Feature Articles – The Stone Head
A photograph of an enigmatic head in the Guatemalan jungle is one of those discoveries that quickly achieved notoriety, and equally fast disappeared from the radar. Still, further efforts should perhaps be made to further the cause of this enigma.
by Philip Coppens
Some archaeological findings appear and then soon afterwards disappear again, even though they generate tremendous interest at the time of their initial announcement. This was definitely the case for a gigantic stone head “somewhere in the jungle of Guatemala”. One of the first people to speak about this Guatemalan stone head was Dr. Oscar Rafael Padilla Lara, in 1987. Padilla was a doctor of philosophy, as well as a lawyer and notary – though many seem to mainly define him as a man interested in UFOs. With this known interest in the mysterious, on August 16, 1986, he received a photograph of a monolith located somewhere in the jungles of Guatemala. The photograph was taken in the 1950s by the owner of the land where the huge stone sculpture was located, but as he had died, Padilla had been unable to determine the exact location.
The story was first printed in the Ancient Astronaut Society newsletter Ancient Skies, in 1987. The article included the important photograph that sat the centre of the controversy. For controversial it was. The stone head had very fine features: thin lips, a large sharp nose, leaving an overall Caucasian interpretation. They eyes of the head were closed, though if they were open, they would be looking towards the sky. Its size is enormous, at least 30 feet, as can be calculated from the three men sitting on top and the car parked in front of the statue.
Some initial questions were posed: was the structure just a head, or was there a body underneath? Though unlikely, it could be. If therefore most likely “just” a head, was there a rapport with the stone torsos of Easter Island? That seemed unlikely, but was asked at the time – specifically given the audience that would read the report. Little else was reported about the discovery, were it not for one person. The small article was read by David Hatcher Childress, the travelling archaeologist who visited the various mysteries across the world, reporting on his travels in a series of “Mystery Travel books”. He set out on a quest to find it, and would print the results in his Lost Cities of North and Central America. Childress had a meeting with Padilla. Padilla said that he had shown the photograph to a relative, who said that the statue was located on property belonging to the Biener family, but was unsure of which property exactly. Padilla set out on a quest: “In order to find it, I went approximately 180 kilometers from the city, towards Las Victorias, Los Encuentros, Saint Felipe Retalhuleu, on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. From there, I followed a main road for 5 kilometers, then three 3 kilometers more on a road of battered earth (in dreadful conditions) and finally 5 kilometers on foot, through the jungle.” The site was La Democracia, supporting the original account.
What should have been a joyous occassion, was one of despair. Padilla said that the statue had been destroyed: “It was destroyed by revolutionaries about ten years ago. We had located the statue too late. It was used as target practice by anti-government rebels. This totally disfigured it, sort of like the way the Sphinx in Egypt had its nose shot off by the Turks, only worse.” The eyes, nose and mouth had completely gone. No doubt, the fact that the head had been carved from soft sandstone did not help; it had helped to make this face very smooth, but also very brittle. Padilla was able to measure its height as between 4 and 6 metres, with the head resting on a neck.
On June 6, 1991, Paddila wrote to me, stating: “indeed that group of explorers under the leadership of David Hatcher Childress were here in Guatemala. Before their arrival they came in contact with me, and when they arrived in the country I gave them the information they requested regarding how to reach the different places which they planned to visit, as well as some photographs and other material on the subject. I was unable to accompany them due to my occupations. I have located it [the stone head] and seen it, but it is found in a place difficult to reach, and at present it is a dangerous place because there have been armed attacks between government forces of this country and subversive forces, which have destroyed it completely; although it is 10 kilometers away from a small village.”
This destruction meant that the story died, for no special trophies were at the end of the road. Still – and unfortunately – the sad fact that the head had been destroyed, should not have stopped the debate about the head itself – which remains a true anomaly. And even though largely disfigured, archaeologists could still have attempted to retrieve vital data from the site – perhaps almost thirty years post the destruction, this is still possible. David Hatcher Childress The head is – so far – unique. Still, it sits near La Democracia, which is a town that is famous for its twelve stone heads, though these are nothing like “Padilla’s stone head”. The stone heads in La Democracia are situated in a ring around the main plaza and are carved from large boulders. They depict pot-bellied human figures, many with flat faces staring skyward. They are typically Olmec in appearance and origin – and that is a style that is far removed from the graceful lines that delineate the Padilla head.
The ancient Olmec civilization predated the Maya and is believed to be the first to erect pyramids in Mesoamerica. The heads were gathered from the nearby site of Monte Alto, considered one of the oldest settlements in the American Continent (mid Pre-classic period, 1800 BC to 250 AD). Still, in execution, the Padilla head is totally akin to the Olmec civilisation. The Olmecs of La Venta are known to have erected huge sculptures, some of these weighing up to 40 tonnes – the Padilla head most likely weighs more. Like the Padilla head, the Olmecs largely “just” carved stone heads, but their style is different – more abstract.
So we are left with some questions. Though the Olmec possessed the ability, stylistically, the Padilla head does not fit in this classification. The next question is therefore whether the Padilla head is an anomaly of the Olmec period, or whether it is part of another – unknown – culture that predated or post-dated the Olmecs, and whose only artefact identified so far is the Padilla head.
In the absence of future discoveries, the Padilla head should logically be dated to the Olmec period, and seen as an atypical work of art for the Olmec civilisation. But if this is the case, why? And is the stone head a standalone feature, or is it, like the Sphinx, merely part of a larger complex, waiting to be discovered? Only the future will tell… and perhaps the initial disappointment of its disfigurement may still give rise to joy.