The story behind the letter below is that there is an "intellectual
prankster" in Newport, RI named Scott Williams who digs things out of
his backyard and sends the stuff he finds to the Smithsonian
Institute, labeling them with scientific names, insisting that they
are actual archaeological finds.
207 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20078
Dear Mr. Williams:
Thank you for your latest submission to the Institute, labeled
"93211-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 that one of our staff, who has small children,
believes to be "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
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
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
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 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
Newport 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,