The story behind the letter below is that there is a man in
Newport, RI named Scott Williams who digs things out of his backyard
and sends the stuff he finds to the Smithsonian Institute, labeling
them with scientific names, insisting that they are actual archaeological
finds. This guy really exists and really does this in his spare
Anyway ... here's the actual response from the Smithsonian
Institution. Keep this in mind the next time you think you are
challenged in responding to a difficult situation in writing.
Smithsonian Institute 207 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20078
Dear Mr. Williams:
Thank you for your latest submission to the Institute, labeled
"93211-D, layer seven, next to the clothesline post...Hominid
skull." We have given this specimen a careful and detailed
examination, and regret to inform you that we disagree with
your theory that it represents conclusive proof of the presence
of Early Man in Charleston County two million years ago.
Rather, it appears that what you have found is the head of a
Barbie doll, of the variety that one of our staff, who has small
children, believes to be "Malibu Barbie." It is evident
that you have given a great deal of thought to the analysis
of this specimen, and you may be quite certain that those of
us who are familiar with your prior work in the field were loathe
to come to contradiction with your findings. However, we do
feel that there are a number of physical attributes of
the specimen which might have tipped you off to its modern origin:
1. The material is molded plastic.
Ancient hominid remains are typically fossilized bone.
2. The cranial capacity of the
specimen is approximately 9 cubic centimeters, well below the
threshold of even the earliest identified proto-hominids.
3. The dentition pattern evident on the skull is more consistent
with the common domesticated dog than it is with the ravenous
man-eating Pliocene clams you speculate roamed the wetlands
during that time.
This latter finding is certainly one of the most intriguing
hypotheses you have submitted in your history with this institution,
but the evidence seems to weigh rather heavily against it. Without
going into too much detail, let us say that:
A. The specimen looks like the
head of a Barbie doll that a dog has chewed on.
B. Clams don't have teeth.
It is with feelings tinged with melancholy that we must
deny your request to have the specimen carbon dated. This is
partially due to the heavy load our lab must bear in its normal
operation, and partly due to carbon dating's notorious inaccuracy
in fossils of recent geologic record. To the best of our knowledge,
no Barbie dolls were produced prior to 1956 AD, and carbon dating
is likely to produce wildly inaccurate results.
Sadly, we must also deny your request that we approach the
National Science Foundation Phylogeny Department with the concept
of assigning your specimen the scientific name Australopithecus
spiff-arino. Speaking personally, I, for one, fought tenaciously
for the acceptance of your proposed taxonomy, but was
ultimately voted down because the species name you selected
was hyphenated, and didn't really sound like it might be Latin.
However, we gladly accept your generous donation of this
fascinating specimen to the museum. While it is undoubtedly
not a Hominid fossil, it is, nonetheless, yet another riveting
example of the great body of work you seem to accumulate here
You should know that our Director has reserved a special
shelf in his own office for the display of the specimens you
have previously submitted to the Institution, and the
entire staff speculates daily on what you will happen upon next
in your digs at the site you have discovered in your Newport
We eagerly anticipate your trip to our nation's capital
that you proposed in your last letter, and several of us are
pressing the Director to pay for it.
We are particularly interested in hearing you expand on
your theories surrounding the trans-positating fillifitation
of ferrous metal in a structural matrix that makes the excellent
juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex femur you recently discovered take
on the deceptive appearance of a rusty 9 mm Sears Craftsman
automotive crescent wrench.
Yours in Science, Harvey Rowe Chief Curator-Antiquities