Buried Treasure: The Minaret Skull

by Matt M.

Bones or bone fragments of bigfoots (Gigantopithecine?) may have been discovered in North America in the past, but simply not recognized as representing something other than human remains. One sticky catch-22 in the field of anthropology lay in the barriers of classification. Anthropologists have always professed that only one anthropoid species has ever existed in North America. Therefore, any bone fragments short of a complete bigfoot skeleton, skull or mandible would have trouble escaping this narrow classification.

The "Minaret Skull" mystery (discussed in Slate and Berry's Bigfoot (Bantam Books, 1976)) could be an example of this misidentification scenario. The upshot to the Minaret Skull mystery is that this large, possibily non-human anthropoid bone (unearthed in the Minarets Range of California's Sierra Nevada Mountains) probably still sits among the stored collections of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). If pulled out of storage it could prove to be the physical evidence for bigfoots/sasquatches sought for so long by so many.


The story of Minaret Skull begins in 1965, on an August day in California's Sierra Nevada Range. Dr. Robert W. Denton, a retired physician from nearby Bishop, was alone on a backpacking trip on the North Fork of the San Joaquin River. As he approached the foot-bridge at Hemlock Crossing, he came upon a lone, Mexican farm worker straining to pull a mule out of a muddy bog near the river bank. As the tethered mule kicked and struggled in the mud it unearthed what, at first, appeared to be a large, bowl-shaped stone. The mule packer motioned and directed Dr. Denton toward the object. Upon closer examination, Dr. Denton realized the object was a human-like skull bone.

Denton brought the specimen back to Bishop, then forwarded it to Dr. Gerald K. Ridge, a pathologist at Ventura County General Hospital. Dr. Ridge replied to Dr. Denton in a letter stating he believed the specimen, a calvarium (the top and rear of a skull), must belong to "some anthropoid species other than human" due to its size and a pronounced development on the skull which is more common among apes. The county pathologist wanted a second opinion so he brought the specimen to the Department of Anthropology at UCLA.

Two professors of physical anthropology, Dr. Herman Bleibtreu and Dr. Jack Prost, examined the skull and agreed they had never before seen anything quite like it. They concluded, however, the specimen must be the skull of a "young, ancient Indian male". After offering their interpretations they requested directions to the discovery site. Dr. Ridge promised to obtain a map of the location and went so far as to entrust possession of the calvarium to Dr. Bleibtreu and the Department. Dr. Ridge received a receipt for the transfer.

Eight years later, in 1973, author/journalist Alan Berry met Dr. Denton while exploring the Sierra. Berry told Dr. Denton he was gathering information for a book about bigfoots. Dr.Denton recounted the story about finding the unusual skull and sending it to his colleague in Ventura. He told Berry the last communication concerning the bone was a request for a map showing directions to the discovery site. Dr.Denton sent a marked map to Dr. Ridge in December of 1965.

Berry contacted Dr. Ridge, Dr. Bleibtreu, Dr. Prost, and the UCLA Department of Anthropology. His hope was to retrieve the calvarium and have it reexamined At UCLA. He learned that not only had the calvarium been forgotten, but the department had no record of receiving such an item. Bleibtreu, then teaching at the University of Arizona, had no recollection of the specimen. Berry informed Bleibtreu that Dr. Ridge still had the receipt from the Department. This stimulated Bleibtreu's memory enough for him to remember the Department receiving and accessioning the unusual calvarium in mid-1965. A student technician in the Department of Anthropology claimed to have searched for the missing bone following Berry's repeated requests, but with no success.

I was attending UCLA in 1988 when I first read about the Minaret Skull. I decided to look into the matter myself and began researching the museum records. The museum records are in the form of large, heavy catalogs. The catalog entries consist of a long series of numbers and letters for each individual bone and artifact, similar to a string of three entire car license plate numbers separated with hyphens. These entries are arranged in chronological order with no other notations or comments such as "gigantic calvarium".

The museum constantly receives items from all over the world. A lone piece of bone with no other companion bones or excavation information would not be cataloged the same way and would be difficult to track down through the records. Needless to say, it would be a daunting task to unpackage and check every listed item falling into the correct time frame.

Circumstances suggest that the student technician could not have searched the records or collections as thoroughly as he led Alan Berry to believe. He never asked for a more detailed description of the item or a more specific date. He also suggested that Dr. Prost may have taken it with him when he left UCLA. Dr. Prost later said he had absolutely no recollection of the calvarium and there was absolutely no possibility he took it with him.

A friend of mine who was a grad student in the History Department had worked in the off-campus museum annex building -- a large warehouse in Chatsworth (San Fernando Valley) -- during the summer of 1988. He said there were mountains of old crates and boxes in there which had accumulated over the years. He thought there was a good chance the calvarium was still in the annex because, as he explained, "the museum never throws anything away."


Dr. Ridge's letter to Dr. Denton in 1965 contains the only detailed description of the item : "...a rather interesting specimen largely by virtue of the unusual length of the skull as well as a very unusual development of the nuchal ridge in the occipital zone. This latter fact for a time had me thinking this must be the skull of some anthropoid species other than human, inasmuch as this amount of nuchal ridge development had not been observed by me."

The nuchal ridge, or its equivalent in certain higher primates, serves as an anchor for neck and jaw muscles. A developed nuchal ridge in the occipital zone would form as a response to powerful neck muscles, and to a lesser degree from very powerful jaw muscles. When I inquired what "an unusual development of the nuchal ridge in the occipital zone" might indicate, then current UCLA anthropology Professor Ted Rasmusen explained: "A pre-1950's Japanese man would not have much of a nuchal ridge, but Arnold Schwartzenegger would have a heck of a nuchal ridge."

Bleibtreu and Prost, two highly experienced physical anthropologists, stated they had never before seen the type of nuchal ridge development observed in the Minaret Skull. Further statements indicate the specimen was damaged on the surface and edges. Bleibtreu and Prost believed the skull damage was post-mortem and probably due to usage as a hand-tool.

They were quick to conclude the specimen belonged to a "young, ancient Indian male." Dr. Ridge (a county hospital pathologist who had examined thousands of skulls of modern American adults) observed the skull to be significantly bigger than modern human skulls. Dr. Ridge later repeated his impression of the specimen being "a rather massive piece of bone of peculiar shaping".

According to Professor Rasmusen, "Modern humans are larger than ancient Indians because our diets are well balanced and richer in calories. It's possible for an ancient Indian to have a skull larger than a modern, six-foot tall, Anglo Saxon male, but it's uncommon ... not unknown, but very uncommon." The conclusion in 1965 by the other anthropologists, that this "massive" calvarium belonged to "a young ancient Indian male," was offered with no explanation.

The skull may have revealed physical characteristics indicative of a young individual, an ancient individual, and a male individual, but why "Indian" ..? Professor Rasmusen said that one would be hard pressed to make an educated guess concerning the race of an individual with nothing more than a calvarium as a guide. Interpretations of race are normally determined from facial bones and teeth -- not the back of the skull.

It is highly probable that Dr. Ridge's statements to the professors concerning the location of the discovery site (Sierra National Forest, Fresno County, California) greatly overshadowed, if not solely determined, the anthropologists' conclusions. "Indians" are the only anthropoids "known" to have lived and died in that area, so Indian was the only available category for the specimen. When Berry contacted Dr.Bleibtreu, the anthropologist noted, "One of the problems [he]and Prost originally had in identifying the specimen was that, while they felt it must be aboriginal, it didn't fit any of the known populations of that area."

After further telephone conversations with Alan Berry, Dr.Bleibtreu became interested and wanted another chance to examine the calvarium, but could offer no further assistance in finding it.


After examining all of the available data myself, seeing the facilities where the calvarium disappeared, and speaking with different members of the museum staff, it seems most likely that the Minaret Skull is still in the annex building in Chatsworth, California. Convincing University officials to permit a search would be difficult. A grad level student or instructor would have to obtain permission for an exhaustive, systematic search. A selective search for the skull would be a frustrating operation due to the cryptic style of the museum records, but an exhaustive, systematic search of the entire collection would probably yield the skull.



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