Noah's Ark in Motown - The Soper Artifacts

1.  The Find Of The Century(?)

During the early 20th century, the parks of Detroit became a veritable treasure trove of astounding antiquities. Beginning in 1907, a former Michigan Secretary of State named Daniel E. Soper peddled a succession of artifacts, including the diary of Noah and the original Ten Commandments, all supposedly dug up from inside the city of Detroit, such as Palmer Park and Highland Park. Soper was originally fired from his post after demanding a kickback from the salary of a political appointee. The stalwart archaeologist who uncovered this stream of discoveries was James Scotford, a sleight-of-hand artist and sign painter with a talent for coincidentally digging up amazing things in front of reputable witnesses. The sheer number of artifacts "discovered" by Scotford was staggering, running into the thousands. Among this multitude were a vast array of engraved slate tablets, photographs of which can be found at the Ancient Treasure Hunter.

2.  Caveat Emptor

It was pretty clear even at the time that the artifacts were fakes; extensive Old Testament pictures were mixed in with depictions of the crucifiction, and Mary "Granny" Robson, who resided in the room next to Scotford reported to the Detroit News that "Hammering went on day and night" in what Scotford told her was "Detroit's ancient relic factory." More modern analyses indicate that the tablets and other items must have been manufactured around the time of their discovery, generally from stone quarried in New York and possibly recycled from discarded materials in the Detroit area. Nevertheless, people from across the country believed that the artifacts proved that southeastern Michigan was truly a land of biblical significance. Father James Savage of Detroit's Most Holy Trinity Church purchased several dozen of the relics (though not being certain of their authenticity), which has led to the entire body of objects being dubbed the "Soper Savage Collections".

3.  Good Hoaxes Never Die, They Just Make New Suckers

Soper and Scotford's machinations have had long-term significance: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) has only recently accepted that the artifacts are not evidence supporting their belief that North America was settled by the lost tribes of Israel; the Church has since donated their collection of nearly 800 artifacts to the Michigan Historical Museum, as described in a recent article by the Grand Rapids Press. Many Creation Science organizations still believe in the authenticity of the artifacts, as evidenced by articles such as Christ in North America?.

4.  Stories and Speculation

Obviously, if the Soper artifacts happened to be authentic, the implications would be quite impressive, whether or not they were actually of biblical significance: Moses on the Detroit River, Atlantean artificers on 8 Mile, or high-tech Native Americans, take your pick of strangeness. Of course, the discoveries themselves may have been the real story: maybe Soper was using the proceeds of the hoax to fund authentic archeological investigations of a more disturbing Lovecraftian nature?

5.  Sources

As always, the Detroit News has an article describing the history of the hoax, and oddly enough the State of Michigan has a set of educational materials on the subject; look for Fakes and a Fraud.