MALAKOFF, Texas (KETK) – In the little town of Malakoff, named after a Russian fort from the Crimean War, three mysterious stones sat buried deep in the heart of East Texas for centuries.
So what’s was so special about these rocks?
Malakoff residents believe that these stones resemble human faces, earning the first stone unearthed the colloquial name Malakoff Man. Locals like former Malakoff mayor Pat Isaacson believe that the supposed human resemblance of the stones and surroundings from which they were taken gives them an ancient prominence.
“There were so many things, particularly in the first location, that kind of sealed it for me. There were the bones of horses and sloths and camels, and just all kinds of elephants, there were all of those in there, and they wouldn’t have been in there just because somebody put them there,” Isaacson said.
Professor Thomas H. Guderjan, from UT Tyler, examined and appraised two of the Malakoff Heads in 1989 for the Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society Volume 60. The abstract of his article reads as follows:
“The three boulders known as the Malakoff Heads, found more than 50 years ago in gravel quarries, were thought by several professional people to be the work of Pleistocene man, but intensive archeological work has turned up no new evidence of related materials. Indeed, careful and detailed examination of the heads by the author leads to the conclusion that none of the three heads is the work of early man.”Thomas H. Guderjan
On top of pointing out that no new materials related to the heads has been found, Guderjan’s analysis points to a much more modern origin for the carvings in these stones.
Isaacson rejects that assertion. Isaacson linked the Malakoff heads to carved stone heads found in southern and central America like those made by the Olmec civilization.
“I thoroughly believe it. There’s too many other cases in southern America, South America. There were a number of those types of stones were found, that were already made, so they didn’t have to be carved out. So if they were in that area, then they were in this area too,” Issacson said.
So where does this idea that the Malakoff heads are supposedly ancient carvings come from?
To answer that question, we have to travel back in time to see how these stones were unearthed and why they were interpreted the way they were.
INTO THE PAST: 1929 OR 150,000 B.C.?
In 1912, lignite was found in Malakoff and according to the Texas State Historical Association, there were 600 people working in Malakoff mines. With all the new industry in Malakoff, it’s no wonder that the first of the stones would be unearthed in 1929.
On Nov. 2, 1929, workers extracted a head-shaped sandstone stone from a Texas Clay Products Company gravel quarry five miles away from Malakoff. According to the Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society, the stone was moved to the company’s office’s on Nov. 4 and 5 days later it was reported to E. H. Sellards at the University of Texas.
Sellards arrived at the site on Nov. 26, 1929 and examined the first head. Sellards dated the Trinity gravel that the head was taken from to be between 50,000 and 100,000 years old, placing it in the Pleistocene era. Two other heads were found in 1935 and 1939, respectively.
His analysis of the fauna and terraces from the digs were Sellards’ justification for placing the gravels in the Pleistocene era. Sellards believed that the stones were genuine evidence of Pleistocene man.
Since the initial work of Sellards, many other researchers have accepted and rejected the legitimacy of the stones.
Guderjan undertook the task of examining and appraising the first and third heads for his 1989 article. He concludes that the first head, the one with the most human features, was “quite recently made with modern metal tools.”
For evidence of the heads forgery, Guderjan points to a lack of oxidation on the sides of the nose which indicates that they were abraded recently and “a rectangular gouge mark in the left eye that measures nine thirty-seconds by five thirty-seconds of an inch, only one thirty-second of an inch larger than a common quarter-inch steel chisel.”
When it comes to the third head, the picture is much more bleak for Malakoff man believers. Guderjan’s article went so far as to have said that it’s unlikely that head three would have ever been thought to have been man made if the first two stones hadn’t been found.
Head three is very crude as Guderjan points out. What is thought to be an eye has crystalline deposits which are “highly improbable” to have been formed “since any reasonable (Quaternary) time of possible human manufacture.” Guderjan continues to describe how a shovel has made an unoxidized spall extending into the eye.
Guderjan concluded his examination of Head 3 by saying:
“In the light of the extreme crudeness of this specimen, it is quite unlikely that it ever would have been considered man-made had it not been for the tantalizing possibilities offered by the first two specimens. The almost irrefutable evidence–presented by the crystalline deposit—of the very great antiquity of the mark that has been called an eye, Head No. 3 can be assessed only as an ecofact without any archeological meaning.”Thomas H. Guderjan
34 YEARS LATER
KETK caught up with Guderjan in 2023 to talk about what he thinks about the heads today after 34 years since his 1989 article.
“The geological age of where these came from is between 100,000 and 150,000 years old, in which case, they would be by three times the oldest artifacts ever found in the Americas. But since they were found in the 30s, now we’ve gone, well, face it, we’re pushing 90 to 100 years since the first ones were found, nobody’s ever found anything else anywhere in the world, or in the United States,” Guderjan told KETK. “So therefore, it’s not like that was the first window into learning something, it was a complete dead end, there is just not anything else there to be found.”
Guderjan continued discussing how there’s plenty of cites where evidence could have been found, but no evidence has been unearthed.
“No artifacts have ever been found with them, they’ve never found a bona fide archaeological site, which I point out there are over 600 bona fide archaeological sites known in Smith County, and we have only surveyed 2 or 3% of Smith County,” Guderjan said.
He did offer an explanation for what people thought these heads were.
“It’s an incredibly distant stretch to think that it was anything but a chance discovery of something that looked like something else, and what it looked like something else was the Olmec heads that were being discovered in Mexico at the same time,” Guderjan said.
Guderjan went on to explain just how different the Olmec heads are from the Malakoff heads.
“Now, these are quite different. These are sitting in the middle of pyramid plaza complexes, these are clearly carved, just Google ‘Olmec heads’ and you’ll see a bunch of them,” Guderjan explained.
He expanded on the idea that those who found the rocks in Malakoff were probably inspired by the newly discovered Olmec heads.
“So they were getting a lot of publicity and it seems pretty clear, although no one could ever demonstrate this for sure, that the people who found the original rocks in Malakoff, were probably seeing these things in National Geographic and so forth and going, ‘Wow, that’s cool. Look, we found something similar to it,'” Guderjan said.
Ultimately Guderjan firmly stated that the heads are much too old for them to have been made by humans, putting to bed any connection to the Olmec Heads.
“But the fact of the matter is, the Malakoff heads, again, are geologically dated long before any evidence of arrivals in the Americas and the Olmec Heads are dated to in the range of 900 years before Christ when the continent was already full of people. So it’s a very different circumstance.”Thomas H. Guderjan
THE OTHER MEN: Are six heads better than three?
Athens resident Kris Perryman has in his possession a supposed Malakoff head that was mentioned in passing by Guderjan in his 1989 article. Guderjan judged the stone as “no more than an ecofact,” but Perryman said that as many as six Malakoff heads are the genuine article.
“We always understood there were six of them. I had the fifth one. The fourth one they know about it, but nobody knows where it is. And then the sixth one, same thing,” Perryman said.
Perryman went on to describe how, after over 30 years since the first three heads were found, his was found by a contractor who worked for his father during the excavation for the dam at Cedar Creek Lake.
Perryman’s story for how the heads were made cites them being carved by “pre-Columbian Indians” who he said might have lived in this area around 20,000 to 40,000 or even 100,000 years ago.
KETK was provided with the following photos of Perryman’s Malakoff head:
GET MY GOOD SIDE: The Malakoff Man on the Silver Screen
Perryman and his head were featured in the recently released documentary “Malakoff Man – Picking up The Trail“. The documentary premiered at the home of the first three heads, Navarro College on March 10, 2023.
The documentary takes a measured approach by examining all the different theories and talking to people like Isaacson, Perryman and even Guderjan.
Ultimately, the documentary took the position that more research must be done on the stones to know whether or not they are in fact forgeries.
“The scientific community and laymen alike are clearly divided when it comes to the age and very authenticity of the Malakoff stone heads. Are the heads from a period prior to the generally accepted time when man is known to have been living in this part of North America? Or were the heads simply a modern day fabrication, a hoax if you will? If genuine, then why have there not been many more artifacts from that era uncovered? If a hoax, then for what purpose? While evidence is strong on each side of the argument, only further testing of the heads themselves may hope to bring the debate to a definitive close.”Malakoff Man – Picking up The Trail
EAST TEXAS ARCHAEOLOGY
Guderjan is an archaeologist who is the chair of the Department of Social Sciences at UT Tyler and the author of the 1989 analysis of the Malakoff Man referenced in this story.
He studies the Mayan civilization and is returning to Belize with UT Tyler students after a three year hiatus due to COVID-19 as a part of “an international consortium trying to understand the ancient Maya” known as the Maya Research Program.
“For about eight weeks, we’ll be at our research station in Belize, excavating parts of three cities, we’re looking at their murals that they have created, we’re looking at how their monumental centers are built, the residential areas, their agricultural zones, all these being handled by different people and I have the pleasure being in charge of the whole thing,” Guderjan said.
This worthwhile research into the very well documented Mayan civilization is just one such archaeological program being undertaken to understand the history of humanity on Earth.
Based upon Guderjan’s analysis of two of the stones, the fact that modern tools were used on the most human-like head and the profound lack of any corroborating evidence of an ancient culture in Malakoff, it seems like this is, in fact, a hoax and not history.
The Malakoff Men, all three or six of them, may turn out to be crude glimpses of faces shrewdly gouged in stone, a coincidental rock improved or a haphazard Mona Lisa smile, forever confusing viewers as to its meaning and motive or apparent lack thereof.