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Reclaiming the Validity of the Kinderhook Plates

Written by Thursday, 18 January 2018 00:00

Previously published in the Nov 2017 Ancient American Issue Number 117, pg. 16-21

Reclaiming the Validity of the Kinderhook Plates

 

by Utahna Jessop, Ancient Historical Research Foundation
 
 
Kinderhook Plates - Facsimiles - 1843
The Kinderhook plates were a set of six small, bell-shaped pieces of brass with
strange engravings which were discovered in 1843 in an Indian mound near Kinderhook, Illinois. Currently, one plate is at the Chicago Historical Society, Illinois

This saga began in the spring of 1843 when six, curiously inscribed, bell-shaped plates were unearthed near Kinderhook, Illinois, sporadically capturing the attention of scholars for more than one hundred and seventy years. Unquestionably accepted as genuine until 1912, the authenticity of the plates became tarnished with doubt when a spurious claim of fraud surfaced. By then, the location of the plates had slipped into obscurity.

Upon rediscovery of the only Kinderhook plate thought to exist today, opportunity  was  presented  for  scientific evaluation. Test results have been inconsistent and inconclusive, yet many have accepted the presumptuous label of “19th Century hoax” as the final say, and there the matter has rested for thirty-six years.
 
Analysis of that conclusion reveals an incomplete snapshot. Through the lens of in-depth research, new discoveries, and a fresh perspective, evidence of fraud diminishes while the status of validity comes back into focus. It becomes increasingly evident, if truth is the goal, a more persistent and thorough study of the Kinderhook Plates is imperative.
 
The Discovery
 
On April 16, 1843, Robert Wiley, a respectable merchant of Kinderhook, Illinois, was impelled by curiosity to dig into a large, sugar loaf (conical), burial mound near his home. To avoid the reproofs of his peers, he took up his task in solitude. From the top center of the mound, he laboriously dug to the depth of eight to ten feet, but as rain began to fall Wiley realized he needed assistance and postponed the work. A week later, when the weather had cleared, approximately fifteen citizens armed with picks and shovels arrived to help Wiley recommence work on the ancient mound.
 
After widening the opening, they continued digging and came upon burned limestone. The stones were small and easy to handle as they penetrated the layer to the depth of about three feet, uncovering what was believed to be pot-metal and “a braid which was at first supposed to be human hair but on a closer examination proved to be grass, probably used as a covering for the bodies deposited there.” More than twelve feet below the surface, among broken pottery, charcoal and ashes, lay human bones in the last stages of decomposition. On the chest of the charred remains of a skeleton who must have stood nine feet tall, was a small bundle of six, bell-shaped plates of brass, “each having a hole near the small end, and a ring through them all.” They were bound together by two clasps, which appeared to be iron, but were in such a fragile state that “the bands and rings mouldered into dust on a slight pressure.”
 
W.P. Harris, a local doctor who had participated in the dig, recalled, “It was agreed by the company that I should cleanse the plates. I took them to my house, washed them with soap and water and a woolen cloth; but, finding them not yet cleansed, I treated them with dilute sulphuric acid, which made them perfectly clean, on which it appeared that they were completely covered with hieroglyphics that none as yet have been able to read.”
 

The amazing discovery stirred up public interest and excitement. Local newspapers ran the story, followed by an affidavit:

We the citizens of Kinderhook, whose names are annexed do certify and declare that on the 23d April, 1843, while excavating a large mound, in this vicinity, Mr. R. Wiley took from said mound, six brass plates of a bell shape, covered with ancient characters. Said plates were very much oxidated --the bands and rings on said plates mouldered into dust on a slight pressure. The above described plates we have handed to Mr. Sharp for the purpose of taking them to Nauvoo. “ Signed, “Rob't Wiley, W. P. Harris, G. W. F. Ward, W. Longnecker, Fayette Grubb, Ira S. Curtis, Geo. Deckenson, W. Fugate, J. R. Sharp.
 
Hoping for information leading to a translation, the discoverers contacted newspapers, exhibited the plates in Quincy and Nauvoo, took them to literary friends, Antiquarian Societies, and anyone who may be able to translate. Aspiring to display them in Washington D.C., Robert Wiley inquired about selling them to the National Institute, verifying the affidavit and reconfirming the authenticity of the plates at that time. Finally, while attending Medical College in St. Louis, Wiley gave the plates to his professor, one of the most influential and respected doctors of the west, Joseph Nash Mc Dowell, for his museum of curiosities.
 
Spurious Claims of Forgery
 
The plates of Kinderhook were undeniably accepted as genuine by those present at the time of discovery as well as the professionals and citizens who subsequently examined them.
 
Public suspicion of fraud did not surface until 1912 with the discovery of a letter penned by Wilbur Fugate who had originally signed the certificate of discovery. While corresponding with James T. Cobb in 1879, he claimed that he (Fugate) along with Robert Wiley and Bridge Whitton, had forged the plates themselves as a
joke on a growing religion of the day. However, his lack of probity casts far more doubt upon his testimony than upon the veracity of the plates.
 
1. The plates were uniquely bell-shaped; in order to deceive, one would have to present a conceivable item, not something astonishing or unusual.
 
2. The signed statement published in the Times and Seasons, states that the plates were made of brass. Yet, in his letter, Fugate claims that Bridge Whitton, a blacksmith, “cut them out from pieces of copper” and that the two of them made the hieroglyphics themselves.
 
While brass and copper are very similar in appearance, there are obvious differences in sound and color particularly noticeable in highly corroded specimens. Reddish-brown  copper  will  develop patches of green corrosion, while brass is more yellowish and turns a deep brown. If Fugate had as much to do with the so-called manufacture of the plates as he states, he surely would have known the basic composition.
George M. Lawrence of Princeton, New Jersey compared enlarged photos of two of his inscriptions acid-etched on soft copper (figures 1 and 2) with those on the Kinderhook plate (figures 3 and 4).

Furthermore, historical records confirm a shortage of brass on the American frontier. Due to the British embargo on shipments from the late 1700’s to the mid 1800’s, brass and fine steel were prevented from reaching the American colonies. Both rolled and sheet brass were scarce, expensive, and hard to come by. It is well known that even clock makers were forced to compensate by utilizing wooden gears in place of brass. If the intention was to fabricate an “ancient” plate in 1843 Illinois, brass would not be the material of choice. The quantity needed for the Kinderhook plates would have been very expensive and virtually unavailable.

3. Fugate claimed, “Wiley and I made the hieroglyphics by making impressions on beeswax, filling them with acid and putting it on the plates.”
 
The described method would fail miserably. Basic acid etching, the biting process, is accomplished by first covering the plate with a waxy substance, then employing a sharp instrument to scratch the design or inscription, and finally immersing the plate in acid, biting only the exposed metal. Fugate claims to have done the etching himself but clearly lacks the practical knowledge to do so.
 
We learn from W.P. Harris that Bridge Whitton made a similar claim, boasting that he and Wiley engraved the plates. The two did not collaborate well, for their stories do not match.
 
4. Fugate explains that the plates were put together with rust and bound with a ring of hoop iron or pig iron, “covering them all over with rust the night before” to make them look authentic. Yet, the ring and clasps crumbled to dust at the slightest pressure. Kevin Maag, owner of Metal Arts Foundry notes, “In all my experience with aging iron, steel, copper based alloys and all types of metals; I do not know of anything that could make iron disintegrate like that in a year, certainly not overnight.”
The McDowell Medical College once housed all 6 Kinderhook Plates.

5. Fugate’s dubious story continues, “The night before, Wiley went to the mound where he had previously dug to the depth of about eight feet, there being a flat rock...domelike and about three feet in diameter...that sounded hollow beneath, and put [the plates] under it. There was no skeleton found.”

On the contrary, news reports and eyewitnesses explain that when the men arrived to help, they widened the opening, penetrated “stratus of earth” and removed a layer of limestone, revealing the charred remains of a 9’ human skeleton. The bundle was indeed found near the encephalon, upon the chest.
 
Fugate’s claim that there was no skeleton is a glaring contradiction. Furthermore, if his story was true, we would have to believe that in the dark of night, Wiley climbed down 8’, moved the 3’ rock all by himself, dug through 2-3’ of charred limestone, and carefully dropped the plates among the artifacts, charcoal, and human bones before retracing his steps; having somehow managed to replace the rock and dirt with the strata still intact, all to perpetrate a hoax.
 
6. Wilbur Fugate’s motive is highly questionable. He professed, "They are a humbug, gotten up by Robert Wiley, Bridge Whitton and myself. We read in Pratt’s prophecy, truth would spring forth from the earth. We concluded to prove the prophecy by way of a joke.”
 
The joke, however, was never exposed. Fugate refused to let the plates be taken to the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, leader of the very religion of which the joke was purportedly aimed. When the plates were eventually taken to Smith, he gave a preliminary translation, providing Fugate the perfect opportunity to expose the joke and ridicule the Mormons, yet no announcement was forthcoming. The claim of forgery and disclosure of supposed intent was not divulged until thirty-six years later in a personal letter, after at least one and possibly both alleged accomplices had died and the location of the plates was unknown.
 
Wilbur Fugate’s testimony is completely unreliable and has provided no proof whatsoever that the Kinderhook plates are anything less than genuine.
 
Lost and Found
 
The plates were kept in the McDowell Museum in St. Louis from 1844 until the museum was ransacked by soldiers in 1861 and the plates were lost. Professor McDowell had left St. Louis during the Civil War to serve as a physician in the south. Union Soldiers of the 2nd Iowa Reserve Regiment plundered the museum while the U.S. Army renovated the college to use as a prison.
 
Two of the plates were taken to Iowa and then given to J.W. McDowell who willed his collection to F.C.A. Richardson, a member of the Academies of Science. In 1889, Dr. Richardson sold one of the two plates to a collector, Charles F. Gunther, who gave the plate to the Chicago Historical Society in 1920. M. Wilford Poulson, former instructor at Brigham Young University, discovered the plate in the Chicago History Museum mislabeled as an “original gold plate of the Book of Mormon”.
 
Those  who  have  examined and/or tested the Chicago plate in recent years, have reported discrepancies related to size, thickness, composition, inscriptions, manufacturing, and overall appearance.  While  some  differences  are understandably due to handling, cleaning, buffing, etc., others remain problematic. It was mentioned, when the plates were retrieved from Nauvoo, “the same identical plates were returned” suggesting the possibility of a copy in existence. We cannot be sure that the Chicago plate is an original.
 
According to Stanley P. Kimball, a comparison of the characters indicates that a facsimile made in 1843 was copied from the “original” plate now in the Chicago Museum because a dent on the plate was supposedly perceived and copied as a character stroke on the facsimile, thereby “proving” that the facsimile was copied from the plate and not the other way around. According to Kimball, “The conclusion, therefore, is that the Chicago plate is indeed one of the original Kinderhook plates, which now fairly well evidences them to be faked antiquities.”
 
There is an oversight; at least fifteen additional strokes appear on the facsimile which are misplaced or completely missing from the Chicago plate—none of which correspond with a visible dent. The coincidence that a dent happens to be in the vicinity of one such stroke proves nothing either way.
 
Etched, Engraved or Both?
 
Rediscovery of the presumed original plate has afforded the opportunity for scientific evaluations aimed at answering the question of authenticity. The prevailing assumption was that if the plate was acid-etched rather than engraved, the claim of forgery would be substantiated as it was commonly believed that the ancients were incapable or unaware of the acid-etching process and would “probably” have engraved. Testing conducted by a variety of experts garnered mixed results.
 
In 1953, professional engravers, Hill and Pwiiski certified, “To the best of our knowledge, this Plate was engraved with a pointed instrument and not etched with acid.”
 
In 1969, under the direction of Dr. Paul Cheesman of Brigham Young University, eight expert engravers were consulted--five of whom declared the
plates bore tool marks with some evidence of acid etching. The report by Jeweler, J. Clyde Ward is an excellent precis, “I have analyzed Kinderhook plate…and find it could have been part in hand engraving and part acid etched, or- due to time and handling, acid reaction could have made this plate to appear to have been worked with acid.”
 
Comparative tests were also done in 1969 using samples of copper and brass from excavations at Nauvoo, Illinois. “These samples tested out to be old, but not as old as the Kinderhook plate.” The Chicago plate was photographed under magnification along with two others: a brass plate acid-etched with nitric acid, and a brass plate hand engraved. Both were cleaned with dilute sulfuric acid, buffed and handled in the same manner as the original. A tedious comparison garnished compelling results. There were enough similarities between the three plates; the results were inconclusive.
 
Candor or Conjecture?
 
In 1980, Stanley P. Kimball was given permission for destructive analysis on the Chicago Kinderhook plate intending to determine once and for all if the plates were fabricated in 1843. “As a result of these tests,” says Kimball, “we concluded that the plate owned by the Chicago Historical Society…is not of ancient origin….It is time that the Kinderhook plates be retired to the limbo of other famous faked antiquities.”
 
This ambiguous conclusion, has resulted in the common misconception that the Kinderhook Plates are hereby proven to be a 19th Century hoax. Accepted by many as the final say on the matter, it is this declaration that the author contends is both inconclusive and misleading.
 
Analysis began with the use of a Scanning Electron Microscope by Dr. Lynn Johnson, Materials Engineer with Northwestern University. Clear evidence of acid pock-marking was detected in the grooves of the plate. Ridges or burs, as would be expected with the use of an engraving tool, were notably absent. Kimball reports in part, “We concluded that the plate was etched with acid; and as…other scholars have pointed out, ancient inhabitants would probably have engraved the plates rather than etched them with acid.” 
 
While the statements of professionals, testifying that tool marks were present in the grooves, are based on knowledge and experience, the conclusion of Kimball is based at least in part on conjecture and assumption.
 
1. In 1843, the plates were described by P. Pratt as “filled with engravings” and referred to by W.P Harris as “engraved”.
 
2. Immediately after the discovery, W.P. Harris cleaned the plates with soap and water, a woolen cloth, and then dilute sulfuric acid. If acid had collected in the grooves of the inscription and was allowed to sit, it would have altered the markings, eliminating to some degree the cutting and scraping marks of an engraving tool.
 
3. At some point, the plate was exposed to a strong acid as is evidenced by the visible acid blotch not previously noted on early facsimiles of the plates. This assumed “accident” as well as subsequent cleaning and buffing, would have further compromised the engraving. Tool marks were clearly evident in 1953 and 1969. Ward’s statement remains valid: “Due to time and handling, acid reaction could have made this plate to appear to have been worked with acid.”
 
4. Furthermore, acid etching is not necessarily beyond the scope of the ancients. Hohokam people of Arizona, during the sedentary period, dating as far back as A.D. 900, used the acid-etching process to decorate shells. The Hohokam artisan put pitch or lac on a shell in the desired design, then dipped the shell into acid made from fermented cactus juice, permanently etching the design in relief. The Hohokam were the first that we know of to use acid etching, a technique that was not discovered in Europe for several hundred years.
 
A Scanning Auger Microprobe (SAM) was used to identify residue in the grooves. Kimball reports: “A clear indication of nitrogen was detected, which
would be consistent with a copper nitrate residue and could indicate that nitric acid was used in the etching as those who reportedly originated the deception had claimed.”  What was not mentioned, is that there are several other factors that could account for the presence of nitrogen.
 
1. Dr. Steven Wood of BYU Chemistry and Biochemistry Dept. explains that if the plate were engraved--not etched--and cleaned with sulfuric acid, “The presence of protein, [a body in close proximity, for example] could account for the nitrogen residue, especially if it was cleaned with a brush or a cloth that could have pushed some of the protein into the grooves.” As has been noted, the Kinderhook plates were found among the remains of a skeleton and were indeed cleaned with soap and water, a woolen cloth, and finally with dilute sulfuric acid. 
 
2. Early 19th century sulfuric acid often contained nitrogen impurities since nitrous vitriol was used in the sulfuric acid manufacturing process. 
 
3. An accidental nitric acid spill, such as the one causing the acid blotch previously noted, or a subsequent cleaning with nitric acid would certainly leave a residue.
 
The presence of nitrogen residue provides no evidence that the plates were initially etched with nitric acid.
 
Ancient Brass
 
X-ray fluorescence analysis determined the composition of the plate to be 73% copper, 24% zinc, and lesser amounts of other metals. Kimball reports: “We concluded that the plate was made from a true brass alloy (copper and zinc) typical of the mid-nineteenth century; whereas the ‘brass’ of ancient times was actually bronze, an alloy of copper and tin.” Also, “One would expect an ancient alloy to contain larger amounts of impurities and inclusions than did the alloy tested.”
 
However, a report dated March 4, 1970, from the Dept. of Chemistry at University of Michigan revealed that the test samples they took were “quite consistent in their impurity levels and contain the highest level of impurities…hence…definitely old copper.”
 
 
The discrepancy is problematic but the impurity level seems rather insignificant. Keweenaw National Historic Park states, “The largest known quantities in the world of pure, native copper  were  found  on  Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula. In some cases, the deposits were up to 97% pure, requiring little chemical processing.”
 
Furthermore, the extent of metallurgical technology known in ancient America is still being discovered. Michigan copper was abundantly available with an estimated 500,000 tons removed from the Upper Peninsula alone, and Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee were all rich in zinc needed for brass manufacturing. The Aztecs were already smelting bronze at the time of the conquest; the Moche of northern Peru developed electroplating between 200 B.C. and A.D. 600; an ancient lead smelting site has emerged from a Hopewell mound in Indiana; smelter remains and iron slag were found at an Adena site in Ohio along with an iron axe head still in the mold. It is not unreasonable to admit that brass production in Ancient America was a possibility. 
 
Brass is not unknown in North America. The Muskogee (particularly the Creek and Shawnee) kept brass and copper plates which they claim were given to them by the Great Spirit and handed down from time immemorial. Some were inscribed with Hebraic-type letters and resembled breastplates or shields of ancient soldiers. The plates were circular, oval, square, and spatula shaped, similar to the plates of Kinderhook. They once had many more inscribed plates which they had buried up with men of high esteem—as were the Kinderhook plates.
 
Not all brass of ancient times was bronze as Kimball claims. While some artifacts were erroneously labelled brass (copper and zinc) when in fact they were bronze (copper and tin), true brass has been in use since prehistory. Early copper-zinc alloys are known from several Old World sites dating between 5000 and 3000 BC. Composition of early brass is highly variable and some may be natural alloys from copper ores rich in zinc; however, first millennium BC use of brass was encouraged by exports and influence from the Middle East where deliberate production of brass from metallic copper and zinc ores was introduced.
 
Recently recovered from a 2,600 year old shipwreck off the coast of Sicily comes 47 Ingots of a “brass-like alloy” identified by X-ray fluorescence as 75-80% copper and 15-20% zinc with traces of other metals including iron, nickel, and lead. While Sicily’s Superintendent of the Sea Office claims that “nothing similar has ever been found”, the X-ray fluorescence performed by William E. Dibble of BYU in 1969 revealed that the Chicago Kinderhook plate is generally 80% copper and 20% zinc with traces of other metals including iron, nickel, and lead – nearly identical to the composition of the 2,600 year-old Sicilian brass ingots.
 
Comparative Linguistics
 
In 1843, W.P. Harris remarked, “We all feel anxious to know the true meaning of the plates.” Indeed, we share the same sentiment today. Fortunately, the ancient characters of Kinderhook, arranged in vertical columns beneath some sort of headings, were taken to several individuals for examination, including Joseph Smith of Nauvoo, Illinois. Smith called for his Hebrew Lexicon and Bible, then compared them to other inscriptions as well as an Egyptian alphabet. He explained that the plates would make a book of over 1200 pages stating, “I have translated a portion of them and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth.”
 
While in Nauvoo, many citizens compared the characters with an Egyptian papyrus on display in the city, noting numerous similarities. William H. Kelley attested in 1895, "There are characters on these plates that resemble letters in the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Chaldaic and Hebrew alphabets.” He then explained that colonies whose language was derived from the old Cushite and Semitic tongues (containing “pure Greek”), brought this knowledge from the Old World to America. The Kinderhook plates may have originated in the Old World--brought here through intercontinental travel, or were manufactured here sometime after the colonists arrived. 
 
From the city of Byblos on the Phoenician coast, about 170 miles from Jerusalem, come second millennium BC syllabic inscriptions on spatula plates with inscriptions similar to Kinderhook. The Byblos inscription is, “The earliest known example of mixing a Northern Semitic Language written on metal plates with a syllabary clearly inspired by the Egyptian hieroglyphic system..the most important link known between the hieroglyphs and the Canaanite alphabet.” A Byblos stone was even inscribed in vertical columns much like the Kinderhook plates.
 
Many ancient inscriptions have been discovered from Canada to South America showing similarities to ancient Eastern Mediterranean script. One example, Sequoyah’s original Cherokee syllabary (a cursive script similar to the Kinderhook inscription) was obtained from the Taliwa of the Southwestern Great Plains who kept pre-Columbian writing on thin gold plates. “His original symbols were identical or similar to letters in alphabets used by Christians and Jews in the Middle East…Some are also found in the Jewish Kabala manuscripts.” ~Traveler Bird, Tell Them They Lie
 
Glade L. Burgon, Department of Ancient Scriptures, Brigham Young University, May, 1972: “50% of the 340 Kinderhook signs (although more flowery) were similar to the Michigan and Near Eastern Signs….All the inscriptions studied appear to have a graphic relationship to ancient Semitic and Cypriot more than any other world sign lists. The degree of similarity was not such that one could conclude that the…inscriptions came from any one place or the other. However, the writers were evidently from the Near East. The Semitic graphic signs could be alphabetic, syllabic, or ideographic. The American inscriptions appear to include all three, just as some of the ancient Semitic inscriptions.” (See attached Character Chart, Courtesy Wayne May/Glade Burgon. page 20)
 
While the tragic loss of the original Kinderhook plates complicates further study, the plate housed in the Chicago Museum, as well as published photos of the facsimiles, provide ample opportunity for serious linguists to take up the task.
 
Closing
 
Results of testing under the direction of Stanley P. Kimball has been shown to be inconclusive and tainted with assumptions and academic conjecture. Facts submitted were insufficient to prove that the Kinderhook plates were anything less than authentic. This statement by Dr. Paul Cheesman from 1969, still applies today. “The status of research indicates that with so many variables, conclusive statements are not only dangerous, but invalid.”
 
Kimball’s erroneous claim that the Kinderhook Plates were “a 19th Century hoax” and should be “retired to the limbo of other famous faked antiquities” is entirely without merit. Such claims have sorely stifled the advancement of research regarding many American inscriptions. If we could shift our attention back to the inscriptions, perhaps we would find the answers in plain sight.
 
The fact remains that six small brass plates were unearthed from an ancient burial mound in Illinois in 1843. The inscription upon them is key to unlocking a lost chapter of history. Pending thorough linguistic analysis and translation, we may yet unravel the message and the mystery of the plates of  Kinderhook. 
 
References upon request
 

Colorado's Egyptian Scarab

Written by Thursday, 28 January 2016 00:00

Previously published in the Sept 2015 Ancient American Issue Number 108, pg. 38-39

Inscriptions obverse and reverse. (Photo by Terry Carter)
 
In the early 1950's beneath the azure sky of Mancos, Colorado, a little 5- year-old boy roamed the hills of his family property. Even at that young age Rob spent his days with his faithful Collie exploring the countryside, drawn to the wonders of the numerous native ruins scattered among the hills. Just below the crest of the highest knoll was his "throne,” a recessed area where Rob loved to sit and gaze across the land. It was there in that same depression he found a remarkable, pocket-sized, inscribed stone, a treasure that was destined to last a lifetime. 
 
The knoll where the scarab was found.
In 2013, Shawn Davies and Terry Carter of Ancient Historical Research Foundation (AHRF), acting on a tip received for a possible Mystery Glyph site, met with Rob at a local cafe. Terry Carter explains, "All of a sudden he pulled out of his pocket a flat black rock about the size of a chicken egg and handed it to me. I was absolutely flabbergasted because what I was holding in my hand was a rock that had been carved to look like an Egyptian scarab beetle with Egyptian hieroglyphs carved all over it front and back." 
 
Other than Rob's mother and a few close friends who are now deceased, AHRF was the first to see the scarab. Rob had kept it in his box of Tinker Toys, afraid that if he showed it to anyone they would take it. Rob, now 67, still has the box of Tinker Toys but the scarab beetle, a relic of a bygone era, has remained his prized possession for more than 60 years. 
 
How the scarab came to be on a hill in southwestern Colorado, who constructed it and why, is an enigma. Not unlike other anomalous artifacts, the possibilities are numerous and lack of conclusive evidence requires that the answers remain unknown. While it may be the creation of an amateur craftsman passing the time, a misplaced tourist trade item, or even a residual product from the Egyptian Revival period, one cannot rule out the possibility that at some point in time this artifact found its way across a vast ocean from the hands of an illiterate Hyksos peasant who copied random glyphs onto the crudely constructed scarab. 
 
The Hyksos, a group of foreigners who immigrated into Egypt's delta region and gradually settled there during the 18th century BC, were an important influence on Egyptian history. A series of Hyksos kings ruled northern Egypt as the 15th dynasty (c. 1630–1523 BC). Often referred to as “Shepherd Kings” or “Captive Shepherds”, Hyksos were identified by the Hebrew historian Flavius Josephus as the Hebrews of the Bible. Indeed, it is generally thought that the Hyksos were Semites who came from the Levant. (Josephus, Against Apion, 1:86–90 &1:234–250). 
 
A most interesting piece of information has come down from one historian to another as an important and enlightening event of ancient American history often overlooked by academia today. The following quote from John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel (vol. 2 pg. 171), indicates an intimate connection between the Israelites of the 15th Dynasty Egypt and the Toltecs of Mexico. Incidentally, the lower portion of Colorado, where the scarab was found, was part of Mexico until 1848 when Mexico was forced to relinquish the territory with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. 
 
Rob found the scarab when he was 5
years old. (Photo by Terry Carter)
“According to Fuentes, the chronicler of the kingdom of Guatemala, the kings of Quiche and Kachiquel were descended from the Toltecan Indians, who, when they came into this country, found it already inhabited by people of different nations. According to the manuscript of Don Juan Torres, the grandson of the last king of the Quiches, which was in the possession of the lieutenant-general appointed by Pedro de Alvarado, and which Fuentes says he obtained by means of Father Francis Vasques, the historian of the order of St. Francis, the Toltecas themselves descended from the house of Israel, who were released by Moses from the tyranny of Pharaoh, and after crossing the Red Sea, fell into idolatry. To avoid the reproofs of Moses, or from fear of his peinflicting upon them some chastisement, they separated from him and his brethren, and under the guidance of Tanub, their chief, passed from one continent to the other, to a place which they called the seven caverns, a part of the kingdom of Mexico, where they founded the celebrated city of Tula. From Tanub sprang the families of the kings of Tula and Quiche, and the first monarch of the Toltecas.”
 
 Experts who have reviewed photos of the scarab offer their comments:
  • Jan Summers, Archaeologist/Egyptologist with The College of Idaho's Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History: 
 “The stone is in the shape of a scarab but a very simplified one, not detailed on the top (body) surface. Many are made like this for tourist trade. Scarabs were important symbols, common & made for many occasions as amulets for the ancient Egyptian. Some were heart scarabs placed on the mummy, marriage scarabs, lion hunt scarabs etc. Others commemorating events with hieroglyphs. 
 “The glyphs are questionable & randomly carved saying no real text. There is no cartouche around the hieroglyphs identifying it (on either side) or a circled enclosure for a name or royal title. 
 “The bottom flat side is usually inscribed with a person’s name but this one has no cartouche. It is probably a scarab commemorating an event but a tourist piece. The birds are odd on this not Owls= M; quail chick=O; Vulture= A. Do not make sense. 
 “The material appears to be black steatite but difficult tell w/o handling, weighing; granite, basalt, schist etc. perhaps. 
 “I can see no real text just symbols & some are not in Gardiners. It could be older but not prehistoric Egyptian.” 
  • Dr. Geoffrey A. Smith: Doctor of Anthropology, emeritus trustee at the Museum of the Desert, current trustee at the Museum of Man in San Diego, California. 
The Levant is an approximate historical geographical term referring to a large area in the eastern Mediterranean. In its widest historical sense, the Levant included all of the eastern Mediterranean with its slands,
that is, it included all of the countries along the eastern Mediterranean shores, extending from Greece to Cyrenaica. The term Levant entered English in the late 15th century from French. It derives from the Italian levante, meaning “rising,” implying the rising of the sun in the east land, where the sun rises'.
 “Pretty easy to condemn…But during the Roman thru Middle Ages similar were done as a magic amulet. So not necessarily recent.” 
  •  Hussam, Member of the Association of International Antiquities Dealers (Zurqieh Co. L.L. C. Dubai – UAE) states: 
 "I agree with Dr. Smith and the stone type is very similar to later magic amulets but, I have never seen such magic amulets in Scarab shapes, usually Intaglios. I think it's real, not 100% sure, but from pictures I cannot see anything wrong with it. I handled similar magic amulets, which I used to attribute to the Roman period, amulets mostly in the form of Intaglios. Some of those intaglios do come from all over the Levant area also. Logically, if anyone wants to fake a piece like this, he would try his best to make [sure] the inscription looks as much as possible as the typical hieroglyphs you usually see. The crude inscription is maybe because it was made in a later period and inscribed by the magician himself?!! [The] symbols probably intended to mean something which the magician understands alone?! Again, in other words, I cannot say the piece is fake, it might be good. This is my humble opinion." 
  •  Tonio Birbiglia offered his comments on the yahoo group AncientArtifacts.: 
 “Fake and badly done. A lot goes into telling it’s a fake but on this piece it’s the hieroglyphs that…are nonsense. Why would a later magical amulet even from the Levant have a crude inscription of the name of tutmosis III which on this piece is at the bottom? I [have] seen in hand many magical scarabs inscribed in various languages from around the Mediterranean though none in false hieroglyphics. Show me any comparable. And no Egyptians were ever in the new world even if the coastal global trade route theory proves true.” 
  •  Frank Parrish, Archaeologist: 
 “[The scarab] is a very interesting find and has several things in its favor. The size of the black Colorado scarab is correct for a good luck charm and matches those from Egypt. Also, when an Egyptian wrote the language casually, they would write the opposite direction of English, from right to left, with the hieroglyphs facing the front of the words to the right, or, vertically from top to bottom as on the "back" of the piece. The Colorado scarab has this correct. The half circle above the cobra is the Egyptian word for eternity or forever, which is on your specimen. The bird glyphs are troublesome as they do not resemble the vulture, or the owl, an important distinction. They may be the cursive vulture or letter "A"- alyph- or [?] Many of the glyphs are authentic but I did not recognize many others. There are over 3,000 total with 6 to 7 hundred in common use. 
 “You stated that the name Tuthmosis appears on the stone, but not in a cartouche, this could be the name of a commoner. Tuthmosis the third (Toth is born) was a very powerful ruler of the eighteenth dynasty in the 15th century BC. He reconquered the Nile delta and ruled the land of modern Israel and Sinai all the way to the Euphrates River. In the 17th dynasty, the Nile delta was ruled by the Hyksos or "shepherd kings". According to Egyptologist Bob Brier, the Hyksos also made good-luck scarabs in the tradition of the south, but, since they were largely illiterate, their scarabs lack inscriptions or read as illiterate gibberish. These Hyksos scarabs are found as far away as the Greek island of Crete and help archaeologists to date archaeological sites in places outside of Egypt. The stone could easily have made its way through trade to the Americas.”

 

Previously published in the Dec 2015 Ancient American Issue Number 109, pg. 40-42

Fig. 1 Approximately 20 miles of mountain range as seen from the flat farmland where the mounds once stood.

Amasa Potter, serving as Alderman of Payson City, Utah, in the year 1870 and a farmer by trade, had his work cut out for him. Having purchased 3.6 acres of rich, fertile farmland approximately 1 mile northwest of Payson, he was determined to eradicate the imposing mound that rose over 15’ high on the newly acquired plot. A staggering 600 wagonloads of dirt would be removed before the farm would be level and all traces of the ancient mound obliterated. 
 
Potter’s mound was part of a complex including 5 to 7 mounds all surrounded and connected by graveled walks. Two of the mounds were circular, the others elongated and all were of varying sizes ranging from 10-18‘ high, 500- 1000’ in circumference and covering approximately 25 acres on what was known as the Payson Farm. 
 
The Excavation 
 
Moving the dirt was an arduous yet rewarding task. As the excavation progressed, an ancient structure slowly emerged with walls made of adobe bricks 18” long, 8” wide and 4” thick laid up in mortar made with cut straw. Amasa Potter described in detail both the dwellings and the objects discovered within. 
 
“We have found many curiosities in the mounds belonging to this ancient race once inhabiting this section. We find houses in all the mounds, the rooms of which are as perfect as the day they were built. All the apartments were nicely plastered and hard finished in every room, some in white and others in a red color with pictures of different animals in bright colors on the walls. There were clay pipes used for conduction of water in the house, some two inches in diameter and in a good state of preservation. 
 
“We found several stone jugs and jars, one that would hold up to 30 gallons, along with crockery ware, cooking utensils and vases. There were mill-stones used in grinding corn along with plenty of charred corncobs. Numerous articles of pottery were evident, some of them beautifully ornamented with pictures of flowers and animals. Upon one jug or vase can be traced a perfect delineation of the mountains for a distance of twenty miles.” (See Fig. 1) 
 
“We found in one deposit a comb and also a spoon, in good shape, made of stone; also a set of marbles. There was a sunglass, when cleaned and polished could light a pipe from the heat of the sun as easily as by any glass made now-adays. There were needles made of deer horns, and lasts made of stone for making shoes—all in good shape, and bright colored cloth so decayed that it would not bear handling. There were many trinkets such as white stone beads and also small squares of polished stones resembling dominoes but for what use intended we cannot determine. All these items were sealed in cement so water could not get in. “We judge that these ancient dwellers followed agriculture for a livelihood and had many of the arts and sciences known to us. We found molds made of clay, they are of different shapes for casting various kinds of iron implements. There is no kind of iron to be found now, but there are spots of rust where it has decayed. Skeletons: Humans, Horses and All Kinds of Animals 
 
“While engaged in excavating one of the larger mounds, I found a large building with 5 rooms in it, and in the corner of one of those rooms I found two skeletons of ancient people. We discovered the feet of a large skeleton, and carefully removing the hardened earth in which it was embedded, we succeeded in unearthing an entire skeleton without injury. The human frame-work measured 6’7” in length and from appearances, it was undoubtedly of the male gender. In the right hand was a huge iron or steel weapon, which had been buried with the body, evidenced by a streak of rust from his right hand down his side which we believe to have been a sword but which crumbled to pieces on handling. 
 
“Near the skeleton we also found pieces of cedar wood, cut in various fantastical shapes that had not all decayed. The heart was left yet and the wood was cut smooth, showing that the people of this unknown race were acquainted with the use of edged tools. We also found a large stone pipe, the stem of which was inserted between the teeth of the skeleton. The bowl of the pipe weighs five ounces, made of sandstone, and the aperture for the tobacco had the appearance of being drilled out. We found another skeleton near that of the above mentioned, which was not quite as large, [5’6” and not nearly so wellpreserved] and must be that of a woman. There was a neatly carved tombstone at the head of this skeleton. There were skeletons and bones of nearly all kinds of animals. While it has been said that the ancients had no horses, we found bones that Doctor Palmer pronounced horse bones—and he was a scientific man.” 
 
The Wheat 
 
Perhaps the most important and intriguing item found in Potter’s mound was a stone box of ancient wheat, carefully preserved and remarkably, viable. Amasa Potter issued a signed statement inin 1906 recounting the origin of the wheat and told his story numerous times for newspapers and other publications. “I found many articles of ancient work. Close by [the skeletons] the floor was covered with a hard cement, to all appearances a part of the solid rock, which after patient labor and exhaustive work we succeeded in penetrating, and found it was but the corner of a box familiarly constructed, in which we found about three pints of wheat kernels, most of which dissolved when brought in contact with the air. A few of the kernels found in the center of the heap looked bright, and retained their freshness on being exposed. These were carefully preserved.” The stone box was described by Miss Julia Wirt as “an air-tight stone box, encased in mortar or potter’s clay, and containing another stone box of about two quarts capacity.” 
 
Mr. Potter cleaned the seeds and planted them in his garden where they grew very well. “It was large and stout, different from any other wheat in the country. We raised four and a half pounds of heads from these grains. I saved it all and planted it next spring and raised a bushel and a half of wheat. I sent a small sample to the patent office in Washington and they called it ‘Ancient Mound Wheat.’ They tried it and sent me a report as being the best wheat that they had tried. I sent samples all over Utah County and it proved to be the best dry land wheat and a great yielder. There was about 60 grains in one head and 50 stalks from one grain’s planting which would make about 100 bushels per acre in good rich soil, weighing 65 lbs. to the bushel.” 
 
The Ancient Mound Wheat was shared from one farmer to another and became quite popular. Amasa Potter sent a sample to Orwell Simons who passed some on to Peter Winward, from there to John C. Whitbeck, and finally Hans Kofod of Levan. The first sample of this variety of wheat was received by the USDA from the Nephi [Utah] Substation in 1907. It retained the name “Kofod” after the farmer from Levan but was misspelled “Koffoid” in several publications until the spelling error was corrected. It was used by the Utah Arid Farm company and the Los Angeles buyers commented that it was the best wheat they had ever received from this section. Ultimately, it was grown in 5 Utah counties (Utah, Iron, Juab, Millard and Sanpete) and was noted as, “The wheat that has excelled all others up to date for the dry farms of Juab County.” 
 
1909 View of Plats of Koffoid Winter Wheat in the Time-of-Planting Test at the Nephi Substation. Ancient Mound Wheat was also known as Kofod or Koffoid Wheat.
Incidentally, dry farming in Utah got off to a rocky start. Most Utahns of the time were convinced that irrigation was essential and indeed, the first successful dry farming experiences were met with disbelief. One David Broadhead of Juab County testified in court in the 1880’s that “of course wheat can be raised without irrigation.” The statement was not received well for he was promptly indicted for perjury. After proving his point to all concerned, Broadhead went home and placed a sign on his property dubbing it, “Perjury Farm.” 
 
Anxious to experience this unique connection to the past, I set out to locate, photograph and plant a sample of the ancient wheat that had once thrived among the dry farms of Utah. I contacted local farmers, mills, county and state extension services, and finally the national seed bank, all to no avail. The USDA official report explains, “‘Kofod’ wheat is not available. Unfortunately, this wheat has been lost for decades.” 
 
Understandably, heartier varieties of wheat had eventually replaced the Kofod/Ancient Mound wheat but I had to wonder how this amazing discovery of seed, carefully preserved by an ancient culture, a salient contribution to the history of agriculture, had been allowed to insignificantly slip back into obscurity. 
   Field of Kofod (Ancient Mound Wheat) near Nephi, Utah c 1920.
 
The Question of Origin and Viability
 
In the 1920s the veracity of the Kofod (Ancient Mound) wheat discovery was called into question. Successive USDA Bulletins 
remarked, “The fact that wheat usually loses its viability after ten or fifteen years, makes this story extremely improbable….In reality, wheat loses its vitality within 20 years and usually much more quickly so that the above story is hardly plausible.” To refute those claims, we need look no further than the following examples. The original Guarge Mounds (of Utah) contained pottery jugs filled with Flint corn sealed with gum and dirt which yielded 80 bushels of corn to the acre. Mounds uncovered in Parowan yielded viable corn with black and white kernels. More recently, students in Winnepeg, Canada, made national news in October, 2015, when they successfully grew squash from seeds that were approximately 800 years old and had been preserved inside a clay vessel the size of a tennis ball. The 1500-year-old Cave Bean is a variety alleged to descend from Anasazi beans found in a sealed clay pot. In fact, the oldest viable seed on record is a 2,000-year-old date palm from Israel. The loss of seed viability correlates with the loss of external membrane integrity. Under the right conditions seeds may be viable for hundreds and even thousands of years. 
 
The Clash with Edward Palmer 
 
Edward Palmer, who became a field assistant for the Mound Exploration division of the Smithsonian Bureau of Ethnology paid a visit to the Payson mound site in 1877. Amasa Potter recounts Palmer’s favorable remarks at that time. “It was judged by Dr. Palmer that all of these things had lain here 1400 years. [The skeletons] were judged to be white people as the skulls were not like Indian skulls…There were skeletons and bones of nearly all kinds of animals. While it has been said that the ancients had no horses, we found bones that Doctor Palmer pronounced horse bones—and he was a scientific man. We sold all our cabinet of ancient relics to him for $250.00 and he took them to Washington.” 
 
However, when Palmer returned to the Davenport Academy of Science he presented a report contesting the claims and attempted to discredit Amasa Potter, the extraordinary contents of the Payson mounds, and any evidence suggesting advanced origins of the mound builders. The presence of cultural bias is obvious as Palmer presumes, “The most conclusive evidence against the matter is that the Indians who left these ruins behind, like the present races, did not work for the sake of work, but only did what labor the collecting, preparing and preservation of native animal and vegetable substances required to convert them into articles of food and clothing.” The flaws and inconsistencies of the report prompted at least one author to claim, “This was one of Palmer’s longer articles and certainly must rank as one of his worst efforts. It is replete with stereotypes, overgeneralizations, prejudices, and leaps to wrong conclusions.” 
 
This same attitude and prejudice, rampant among the academics of the time and typical of the Smithsonian view, has often carried over to the present day. Great effort was made by Edward Palmer and others to dispel the myth that a civilized lost race had built the mounds. The prevailing interpretation of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, the idea that the native people were intellectually inferior and had never achieved anything worth preserving, has undoubtedly resulted in the tragic loss of some of America’s most important cultural history. 
 
Conclusion 
 
The following words from Footprints of Vanished Races, published in 1879, offers a thoughtful conclusion to the saga of the Payson mounds and the Utah mound builders. 
 
“We have found many curiosities in the mounds belonging to this ancient race once inhabiting this section. The explorations divulged no hidden treasure so far, but have proved to us that there once undoubtedly existed here a more enlightened race of human beings than that of the Indian who inhabited this country, and whose records have been traced back hundreds of years. We conclude that the authors of these works could not have belonged to the present Indian race, but were undoubtedly the mound-building people of the Mississippi Valley. It is at least, a most interesting discovery… Should the conjecture as to their authorship be verified, a new chapter of unusual interest in the history of the Mound Builders will be opened for our perusal. The wood-carving, plastered and tinted walls, painted vases, and the presence of that most precious of all cereals, wheat, are new and striking evidences of a higher social state than we have hitherto thought possible.”  
 
References: 
LDS Millennial Star vol. 59 pg. 141 
The Improvement Era Vol. 2 pg. 32-34 
Juab Agricultural Extension Office 
Utah County Recorder’s Office Utah, A Guide to the State pg. 101 (1941) 
Deseret News, Oct. 5, 1876 
Footprints of Vanished Races, Conant 1879 Pg. 67-69 
The Western Review of Science and Industry p 206-7 
Harold E. Bockelman, Supervisory Agronomist / Curator 
National Small Grains Collection U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service Utah State University Extension Service Popular Science, Nov 1877 pg. 123 
The Small Grains, Mark A. Carleton 
Farmers Bulletin, Issues 1301-1325 (1928) 
Ancient Mound Grains, Dr. Wm. J. Snow BYU 
The Osborn Files, The History, Stephen G. Mecham 
Proceedings Vol. 2, Davenport Academy of Science 1897 
Edward Palmer’s Arkansaw Mounds, Palmer & Jeter 
The Deseret Farmer,SLC Dec.,1906 pg. 14 
Classification of American Wheat Varieties, Clark, Ball, Martin 
Utah Historical Quarterly: July, October 1941 Vol. 9 No. 3-4 
New Witnesses for God, B.H. Roberts Vol. 3 pg. 533 
PubMed.Gov (PMID:8142440 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]) 
Wikipedia, Oldest Viable Seed

 

 

Hopewell Headhunters?

Written by Monday, 20 January 2014 00:00

The interpretation of so-called “trophy skulls” found in Hopewell mounds has been the subject of considerable debate over the years. Henry Shetrone, in his book The Mound-Builders, described one of these skulls, which was associated with the burial of an elderly male in one of the small mounds of the Hopewell Mound Group. The separate skull was “that of a young male. On it are numerous marks of the flint knife used in carefully removing the scalp and tissues. A helmet-shaped copper headplate and vestiges of a cap or bonnet of woven fabric to which the headplate had been attached surmounted the skull. It may reasonably be surmised that the old man was a war chief and the separate skull that of a vanquished enemy, placed in the grave as a trophy of his prowess; or perhaps it was that of a cherished relative, preserved as a personal or family relic.”

In addition to the skulls, there are various iconic depictions of detached human heads and headless bodies in Hopewell art, but these are subject to the same alternative interpretations. A mica cut-out of a headless human torso might represent a mutilated enemy’s body or a ritually dismembered ancestor. The sculpture of a Hopewell shaman wearing bear regalia and holding a human head could depict an act of ancestor worship or some sort of ritual honoring or debasing a defeated enemy.

In my March column in the Columbus Dispatch I discuss the debate in the context of a recent analysis of documented trophy heads from Borneo by anthropologists Mercedes Okumura of the University of São Paulo and Yun Ysi Siew of the University of Cambridge, which was published in a recent volume of the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology.

What do Dayak trophy heads have to do with the Ohio Hopewell? Historically, not much, but because the specific cultural contexts of the Dayak heads are well documented, they provide a suite of characteristics that are known to be a result of headhunting. If the Hopewell skulls share those same characteristics, then the argument that they, too, are trophies of war is strengthened. If, on the other hand, they lack important characteristics shared by the headhunter skulls, then it suggests they may be something other than trophy skulls.

Okumura and Siew determined that about 60% of the headhunter skulls showed signs of violence. The most common evidence consisted of cutmarks. Other signs of violence included chopmarks (15%) and “sharp force traumas” (21%). Okumura and Siew concluded that without the historical information associated with the Borneo skulls it would be difficult to tell whether the heads were war trophies or honored ancestors, but it’s abundantly clear that several of these people died violently. On the other hand, none of the Hopewell skulls show signs of trauma other than cutmarks, which Okumura and Siew acknowledge, could be related to “dismemberment and cleaning of bones” as part of “a mortuary custom.”

Another way of testing the hypothesis that the Hopewell skulls are war trophies, is to see if there is any other evidence of war among the Hopewell. In fact, evidence of violent trauma, such as crushed skulls, spear points lodged between ribs, or forearms broken in the act of blocking an attack (parry fractures) is virtually absent from documented Hopewell skeletons. Moreover, Hopewell hamlets are not surrounded by protective walls and the extensive interaction network of the Hopewell more or less requires that at least certain people could travel relatively freely across social boundaries.

When you consider all the evidence, it seems more likely that the separate skulls found with Hopewell burials belonged to honored ancestors. Perhaps the Hopewell honored certain people upon their deaths by cutting off their heads, which then became objects of veneration in the same way that early Christians preserved relics of saints.

As for artifacts such as the mica cut-out and the Shaman of Newark, perhaps they depict episodes from the lives of the Hopewell “saints.” For example, in the Popol Vuh, the “Mayan Bible,” a man named One Hunahpu and his brother are defeated by the lords of Xibalba, the Mayan Underworld. The lords cut off One Hunahpu’s head and place it in the fork of a tree. Sometime later, the head speaks to a young woman and impregnates her with spittle. She gives birth to the hero twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque who return to Xibalba to avenge their father.

There is no evidence that the Hopewell shared this particular story with their southern cousins, but it seems likely that they would have used their art to illuminate their own traditional stories, just as the Maya did.

Indeed, I think the Shaman of Newark sculpture may have been designed to be held in the hands and manipulated as a sort of animated aid to telling such a story. I demonstrate the idea in a video on the Ancient Ohio Trail website.

Regrettably, we are no longer able to hear the words of the stories that enlivened this magnificent figurine for the Hopewell, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that these stories would not have been about mighty warriors lopping the heads off of their defeated enemies.
 

For further reading:

Lloyd, Timothy C.
2000 Human remains as burial accompaniments at the Hopewell site. West Virginia Archeologist 52:53-70.

Okumura, Mercedes and Yun Ysi Siew
2013 An osteological study of trophy heads unveiling the headhunting practice in Borneo. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 23:685-697.

Seeman, Mark F.
2007 Predatory War and Hopewell trophies. In The taking and displaying of human body parts as trophies by Amerindians, edited by Richard J. Chacon and David H. Dye, pp. 167-189. Springer Science, New York.
 

Muskogean Symbols

Written by Wednesday, 09 April 2014 00:00

Muskogean Symbols

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