The Tucson Artifacts created quite a sensation when they were discovered in the 1920s. Over 30 crosses and other relics were recovered, and they tell the story of a group of Roman colonists who were located in the Tucson, Arizona area for over 100 years. They are engraved in Latin and Hebrew and the incredible story they tell is part of the reason why so many consider them to be counterfeit.
According to the inscriptions the people who made the crosses were there from 790 until 900 AD. As with other artifacts that indicate the presence of European and Asian peoples in North America prior to Columbus, their discovery has led to controversy.
Photo of the Silver Bell Road site where the Tucson Artifacts were found, with. (Book Cover Image/ blurb.com)
A Curious Find Amidst the Gravel
Charles Manier found the first Tucson Artifact sticking out of the gravel near an abandoned lime kiln beside Silverbell Road in September 1924. It was a cross and required some effort to free it from the ground. He realized it was made of two pieces stuck together, so he pried them apart and found lettering engraved on their faces. That prompted him to contact Dr. Frank H. Fowler, Latin professor at the University of Arizona, who had no trouble translating them. Several of them were discovered by Thomas Bent Sr. (friend/business partner of Manier) and some of the university faculty even participated in the excavations. The process was well documented, including photographs, and followed by the Tucson and Phoenix newspapers, and even a New York Times article.
The New York Times ran an article when the Tucson Artifacts (also known as The Silverbell Crosses) where found. ( Geburahs Secret / YouTube)
Over 30 pieces were recovered by March 1930, all from the same gravel pit. Some were found as much as 5 feet (1.524 meters) below the surface of the ground. All of them are made of lead except for a smaller engraved stone and a large boulder with the letter ‘R’ pecked on its surface. The smaller stone is a memorial to a leader named Theodore who is also identified on the crosses.
‘The Great Cross’. This is the larger half of a cast lead joined cross with gold infill inscriptions. 45-46 cm tall, 30cm wide, 3.2 cm thick. Letter about 1 cm high. Weight, 43lbs. 1 oz. Catalog #94.26.1A (Image: The Tucson Artifacts . Photograph by Robert C. Hyde. © Donald N. Yates, 2013. All rights reserved. Used by special permission.)
Part translation from The Tucson Artifacts by D Yates PhD. and R. Hyde:
‘To the memory of Romans: Britain and Albion’s Jacob, to that second A ëtius, Theodore, and to Israel of the Seine Province in Gaul, consuls of mighty cities with seven hundred soldiers. AD 800, January 1. We are transports on the sea. Calalus is Terra Incognita. The Toltec governor was a king ruling widely o’ver the peoples….’
(For the full translations and images of all the artifacts, see The Tucson Artifacts )
The lead is not highly refined and different mixtures of antimony, tin, zinc, copper, gold, and silver are found in various pieces. This has prompted speculation that they were made from the byproducts of refining other more precious metals, although according to Donald Yates, PhD., author of Merchant Adventurer Kings of Rhoda: The Lost World of the Tucson Artifacts , professors at the University of Arizona at the time verified the composition matched the lead from the Old Yuma Mine, about 10 miles (16 km) away, whose main output was lead.
Eight of the Latin crosses were paired like the first find and two others were not. There are also two nehushtans, a labarum, and several swords and spear points. Many of the artifacts have illustrations and symbols including portraits, temple, spoon, trident, miters, a menorah, angels, and the numerals I through X. Several of the items have the same illustration but only one has the same wording.
Inscriptions on The Silverbell Crosses. ( Geburahs Secret / YouTube)
The crosses tell of conquering a Toltec city called Rhoda in which they expelled the king and captured over 700. There are several leaders listed with their length of reign and a report of infighting or civil war between two factions of the ruling hierarchy of Toltec Chichimecs, in which 3000 were killed. They record an earthquake which actually occurred in 895 AD. So, do these artifacts offer proof of Europeans in North America 700 years before Columbus? Some at the University seemed to think so, and many of them were directly involved in the recovery of several of the relics.
A Barrage of ‘Expert’ Naysayers
However, when Dean Byron Cummings, Museum Director took some of the artifacts to the Smithsonian they were summarily dismissed by various authorities; labeled as transparent fakes, the poorest of forgeries, and obvious frauds. Dr. E. C. Gotsinger of The California Jewish Review claimed that they were ‘fakes planted to be discovered by the followers of Joseph Smith’ (the same rationale used to discredit supposed Hebrew artifacts discovered in present-day Minnesota). An attorney who never saw the artifacts claimed they were fakes planted by some practical joker. He inferred that the integrity of the faculty was compromised by allowing their names to be attached to the reports of the discovery.
After news of the rejections was reported in Tucson, a rancher came forward to claim that a Mexican cowboy/sculptor named Timotio made the pieces, but according to Yates this claim was discredited in weeks of being aired. Further, a man that helped build the lime kiln in 1884 said he had found two swords but gave them to his children who lost them.
In response to the pressure applied to discredit these finds, Arizona officials suspended all research and the artifacts were returned to the finder’s family who were the legitimate owners. They were basically forgotten until Thomas Bent Jr. brought them to the Arizona Historical Society Museum, (who displayed them as curiosities) in 1994.
A cast lead paddle-shaped military standard with images of temples, Calalus insignia, and inscriptions mentioning 705 AD, Romans, David’s Temple, and more. Catalog #94.26.13 (Image: The Tucson Artifacts . Photograph by Robert C. Hyde. © Donald N. Yates, 2013. All rights reserved. Used by special permission.)
Part of the reason some claim them to be fakes is that some of the words used are found in basic Latin primers. However, the artifacts have some abbreviations and details not found in any primers and the critics have not addressed the use of Hebrew. Other concerns are due to an illustration on a sword that looks like a dinosaur. Yates believes this is more properly interpreted as a ‘tannin’ which he says is the symbol of international trade in ancient seafaring.
The fact that no habitation has been found nor the location of their smelter is also cited to cast doubts. How can the truth be found after almost 100 years of controversy?
Cutting Through the Controversy
There seemed to have been no question or concerns about their authenticity until they were submitted to the Smithsonian. Just like other artifacts that contradict the “Columbus First” theory , they were branded as forgeries, a standard operating policy by leading authorities at that time. According to some sources, Dr. C. J. Sarle (who recovered some pieces) had been terminated by the University and was motivated to embarrass them. However, other sources have him still employed at the time of recovery.
In May 1973, Manier’s widow wrote to Bent’s widow saying that she had found a letter written by Dr. Sarle and her husband confessing that they made the artifacts, however the handwriting on the cover letter and the confession are identical so there’s no question that Bessie Manier wrote both of them.
What would motivate someone to spend the time, expense, and labor to create such an extensive collection of artifacts? No one has ever profited from their discovery or possession. Nobody has ever come forward to ridicule the academics that supported their authenticity. No one has ever been found who has met the supposed forger (Timotio) nor seen any of his work. Where would a forger have obtained almost 150 pounds (70 kilograms) of lead? Would a practical joker have gone to the trouble of mixing all those other elements with the lead for various relics? Are they real or a colossal hoax? Some highly qualified scholars are finally employing a scientific approach to resolve the question of authenticity.
Left; Cast lead nehushtan (ceremonial cross with serpent) inscribed in Latin and Hebrew, with drawings, crest, seals and modeled snake wrapped around the middle. Right; Close up of inscription. Catalog #94.26.18 (Image: The Tucson Artifacts . Photograph by Robert C. Hyde. © Donald N. Yates, 2013. All rights reserved. Used by special permission.)
Translation from The Tucson Artifacts by D Yates PhD. and R. Hyde:
‘We are transports on the sea bound for Rome. Calalus was an unknown land. They came in AD 775 and Theodore [Todros, Makhir, nasi King of the Jews, died July 6, 793] ruled the peoples.’
Assessing Manufacture Techniques
Donald N. Yates, PhD and Robert Hyde, in The Tucson Artifacts , have produced individual photographs of each item with transcripts and complete translations. On the program America Unearthed on the Travel Channel, Scott Wolter, a forensic geologist, utilized chemical testing of the caliche and mineral deposits on the artifacts to confirm their age as authentic.
One thing that seemed to have been missing is a thorough determination of how they were made. Various reports specify that they were made by the investment casting (lost wax) process or by in-ground molds, and that some of the parts appear to have been filed. Donald Yates has latterly explored the manufacture of these items and records the details in his 2018 book, Merchant Adventurer Kings of Rhonda .
He says on the subject of manufacture:
‘… my book, Merchant Adventurer Kings of Rhoda, which goes into all this from various angles in boring detail. Section VII, pp. 187-222, is titled Mining and Metallurgy. I. Prehistoric Mining in the Southwest shows the Toltec Chichimecs (including our Romani) pioneered turquoise mining in the American Southwest beginning in the 6 th century. 2. Is about Lead in Arizona. 4. Is the account of these foreigners remembered by the Pima/Papago Indians in later times (“White Strangers and Papago Gold”), 10 is a lengthy and witty sketch by one of the founders of Arizona archeology, Harold Sterling Gladwin, the excavator of Snaketown (though Haury shoved him aside later and took all the credit)—“In Case You Should Ever Need to Invent a Copper Bell in a Hurry.” The last two extracts in this section concern Aztec and Toltec metallurgy. The acid test for the authenticity of these artifacts concerns so-called ulli-drops (pp. 3, 161f. 165, 247).’
The detail in which Yates has studied the available material seems impressive and the book intriguing, possibly revelatory.
A Professional Metalwork Engineer’s Opinion
The writer of this article has a background in Industrial Arts, majoring in metals technology and has spent 40 years in various positions, primarily in ‘job shops’ building all manner of products from almost any material imaginable, including using metals from lead to titanium. I have built parts with applications ranging from aircraft to wheelchairs and just about everything in between. In the job shop arena, it was quite common to ‘reverse engineer’ products, which often required me to examine a sample to determine the raw material/ methods/tools used in the original manufacture. My early experience as an inspector taught me to ‘read’ tooling marks which may enable me to determine the method(s) of manufacture (and therefore an indication of the age) of metal objects.
From a visual inspection of the artifacts made by myself, there is no evidence of sprues or runners visible on any of the parts. The apparent filing marks are quite coarse as though done by a rasp. Several of them have features that would be very difficult to obtain in casting and could have been cut from flat stock which was hammered and/or filed to finished shape.
The Latin crosses all appear to have been cast in ground molds and some have areas that were filed. The four pairs of crosses each use different size pins to rivet them together, ranging from 0.13 – 0.25 inches (3.2 to 6 millimeters). No machining marks could be seen inside the holes, but some appear to be drilled and two have shavings that appear to be caused by the rivet being driven in. The fitment for pairing appears to have been done before the engraving.
There is a wide variety of items in The Tucson Artifacts . ( Photograph by Robert C. Hyde. © Donald N. Yates, 2013. All rights reserved. Used by special permission.)
One of the spears has a hollow shaft which was made from flat stock. The edges were scarfed and then it was wrapped around a rod and overlapped edges welded on the outside seam. The shaft was then squeezed flat on one end and welded to the point. The open end is distorted, but it appears to have been wrapped around a rod that was slightly less than 0.47 inches (12 millimeters) in diameter. It is apparent that some other spears and the labarum also have shanks or shafts welded to them. The artifacts exhibit two very different levels of workmanship but the inscriptions on all of the artifacts appear to have been done by the same hand. Certain letters and features are virtually identical from part to part.
In my opinion, nothing is apparent in any feature of these artifacts that could not have been accomplished by competent metalworkers in the era reported in the translations. It would be much easier to do with more modern tools but would only reduce the time needed by a very small amount.
Cast lead practice or ceremonial short sword. 45.7 cm long, 5 cm wide, 0.6 cm thick, weight, 2lbs 3 oz (1kg). Catalog #24.26.11 (Image: The Tucson Artifacts . Photograph by Robert C. Hyde. © Donald N. Yates, 2013. All rights reserved. Used by special permission.)
Could More Evidence Authenticate These Items?
I feel that perhaps if only those first two swords were available, they might provide definitive proof one way or the other. Donald Yates is certain that they are not necessary for authentication:
“While it would be nice to find them again we really don’t need them. Everything is there. I’ll copy the following “elevator speech” which is repeated with variations in several different places in the book and in my blog posts (see calalus.com)…
“The Tucson Artifacts bear reliable dates in the Christian calendar (560, 705, 775, 800, 880, 885, 900). They document the annals and prosopography of a distinct geopolitical entity, a Roman-styled military kingdom in Chichimec Toltec Mexico with Jewish leaders from Brittany, the Carolingian or Frankish heartland on the Seine, and Gaul, one that existed for over a century (890-900). They are straight-forwardly composed in Latin, the official language of records during the Middle Ages. They are plainly written in a script intended for public scrutiny. The circumstances of their manufacture from local lead and their recovery from the desert soil localize them to the place where they were excavated. Finally, they are perfectly preserved, complete, unaltered. They are diplomatic records, recognizable as being signed and sealed by a public notary (OL). They do not have to be reconstructed, pieced together, deciphered or dated. Further, their context is completely understandable by reference to the Toltecs, a two thousand-year-old advanced civilization whose name they mention, and whose commercial conventions they observe down to trade emblems and characteristic ulli-drops.”
What has made the judgement of some so firm on these items?
In the absence of further investigation, it seems at present impossible to confirm or deny the authenticity of these items. And there don’t seem to be enough people willing to put their reputations at stake to give it consideration. Initially some learned folk were fairly positive about the find, but had their minds swiftly changed by others, and once this judgement had been made, it was all but set in stone (much like Tucson Artifacts themselves).
Is it the slightly amateurish look of the items? According to the British Museum expert and the Smithsonian, they are obvious fakes. And it must be admitted that some of the images do look amateur attempts. But would a scouting team be expected to have an expert metalworker onboard for such an expedition?
Is it the sheer unlikelihood of finding items belonging to this age and culture in this particular location? If genuine they surely add a whole hitherto unknown chapter to the history of the continent. But where is the other evidence of this? Some – Yates for one – claim this evidence exists and name examples. But this evidence is far from overwhelming.
The result of this investigation is inconclusive, but the opinion is that these items show no indications from examining their manufacture that prove they were not made in antiquity.
More and varied considerations are necessary to finally find the truth. But surely with so much to potentially add to history, it would be worth further investigation.
Top image: Four of the Tucson Artifacts Source: The Tucson Artifacts / Photographs by Robert C. Hyde. © Donald N. Yates, 2013. All rights reserved. Used by special permission.
Thanks to Donald Yates for input and clarifications on some of the details in this article, and for permission to use photographs essential to describe this subject.
Thanks to Robert Hyde for providing the photographs.
Thanks to Arizona Historical Society Museum for permission to represent some of the artifacts here.
For a limited time, you can explore the items for yourself with the publication of photos and descriptions of all the artifacts here – The Tucson Artifacts .
For more discussion of the subject, visit calalus.com
The latest book exploring the subject by Donald Yates, Merchant Adventurer Kings of Rhonda: The Lost World of the Tucson Artifacts , is available from Amazon.
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