|Fiction over fact|
|How it didn't happen|
The Tucson artifacts, also known as the Silverbell Road artifacts, were discovered between 1924 and 1930 in Arizona, and were the apparent relics of a lost Judeo-Christian Roman colony in North America, self-dating to around 800 "AD". This makes them unusual among alleged out-of-place artifacts in that the dating is incompatible not only with the timeline proposed by mainstream geology and history, but with that of Biblical creationism and flood geology as well. If the Tucson artifacts are the real deal, then everybody's got it wrong. Perhaps for this reason, creationists tend to leave out this particular "OOPArt" from lists that include most of the others as proof that science has got it wrong, even if they're equally as dubious in origin.
All but one of the 32 Tucson finds are made of lead, the other being a slab of inscribed caliche (the type of sedimentary rock in which they were found). Many of the finds are crosses or other presumed ceremonial objects, but there are also lead swords, one with a Diplodocus etched onto it.
No associated evidence of human occupation, such as pottery, structures, human remains, earthworks or middens, has been found. But, crude and anachronistic as they appeared to be, the finds also appeared to come from a sealed geological context, and thus to merit proper scientific investigation.
The story goes that Charles Manier discovered a large, crude cross made of lead, partially buried, in a location northwest of Tucson, Arizona. Cleaning revealed that he had in fact found two crosses, riveted together. Professor F. Fowler, then Head of the Department of Classical Languages at the University of Arizona, examined the crosses and translated a Latin inscription as, "Calalus, the unknown land". Further items were then discovered at the same site, many of the finds either witnessed or physically removed by a variety of individuals besides Manier himself.
The Tucson finds apparently offered rich details of the "Calalus" colonists, their history, and their conflicts with a people called the "Toltezus", as well as precise dating evidence. With rare exceptions, archaeology generally deals more in middens, smudges in dirt and corroded coins than in evocative, detailed time-capsules and sensational rewritings of history. If it looks too good to be true then extra scrutiny is warranted. But to balance the suspicious convenience of the inscriptions, the archaeological deposit was apparently found in a sealed geological context, challenging any claim of a hoax to "prove it".
Jason Colavito, following the airing of the America Unearthed episode "The Desert Cross", which attempted to shoehorn the Tucson finds into Scott Wolter's unified conspiracy theory, and succeeded by leaving out almost all of the facts, posted an explanation of the doubly anachronistic diplodocus, with a very good photograph of the sword detail, and comparisons to early 20th century interpretations of dinosaurs.
The text inscriptions were of particular concern, assuming that you made it past the diplodocus. Some of the inscriptions are in Hebrew, some in Latin. Professor Fowler arrived at the conclusion that the Latin inscriptions resembled or were identical to quotations from the standard Latin primers available locally in the early 20th century.
Professor David Killick of the University of Arizona, a widely-published expert in Archaeometallurgy, claims to have conducted an electron microprobe examination of the lead artifacts, which showed that they contained 2-3% antimony, consistent with early 20th century lead battery anodes (where it was added to prevent metal deformation) but not with lead of the supposed period of the settlement.
Most experts unassociated with the excitement in Tucson were unconvinced by what they were shown. The finds were declared to be fakes by Dr. B. Dean of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and by Harvard University archaeologist George Valiant. Neil M. Judd, curator of the National Museum at the Smithsonian Institution, also declared the objects to be fakes, and further opined that they were the work of "some mentally incompetent individual with a flair for old Latin and the wars of antiquity."
While the balance of probability was strongly in favour of a hoax, given the Latin plagiarism, the crudeness of the objects, the anomalous "AD" dating and the depiction on one of the finds of a recently-discovered dinosaur, the evidence of the geological context was difficult to ignore.
Even allowing for the fact that caliche can form in a very short period of time, or be manmade within a matter of days, the scale of the hoax is worth considering. Eye-witnesses describe the finds being removed from a working face some 50-60cm below the ground level; this was not a case of someone digging a hole and spreading a few fake items around before backfilling. Caliche forms a distinctive, sealed layer, rather like concrete. In the absence of visible disturbance, the integrity of archaeological deposits in or beneath such a layer may be reasonably assumed. To recreate the effect on a large scale would be a large undertaking.
Marshall Payn takes a different view, and offers a possible method for the hoax that is considerably less elaborate. He concludes that the objects were individually encased in manmade caliche before being inserted into the worked face of the excavation, in secret, while witnesses were absent.
The issue of the caliche is where the plausibility of the Tucson artifacts can be tested with a practical, repeatable experiment. Geologist James Quinlan examined the site of the finds. He, along with an archaeologist and a paleontologist, found the geology to be Pleistocene — that means a minimum of 10,000 years old, and up to 2 million years old. Roman artifacts self-dating from 800-900 CE clearly could not have been naturally present in this much older sedimentary deposit. So how had they come to be sealed in a caliche?
The site of the Tucson finds was a disused lime kiln. Using some purchased quick-lime similar to that produced at the kiln, and some water mixed with soil and stones, Quinlan easily demonstrated that a lead object could be deposited and set into manufactured caliche within two days.
Woo and pet theories
Of course, a rational explanation only fuels the fires of woo. It must be a cover up! Science is covering its back!
Columbus definitely wasn't here first
Plans by Professor Cyclone Covey of Wake Forest University to further excavate the site in 1972 fell through. Covey nevertheless published a 1975 book, Calalus: A Roman Jewish Colony in America from the Time of Charlemagne Through Alfred the Great. Covey took the view that the finds were genuine, and that they originated with Romano-Jewish colonists around 800 CE. Covey disregarded the Latin text plagiarism, convinced by the sealed context of the sedimentary caliche.
Others join Covey in assuming the validity of the Tucson finds, and incorporating the Calalus settlement into elaborate theories that push back the date of first trans-oceanic contact between the Americas and the rest of the world. These theories also make use of likely hoaxes the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone, the Newark holy stones and the Bat Creek inscription.
Knights Templar in America (and definitely not Jewish)
If one accepts the Tucson artifacts as genuine then a colony describing itself as being of Roman, Jewish and Gaulish origins existed in late first-millennium North America. Some of the inscriptions are in Hebrew, so there's really no wriggling out of it; the Tucson finds, though largely consisting of crosses, are explicit about the presence and significance of Jews. Scott Wolter, on his crank TV show America Unearthed, left out the Jewish angle completely, and claims that the artifacts support his America-centric unified conspiracy theory. New World Order, Freemasonry, Denver International Airport, Knights Templar — everything proves everything else and it's all a coverup in any case. Wolter pounced on the finding of a Cross of Lorraine among the artifacts, associating it with the Knights Templar. Wolter's grand conspiracy theory has more holes in it than a teabag, and there's no question that he cherry picks his "evidence", but his ignoring of the Jewish aspect of the Tucson artifacts suggests something less palatable than harmless crankery. Either that or, as Jason Colovito suggests in one of his discussions of the episode, Wolter simply didn't bother to note what the artifacts actually said.
We have the means and the opportunity for the hoax. But what's the motive?
While later commentators have certainly used the Tucson artifacts to further their own agendas, the motive behind the 1920s hoax itself is unknown. Looking back to 1926-1930 and the then-participants in the mystery, cui bono?
The Tucson hoax did not take place in a vacuum. Mormon leader Joseph Smith had revealed the discovery of his "golden plates" the previous century, publishing their supposed translation The Book of Mormon, which painted the Americas as being of central importance to Judeo-Christian history. Smith himself had been scammed by the Kinderhook plates, possibly created with the specific intention of testing his credibility as a prophet-translator (a test which he spectacularly failed.) Piltdown Man was "discovered" in England in 1912 and was the subject of controversy and debate. Contrary to legend, not all scientists were taken in by Piltdown, with one academic correctly declaring it to be a human skull and an ape jawbone in Nature magazine in 1913. Tutankhamun's tomb was a fresh discovery from Egypt, and had certainly caught the public imagination. Ancient artifacts and "lost secrets" were in vogue, and the commercial potential of a great archaeological discovery would not have been lost on anyone with a head for business, or who simply read the newspapers.
Sure enough, the Tucson artifacts hit the headlines — locally to begin with, but they later became the subject of a news war between the skeptical New York Times and a defensive local press. Unusually for the case of an accidental discovery (and, regrettably, still fairly unusual for any archaeology in 1924), landowner Thomas Bent thought to keep quite detailed records and notes of the excavations, the finds, and the people present when they were made. He appears to have been convinced of the authenticity of the artifacts, and it has been suggested that he was taken in by a hoax perpetrated by his friend Charles Manier.
The creation of the lead objects themselves is attributed by some to local sculptor, Timotéo Odohui, who lived near to the lime kiln some decades before the Manier discovery. Local cattleman Leandro Ruiz and transferman Edouardo Machado  recalled that Odohui was an educated boy, a student of the classics, and skilled at working with soft metals like lead. Ruiz also noted the boy's love of "buried treasure".
The Tucson artifacts were kept until the 1990s by Thomas Bent's descendants, then presented to the Arizona Historical Society for safekeeping. Although there are plenty of theories, nobody truly knows who perpetrated the hoax, or why.
- http://web.archive.org/web/20041026180814/http://www.gci-net.com/users/v/vrartist/crossimages.html Photographs of some of the Tucson finds
- 'Anno Domini' was not a term in common usage in the late 700's, making this a red flag, but is not completely out of the question.
- http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2006/06/30/feedback-history-fit-biblical-timeline How Does Man's History Fit with the Biblical Timeline?
- http://www.jasoncolavito.com/1/post/2013/02/the-dinosaur-on-the-tucson-artifacts.html "The Dinosaur on the Tucson Artifacts"; Jason Colavito, 24 Feb 2013
- http://www.history.com/shows/america-unearthed/episodes/season-1 America Unearthed official site
- The Templar order was founded hundreds of years after the dates on these artifacts − he gets around this with
fictionexposition about proto-Templars.
- http://www.jasoncolavito.com/1/post/2013/02/review-of-america-unearthed-s01e10-the-desert-cross.html "Review of America Unearthed S01E10 'The Desert Cross'"; Jason Colavito, 23 Feb 2013
- http://www.mormoninformation.com/kinderhk.htm The Kinderhook Plates — comparing two official LDS sources
- http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/1996-03-21/news/a-reputation-in-ruins/ A Reputation in Ruins; Peter Gilstrap, Phoenix New Times, 1996