Yesterday I mentioned the claim that H. P. Lovecraft modeled the ancient ruins in The Dunwich Horror on the alleged prehistoric stone ruins of America’s Stonehenge (formerly Mystery Hill) in New Hampshire. This reminded me of another instance where Lovecraft is tied to one of America Unearthed star Scott Wolter’s pseudo-investigations.
Archaeologist Marc A. Beherec argued in Lovecraft Annual no. 2 (2004) that in “The Mound,” one of Lovecraft’s tales ghostwritten for Zealia Bishop, Lovecraft alluded to the 1924 discovery of alleged artifacts in Arizona proving the existence of a lost medieval Jewish-Roman colony in Arizona called Calalus. I do not have that Lovecraft Annual, so I’m not sure about the exact arguments Beherec offered; I don’t recall anything about “Roman” Arizona in “The Mound.” The only reference to Arizona I recall from “The Mound” was an un-sourced quotation from H. R. Wakefield’s “He Cometh and He Passeth By” (1928). I suppose one could read the whole story as a reference to a “lost” civilization in the West, but there were plenty of claimants to that title.
(Update: I later learned that the lines were from chapter VII of “The Mound,” where Lovecraft mistakenly places them in New Mexico: “Surely this was the clever forgery of some learned cynic—something like the leaden crosses in New Mexico, which a jester once planted and pretended to discover as a relique of some forgotten Dark Age colony from Europe.”)
Anyway, the Lovecraft claims come into play because last year Scott Wolter traveled to Arizona to complete “microscopic” analysis of some of the lead artifacts dug up in 1924 and now known as the Tucson Artifacts. Wolter claimed that under the microscope he found mineral deposits consistent with deposition in the desert sands for a thousand years or so. Of course, Wolter’s microscopic analysis of the Kensington Runestone proved disastrously flawed, so I have no reason to trust his superficial analysis of the Tucson artifacts either. Mainstream scholars who have examined the finds have unanimously declared them fake on historical, archaeological, and linguistic grounds.
The cache of 31 lead artifacts, primarily swords, crosses, and spears, supposedly chronicles the history of a colony called Calalus, founded around 775 CE and, when Jews and Romans somehow landed in the Americas. The cache contains dates down to around 1000 CE and conveniently supports Mormon claims about Jewish migrations to medieval America. Here’s a picture of one of the pieces Wolter tested, via the Westford Knights.
The Latin, very poor, reads, in translation:
“We were carried (or sailed) by sea to [error for “from”] Rome Calalus [“to Calalus” probably intended, but the case is wrong], an unknown land. They came in the Year of Our Lord 775, and Theodorus ruled of [error for “over”] the people.”
The Anno Domini dating system was not widely used before 800, and not well attested outside the Carolingian heartland until around 1000. Most medieval inscriptions also tended to abbreviate rather than write out the Latin. Worse, the specific phrases used to construct the bad Latin have been traced to standard Classical Latin texts available at the Tucson Public Library when the artifacts were found.
Supporters of the artifacts’ authenticity, such as Cyclone Covey, a former Wake Forest history professor with a longstanding interest in diffusionism, claim that the bad Latin is actually a sign that the artifacts are genuine rather than a hoax since a modern copyist wouldn’t make so many errors. Covey, for example, argued in 2004 that the errors indicated a Latin novice:
Confusing ad and ex by a novice in Latin compares with present-day speakers in English who reverse ante and post, terminus ad quem and terminus a pro, induction and deduction. We have all heard such solecisms.
No, it’s really not. It’s like confusing “to” and “from.” In 775, the supposed immigrants from Rome would have by definition needed to be fluent in sermo vulgaris or rustica lingua romantica, Vulgar Latin, the common tongue from which the Romance languages developed. No matter where in Covey’s proposed mix of Romans, Britons, and Gauls the immigrants came, they would have needed a basic understanding of prepositions to communicate. Romans obviously spoke Latin. The Britons, I can only imagine, had to communicate somehow with the Romans and Gauls, and I doubt the Romans spoke Old English. Since Old French did not develop until around 800, Vulgar Latin would have been the preferred language for the former residents of Gaul. Now you might argue they spoke Gaulish, but that language went extinct under the Empire, and Old Low Frankish, a Germanic tongue, was associated with Franks (Germans), not Gauls.
That said, we know that in 772 CE Boniface complained that he could not understand the pope’s Latin, and in 813 CE the Council of Tours ordered priests to preach in vernacular because common people could not understand Latin. This did not extend to basic prepositions, however, which were remained part of Vulgar Latin, Old French, and modern French.
Oh, and more importantly: There is not a single archaeological trace of a colony of Europeans anywhere in Arizona. No trash middens with European artifacts, no foundations of European-style structures, no graves with European artifacts. Nothing.
Perhaps most humorously, the artifacts tell a remarkably complete story that specifies that the Jewish-Roman people who came to Arizona recognized the Natives ruling all Mexico and the southwest as Toltezus, i.e. “the Toltec.” That’s cute and all, obviously derived from the Nahuatl word Toltecatl, which gives us the modern name for the Toltec people. The word derives from the Aztec (Nahuatl) formation of the words meaning “inhabitant” (catl) of Tollan, the Toltec capital. While “Toltec” is what the Aztec called the people of Tollan, we do not know what the Toltec called themselves, though they were Nahuatl speakers. The Toltec flourished from 800 to 1000 CE, but perhaps tellingly the "Toltez" term is attested as a modern (mis)spelling of Toltec, though I can only trace it back to 1931. (At any rate, the "z" is very rare for Latin; it was used only for transliterated Greek words. My guess is that the forger could have misread an italicized "c" in Toltec, such as appears in William Prescott's Mexico  or in Latinized scientific uses of "toltecus" as species descriptors, in which in an italic serif typeface can look like a "z.")
So how do we get the Toltec to Arizona? The answer, for Cyclone Covey and other supporters, lies at sites like Wupatki, one of the ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) ruins we encountered last week on Ancient Aliens as part of a fictitious architectural depiction of the constellation Orion, as well as the Hohokam site of Snaketown. Both of these sites feature evidence that Mexican peoples either influenced, traded with, or immigrated to this area of Arizona. The Hohokam territory extended deep into northern Mexico. Nevertheless, while Mexican features appear at Snaketown (including luxury trade goods and platform mounds after 800 CE), it does not amount to what Covey describes as “Toltec domination of Snaketown” in the eighth century. The Hohokam could be Mexican all on their own, and they were incorporating and localizing broader Mexican cultural traits. Wupatki’s “Toltec” connection derives primarily from the fact that it has the northernmost example of Mesoamerican ball courts (also found among the Maya and most Mexican peoples), a feature Wupatki shares with (and probably borrowed from) the Hohokam.
Now, to tie this all together with a bow: The Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo legends about the ruins of Wupatki. The Hopi believe that the people who lived and died in the ruins continue to haunt the site as spiritual guardians. This story of the spirit guardians perfectly parallels H. P. Lovecraft’s "The Mound," in which the ghostly forms of long-dead residents of a lost civilization patrol the titular edifice. This would have been a great way to tie together all these threads, except that Zealia Bishop actually suggested that much of the plot from a romantic imagination and a love of conventional ghost stories, and the titular mound itself was based on real mounds (and a natural hill) that actually exist in and around Binger, Oklahoma and had nothing to do with the Toltec.
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