For whatever reason, America Unearthed has attracted more readers to this blog than any topic I’ve ever covered. The result is that I have received enormous amounts of information from people both supportive of and opposed to show host Scott Wolter. This surprises me immensely because I had no idea prior to the launch of his show in December 2012 that so many people cared so passionately about this formerly obscure man and his fringe work.
Well, one of my correspondents has provided me with some interesting archival documents that shed additional light on the Tucson Artifacts, the lead crosses and other objects discussed on last Friday’s episode. As I pointed out at the time, Wolter intentionally avoided telling viewers about the story presented in the Latin inscriptions on the artifacts. The tale of Jewish migrants to Arizona and their centuries-long occupation directly contradicted his Templar-Masonic fantasy. The new information I received proves conclusively that (a) the inscriptions are crude forgeries and (b) the objects’ caliche covering was faked.
But let’s start with the dinosaur, because at least that’s silly fun. One of the original people to look at the “dinosaur” on another of the artifacts immediately recognized it for what I identified it as yesterday, a copy of an early twentieth century reconstruction of the diplodocus. Here are the words of A. E. Douglass, the Arizona State Museum archaeologist who reviewed the find in 1925: “The distinctive mark on the sword was a representation of a long necked, long tailed, four-legged animal resembling in a striking way restorations of the Diplodocus.” Interestingly, Douglass had in his papers an early pamphlet on prehistory called “The First Story Ever Told,” and that pamphlet contained a near-identical drawing of a diplodocus.
This information is included in Don Burgess’s informative article “Romans in Tucson? The Story of an Archaeological Hoax” (Journal of the Southwest 51, no. 1 .” In it, Burgess also notes that the oldest date found on the lead artifacts was “560 A. D.” (with one listing 705 A. D.), which does not imply anything about when it was actually carved.
But let’s look more in-depth at the Latin used in the text of the Tucson Artifacts. I wrote that the text was a mishmash of Latin from classical sources, glued together with amateur Latin so poor that even a first year Latin student would not make such errors. As it turns out, there is an even more specific source for the crappy Latin on the crosses. In the journal of the New England Antiquities Research Association 30 (1996)—hardly a skeptical source!—Marshall Payn, an engineer and a believer in some alternative history, explained that 34 (!) specific Latin phrases appearing on the crosses could be traced to a widely-used 1881 Latin primer, Latin Grammar by Albert Harknees.
Scott Wolter is familiar with the NEARA. The group commissioned him to examine artifacts in 2003. Their publications cannot be a surprise to him and should have been available in researching the artifacts for his show.
Consider the coincidence of the following sentence appearing word-for-word in both the Harknees book (1901 ed., p. 320) and the cross:
“Catilina in prima acie versari, omnia providere, multum ipse pugnare, saepe hostum ferire.”
Harknees took the sentence from Sallust’s Conspiracy of Catiline (60.4), a Classical text from c. 50 BCE of some repute, but one which it would have been nearly impossible for a functionally illiterate medieval scribe to have quoted verbatim out of context. Studies of plagiarism have determined that after six identical words the probability of accidental duplication approaches zero. Even in a language more limited in vocabulary than English, the chances of 13 identical words reproduced in a row—including the proper name!—are vanishingly small. Having it happen 34 times boggles the mind.
The most zealous advocate of the artifacts’ authenticity was Cyclone Covey, who wrote a book called Calalus (1975) about the “lost” Jewish colony based on these artifacts. Wolter has taken his argument directly from Covey, which is that the caliche on the artifacts, a precipitate of calcium carbonate, takes centuries to form so the artifacts must be genuine—which raises still more questions about why he left out the subject that fascinated Covey: the Jews. That said, when Covey was shown the Latin plagiarism, he had no response. He simply ignored it.
Payne reported that a mining geologist, the late James J. Quinlan of Tucson (1924-2001), formerly of the US Geological Survey, examined the site where the artifacts were uncovered to determine how fast the caliche formed. Quinlan first identified the strata in which the objects were found. He and a team consisting of a paleontologist and an archaeologist determined that the stratum was Pleistocene, dating back between 10,000 and two million years. Therefore, the objects could not have been naturally deposited and slowly covered over by gradual accretion of soils. Payne takes up the story from here, noting that the objects were found at the site of a modern kiln:
Quinlan showed me two rock samples. The first he hacked out of the site’s caliche. It was encrusted and very hard (caliche varies from that which crumbles at the touch to that which resists a pick-axe). The second he made. He bought some quick-lime (the product made at the kiln) from a hardware store and mixed it with sandy soil, small rocks and water. He then inserted into this concoction a piece of lead and allowed it to set for a day or so. The resulting rock was quite similar to the first rock and I could not extract the piece from his newly formed “caliche.”
Since the caliche could be recreated in just hours, and the objects were found embedded in million-year-old rocks that long predated Latin, the only conclusion geology could reach is that the objects were purposely embedded into the rock using quick lime.
This information was available to Cyclone Covey, who ignored it. It was also available to Scott Wolter—a geologist who worked with the NEARA!—who purposely lied about it, or else is so incompetent at his own job that he is completely unaware of it.
With this information, I think it’s fair to say that the Tucson Artifacts are unequivocally fake.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.