Article of the Week | BYU Studies

Article of the Week

Mormonism's Encounter with the Michigan Relics
September 10, 2018
Article of the Week
Mormonism's Encounter with the Michigan Relics
Author Mark Ashurst-McGee,

This daily feature is the introduction to a full article by Mark Ashurst–McGee that was published in issue 40:3. To read the full text of this article, follow the link below.

One of the strangest and most extensive archaeological hoaxes in American history was perpetrated from the 1890s to the 1920s 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 Community of Christ. 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.

This article has a companion article, "Tools Leave Marks: Material Analysis of the Scotford–Soper–Savage Michigan Relics," by Richard B. Stamps.

From the 1890s to the 1920s, hundreds of objects were "discovered" in Michigan and are known as Michigan Relics or the Scotford–Soper–Savage collection. I have personally examined more than 1,000 items from four different collections. These items reveal themselves to be of modern creation. The evidence is that the locations of discovery do not support ancient origins, the copper items are made from modern commercial smelted copper that has been hot rolled, several of the slate pieces are made from blanks that have been cut and polished with modern saws and files, some of the clay specimens dissolve in water, and more. Examination shows that James Scotford created this fraud and Daniel Soper appears to have joined the hoax at some point.