backyard research

Paul Arveson (
Mon, 20 Jan 97 16:22:37 EST

This is a copy of a letter recently sent to me from a colleague.
It has apparently been in circulation awhile, but thought some of you
might like to read it.


Paleoanthropology Division
Smithsonian Institution
207 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20078

Dear Sir:

Thank you for your latest submission to the Institute, labeled
"211-D, layer seven, next to the clothesline post. Hominid skull."
We have given this specimen a careful and detailed examination, and
regret to inform you that we disagree with your theory that it
represents "conclusive proof of the presence of Early Man in
Charleston County two million years ago." Rather, it appears that
what you have found is the head of a Barbie doll, of the variety one
of our staff, who has small children, believes to be the "Malibu
Barbie." It is evident that you have given a great deal of thought
to the analysis of this specimen, and you may be quite certain that
those of us who are familiar with your prior work in the field were
loathe to come to contradiction with your findings.

However, we do feel that there are a number of physical attributes
of the specimen which might have tipped you off to its modern origin:

1. The material is molded plastic. Ancient hominid remains are
typically fossilized bone.

2. The cranial capacity of the specimen is approximately 9 cubic
centimeters, well below the threshold of even the earliest identified

3. The dentition pattern evident on the "skull" is more consistent
with the common domesticated dog than it is with the "ravenous
man-eating Pliocene clams" you speculate roamed the wetlands during
that time. This latter finding is certainly one of the most
intriguing hypotheses you have submitted in your history with this
institution, but the evidence seems to weigh rather heavily against
it. Without going into too much detail, let us say that:

A. The specimen looks like the head of a Barbie doll that a dog
has chewed on.
B. Clams don't have teeth.

It is with feelings tinged with melancholy that we must deny
your request to have the specimen carbon dated. This is partially due
to the heavy load our lab must bear in its normal operation, and
partly due to carbon dating's notorious inaccuracy in fossils of
recent geologic record. To the best of our knowledge, no Barbie
dolls were produced prior to 1956 AD, and carbon dating is likely to
produce wildly inaccurate results. Sadly, we must also deny your
request that we approach the National Science Foundation's Phylogeny
Department with the concept of assigning your specimen the scientific
name "Australopithecus spiff-arino." Speaking personally, I, for one,
fought tenaciously for the acceptance of your proposed taxonomy, but
was ultimately voted down because the species name you selected was
hyphenated, and didn't really sound like it might be Latin.

However, we gladly accept your generous donation of this
fascinating specimen to the museum. While it is undoubtedly not a
hominid fossil, it is, nonetheless, yet another riveting example of
the great body of work you seem to accumulate here so effortlessly.
You should know that our Director has reserved a special shelf in his
own office for the display of the specimens you have previously
submitted to the Institution, and the entire staff speculates daily
on what you will happen upon next in your digs at the site you have
discovered in your back yard. We eagerly anticipate your trip to our
nation's capital that you proposed in your last letter, and several
of us are pressing the Director to pay for it. We are particularly
interested in hearing you expand on your theories surrounding the
"trans-positating fillifitation of ferrous ions in a structural
matrix" that makes the excellent juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex femur you
recently discovered take on the deceptive appearance of a rusty 9-mm
Sears Craftsman automotive crescent wrench.

Yours in Science,

Harvey Rowe
Curator, Antiquities


Paul Arveson, Research Physicist
Code 724, NSWC, Bethesda, MD 20817-5700
(301) 227-3831 (W) (301) 227-1914 (FAX) (301) 816-9459 (H)