One of the strangest and most extensive archaeological hoaxes in American history was perpetrated around the turn of the twentieth century in Michigan. Hundreds of objects known as the Michigan Relics were made to appear as the remains of a lost civilization. The artifacts were produced, buried, “discovered,” and marketed by James O. Scotford and Daniel E. Soper. For three decades these artifacts were secretly planted in earthen mounds, publicly removed, and lauded as wonderful discoveries. Because the Michigan Relics allegedly evidence a Near Eastern presence in ancient America, they have drawn interest from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This article traces the intriguing history of this elaborate affair and Mormonism’s encounter with it. At the center of this history lies the investigation of the artifacts by Latter-day Saint intellectual and scientist James E. Talmage.
For a companion article, see “Tools Leave Marks: Material Analysis of the Scotford-Soper-Savage Michigan Relics,” by Richard B. Stamps, in this issue of BYU Studies.