The Michigan relics were a series of supposedly ancient artifacts that appeared to prove that people of an ancient Near Eastern culture had lived in the American state of Michigan. However, they were actually archaeological forgeries.
"Discovery" of the relics
In 1890, James Scotford of Edmore, Michigan, claimed that he had found a number of artifacts, including a clay cup with strange symbols and carved tablets, with symbols that looked vaguely hieroglyphic. He put them forward as evidence that people from the Near East or Europe had lived in America. The find attracted interest and also eager looters who arrived to look for more artifacts.
Scotford joined forces with Daniel E. Soper, former Michigan Secretary of State, and together they presented thousands of objects made of various materials, supposedly found in 16 counties all over Michigan. They included coins, pipes, boxes, figurines and cuneiform tablets that depicted various biblical scenes, including Moses handing out the tablets of the Ten Commandments. On November 14, 1907, the Detroit News reported that Soper and Scotford were selling copper crowns they had supposedly found on heads of prehistoric kings, and copies of Noah's diary. Scotford often arranged a local person to witness him "unearthing" the objects.
Despite the fact that many authorities and collectors declared the objects fraudulent, Scotford and Soper had a large number of believing customers. In 1911, one John A. Russell published a pamphlet, "Prehistoric discoveries in Wayne County, Michigan", in which he argued for their authenticity. James Savage, former pastor of the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Detroit, bought 40 of the objects. Savage believed them to be "remains relevant to the descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel", and continued to believe in the relics until his death.
Archaeologists and historians quickly concluded that the objects were forgeries. On July 28, 1911, professor Frederick Starr of the University of Chicago declared in the Detroit News that the so-called relics were fakes. Mary Robson, who lived a room next door to Scotford's sons Percy and Charles, stated that the boys manufactured more "relics" all the time. In 1911, Scotford's stepdaughter signed an affidavit in which she stated that she had seen him making the objects.
The finds attracted the interest of LDS Church members, and in 1909, Mormon scientist James E. Talmage participated in a "dig" and then thoroughly tested the artifacts in his lab back in Utah. His investigations led him to label the artifacts as frauds. In August 1911, he published a work on his findings titled "The 'Michigan Relics': A Story of Forgery and Deception".
Scotford and Soper never confessed, but no more objects were found after they died.
More recent studies conducted by Professor of Anthropology Richard B. Stamps, of the Michigan Historical Museum, indicate that the artifacts were made with contemporary tools. Current historians tend to agree that Scotford and Soper joined forces to sell the fake relics for personal profit.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints kept 797 of the objects in the Salt Lake City Museum. In 2003, they gave them up to the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing, where they currently reside.
- Givens, Terryl L. (2002). By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion. Oxford University Press. p. 108.
- Turley, Richard Eyrling, Jr. (1992). Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case. University of Illinois Press. pp. 18–19.
- "Tools Leave Marks: Material Analysis of the Scotford-Soper-Savage Michigan Relics". BYU Studies 40 (3): 210–238. 2001.