On a terrace of the Trinity River near Malakoff in Henderson County, a mystery in Texas archeology began in the 1930s. In 1929 the first of three apparently carved stone heads was claimed to have been found deeply buried in a gravel deposit near Malakoff by quarry workers. Head number one was inspected by the geologist Elias H. Sellards, who believed it to be authentic. Head number two, reported in 1935, inspired Glen Evans of the University of Texas to undertake excavations with the hope of finding more such artifacts in place. In November 1939 head number three was found in situ by the UT-WPA excavation team. Since then, no other heads or related material have been located in the area despite intensive archeological surveys of the vicinity. Several similar finds, however, have been reported from other parts of Texas and northern Mexico. In general, though, the other finds appear to be relatively recently carved.
Opinions regarding the Malakoff finds have been extremely diverse. Sellards was convinced of their authenticity, as was Evans and his collaborator, George Shafer. Sellards caused controversy by arguing that head number one had come from an Eocene geological formation dating from 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. This date was considered very ancient in the 1930s and would still predate the first-known occupation of the continent by the people we now call Paleo-Indians. More recent geological work in the area, though, indicates that the deposit is Late Pleistocene in nature, an adjustment that placed the heads in the same general period as the Paleo-Indians. Those who now accept the finds as authentic tend to accept the Paleo-Indian association as well. Some commentators, however, place the finds in the Archaic period, 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, based upon their vague similarity to the well-known Colossal Heads of the Veracruz area made by craftsmen of the Olmec civilization. However, the similarity is limited to the presence of facial features, not by any stylistic similarities.
Detractors of the authenticity of the finds are numerous. Most archeologists either simply ignore Malakoff Man or consider the issue to be a matter of opinion. Several scholars have expressed serious doubts about whether head number three is even manmade. Without a doubt, it is the least convincing of the three. Further, a recent examination of heads number one and three resulted in the agreement that head number three was simply a geological peculiarity. More importantly, evidence indicates that modern metal tools were used to carve head number one and that it is a modern product. Head number two was not examined, so its status remains ambiguous. Though Malakoff Man has been largely discredited, for many years the Malakoff finds occupied a colorful corner in the archeology of Texas.