During the late 1800s, a multitude of strange artifacts were unearthed in Michigan. Written in ancient scripts from around the world, they told of a civilization predating Columbus. Are these relics a lost piece of history, or part of an elaborate hoax?
In 1890, sign painter James Scotford was digging a posthole in central Michigan when he uncovered a clay cup with mysterious symbols on it. Within a few days more objects, including elaborately carved tablets, were found. All had similar markings that looked vaguely like cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphs. Were these relics fakes, or were they evidence that ancient Near Eastern people had lived in Michigan?
In the late 1800s, the public was fascinated by the mystery of Midwestern mounds. Many believed they were created by ancient settlers from Europe or the Near East. The Michigan Relics were heralded as proof of this lost civilization, even though a government-funded study, published shortly after the discovery of the objects, clearly demonstrated that American Indians built the mounds.
Within a year of their discovery, the Michigan Relics were denounced as forgeries by leading experts on the ancient Near East. One scholar called them “humbugs of the first water”; another, deeply unimpressed by the quality of the forgeries, said they were “remarkable only for their clumsy character.” In spite of statements like these, highly respected clergymen were intrigued by the images depicted on the tablets, which were reminiscent of biblical scenes. In the end, however, all emphatically concluded that the whole episode was nothing but “a story of forgeries and deception.”
Out of Place Artifacts, The Michigan Tablets
Lisa Young, “Museums: Michigan’s Mystery Relics”, Archaeology Archive, Volume 57 Number 3, May/June 2004