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Fifty “Facts” about the Tucson Artifacts

Signature of Oliver - OL Letter forms

Fact #1. They are “old iron objects found outside Tucson in 1924.” Incredibly, this “fact” comes from the first sentence of the description of the Tucson Artifacts in the Arizona Historical Society’s catalogue, which is published on the World Wide Web. The Tucson Artifacts are made of lead. Rusty ranch objects are “found.” Artifacts are excavated and housed and protected.

Fact #2. They are made of common typographer’s lead. On one of my visits to the Arizona History Society, I read a whole dossier from their archives on how three merry cowboys cooked the whole hoax up on their kitchen stove to puzzle newspaper reporters. The Arizona Bureau of Mines at the University of Arizona certified long ago that the lead of the Tucson Artifacts matched that of the Old Yuma Mine, about 12 miles away.

Fact #3. The letters and drawings are engraved on the surface of the lead. No, they are reproduced from a waxen original by precision casting. Also called the lost wax process, this technique has been known to virtually all metal-using cultures around the world (except the University of Arizona Archeology Department) since about 3000 BCE. See Fig. 1.

Signature of Oliver - OL Letter forms

Fig. 1. Signature of Oliver. The fluid nature of the letter-forms and ductus shows that the writing was executed by a sharp stylus (traditionally a cactus thorn) in wax, not an engraver’s metal scalpel in lead.

Fact #4. They were made by a single, mad forger, or a small party of madmen. If you believe this, then you naturally hold a single forger, perhaps the same person, responsible for the Michigan Tablets, which consist of 10,000 to 30,000 objects with strange writings unearthed from mounds in every county of the Lower Peninsula of the state from 1852 to 1922—probably more by now.

Fact #5. They were cleverly inserted horizontally into place in the hardpan soil so the ground wouldn’t look disturbed and the fake objects wouldn’t look buried. We saw how they did it on a television documentary.

Fact #6. They are not as old as they might appear to be. I am not sure how old the experts want them to be (though I suspect the optimal time frame is post-Columbian), but I would say they are exactly as old as they appear to be and are.

Fact #7. They are written in bad Latin. Actually, it’s pretty good.

Fact #8. All the Latin words are cribbed from a handful of books like Gildersleeve’s Latin grammar that students had access to in the university library in 1924. This argument, repeated by the ignorant ad nauseam (just Google the name Jason Colavito), is like producing the murder weapon in court, but only a toy plastic version of it, and there is not even a suspect. Pitiful.

Fact #9. The Hebrew is impossible. On the contrary, it provides perfect specimens of Masoretic Hebrew written during one of the celebrated golden ages of Jewish literature, showing that not only the authors but also the audiences of the inscriptions were highly educated and literate, certainly more so in their day than the staff of the University of Arizona or Tucson newspaper readers in the 1920s.

Fact #10. People didn’t write in Latin “then.” Rumors about the death of Latin in the Middle Ages have been greatly exaggerated. It was the language of the land throughout Western Europe in spoken and written form until well into the tenth century, when vernaculars began to emerge and gradually replace it. In truth, there are six types of writing. See Fig. 2. All were current in ninth century Marginal Mesoamerica. Ogam is also evidenced at Bandelier and Inscription Rock. Chinese seal script is found on South Mountain outside Tucson. Once you start looking, these scripts are ubiquitous in North America.

Six writing systems

Fig. 2. Six writing systems: a. Latin, b. Chinese seal script, c. Hebrew, d. ogam and runes, e. Mesoamerican glyph.

Fact #11. No one in Western Europe knew Hebrew “then.” On the contrary, it was a period of efflorescence for spoken and written Hebrew. Christian clerics hired Hebrew neighbors to teach Bible studies in monasteries and cathedral schools. Every Jewish male above the age of 13 was literate. Every family, it is said, owned at least one book. Business correspondence around the world was carried out in Hebrew.

Fact #12. Jews wouldn’t have had anything to do with crosses. Under Charles Martel and Pepin, the Latin cross became the standard for the reconquest of lands in Southern France after the highwater mark of Muslim aggression in the early eighth century. For purposes of customs and duties, merchants were required to mark all trade goods passing through Constantinople to or from Christian lands in the West with a cross. The black cross is the ancient national symbol of an independent Brittany. Much as Jewish merchants today participate unthinkingly in the Christmas selling season, Jews in the Carolingian Era ran tourist concessions, operated a far-reaching relics industry, dominated the ecclesiastical vestments business, had a monopoly of the incense and spice trade and even designed and decorated churches. Not until the Crusades was this dynamic changed.

Fact #13. There is no ruin nearby to suggest where these people lived. The extensive Hodges Ruin lies directly across the narrow Santa Cruz River. It had several ballcourts, cemeteries and fields for agriculture. See Fig. 3.

Ancient sites in the Tucson Basin.

Fig. 3. Ancient sites in the Tucson Basin.

Fact #14. The use of the designation “Romans” doesn’t fit the time frame or place. According to the then-prevailing notion of “personality of the law,” Jews, Bretons, Gaulo-Romans and others were classified as Romans in Western Europe, while the Byzantine Greeks were still called Romans as well. When the Aquitainian Gerbert of Aurillac became Pope Sylvester in the 10th century he identified himself as a Roman citizen. Ancient and medieval Romans traded with Mexico across both the Pacific and Atlantic and settled in Cholula and other cities.

Fact #15. None of the people mentioned or depicted can be confirmed independently in historical or documentary records. Aside from Aetius, named on Artifact 1, the well-known hero who was assassinated by the emperor in Ravenna in 454, the Babylonian exilarch Makhir, whom Pepin brought to the West and established as the Jewish Prince of Narbonne, is undoubtedly identical with Theodorus who “ruled the peoples in 775” (Artifact 18-2), and Oliver’s father, Joseph, is probably the same as Joseph Rabban, a ninth century foreign merchant commemorated on a copper plate in Jewish Kerala in 847.

#16. You can’t fight with these swords, their metal is too soft and heavy. Right, but that was not their purpose. The contemporary military manual by Rhabanus Maurus (from which one of the military mottoes comes, Training Conquerors All, or Vincit Omnia Exercitatio [VOE]) advises training boys with heavier than issue swords so when they go into battle they can expertly wield the lighter gladius. The Tucson swords were practice swords.

Fact #17. American Indians couldn’t have made them. But Natives undoubtedly made “unchipped stone knives of a blue-black rock,” a fair description of short swords of local lead that had been turning up since 1881 and were part of the Silverbell Road finds. C.S. Sarle, professor of geology at the University of Arizona, inventoried them in great numbers at the foot of Tumamoc Hill at the large St. Mary’s site in 1921, 5 miles away.  Altogether Sarle surveyed over 30 pueblos in the Tucson area, though these surveys cannot today be accounted for, no more than the “vast amount of material” he and Robert F. Gilder, a Nebraska archeologist, turned over to the Arizona State Museum. See “Ruins of Villages of Ancient Desert Peoples Are Discovered Near Tucson,” Arizona Republican (Phoenix), March 7, 1921.

Fact #18. Indians did not know metallurgy or have mines. On the contrary, the Green Stone Culture Purépucha-speaking Tarascan Indians from Michoacán who conquered the so-called Hohokam of Marginal Mexico and the American Southwest beginning in the sixth century introduced turquoise mines and things like golden bells and cloisonné masks. They were apparently the trade partners of our Romans (mostly Frankish, Gaulo-Roman and Breton Jews), who took control of Rhoda (Tucson) in 790 and ruled the region until 900, when they returned to Mexico and founded Tollan. The trade empire is known also as the Toltec Chichimec. A sample of their signature green stone (Chalchihuites), the emblem of Quetzalcoatl, was stuck in the center of the outside of one of the cast lead crosses.

Fact #19. Indians didn’t have kings. The strange expression used (regere populorum) comes from Vergil’s Aeneid, where, in the context, it applies to the petty Celtic rulers of Italy. In Old Breton and Welsh such kinglets were called mychtern, translated ungrammatically into Latin as rex late populum. The king’s territory was the parish or plou, a Celtic word that may have come from Latin plebs or populus.

Fact #20. They were all found in Arizona and show European origins. Arizona and the United States did not exist in 900 CE. Nor for that matter did Europe. The pictures on the artifacts (temples, ships and the like) refer to Jerusalem, which is in Asia, not Europe. The more advanced civilizations in the world at that time were all in Asia.

Fact #21. These travelers say they came from Rome in 775. Mistranslation. They say they sailed to Rome, not from that city. The makers of the record may have meant they gathered at Rome (or indeed Constantinople, which was also called Rome) from other parts of the world, including France, Brittany and Britain. The inscription clearly says ad Romam (“to Rome”) and leaves who “they” were who “came” (venerunt) vague—only Theodore reigned over the peoples.

Fact #22. There’s a picture of a diplodicus on the swords!  It’s a tannin, the symbol in Hebrew mysticism for long-distance trade. The same figure appears elsewhere in the rock art of Arizona and New Mexico.

Fact #23. Rhoda, Calalus and Terra Incognita are on no known historical maps. Rhoda was a popular name for trading cities, especially under the Rhadanites (Rhodanites). It was the name for the international port on an island in the Nile at Fustat, or Old Cairo. It was the name for Rhodaus Town, the main port of entry for trade to medieval England at Canterbury. Rhodian law provided the commercial code for all Greek and Roman antiquity. Calalus (meaning “wasteland” in Hebrew) was used of the deserted and wild isthmus of the Malay Peninsula as well as desert land of Mexico and the Jordanian and Arabian deserts. The description Terra Incognita was applied to large parts of the American Southwest until modern times.

Fact #24. No place-names survive from the supposed colony. There is a Toltec, Arizona. The Cañada del Oro seems to go back to these early mines. The word urre appears on the Great Cross, where King Jacob (whose Welsh or British name was probably Iago) is said to have struck gold and to be “swimming with treasure.” The word was misread as urbe by many people, who translated the passage, clearly wrongly, as “the city was reborn.” Urre does not appear in any medieval Latin dictionaries, even today, so the word could not have been hoaxed. It is the source of Old French urhe, Old Basque urre, Old Spanish urro and Spanish oro. It means “ore,” in the sense of “treasure,” or easily extracted metals of silver and gold.

Fact #25. No Europeans crossed the oceans “then.” Evidently, they did, all the time, both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The Tucson Artifacts are proof of this unsurprising accomplishment of the human race. The proof was preserved in a world language used for public declarations, scientific communications and official statements.

Fact #26. The hieroglyphics are nonsensical. They are legal signs of Joseph and the other merchants in Tang Era seal script. They marked the shipping companies’ merchandise and trade privileges much like modern-day trademarks and registered trade names.

Fact #27. No ships conducted trade between the Americas and Asia “at that time.” At least one did, for it sank around the year 837 off Sumatra with a cargo of Chinese ceramics from the Changsha kilns of Hunan Province, lead ingots from the New World and other items of the international carrying trade in spices and gems—the Belitung Wreck, discovered in 1998.

Fact #28. There are Templar symbols on them!  The Templars, a Christian military order based in Jerusalem, did not exist before the 1120s, when it was created, so to speak, ex nihilo, out of a jumble of symbolism that included Egyptian magic, Pythagorean theory and Gnosticism. The Crusaders massacred every Jewish man, woman and child in Jerusalem. These artifacts are Jewish, not Christian, from 250 years before the Crusades. To call the Tucson Artifacts pre-Templar is like calling Judaism pre-Christian.

Fact #29. The writing is clumsy and amateurish, written by men in the harsh desert with few tools at their disposal. The Roman monumental script is executed by several highly skilled hands, certainly not one person. The composition shows signs of self-sealing and authentication according to the Mesoamerican custom of ulli-drops. The crosses and, in particular, the nehushtans are works of art representing long traditions of metallurgy and craftsmanship, much of it part of secret arts and not able to be duplicated or matched today.

Fact #30. Byron Cummings Was Fooled. Though he was forced to toe the party line, the Dean of Southwest Archeology never ceased to believe in the importance and unique position of the Tucson Artifacts in pre-Columbian history.

Fact #31. They were investigated by leading experts and pronounced fake. Consider the sources. Among the “leading experts” was a Renaissance armor buyer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, who decided the swords were clumsy imitations of the sort he had seen on the market before. No Hebraic scholar weighed in on the Hebrew inscriptions. A medieval illuminated manuscript scholar thought the angels and king portraits “crude.” The New York Times warned against endorsing another Cardiff Giant, a circus attraction of the time. An Indian relic dealer compared the forgery to the Michigan Tablets. The director of the Peabody in Cambridge included the Tucson Artifacts in a course he taught (and book he later wrote) on Fantastic Archaeology. The director of Arizona’s public television station wrote a whole issue of Journal of Southwest Archaeology proving they were fakes. No expert in medieval Latin paleography has gone on record about their authenticity or falsification. Wikipedia, for what it’s worth, is certain they are flagrant forgeries. Barry Fell regarded them as old-fashioned Mexican Freemason gimmicks.

Fact #32. Bent and Manier were confidence men who just wanted to make a buck and give Tucson a good tourist boost. This case was built by Williams (Fantastic Archaeology) and Burgess (Journal of Southwest Archaeology).

Fact #33. L.I. stands for Laudatur Israel (“Israel Is Praised”). The initials are short for Levitae and Israelitae, two classes of Jews. For instance, Joseph is a Levite, and has the insignia of the Jewish priesthood, the triple tiara with an L. on it. Saul, his business partner in the spice trade, is also a Levite.

Fact #34. They are ‘relics,’ not artifacts or records. This was how the Tucson Artifacts were framed in early press coverage.

Fact #35. The axes are Roman fasces. They are Frankish axes, traditional symbol of that Germanic tribe, and show that Charlemagne was using Frankish forces to guard the Holy Sepulcher.

Fact #36. There are no indigenous American marks. A thunderbird appears on one of the nehushtans, labeled Sen[u]. An American rattlesnake fulfills the role of Brazen Serpent on two artifacts. We see the face of Quetzalcoatl, and a Mesoamerican glyph resembling a shark or fish is paired with the monogram R.

Fact #38. There is no cemetery nearby. The Hodges Ruins contained both European-styled inhumations or interments alongside Indic or Mexican type cremation graves, clearly a mixed pattern of inter-settlement denoting two different cultures. The inhumations were usually occupied by skeletal remains of the dolichocephalic, or long-headed cranial shape; the latter, though disarticulated, were brachiocephalic, a short-headed physiognomy associated with Asiatic people and American Indians. See Fig. 4.


Fig. 4. Bearded Semitic merchant wearing keffiyah, from Hodges Ruin, Tucson, dated to Cañada del Oro period ca. 500-700. Rafael Serrano, after figurine published in Kelly (1978).

Fact #39. The imagery of the angels and temples is “ecclesiastical.” It would be more accurate to call it Jewish or Roman. “Ecclesiastical” comes from the Latin word for “church.” Christians had churches, Jews and pagans had temples. Scriptural quotes are from the Jewish Bible. There is nothing from the New Testament. Israel is called the Good Land (Land of Tob).

Fact #40. “Pray for the soul of Israel” refers to King Israel, who died while war waged. It really means, “Pray for the soul of one of Israel, an Israelite.” Israel came from the Frankish heartland along the Seine in Northern France. Similarly, “In nomine Israel” must not be translated “In the name of Israel,” but “In the name of (the God of) Israel,” for in proper Rabbinical fashion the name of God is not ever uttered or written and there is a blank line where it would appear.

Fact #41. Britannia refers to Britain. Britannia here points to Brittany. Albion was the name, in contradistinction, for the land of the English, Welsh and Scots. Thus, Jacob came from Brittany, not Britain. His ancestors settled in Brittany several centuries before in the Great Emigration. In Latin, the same name was used of Britain and Brittany. It can be derived from a Phoenician word meaning Tin Isle.

Fact #42. The modern spellings Seine and Gaule give the forger away. Among Jews in particular, Seine was the official alternate spelling in Medieval Latin, alongside the classical form Sequana. There was a preference, similarly, for Gaule over Gallia.

Fact #43. There is no ogam on the Tucson Artifacts. In fact, the variety of ogam is recognizatble as “Breton.”

Fact #44. Jews were a scattered, marginalized society incapable of producing anything like the Tucson Artifacts as a record of their achievements. In the aftermath of the Islamic conquests, the Mediterranean was closed to all but Jewish shipping as far as Europe was concerned. Pepin, Charlemagne and Louis the Pious favored Jews and gave them fiefs and privileges of all sorts. It was a golden age for Hebrew literature. There are numerous preconceptions about Jewish history that are unwarranted.

Fact #45. The Tucson Artifacts were found by local landowners. Charles Manier and Thomas Bent were local residents of Tucson but did not live on the Silverbell property, which was later homesteaded by Bent, who then lived in a house he built there with the rest of his family.

Fact #46. It was a dig by amateurs. Both the University of Arizona and Wake Forest University had roles involving them in official activities on the site, at least for brief periods. Bent’s notes on stratigraphy and other aspects, together with a meticulous log of events naming the names of witnesses, are on file and have been called “better than most professional archeologists’ records.”  The sins against science all occurred on the side of the University, which kept losing items and thwarting efforts to excavate, study and share.

Fact #47. The artifacts were never accepted by any archeologists even in the early days. Cummings, Douglass, Sayles, Sarle and Judd all championed the artifacts as genuine and important.

Fact #48. They were not found on Indian land. They were indeed, and as funerary artifacts moreover, are subject to the provisions of the Native American Graves Protection Act. The planned Silverbell Cultural Corridor, however, excludes them as “manufactured history” on the sole authority of Emil Haury, who believed Bent and Manier forged them and produced them to make money.

The Gallo Roman

Fig. 5. The Gallo-Roman general Aetius mentioned in the inscriptions on Artifact 1.

Fact #49. Cyclone Covey is the only academic author who has tried to defend these forgeries and his work was not peer reviewed. It was Stephen Williams who poisoned the name of Cyclone Covey (as well as the reputations of Harold Sterling Gladwin, Leo Wiener and Ivan Van Sertima). From my Foreword to Merchant Adventurer Kings of Rhoda: The Lost World of the Tucson Artifacts (2018):

From the “sadly disquieting” case of Gladwin, we are taken to the next sideshow in Williams’ stuffy archeological circus, “the discovery of a Roman-Jewish colony near Tucson, Arizona, dating to A.D. 700” (239). Fantastic Archeology came out of a class Williams taught (349), and we can almost hear the groans of “five hundred Harvard undergraduates and Extension students.” In a snooty aside, Williams asks, “How did Gladwin miss this one?” (239). He begins the story by exposing the mastermind behind it with “the improbable name of Cyclone Covey” (239) who has kept the Calalus hoax alive. At this time, Gladwin was safely dead so he could not reply to Williams’ borderline libel, but Covey was not. Never mind that: “the Arizonans had heard it all before” (239).

Williams does not have kind things to say about Covey’s 1975 book. He notes that Calalus was self-published and stigmatizes it as a product of the Vanity Press. (Sniggers from the undergrads.) “I hate myself for making fun of a serious case,” he continues sarcastically, “but these hyper-diffusionists, and we must certainly class Professor Covey as one, seem to take the question of why these early adventurers made this trip and how they did it as an irrelevant query. Those topics are hardly mentioned; the focus is on the artifacts at hand, not the context and certainly not the motives and methods of the travelers” (240).

Williams died in 2017 but his book from the University of Pennsylvania Press is still in print and influential.

Fact #50. The Tucson Artifacts are still controversial. Like Schroedinger’s cat, the Tucson Artifacts seem to be alive and dead at the same time. But they are not philosophical concepts or ideas. They are real things that exist, that can be measured, weighed, chemically analyzed, read and studied. Indeed, they are housed and displayed for public and scholarly scrutiny at an Arizona museum for an indefinite time. There is no need for them to be controversial, unless for reasons of obscurantism.

We suggest the Tucson Artifacts, since their discovery, have posed an existential threat to large parts of Pre-Columbian American history, New World anthropology and Southwest archeology. They are forgeries for no other reason than because they have to be.

Donald N. Yates

Donald N. Yates is a native of Cedartown, Georgia and lives in Longmont, Colorado. He earned a Ph.D. in Classical Studies with an emphasis on Medieval Latin Language and Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1979. He is a member of the Medieval Academy of America. He has taught at St. John’s University, University of Notre Dame and Georgia Southern University and has published a number of scholarly articles and books. He was a Member of the International Committee on Latin Paleography (Comité International de Paléographie), Paris, from 1978 to 1983. He studied ancient and medieval scripts, epigraphy and paleography under Berthe M. Marti, Daniel Sheerin, Christine I. Eder, Richard H. Rouse and Leonard M. Boyle, OP, Prefect of the Apostolic Vatican Library, among other leading figures in those disciplines. He worked at the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library in Collegeville, Minnesota, the world’s largest repository of medieval texts on microfilm, before heading a team of experts at the Medieval Institute at Notre Dame, Indiana, where he led efforts to develop standards adopted later internationally for cataloguing and describing Latin manuscripts and the varieties of script in which they were produced. A recent book of history is Old World Roots of the Cherokee: How DNA, Ancient Alphabets and Religion Explain the Origins of America’s Largest Indian Nation (McFarland 2012). Yates co-authored with Elizabeth Caldwell Hirschman The Early Jews and Muslims of England and Wales:  A Genetic and Genealogical History (2014). For more information, visit


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