The Michigan relics are a series of apparently ancient artifacts that were discovered during the late 19th and early 20th century. They appeared to be evidence that people of an ancient Near Eastern culture had lived in the American state of Michigan, but they have since been determined to be archaeological forgeries. Also known as the Scotford-Soper-Savage collection, the relics number nearly 3,000 pieces.
"Discovery" of the relics
|This section relies largely or entirely on a single source. (September 2015)|
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. It was reported in the Detroit News that Scotford was involved in the forgeries sold at the railroad tracks, ranging from the first to third series of forgeries. Scotford was a sign-painter by trade who used to live in Montcalm County. (Young, 1) He and his company "would dig until they located an artifact, and then the dignitaries who sponsored the work were invited to remove that artifact". (Stamps, 213) Originally, Scotford found his way to Detroit with intentions of selling copper. Detroit was the place to be, with its booming economy and availability of raw materials necessary to produce more artifacts. Ironically, it was Scotford's name that appeared on the certificate of discovery for the second batch of frauds in the museum at the University of Michigan. The relics, however, may have been marked as "discovered by William H.Scotford," an alias.
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 across Michigan. Soper had resigned as Secretary of State for the State of Michigan for "corrupt behavior." The objects 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 for a local person to witness him "unearthing" the objects.
Although 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.
Professor Albert Emerson came out to the sites to get a better look at the "artifacts" that he dubbed "bad enough in the photographs." Labeling them "bogus" from the hieroglyphics to the characters that were turned upside-down, Emerson said that a primitive artist would never make as many mistakes, such as a dragon without a tail.
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 in 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.
- Kelsey, F.W. (1908). "Some Archeological Forgeries From Michigan". American Anthropologist. 10: 48. doi:10.1525/aa.1908.10.1.02a00070.
- 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.
- "Digging Up Controversy: A Michigan Historical Museum Exhibit". Archived from the original on August 24, 2014.
- Brigham Young University - Michigan relics revisited
- "The Newberry Tablet". Archaeology Fantasies Blog. December 9, 2014. - Article discussing an artifact allegedly discovered in Michigan during the 1890s.
- Baulch, Vivian M. (February 14, 1996). "Michigan - the home of Noah's Ark?". Detroit News. Archived from the original on March 28, 2013.
- Young, Lisa. "Museums: Michigan's Mystery Relics". Archaeology magazine.