the wilds near Acámbaro, in Guanajuato, Mexico, when something strange caught his eye. There strewn upon the dry earth of a riverbed were several clay figurines that upon closer inspection turned out to be very bizarre indeed, depicting what seemed to be strange beasts, humans wrestling or riding atop reptilian creatures that looked very much like dinosaurs, and with others shaped like anomalous discs or people of various races. Intrigued, he called in help in the form of a local farmer to help him dig for more, of which they would find many. By the time they had finished their makeshift dig they had supposedly unearthed over 30,000 of these outlandish, out of place figures, astounding everyone who saw them.
What would come to be called the Acámbaro figures depict all manner of strange things, including the aforementioned “dinosaurs,” as well as odd structures and people dressed in clothing that seems to be from several far flung places and time periods, including what appears to be ancient Egyptian and Sumerian, as well as some that appear to be some sort of humanoid entities. That these things should be out there in the wilds of Mexico was bizarre to say the least, and so the figures began generating international attention and great interest among archeologists and researchers, most of whom immediately assumed that they must be fakes. Investigations were carried out, and these would only muddy the waters further and divide opinions.
One of the first to investigate the claims was Los Angeles Times writer Lowell Harmer, who in 1951 ventured to Julsrud’s home to find it absolutely stuffed from floor to ceiling with thousands of the figures. Harmer was impressed by the odd figurines and believed them to be real, but he did admit that he was not an expert in his article on the matter, sensationally entitled Mexico Finds Give Hint of Lost World: Dinosaur Statues Point to Men Who Lived in Age of Reptiles. In 1953 all of the coverage the figures were getting convinced the Mexican government to send in four archeologists to investigate the site where they had allegedly been dug up. Over the course of a few days they claimed they had found more of the figurines, even a couple of dinosaurs, about 2 meters underground. They estimated that the figures dated to around as early as 800 BC, but dismissed the actual ones that featured dinosaurs as being a hoax. The excavation ended and the government rather ominously closed the area down to further digs from then on.
At around the same time, American anthropologist Charles Di Peso was sent to Mexico by the Amerind Foundation to analyze the figures. Di Peso had been skeptical of the claims from the beginning, and was not surprised to find that, in his opinion, they were most definitely faked. He cited the lack of any physical signs of wear and tear or discoloration due to centuries of the elements or dirt packed within the cracks and crevices, as well as the fact that they seemed to have been haphazardly inserted into the surrounding archaeological layers as evidence of this, and he further stated:
None of the specimens were marred by patination nor did they possess the surface coating of soluble salts. The figures were broken, in most cases, where the appendages attached themselves to the body of the figurines. No parts were missing. Furthermore, none of the broken surfaces were worn smooth. In the entire collection of 32,000 specimens no shovel, mattock, or pick marks were noted. Thus the investigation ended: it seems almost superfluous to state that the Acámbaro figurines are not prehistoric nor were they made by a prehistoric race who lived in association with Mesozoic reptiles.
Di Peso suspected that the figures had been crafted by local farmers in modern times and then planted as a hoax and publicity stunt. Yet, as damning as this verdict was, there were others that were less convinced that it was all a sham. Archeologist Charles Hapgood was intrigued by Di Peso’s dismissal of the figures, and decided to launch his own expedition in 1954. Hapgood would disagree that the figures had been made by locals, partly because there were just too many of them, and also because these were poor, uneducated people who had no frame of reference for what dinosaurs should look like, with many of them not even aware of what a dinosaur was. Hapgood came away under the impression that the figures were genuine, a sentiment that would be echoed in 1969 by his friend, author Erle Stanley Gardner, who also examined the collection and wrote:
I don’t believe that it would have been at all possible for any group of people to have made these figures, to have paid for the burro-load of wood necessary to ‘fire’ them, take them out and bury them, wait for the ground to resume its natural hardness which would take from one to ten years, and then ‘discover’ these figures and dig them up—all for a gross price of twelve cents per figure. It is absolutely, positively out of the question to think that these artifacts which we saw could have been planted.
Hapgood was so sure that the figures must be the real deal that he sent some samples to be tested by radiocarbon dating, which showed a range of ages from 3,500 to 6,500 years old. The figures were later subjected to a more accurate dating method called “thermoluminescent dating,” which put their origins at around 2,500 BC, and a follow-up analysis by a Dr. Froelich Rainey produced the same results, but at the time this technique was not yet refined, and so could not be considered completely reliable. These findings were dashed when scientists Gary Carriveau and Mark Han used thermoluminescent dating on 20 of the figures in 1976, but were unable to get useful readings and came to the conclusion that the figures had been made as recently as the 1940s. In the end, there has been no reliable, agreed upon dating of the figurines.
The Acámbaro figures have gone on to be discussed and debated to this day, with both sides of the debate offering up heated arguments. Skeptics point out that the more recent dating is undeniable, that Di Peso’s arguments still stand, and that it is simply impossible for two species separated by millions of years in the geological record to have ever co-existed. Proponents of the figures as being real point out that the locals had no way to depict dinosaurs and that the manufacture of them was on too large a scale for them to pull off, with no one really seeming to make any money off it all, including Julsrud himself. If they are real, then it has been suggested that they represent depictions of surviving dinosaurs or some other large undiscovered reptiles, or perhaps just fantastical creatures of myth. Of course young Earth creationists have jumped on it all as evidence of their literal interpretation of the Bible’s record of human history. What do these figures mean and who made them? As of now the mystery of these strange figures has not totally been solved, and until it is there is bound to be plenty of discussion on the matter, with their true meaning and history shrouded in enigmas, whether they are real or not.