El libro de pseudoantropología de Bruno Cardeñosa, El Código Secreto, desmontado magistralmente por Luis Alfonso Gámez.

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By Luis Alfonso Gámez

"I'd like to point out that nobody who is involved in Sasquatch investigations has ever felt that this frozen dummy was a Bigfoot”, Jon Beckjord wrote in The Skeptical Inquirer in 1982. As a monster hunter, Beckjord not only believes that the Sasquatch (one of the names given to the Bigfoot) inhabits North American forests, but he is convinced that the would-be creature has paranormal powers. However, the story of the Minnesota Iceman, an attraction that toured the fairs in the United States in the 60s, is too hard to believe even for him. Such attraction consisted of a block of ice with a so-said man-monkey inside. The creature drew the immediate attention of cryptozoologists -monster searchers- Bernard Heuvelmans and Ivan T. Sanderson, who after its examination concluded that they were dealing with an hominid. The story began to collapse when the Smithsonian Institution manifested their interest in the examination of the body, identified by Heuvelmans & Sanderson as a Neanderthal that had survived up to the 20th century. Then, Frank Hansen, the trickster who exhibited the creature, claimed that the piece had been given back to his owner, an unidentified millionaire and that what was being exhibited at that moment was only a replica. It was never heard about the “original monster” and, in the end, the cryptozoologists had to take back their affirmations when it came to light that the trickster had entrusted the manufacture of a latex figure to a Hollywood’s special effects company. Crystal-clear. Today, Hansen’s deceit strikes back out of the hands of Mr. Bruno Cardeñosa, in his book: The Secret Code (Grijalbo, Barcelona, 2001), in which the Minnesota Iceman is just one out of many fraudulent attractions, re-invented or just slanted by the author.

The Secret Code is an anthology of nonsense whose arrival to the Spanish bookstores demonstrates that the minimum quality-control that any serious editorial should apply to the manuscripts that they publish has failed miserably. Falseness and nonsense fill the book, from cover to bottom. Lies arise already in the lapel, as we read: "Bruno Cardeñosa collaborates in various magazines of scientific circulation". The truth is that the journalistic career of the author - who is known, above all, due to his activity as ufologist- has grown exclusively in publications such as Further the Limits of Science or the already disappeared Karma-7, which maintain that it is possible to guess the future, to communicate with the dead, or to get in contact with aliens. In this same line, The Secret Code or The Mysteries of Human Evolution (as it is reads in the cover) is a book against science and against scientists and, furthermore, written from anti-evolution assumptions. Because it is evident that, when writing it up, Mr. B. Cardeñosa got his inspiration from one of the main leaders of Hindu Creationism, Michael A. Cremo, the co-author (with Richard L Thompson) of Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History Of Human Race, published in 1993 by the International Society for the Conscience of Krishna.

The similarity of both works are so shameless that The Secret Code can be considered a remake of Forbidden Archeology, a Spanish version of that book in which the author has included, at the most, a handful of his own ideas. In their book, Cremo & Thompson defend that anatomically modern humans have existed for hundreds of million of years, that archaeologists and paleoanthropologists hide, or don’t acknowledge, the proofs of this fact and that theYeti, the Bigfoot and other similar monsters are as a matter of fact hominids belonging to different species which have survived in isolated areas of the planet. For supporting the first two claims, they use putative fossil and technological evidences; to endorse the third, they argue testimonies and supposed-to-be proofs compiled by these hunters of legendary beings. Cardeñosa´s book, a badly digested and dangerous mixture of pseudo-science and science, follows the same scheme and reaches identical conclusions that that of Cremo & Thompson. In favor of the Spanish author is that he has not been as boldness as his American colleagues, who sent a copy of their book to Richard Leakey.

Thus, he will not have to face to criticism from Leakey, who had enough with eyeing Forbidden archeology to conclude that it was “a pure humbug that does not deserve to be taken seriously by nobody but a fool”.

When reality gets uncomfortable

Leakey´s criticism fits to “The Secret Code” like a ring to a finger. The work has its birth in the deepest ignorance, and with an only agenda that is to take profit, at any price, out of the public’s natural curiosity about our origins. Everything is good for Mr. Cardeñosa when it is about to traffic with nonexistent mysteries and to open himself a gap on the editorial market. Thus, in the case of the Minnesota Iceman, he hides from the readers the fact that in its time it was unmasked as a fraud, and he writes about of the frozen man-monkey as a proof that the “scientific orthodoxy, imposing its truth from the pulpits, has hidden, and continues to do so, insights, discoveries, and enough evidence as for rewriting some of the most transcendent episodes of our history as living beings" (p.13). For the sake of this transparency that he preaches, Cardeñosa (who in p.16 defines himself as someone who has been confronting “evidence that the scientists prefer to ignore” for “longer than a decade”), relates the first half of Hansen’s creature tale, but he forgets about the outcome. "Let’s not allow reality spoil a good headline”, says the principle of sensationalist journalism. This rule becomes book in The Secret Code because the case of the Minnesota Iceman is not an isolated manipulation of reality, but just the top of the iceberg, the first of a long list of half-truths with which the author tries to seduce and bamboozle his readers

It is not the purpose this article to analyze each one of the so-called proofs for his nonsensical hypotheses, as this would require much more writing space and time. This notwithstanding, I am anyway going to provide a closer examination to just two revealing examples: the cases of the Paluxy River Valley tracks and the Ica Stones. For the author, these are demonstrating evidences that men coexisted with the dinosaurs. Yes, as it sounds.

Paluxy River Valley, in Glen Rose, Texas, is an obligatory landmark when it comes to talk about an Humanity such as the one shaped in The Flintstones. In that river bed, writes Cardeñosa, there are dinosaur tracks besides others from humans, whom would have lived in the age of the terrible lizards. However, this is not what says Glen Kuban, a biologist who in 1989 demonstrated that some of the feet in River Paluxy limestone are really fragmentary dinosaur’s imprints. "Some alleged man tracks in Glen Rose” -he explained in the collective work Dinosaur Tracks and Traces- “are indistinct metatarsal dinosaur tracks, whose digit impressions are obscured by mud collapse, erosion, or other factors. Other elongate depressions in Glen Rose include erosional features and possible tail marks, some of which also have been mistaken for human tracks”. Kuban’s experiments, using texture and color analyses of the prints, have demonstrated in the field that the presumed human tracks are in fact dinosaur tracks. Nevertheless, in The Secret Code, this explanation is disregarded with the absurd argument that “it has never been found a similar non-human track” (p 103) (Can’t they be the first ones?) and by alluding to other “experts” (among them, "anthropologist Carl Baugh", in p.103) who claim the tracks are human and date from 140 million years ago. Well, Baugh is not an anthropologist and does not hold any other higher academic title, regardless of the false credentials that Cardeñosa provides him; he is a preacher and, along with his beloved Michael A. Cremo, a frenzied creationist whose affirmations are questioned even by his own peers. Once again, the Spanish manufacturer of mysteries chooses the extraordinary explanation over demonstrated scientific evidence, hides essential information from the readers and shamelessly endorses anti-evolution theses.

A similar situation happens regarding The Ica Stones from Perú, allegedly engraved with scenes of dinosaurs hunting, complex surgical procedures, and air traveling riding prediluvial birds. The group of supporters for these pieces, whose owner is the Peruvian Dr. Javier Cabrera, is narrowed to a handful of “paradox manufacturers” (as they were rightly named by the deceased Carl Sagan) led by Mr. Juan José Benítez, who previously exploited the same vein in his book: Another Humankind Existed. Regardless of the farmers testimonies (who confessed that they had manufactured the engraved stones to sell them to credulous Cabrera), and that numerous analyses have demonstrated the marks as a recent made with sandpaper, saws and acids, Cardeñosa searches among the studies to find a couple (one of them ambiguous, another one scarcely reliable) to support his thesis: "That the engravings were modeled in the same geological age in which the stones formed. This is, in the dinosaur’s era." (p 98). Again, Occam’s Razor working backwards; a curious way along for a self-named scientific writer.

These gross cases of Paluxy and Ica are accompanied by many other poorly described ones, examples of paleontologic and technologic discoveries that would challenge, according to the author, our current conception of human evolution: bones from Homo sapiens in rock layers dated as 280 million years old (men would have appeared in the evolution before the mammals, but that does not seem to bother the author), shoe prints dating 500 million years, nails produced 360 million years ago, stone tools of 5 million years in Portugal, and so on. Many are “discoveries” of the 19th century, or the early 20th that, as it happens to bad movies, have not stood the course of time. Obviously, Cardeñosa only tells of these cases a part of the history or, when he presents the whole thing, he manipulates the conventional explanation to feed the mystery. As a general rule, he does as his teachers Cremo & Thompson, who neglect that the context in which a piece is found is as important as the piece itself, and that the historical value of material recovered from an archeological site resides in a systematic collection of the material, thus allowing later reconstruction of the site in the laboratory.

But as if this was not enough, he strikes back hiding from the reader, many times, that those discoveries that in his opinion do not fit in the scenario drawn by specialists, were either found in different places than the originally reported, or they are not what they were claimed to be. In other words, Cardeñosa behaves as he accuses the scientists to do when he states that "the history of human evolution has been selectively erased according to a pre-established line. If something does not fit, it is scorned. Or it is forced to fit, at the risk of failing to the truth and to the empirical evidence"(p 162). As it says and old Spanish proverb, The thief believes that everybody else is like himself. But everything is allowed when it is about to impute his own lack of severity to others, including allusions to the kind of conspiratory theories pseudoscientist charlatans like so much: "The definitive proofs of these audacious affirmations (he means the proofs for the existence of H. sapiens tens of million of years ago) are in the Secret Files that science and the scientists just keep on hiding away from the reach of the public, for the only reason that they do not fit in established theories” (p 147).

The whole genome in a chromosome

The Secret Code is a book that attacks the science but, at the same time, tries to use it in order to disguise its hostile message as innocent and well-intended heterodoxy. Cardeñosa indiscriminately mixes scientific information (often, erroneously interpreted) with data from pseudoscientific sources. To the reader’s eyes he places, at the same level of evidence, the possibility that man and dinosaurs coexisted with the discoveries from Olduvai, or Lucy with The Bigfoot. He grants charlatans like Erich von Däniken, Peter Kolosimo, Jacques Bergier or Zecharia Sitchin the same or more credibility than to scientists such as Glen Kuban, Juan Luis Arsuaga, Jose María Bermúdez de Castro or Eudald Carbonell. All of them, with no distinctions, are researchers to his eyes. Thus, examples of intellectual travestism are common, such as the French ufologist Aimé Michel, who is transformed in the more authoritative "French anthropologist A. Michel", to reach a point where even the most delirious, bizarre Spanish charlatans become “researchers”. When making the book, Cardeñosa has used this mode and he has utilized, at equal parts, pseudoscientific and scientific popularization literature. Out of the 67 books that he references and recommends in the bibliography section, more than thirty are authored by ufologists or by people who predicate that in the past the Earth was visited by aliens, who taught our clumsy ancestors some technological wonders. Titles such as Kolosimo’s Spaceships in Prehistory, or Bergier’s Les extra-terrestres dans l'histoir are recommended together with Darwin’s The Origin of the Species, or with The Chosen Species, by Juan Luis Arsuaga and Ignacio Martínez. Regarding the journals, for example, bizarre publications such as Year Zero or Enigmas share lines with Nature, Science and Scientific American. It is just another instrument used to confuse, to mine the critical capacity of poorly-informed readers, who may get lost and grant the same credit to all the sources and authors. Dirty playing that Cardeñosa performs for his own benefit.

The author repeatedly introduces himself as a scientific disseminator or journalist because, obviously, this credential seems to provide some trustworthiness. This may work with the more naïve but not with an average reader, as long as his ignorance regarding evolution, paleoantropology, and science and culture in general are evident from the surface. He grants the same relevance to consistent and inconsistent proofs, and he always chooses the extraordinary explanations. But he reaches the paroxysm of incompetence when he exhibits what are obvious indications of scientific illiteracy. Some are so gross that any average daily press-reader would be able to detect them. Again, not pretending to be exhaustive, let’s see just a couple of examples.

Cardeñosa dedicates part of his work to review the current state of knowledge about human evolution (what is known by what he calls official science) and, obviously, he includes information about the discoveries produced in the last few years at the excavations at Sierra de Atapuerca. From the start, he shows clear hostility to the work of Arsuaga, Bermúdez de Castro & Carbonell (the co-directors of the research excavations at this site), of whom he says that "their anxiety for reaching scientific immortality has lead them to sell more headlines than truths" (p 280). "Atapuerca is, over all, an spectacle" he goes on, and he adds that: "the past inhabitants of Atapuerca are an untouchable National Monument, although it is darkened with multiple mysteries. It provides some light, and not just a little. But Atapuerca is, in my opinion, synonymous of mystery and of controversy as well. Atapuerca is darkened by significant shades and pronounced suspicions. Nowadays, the man from Atapuerca, the so-called scientifically “Homo antecessor”, is not the first European. He is neither the first Spaniard. And, furthermore he is absolutely not the lost link"(p 163).
Lets ignore the author’s reference to the lost link, which he puts from out of his hat. We can concede that the 1,8 million-years old hominid fossils found in Dmansi (Georgia) are geographically located in Europe, then which one is the first known hominid inhabiting the Spanish Peninsula?. Cardeñosa affirms that it is the so-called Orce Man and, to support this statement, he does not hesitate about manipulating, again, reality. "There is a fact that, according to every researcher, does not admit any discussion: Orce Man was an Homo” , he says (p.63) to validate a fossil that, in contrast, is rejected by the vast majority of specialists. The author of The Secret Code purposely lies here: Josep Gibert is today almost the only supporter of the remains of the Orce Man being human, regardless of future discoveries that this site in Granada can provide in the future and that are wished by Spanish paleoanthropologists. If Cardeñosa had only talked, at least once, with Arsuaga, Bermúdez de Castro or Carbonell (something that he has not done) he would have repeatedly heard from them that the race for the oldest is stupid and anti-scientific, and that this stereotypical image that he presents of paleoanthropological research, as a competition in which the players can almost knife to each other in defense of their fossils, giving advantage to pride over facts, is far away from reality.

To narrow Atapuerca’s discoveries as the first European is just inanity: we are talking about deposits that illustrate the last million of years of human history in Europe, where a new Homo species has been found, and with a human remnants richness that has to date not comparable match. But even as this is frivolous enough, it is not the worst part. One can understand that, in his exercise of re-writing history as he wishes, Cardeñosa manipulates the facts once again. What is barely understandable is that someone who signs a book about human evolution messes up the whole of the Atapuerca findings, a mess that this time does not seem to be produced by manipulation but just due to plain ignorance.

As it is widely known, there are two particularly famous sites at the Sierra de Atapuerca excavations: the Sima de los Huesos (Bone’s Chasm) and the Gran Dolina (Grand Doline). The first is a cave located at the fund of a vertical thirteen meters fall of in the depths of Major Cave. The second is a site that is excavated at open air because it became exposed when the railway was opened at the end of 19th century. At the Sima de los Huesos, remnants of about thirty Homo heidelbergensis have been found dating about 300.000 years old, and their disposition suggests the researchers that it might be the oldest grave known to date. In that age, the chasm was communicated with the exterior through an opening blinded later, and the researchers think that H. heidelbergensis used to dump the corpses there so they were deposited at the bottom of the chasm. The remains from Gran Dolina are very different and much older. They have been dated about 800.000 years old and they correspond to individuals belonging to Homo antecessor, who according to the traces of chipping and de-fleshing activity noticeable in some bones, were victims of a cannibal banquet. Victims of a behavior that, according to Arsuaga, was not habitual. So well, this simple puzzle it too much for Cardeñosa to be understood and, thanks to the publication of his book, his ignorance will now be transmitted to those readers who hear for the first time about the discoveries at Sierra de Atapuerca.

The author of The Secret Code says that "those supposed predecessors did not live within the Gran Dolina but they were dumped, probably dead, by other contemporary hominids. In fact, the cave would be to be the first known cemetery" (p 175). This demonstration of his ignorance leaves us wordless. Cardeñosa mistakes the Sima de los Huesos and the Gran Dolina site, or H. antecessor and H. heidelbergensis, thus jumping in the way half a million of years of history and mixing unrelated episodes. For the same reason, it is hilarious that someone capable of leaving historical evidence of his ignorance in the form of a book (the already existing evidence as journal articles or radio programs is shattering) states that “each one of us can” make our own guess for human genealogy, “we should not forget the most famous authority in the world, Richard Leakey, who decided to quit the University in order to make research” (p. 44). An insane argument that is more understandable when Cardeñosa jumps without parachute into the field of genetics, and he shows us that “each human chromosome can hold more than 30.000 genes” (p.202). Brilliant!. Recent estimates of the number of human genes vary between 30.000 and 40.000, in contrast to a number of about 100.000 that was believed a few years ago. However, Cardeñosa talks about "more than 30.000 genes" in each chromosome, a figure that considering our 23 different chromosomes per cell provides a figure of not less than 700.000 genes. This trivial mistake illustrates his kind of professional responsibility and the credibility that he deserves.

A remote-controlled evolution

I could go further in this kind of criticism, but I am going, in theses final paragraphs, to present in a few brush-strokes the nonsensical conclusions that the author reaches. Thus, it is worth to analyze the idea presented in the title of the book. Cardeñosa spoils everything that is known about human evolution, on the basis of proofs that no scientist considers as such and using as support the material compiled by confessed anti-evolutionists, such as Michael A. Cremo and Richard L Thompson. Thus, he concludes that humans lived in the dinosaur age, and that H. sapiens inhabited Europe, Africa and America tens of million of years ago. All those humans, however, came to extinction and we are the descendants of a different kind that arose 150.000 years ago, this is, what the Official Science says. He also maintains that we are in part Neanderthals and that, as a matter of fact, hominids believed to be extinct still live among us: some Neanderthals would be the abominable men from Russia and Central Asia, but also some populations of Morocco; Homo erectus would be “wild men from some Asiatic islands”; Australopithecus, the African humanoid monsters; and Gigantopithecus, the Yeti; and so on. "In conclusion, the links of the human chain remain still alive on the face of the Earth, waiting for the time that Science takes care of them”, states the author (p.378).

Bruno Cardeñosa entitles his book The Secret Code for the simple reason that he believes in a controlled evolution or, in another words, in an evolution that is nothing but disguised creationism. To him, it is not only that life did arrive from the outer space -he embraces the thesis of panspermia- but "the original mechanisms that gave birth to life were directed by laws different than those of evolution” and “those primitive living forms included in their hardware some form of a hardwired program: to evolve towards more complex forms. They included thus a Secret Code which instructed that the ultimate objective of evolution is Homo sapiens.” (p.397). This is the conclusion of a work that pretends to be “a denounce book that wants to illustrate hundreds of small proofs and indications that should obligate scientist to re-write history”, and that looses the fuel as soon as the first lines are read.

This notwithstanding, given the anti-evolutionist and anti-scientific depthcharge that The Secret Code constitutes and considering the nonsense, the erroneous interpretations and manipulations that fill every paragraph, it becomes relevant the risk that it may reach naïve readers who might trust its contents and the wisdom of his author. Thus, the scientific community in general and, especially, the students of our remote past (paleoanthropologists and archaeologists) must not remain silent and they should inform the publisher ([email protected]) about the kind of trash that they have released. If we do not, then nobody should complain if, sometime near the future, the meritorious effort for popularization that is being made in our country about discoveries such as those from Atapuerca succumbs to the pushing zealotry of nonsense and obscurantism.

Bruno Cardeñosa: “The Secret Code. The mysteries of human evolution”
Grijalbo Publishers (“Lost Tracks” Series). Barcelona. 418 pages.

© Copyright Luis Alfonso Gámez, 2001.

The original of this work was elaborated by Luis Alfonso Gámez, who works as a scientific journalist and belongs to ARP. The translation from the Spanish version was carried out by Oswaldo Palenzuela. Any inaccuracies are the exclusive responsibility of the author and the translator.