Malakoff Man's Presence Still Intrigues
Only a few experiences, it seems, are capable of taking people out of the moment to think about the vastness of life.
One of those experiences is the discovery of the Malakoff Man, which dates human existence and at least some form of civilization in what is now Northeast Texas back to sometime around 30,000 to 50,000 years ago, give or take a few.
Quarry workers digging for gravel to use in the construction of a private residence found the first of three carved sandstone heads in 1929. The discoveries are still little known, it seems, outside the scientific community and “people in the know” in Malakoff.
The Texas State Historical Association said geologist Elias H. Sellards declared the sculpture to be authentic. Diggers found a second head in 1935, and formal excavation uncovered the third in 1939.
There is some skepticism about the heads authenticity but most experts support that authenticity.
Skepticism arose when Sellards argued that the first head came from an Eocene geological formation dating back 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, predating the first-known occupation of the continent. More recent geological work in the area, according to Thomas H. Guderjan, writing for the TSHA, “indicates that the deposit is Late Pleistocene in nature, an adjustment that placed the heads in the same general period as the Paleo-Indians.” Others date them as 3,000 to 4,000 years old because they look vaguely similar to the better known “Colossal Heads” from the Veracruz area. A few believe that at least one of the heads — the third discovered — may be a “geological peculiarity,” carved by erosion or other natural forces, but the first two heads have not faced serious challenge.
Pat Isaacson, director of the Malakoff Chamber of Commerce, whose office has reproductions of all three sculptures, is convinced the discoveries are authentic.
“Archeologists came so close to proving it 100 percent,” she said.
“They did carbon dating and everything else they knew how to do,” Pat said. “The shame of it was that the powers that be at the museum decided 10 years was enough time to work on it, and they pulled the archeologists off. They came so close to proving it, and once you see the heads, you kinda have to think they are. I feel like at least 98 percent believe; it’s just 2 percent that don’t believe.”
The first discovery was on November 2, 1929, when workers from Thomas Bartlett’s Malakoff Pressed Brick Company were digging gravel about five miles west of Malakoff and three miles from Trinidad for Bartlett’s white brick home, which today is owned by and is being restored by the Greater Malakoff Area Garden Club. The workers, architect/builders Indelicio and Teo Morgado, recognized that what they found— a 98-pound, 16-inch-long sculpture of a head in a cache of small stones — was special.
Bartlett displayed the head in his store, and mining engineer V.C. Doctorman contacted the Texas Memorial Museum at the University of Texas. Archeological digs eventually found the second and then the third heads, along with fossils of mammoths, mastodons, extinct horse types, camels, and ground sloths.
“It is the oldest evidence of man in this part of the world,” said UT archeologist Glen Evans at the time. “It’s entirely possible that the people who carved them were not as widely distributed in population as man was 11,000 years ago, but man existed in other areas on the earth long before the time of Malakoff Man. It’s reasonable to believe they may have been there as much as 30,000 years ago.”
“The significance of the discovery generated a prevailing mood of excitement throughout this area,” said Cleora Flemming, who reported the history during the state historic marker dedication in 1970, according to a chapter, “In the Very Beginning: The Malakoff Man,” written by Lyn Dunsavage Young for the book Malakoff, Texas.
Pat said she is thrilled to have this sort of history so close.
“Like anything else, part of the population knows and the other part doesn’t have any ideal. We’re trying to educate people as to the story,” she said.
Three castings from the original heads are in the Malakoff Historical Society and Museum, 207 E. Main, which shares space with the chamber office. Two of the heads are at the University of Texas Archeological Research Laboratory and the other is at the Navarro College Library in Corsicana.
“Two of the heads are still in storage and they will never see the light of day again. We would very much like to have them back just because they’re not being seen,” Pat said. “What it does to you once you hear all of the story and everything else, it gets you to wondering what else is out there that we haven’t found yet. There’s bound to be more, but with the way the river has changed we may never find anything else in our lifetimes because no one’s really looking at this point.”
“Back in the day,” Evans, known as “the compleat naturalist,” examined the first two heads and discovered the third one. Evans said the sculptures are, indeed, the work of early native residents.
Another scientist, Curtis Tunnell, wrote more recently: “Malakoff heads were never proven a fake, but they remain an enigma. Some good scientists like Glen Evans are convinced that they are real and very ancient.”
Scientists have found plenty of evidence of late Pleistocene mammals in that general area along the Trinity River, but as of yet have discovered no other human artifacts. The Pleistocene period is a large one, at least by modern standards, spanning from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago; during that time, glaciers advanced and retreated across much of Earth.
When Malakoff Man was discovered, most other ancient American civilizations were dated from about 3,500 B.C. to 500 years ago.
The site was basically abandoned during World War II, and is now under Cedar Creek Lake, which was created as a reservoir for Fort Worth and is a major recreational site today.
Implications of the Malakoff Man findings remain interesting if for no other reason than contemplation. Although their source is still mysterious, it’s interesting to think about earlier people living their lives on this same land and, through art, contemplating their own past, presence, and future as long as 30,000 to 50,000 years ago