Holly Oak Gorget

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By Haley Allgeyer

In 1889, Hilborne T. Cresson announced that he had allegedly discovered the Holly Oak Gorget. He declared that the gorget was discovered by himself in 1864, at an archaeological site in northern Delaware [1]. The Holly Oak Gorget is a shell pendant, worn as a necklace, with a carving in it of what appears to by a woolly mammoth. The shell is made of busycon sinistrum, a sea snail, often found along the United States coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

Holly Oak Gorget [2]


History

Gorgets

A gorget or pendant is a sort of decorative necklace worn to display a person’s status. In Native American culture, it is common for a gorget to be carved out of materials such as shells, mollusks, gourds, etc. [3]. Different gorgets commonly show a person’s status within their tribe. Carvings can be related to family origins or tribe symbols. Because gorgets hold such great information about the tribe or owner who wore it, they are important archaeological finds. They can tell us many things about who wore the gorget, where it was carved, and the ancient community around the owner. In the example of the Holly Oak Gorget, if it were not fabricated, we could assume that the owner who wore the gorget encountered woolly mammoths, as that is what is carved into it.

La Madeleine

La Madeleine

In 1864, Edouard Lartet discovered La Madeleine pendant which depicts a woolly mammoth carving, very similar to the Holly Oak carving [4]. Though, Hilborne T. Cresson claims he discovered the Holly Oak Gorget prior to public discovery of La Madeleine, Cresson did not speak of his finding until after La Madeleine made the news. After La Madeleine was discovered, both the pendant, and Lartet received lots of attention. Because of the vast amount of attention that Lartet’s discovery received, reputable archaeologists have reason to believe that Cresson was after the similar fame and fortune [5]. The context in which the Holly Oak Gorget was “discovered” is important in understanding how and why it was falsified. Trends of fame and fortune will always spark people to follow and create their own fame, but the ways in which they do this can be harmful to real archaeological finds.


Pseudoarchaeological Claims

Forgotten Controversy

In 1976, the magazine Science had a photo of the Holly Oak Gorget on their cover. The discovery had pretty much been swept under the rug since the announcement, and this cover brought out the controversy again. The article in this magazine was by John Kraft and Ronald Thomas, titled, “Early Man at Holly Oak, Delaware.” [6]. Kraft and Thomas actually believe that the artifact could, in fact, be authentic, stating that the gorget could likely have been from the early to middle Holocene epoch [7]. This new publication directly opposes previous understandings of the artifact’s credibility, as well as the newer 1988 journal article, “A Mammoth Fraud in Science.”Kraft and Thomas brought multiple evidence into question in their article to examine the credibility. One example is the fact that early man could have actually lived within the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, making the carving possible as woolly mammoths and mastodons were present in North American during this time [8]. The fact that the shell dates back to Ohio could be used as evidence against Cresson’s claim that he discovered the artifact in northern Delaware. But, Kraft and Thomas’ article hypothesizes that the gorget could have been moved from its original spot by Native Americans to Delaware. This would help Cresson’s claim and possibly even prove that he was not lying.When looking at all of the evidence, though, we can come to the conclusion that the Holly Oak Gorget was falsified by Hilborne T. Cresson. To this day, no reputable archaeologist recognizes the gorget as authentic.


The Truth

Hilborne T. Cresson's Crimes

During the time of both La Madeleine discovery and the Holly Oak Gorget discovery, Hilborne T. Cresson worked as a field assistant at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology [9]. This background did help build his claim, though despite this, his “discovery” was never taken seriously by archaeologists. We know that Hilborne T. Cresson’s archaeological “discovery” was never taken seriously by reputable archaeologists, and it still is not today. One big reason for this is his personal and criminal history. In 1891, he was actually fired from the museum after being accused of stealing from archaeological sites [10]. We know that Hilborne T. Cresson’s archaeological “discovery” was never taken seriously by reputable archaeologists, and it still is not today. One big reason for this is his personal and criminal history. In 1891, he was actually fired from the museum after being accused of stealing from archaeological sites [11]. Before this firing, Cresson worked at an archaeological site, For Ancient, in Ohio. He was accused multiple times of stealing from this site. One of the objects he was accused of stealing actually was a gorget, which is believed to have been used to forge his own gorget [12].

Issues

The actual shell that the Holly Oak Gorget is carved from, is from Ohio, which is likely from when Cresson stole the gorget from Fort Ancient site as well. This type of shell is from the Ohio valley during the late Pleistocene period [13]. Not only is the shell very clearly not from northern Delaware, it also very closely resembles La Madeleine. This similarity is way too exact. They both depict a woolly mammoth carving in a very similar style. This evidence very obviously shows that the Holly Oak Gorget was based on La Madeleine. When the discovery of the Holly Oak Gorget was announced, Cresson claimed that he discovered the pendant in 1864, though he did not announce the discovery until 1889. This is very convenient, as he likely was aware that people would question the similarity between the two gorgets, so stating that he discovered it before La Madeleine would work perfectly for his claim.


References

  1. 2014 Gorgets Offer Insight Into Early Chickasaw Culture. IndianCountryToday.com. April 30.
  2. Images, Internet Archive Book 2015 Image from page 450 of "Annual report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution" (1846). Flickr. Yahoo!, June 3
  3. The Holly Oak Pendant. Museum of Hoaxes.
  4. Griffin, James B., David J. Meltzer, Bruce D. Smith, and William C. Sturtevant 1988 A Mammoth Fraud in Science. American Antiquity 53(3): 578–582.
  5. Griffin, James B., David J. Meltzer, Bruce D. Smith, and William C. Sturtevant 1988 A Mammoth Fraud in Science. American Antiquity 53(3): 578–582.
  6. Kraft, J. C., and R. A. Thomas 1976 Early Man at Holly Oak, Delaware. Science 192(4241): 756–761.
  7. Kraft, J. C., and R. A. Thomas 1976 Early Man at Holly Oak, Delaware. Science 192(4241): 756–761.
  8. Kraft, J. C., and R. A. Thomas 1976 Early Man at Holly Oak, Delaware. Science 192(4241): 756–761.
  9. Griffin, James B., David J. Meltzer, Bruce D. Smith, and William C. Sturtevant 1988 A Mammoth Fraud in Science. American Antiquity 53(3): 578–582.
  10. Griffin, James B., David J. Meltzer, Bruce D. Smith, and William C. Sturtevant 1988 A Mammoth Fraud in Science. American Antiquity 53(3): 578–582.
  11. Griffin, James B., David J. Meltzer, Bruce D. Smith, and William C. Sturtevant 1988 A Mammoth Fraud in Science. American Antiquity 53(3): 578–582.
  12. 1989 Prehistoric cultures of the Delmarva Peninsula: an archaeological study. Choice Reviews Online 27(04).
  13. Sturtevant, W. C., and D. J. Meltzer 1985 The Holly Oak Pendant. Science 227(4684): 242–244.