Claim: The Smithsonian sent a rejection letter in response to an amateur paleontologist’s submission of a Malibu Barbie head as a prehistoric find.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1995]
207 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20078
Thank you for your latest submission to the Institute, labeled
- 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 it’s 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
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 so effortlessly. 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 back yard. 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 ions in a structural matrix” that makes the excellent juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex femur you recently discovered take on the deceptive appearance of a rusty
Yours in Science,
Origins: This tongue-in-cheek “letter” has been entertaining netizens since 1994.
A story that good should be true. But it’s not.
This piece is naught but a charming bit of humorous fiction. None of the details check out. Harvey Rowe of the Smithsonian doesn’t exist. (Which is indeed our loss. What a talent for gentle sarcasm!) Moreover, the Smithsonian doesn’t have an antiquities department.
If you call up and ask to speak to the mythical Harvey Rowe, the operator will put you through either to Anthropology or the Smithsonian’s
public affairs officer. Either way, you’ll be greeted with “There’s nobody here by that name.” You won’t be the first such caller, either. Far from it, the Smithsonian is heartily sick of being asked about Harvey Rowe.
There’s also no hopeful backyard paleontologist busily excavating the land around his clothesline and implacably sending specimen after bogus specimen off to the Smithsonian. That too is fabrication.
There is a Harvey Rowe, but not of the Smithsonian. In the spring of 1994, while a graduate student at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston, Harvey Rowe wrote what has become known as the “Smithsonian Barbie” letter. In a fit of creativity, he tossed off this imagined response to a backyard digger, then shared his writing effort with a small circle of friends. One of those friends sent the piece to others, and thus Smithsonian Barbie entered into the world of
Barbara “dig it!” Mikkelson
Last updated: 31 July 2014
Harden, Mike. “Call Off Search for Guy Who Finds Back-Yard Fossils.” The Columbus Dispatch. 3 February 1997 (p. B1). Martin, Claire. “Rejection Letter from ‘Smithsonian’ an Urban Myth.” The Denver Post. 14 October 1997 (p. E1). Roeper, Richard. Urban Legends. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 1999. ISBN 1-56414-418-6 (pp. 31-33).