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Alternate Perceptions Magazine, December 2014

Ancient Coins In America: An Inconvenient Truth

by: Dr. Greg Little

Decades ago I visited the Heavener Runestone, the Kensington Runestone, and also researched the Bat Creek Tablet as much as was feasible at that time. More recently I traveled through Sweden for several weeks visiting various archaeological sites and making some comparisons to runestones found there. In brief, all of these American-based artifacts are cited by many as evidence of pre-Columbian exploration and settlement by the Norse or Middle Eastern peoples. It is a contentious issue exemplified by the Bat Creek Tablet.

The Bat Creek Tablet: Peer Reviewed Journal Article Declares it Genuine

In the Fall 1988 issue of the conservative, peer-reviewed journal “Tennessee Anthropologist,” Ohio University’s J. Huston McCulloch all but proved that the Bat Creek Tablet was a genuine artifact inscribed sometime between 450 B.C. and A.D. 200 in an extensive article. Thus, it can be said that a peer-reviewed archaeology journal article has asserted that the Bat Creek Tablet is genuine. A rebuttal followed in the same journal a few years later (1991) by Robert Mainfort and Mary Kwas. In their rebuttal, Mainfort and Kwas used the term “cult archaeology” some 14 times as well as the term “rogue professors” and how such people can defraud the public. In this article McCulloch is described as a “practitioner of cult archaeology” (p. 3). Intriguingly, one of Mainfort & Kwas’ major points of contention was radiocarbon dating from wooden artifacts (polished earspools) found with the same burial as the tablet. They claimed that the wooden artifacts could not be said with certainty to have been associated with the burial in which they were found—or perhaps they were contaminated by groundwater—which renders the radiocarbon date meaningless. (Oddly, this could then be said about any artifact found with any burial, thus rendering all radiocarbon dates meaningless.)

McCulloch then responded to the claims made by Mainfort and Kwas in the same journal (1993) wherein he satisfactorily addressed all of their claims. Mainfort and Kwas have since issued another rebuttal (2004; “American Antiquity”) where they claim to have found the inscription’s characters elsewhere in a book printed prior to the tablet’s discovery (in 1870). To them, it proved that the tablet was a fraud forged and planted by a Smithsonian field agent during the 1889 excavation of the Tennessee Bat Creek Mounds. The Smithsonian has recently embraced their opinion, however, the logic used is quite a bit similar to saying that all of the words you are reading here have appeared in print somewhere else previously; therefore it proves they are a fraud. In sum, the implications of such artifacts (such as the Bat Creek Tablet) being genuine are simply so vast and damaging to mainstream archaeology beliefs that the tablet and anything else like it just has to be a fraud. The reasoning used is simple: It can’t be, therefore it isn’t.

However, it should be noted that when the Bat Creek Stone was actually discovered, the Smithsonian officially declared it to be a genuine artifact. Cyrus Thomas, head of the Smithsonian’s Bureau of Ethnology Mound Survey Project in 1879, was sent the tablet soon after it was found. Thomas immediately dispatched another agent from the Smithsonian to the Bat Creek Mounds to investigate the finds and interview those who were present. In his 1890 book, “The Cherokees in Pre-Columbian Times” (p. 37), Thomas related, “This course was taken by the Bureau merely as a means of being fortified with all possible evidence as to the facts of the find being as stated. The examination by the person sent confirmed the statement by Mr. Emmert in every particular.” Mainfort and Kwas assert that Thomas realized somewhat later that the stone was a fraud but that he couldn’t openly criticize his own statements. Instead, they argue, Thomas only alluded to some previously discovered artifacts (e.g. the Davenport Tablets) as being frauds without actually mentioning the Bat Creek Tablet as one of them. Thus, according to Mainfort and Kwas, it’s a fraud. Mainfort and Kwas summarized their conclusion about Thomas’ alluding to some artifacts as frauds by relating, “… Cyrus Thomas himself, did not consider the Bat Creek stone to be authentic…” (p. 12). However, Thomas never wrote that the Bat Creek Tablet was a fraud. The reasoning here seems to be: Thomas must have considered the tablet to be a fraud, therefore he did.

It is notable that Mainfort and Kwas have been criticized elsewhere for what appears to be their oversensitive responses to criticism about some of their work. (Charles McNutt; Southeastern Archaeology, 2007, 151-154.)

While the forensic geologist Scott Wolter has verified and documented that the patina on the characters of the Bat Creek Tablet is consistent with the dates 450 B.C.-A.D. 200 (as McCulloch earlier found; See: http://www.ampetrographic.com/files/BatCreekStone.pdf), the issue is essentially at a standstill with academic archaeology holding firm. That will not change and I have nothing to add to it that either side can use. However, there was an additional bit of evidence that McCulloch earlier related. That is, ancient coins dated from the same era have been found throughout Eastern America.

McCulloch mentioned 40 such coins in his 1988 article. Gloria Farley, the pioneer female amateur archaeologist who was largely responsible for a lot of the archaeology discoveries in Oklahoma, discussed the discovery of many ancient coins in her large 1994 volume “In Plain Sight.” She mentioned a discussion with an archaeologist who complained that the coins were found by treasure hunters, amateurs, and housewives—not by scholars. She aptly replied, “Who else is going to find them?” In her book Gloria Farley shows and discusses Roman or Phoenician coins found in Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Nebraska, Georgia, and Kentucky. But more coins have been found and reported. In 1977 for example, a beach at Beverly, Massachusetts yielded 8 Roman coins in the same small area. The coins were dated to A.D. 337-383. In fact, a perusal of coin-sale websites and treasure hunting/metal detector websites does reveal many such coins “supposedly” found in recent times. Their provenance is lost forever.

An intriguing book written by John Haywood, a historian and member of the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Appeals Bench, contains the story of several Roman coins found in the state. In “The Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee” (1823), Haywood described a silver Roman coin found under 5 feet of dirt near Fayetteville. The coin was found near the Elk River next to an ancient fortified village area. It was dated to A.D. 137. Less than 3 miles away, another silver Roman coin (dated to A.D. 180-1910 was found 4 feet underground during a dig. Near Murfreesborough a brass Roman coin was found 18 inches below the surface. It was dated between A.D. 190-260. Haywood also discussed other Roman coins found in Kentucky as well as the discovery of a cache of silver and gold coins (dated from A.D. 1009 to 1214) near Lexington. In addition, caches of coins have been found off the coast of South America.

Mainstream Archaeology’s Response

In 1980, archaeologist Jeremiah Epstein published the archaeological community’s response to all of these ancient coins in an issue of “Current Anthropology.” The article, titled “Pre-Columbian Old World coins in America: An Examination of the Evidence,” discussed 40 of the coins mentioned above, excluding, apparently, those from Tennessee. The article essentially begins by relating that, "Professional anthropologists studiously avoid drawing any conclusions from the limited data available." It then paradoxically goes on to state a conclusion: “Discovery dates, minting periods, geographical distribution, and the absence of prehistoric context all suggest that the coins were lost very recently. … It is concluded, therefore, that as of this writing no single report of a classical-period coin in America can be used as evidence of pre-Columbian trans-Atlantic contact.” Oddly, the findings made in the article discussed above and the way of relating them are contradictory. It appears that the author is saying: “We can’t draw any conclusions because the data are limited but we conclude the coins were all lost recently.”

In brief, since archaeologists did not find the coins, they are frauds or just coins someone dropped in historic times. In reality, the coins exist and could have been lost in historic times. But maybe not. It cannot be stated with absolute certainty that they are frauds nor that they were all historic “lost” items. The term “absence of prehistoric context” in the “Current Archaeology” article gives the major clue to why they are considered to be frauds. It means: Since we accept no evidence of such prehistoric contact in the ancient Americas, these coins cannot be real. As to professional archaeologists not being the finders of the coins, Gloria Farley’s answer remains the best one: “Who else is going to find them?”


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