The mystery of Malakoff Man is an ambiguous but intriguing tale.
Three "colossal heads," with what appear to be facial features, eyes, ears, noses and mouths, were found amid a world intrigued with recently found Olmec civilization (900-600 B.C.) heads. There is no geometric, geological or stylistic similarities between those found in Mexico at the turn of the 20th century and those found near Malakoff but it didn't quell fascination with the possibility early man had carved the stones.
"Were the stones authentic or a hoax?" was the question.
Quarry workers found the Malakoff heads in Trinity River bottom gravel deposits near the town between 1929 and 1939.
Glen Evans, an archeologist with the University of Texas at the time, gave legitimacy to claims the heads were authentic. He believed the Sandstone concretions were the work of early Paleo-Indians and possibly up to 50,000 years old, well before any known early humans were known to have made their way to the area.
Early professional opinions differed about the age of the deposit and the heads themselves. An extensive archeological survey by Southern Methodist University staff and students was done before the area was flooded and became Cedar Creek Lake. But no other carved stones were found.
The prehistoric lore is one Malakoff residents have perpetuated since their discovery.
In April, Lyn Dunsavage, the president of the Greater Malakoff Area Garden Club, brought the Malakoff heads to the attention of a Tyler Morning Telegraph reporter covering world-renowned Malakoff sculptor James Surls.
Ms. Dunsavage had heard about the heads since her childhood. The heads were a local phenomenon that brought attention to the town and there was a sense of pride in the way she told the story, which tied in well, at the time, with the prehistory of sculpting in Malakoff.
Malakoff Chamber of Commerce Director Pat Isaacson believes the carved heads are authentic but said, whether fact or folklore, the Malakoff Man heads have secured a place in history.
"They're most definitely real," she said. "All three have facial features and archeologists who were there at the time determined they were real."
Three casts of the original heads are on display at the chamber building for visitors. Two of the heads are stored at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. One of the heads was given to Navarro College, near Corsicana.
In 1967, the state of Texas dedicated a historical marker to identify the area where the heads were located.
Laura Nightengale, head of collections at the research laboratory, said the carvings come up in conversation often. A popular opinion among professionals is that they are not real, but enough doubt surrounds the finds to fuel belief, she said.
"It's a great mystery," she said. "Glen Evans, a good archeologist ,found No. 3 and that lends weight to the argument."
Ms. Nightengale said humans have been fascinated with themselves for millennia and carved stone images personify their fascination.
But skepticism persists.
University of Texas at Tyler Associate Professor of Archeology Tom Guderjan was one of the last professionals to study the stone carvings. In 1991, after using modern methods to verify or debunk the heads' authenticity, he published his assessment.
"They're frauds," he said. "The second and third heads were fabricated using modern screwdrivers."
Guderjan said the gravel pit where they were found is more than 12,000-years-old, which predates all scientifically known early humans in the area. He said quarry workers likely carved head No. 2 and No. 3 and that No. 1 may be a formation with features that could be perceived as a face.
"I have people bring rocks to me all the time saying, ‘Does this look like a face?' and I say, ‘Maybe after a bottle of wine.'"
Mrs. Isaacson said even if professionals prove, without a doubt, the Malakoff heads are a hoax, the story has been and will continue to be a great conversation piece associated with the town. She said if the story is debunked, another mystery is created.
"We'll still be proud of them," she said. "It would give us an excuse for a whole new search to find out what they really were and who was responsible for them."
Mrs. Isaacson said town officials have approached a state legislator to petition for the return of the two heads housed at the research laboratory.
The casts of the stones can be viewed at the Malakoff Historical Society and Museum/Chamber of Commerce, 207 E. Main St., open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.