In his 1974 collection of Forteana called Mysteries of Time and Space, Brad Steiger mentions the case of a small boy who, in 1910, allegedly uncovered two slabs depicting elephants within Indian ruins at Flora Vista, New Mexico dated to around 800 CE. This story has been repeated by any number of alternative authors, and so far as I can tell, no one can trace back a solid scientific provenance for the claim. Steiger certainly doesn’t, though I would guess he got it from some source drawing on a 1971 article in Science Digest (a popular magazine, not a scientific journal), or perhaps Edwin Booth Sayles’ Fantasies of Gold (1968). Steiger's bibliography does not make clear his source.
The two slabs depict creatures that alternative authors say are elephants. Scientists who have examined the slabs declared them crude hoaxes, but alternative authors argue that the scientists are merely attempting to dismiss “inconvenient” evidence by opportunistically declaring it fake. Instead, alternative authors have argued that the slabs demonstrate Phoenician contact (Brad Steiger), African explorers (Steiger and David Imhotep), Asian invaders (Steiger and Science Digest) or Irish adventurers (Dixie Perkins). Some even support the alternative heresy that Native Americans might have drawn them. The 1971 Science Digest article even suggested that the glyphs represented a Native American record of Asian peoples invading New Mexico on an army of elephants! So far, they have not yet been attributed to aliens.
I think that one look at the drawing should strongly imply that the slabs are forgeries made by someone with only a passing knowledge of ancient alphabets. The symbols are nonsense and do not conform to any known written language. That alternative authors could read Phoenician, Malian, and proto-Celtic into them shows the poverty of their claims. If they truly represented a European or African language, surely the same characters should be in use in the Old World. No European tongue freely mixes letter symbols with figurative drawings within the lines of text. If illustrations are used, they are set apart from the text, which is generally clearly separate from the pictures. Even Egyptian hieroglyphics, which can mix picture symbols and sound symbols, don’t do so in such a crude picture-writing way.
It looks for all the world like someone got out a book of rock art symbols and jumbled together as many as he or she could find and then threw in some elephants. I think it is probably relevant that the elephant carvings have been used by Mormons to support the Book of Mormon, which mentions elephants in early America in Ether 9:19: "And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants..." Flora Vista, NM is located in an area close to the so-called Mormon Corridor, where 10% or more of the population is Mormon, and it would hardly be the first instance of fake artifacts being called into being to support the alternative history of America presented in the Book of Mormon. For now, there is no reason to doubt the scientific consensus that these are fake stone tablets created by unknown persons for an unspecified purpose.
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.
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