Bibliography Texts

The Great Inca at Floreana

John Woram

NOTE:This page not yet finished, pending a bit more research.

Excerpts from Margret Wittmer's Floreana Adventure are displayed below on a  lighter background .

Up near the so-called “Pirate Caves” in the highlands of Isla Floreana, one can find a face carved into one of the stone outcroppings. Over the years there have been at least several explanations, such as the claim that it . . .:

All are great legends, but none bear any resemblance to reality. To quickly dispose of the final two, and more absurd, claims …

The Diving the Galapagos website states of the stone face (para. 6), that it

… was revealed to Heyerdahl that the ‘find’ had been nothing more than a youthful joke at his expense.

The legend is enhanced a bit on the website, where a photo of the stone face is followed by:

According to folklore this ancient-looking carving on Floreana Island was created by Rolf Wittmer as a practical joke upon Norwegian anthropologist, Thor Heyerdahl in 1953. Rolf claimed it to be proof of pre-Incan culture. Eventually the ruse was revealed and Heyerdahl left the Galapagos, never to return.

Of course, Heyerdahl eventually did leave Galápagos but, according to the “Galapagos Expedition 1952”page at the Kon-Tiki Museum website (Oslo, Norway), not before spending some two months (specifically, 19 January to 18 March, 1953), making extended visits to four sites on three islands (Floreana, San Salvador, Santa Cruz), with additional time in mainland Ecuador. And as we shall discover later on, the face was carved years before his arrival—hardly “a youthful joke at his expense”—and of course the Wittmers had no advance notice of his visit until one day he just “showed up” at their doorstep.

As for the pirates, we have this bit of nonsense from anthropologist Leslie Cohen (“Pirates in the Galapagos” section; caption under a photo of the stone face):

Pirates constructed huge stone monuments in order to scare off any potential “visitors.”

Needless to say, any potential visitors who would be scared off the island by this harmless bit of stone work would no doubt be laughed off the island instead.

And now to get a bit closer to the truth, we need look no further than Margret Wittmer's account. However, she does leave a few questions unanswered, and the rest of this page takes a shot at those answers.

To begin, a ship arrived at Black Beach at the end of January, 1953, bringing with it a distinguished visitor and some 50+ crates of who-knows-what? The visitor was Thor Heyerdahl, who with his colleagues Arne Skjölsvold § and Erik K. Reed promptly called on the Wittmer family to see what they might know about an earlier visitor.

§ Spelled Skjölsvold in Heyerdahl & Skjölsvold paper, in Margret Wittmer's Floreana Adventure (p. 211), but Skjølsvold almost everywhere else. The latter is presumed to be correct.

Years later, Margret Wittmer recalled the visit and Heyerdahl's first question:

‘What about a face carved in stone?’ asked Heyerdahl. ‘Surely there's something of that sort. I remember seeing a photograph of it four or five years ago, and all the archaeologists got very excited about it. Do you know the thing I mean?’

Heinz had sat up with a start. ‘Well,’ he said thoughfully, ‘there is a stone face by the spring near our old farm.’ He gave me a slight wink, unnoticed by Heyerdahl and the others. ‘Tell us more about it from your end, then I'll tell you the little I know.’

‘All right,’ said Heyerdahl, ‘it was quite a sensation at the time. It started with Captain Phillips Lord, who was here in 1948.’

‘Yes,’ I [Margret] said, ‘he's an old friend of ours. I believe that was the year he last came.§

§ Margret is apparently mistaken: Phillips Lord was at Isla Floreana only once, in November, 1934. In What Happened in Galápagos?, Heinz Wittmer states that Lord visited them on November 6. See Who Was the Wittmer's “Old Friend?” below for more details.

‘Well, he gave a lecture in New York about his trip, during which he showed a photograph of a huge stone face which he claimed to have taken on your farm. I was in New York at the time and attended that lecture myself. I can vividly remember a professor of archaeology jumping up and calling out: “That picture couldn't have come from the Galapagos, it must be from Easter Island.” Phillips Lord said he'd never even been to Easter Island, and the professor said nothing of the kind had ever been found on any of the Galapagos Islands. This had the archaeologists wrangling furiously for weeks, and I really don't know why nobody came to check up on the spot. But I've always been pretty convinced there were Inca remains on the Galapagos Islands, hence my trip here now. So now let's hear what you know about this stone face.’

The whole Wittmer family looked at each other. A wide grin spread over four faces.

‘I suppose it's my fault,’ Rolf said eventually. ‘You tell them, Mutti.’§

§ In German, diminutive form of Mutter (mother).

‘It was like this,’ I began, rather sheepishly now. ‘Captain Lord discovered the stone face and photographed it from all sides. Rolf was with him, and afterwards he asked Rolf various questions.’

‘He asked if the stone was there before we came to the island,’ Rolf interjected, ‘and I said, yes it was. We've always had plenty of stone, or stones rather. You see my English wasn't so good then.’

‘Rolf told us about the question afterwards,’ said Heinz, ‘and we thought it a bit odd, but of course he answered correctly.’

Heyerdahl turned to Heinz eagerly. ‘I can't wait to see that stone face. Let's go and find out how old it may be.’

Heinz shook his head. ‘I can tell you that now: about ten years, quite modern … I'm afraid I did it myself.§

§ Heyerdahl/Skjölsvold visited the Wittmers in January, 1953, which means Heinz carved the face ca. 1943, when Rolf was 10 years old. As noted above, Phillips Lord was at Floreana in 1934, about 9 years before Heinz did the work. This suggests that both Heyerdahl and Wittmer were mistaken about Phillips Lord. Perhaps some other visitor saw the stone face and brought news of its existence back to New York.

‘I was showing Rolf how to sculpt, and I carved that face in tufa. I suppose it came off better than I expected, and then by the time Lord saw and photographed it, it had crumbled a bit and was all overgrown with moss. I can see how somebody might have thought it had been there for centuries. I meant no deception, of course, and you can't blame Lord for getting excited at having discovered a lost masterpiece of prehistoric sculpture. We knew about the senstation it caused, only I must say I feel very guilty now … .’ But he could not keep the smile off his face, nor could the rest of us.

Heyerdahl, Skjölsvold and Reed gazed at him for a moment, then with one accord burst into roars of laughter. ‘What a masterpiece!’ exclaimed Heyerdahl. ‘We must certainly celebrate, eh, Arne?’

‘I'll say we must,’ said Skjölsvold. ‘shall I open up that crate?’

One of the fifty crates was opened, and we drank to the stone face carved by ‘Homo Wittmerensis,’ together with the hope that the party would find some true Inca remains somewhere else on the islands.

When Heyerdahl and Skjölsvold published their 71-page Archaeological Evidence of Pre-Spanish Visits to the Galápagos Islands in 1956, the above became a one-liner (p. 12):

A stone head reported from the interior of Floreana (Orcutt 1953) proved to be the product of a modern German settler who had added human traits to a naturally eroded rock.

The Orcutt citation refers to the following notice in American Antiquity, Volume XVIII, No. 3, p. 270, January 1953:

A Stone Carving on the Galapagos

A stone face about 2 m. high was observed and photographed on Floriana [sic, Floreana] (Charles) Island in the Galapagos by Philip [sic, Phillips] H. Lord while on a cruise in February, 1949. The face was reported as being at an elevation of between 300 and 400 meters at which altitude potable water occurs. Within 100 meters is a small cave containing marine shells, whether naturally occurring or transported not being determined. The face is covered with lichen which may provide a further clue to its antiquity.

During the historic period a number of whalers have been marooned on Floriana Island which is currently inhabited. The Galapagos are volcanic islands of Quarternary — Miocene age.§ Floriana Island is chiefly andesite and basaltic flows, somewhat harder than whalers' scrimshaw.

§ Quarternary: 2.588 million years ago to present. Miocene: 23.03 to 5.333 million years ago. According to Galapagos Geomorphology: A Walk Through the Islands, the actual ages of the islands range from ¾ to 4.2 million years, with Floreana at ¾ to 1.5 million years.

No other evidence of possible aboriginal inhabitation of the Galapagos has been reported. Figure 92 is made from a photograph taken by Philip H. Lord.

P. D. Orcutt
Peabody Museum
Harvard University

Fig. 92. Effigy head from Galapagos [Rolf Wittmer at left].

From the above, apparently Heyerdahl read Orcutt's notice prior to his visit to Floreana, and given that his Galápagos arrival and Orcutt's publication date were the same; January, 1953; he must have seen the paper on the eve of his departure. To indulge in some guesswork, perhaps he didn't recall the name of the speaker he'd heard some years earlier, and therefore had no reason to question Orcutt's attribution of the photo to Phillips Lord. But in any case, something isn't quite right here: Lord visited Floreana in November, 1934 and returned to the United States after his ship Seth Parker was severely damaged in April, 1935. At the time of his visit to the Wittmers, their son Rolf was not yet two years old, yet he appears to be in his mid teens in the photo. Although in context, the Wittmer response to Heyerdahl implies that Lord visited Floreana more than once, there is no record of him ever returning to Galápagos. Also, Orcutt cited a February, 1949 cruise, while Heyerdahl mentioned 1948.

Putting aside the minor 1948-49 dating discrepancy, it's puzzling that the Wittmers simply “went along” with Orcutt/Heyerdahl's mistaken assumption that Lord was there more than a decade after his actual visit.

Well then, if the “photograph taken by Philip H. Lord” was not in fact taken by him, who did take it? And how did it come into Orcutt's hands? And finally, how did Phillips Lord enter the picture?

The Society for American Archaeology was contacted on the possibility that the American Antiquity citation was attributed to Phillips Lord in error. However, notwithstanding a “we'd love to hear from you” note on their website, the Society ignores telephone and e-mail inquiries, perhaps for understandable reasons: the journal containing Orcutt's notice states:

Upon publication, manuscripts, illustrations, and engravings will be destroyed unless their return has been specifically requested.

An interesting, if depressing, example of an archaelogical society willfully destroying its own artifacts.

Who Was the Wittmer's “Old Friend?”

Irving and Electa Johnson visited Floreana “at the end of 1947” on their schooner Yankee (Wittmer, p. 195):

It was good to see the Johnsons again at the end of 1947, on the fourth cruise of the Yankee round the seven seas.

After several earlier visits, Irving was certainly an “old friend,” and was known to have given numerous lectures about his voyages. So it's not unlikely that he made a presentation in New York after this voyage, and mentioned the stone head. What is unlikely though is that he would have seen the carving yet not have heard an explanation from Heinz.