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Book of Mormon/Geography/Hoaxes
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- Question: What is the Bat Creek Stone and is it related to Mormonism?
- Question: What are the Burrows Cave artifacts and are they related to Mormonism?
- Question: Are the Michigan Artifacts evidence for the Book of Mormon?
- Question: Can the Newark "Holy Stones" be used as evidence to support the Book of Mormon?
The Bat Creek Stone is an artifact excavated in 1889 by the Smithsonian Institution: It is considered to be a forgery
A forged item can tell us nothing about ancient America in general, or the Book of Mormon in particular. Any current source that uses the Bat Creek Stone as evidence should be treated with caution; its author(s) are not using the most up-to-date information. At the very least, it is premature to rely on the Bat Creek Stone as evidence of anything related to ancient America.
The Bat Creek Stone is an artifact excavated in 1889 by the Smithsonian Institution [see Figure 1], and was also found with brass bracelets.
The stone was described in a 1894 publication by the same group.  The author of the report, Cyrus Thomas, claimed that the marks were Cherokee. A review of Thomas' subsequent publications demonstrates that he likely concluded that the items were forged, but he did not make a more public point of this because he and the Smithsonian "had placed themselves in a position such that they really could not afford to pronounce the Bat Creek stone a forgery after publishing it." 
After Thomas, little attention was paid to the Bat Creek stone until 1970--as noted above, Thomas had probably recognized that it was fraudulent by 1898. In 1970, Cyrus Gordon of Brandeis university argued that the stone had been oriented improperly in the original publication.  If it was inverted, Gordon claimed, it became clear that the text was Paleo-Hebrew, and read "for the Jews."  Other scholars joined the debate, and the positions are well summarized by Mainfort and Kwas:
- As of 1993/94, the opinions of the principals in the debate may be summarized as follows. Cyrus Gordon was the earliest credible proponent of the Bat Creek stone as an authentic Paleo-Hebrew inscription, though he acknowledged “problems” with three of the inscribed characters. Frank Moore Cross and Kyle McCarter pointed out additional paleographic difficulties and argued that too many of the characters were problematic for the inscription to be authentic. Huston McCulloch considered all of the inscribed characters to be legitimate Paleo-Hebrew (but disagreeing with Gordon about three of them) and presented radiocarbon evidence supporting an age for the stone in the first several centuries A.D. Finally, Mainfort and Kwas(1991, 1993a,1 993b) questioned the veracity of the find itself and presented evidence suggesting that Cyrus Thomas and his contemporaries recognized the Bat Creek stone as a fraud by the end of the nineteenth century. 
The case for forgery was strengthened in 2004
Although there were questions about the Bat Creek stone's origins, these were strengthened by a 2004 paper by Mainfort and Kwas. In it, they demonstrate that the text for the stone was copied from an 1870 book on Freemasonry: Robert Macoy, General History, Cyclopedia, and Dictionary of Freemasonry (New York, Masonic Publishing Co., 1870), 169. [See Figure 2.] The Masonic use of the inscription comes from a Jewish coin, reading "Holiness to the Lord," or "Holy to Yahweh." 
The man who discovered the Bat Creek Stone did so alone, and was not a professional archaeologist in the modern sense. He also seems to have "discovered" other artifacts that are clearly forgeries.  His problems with alcohol led to him being fired for a period; political pressure was necessary for him to regain his job, and his forgery may have been motivated by a desire to ensure his continued employment.  Others have argued that the evidence is not as air-tight as these authors believe. 
The Bat Creek Stone was also found with two bracelets, but these were dated to the eighteenth or nineteenth century
The Bat Creek Stone was also found with two bracelets, but these were dated to the eighteenth or nineteenth century.  This heightens the evidence of fraud still further.
McCulloch has replied to this analysis, arguing that the characteristics of the stone itself suggest many years of weathering, and argues that the inscription is not identical to the Masonic encyclopedia. 
The Burrows Cave collection is a group of "artifacts" supposedly found in a cave in Illinois - These items are considered to be a hoax
The Burrows Cave collection is a group of "artifacts" supposedly found in a cave in Illinois, named after Russell Burrows, the person who initially found the cave. To this day, Burrows Cave enthusiasts have never demonstrated the existence of the cave. The artifacts contain many obvious hallmarks of modern manufacture, including the so-called "mystic symbol" found on artifacts in the Michigan artifacts collection. This is offered as evidence that the hoaxers deliberately meant to associate these artifacts with the Michigan collection. Some LDS people have fallen prey to those who push these artifacts as genuine.
There are no known caves in the proper area of Illinois--the geology isn't right
As one author notes, there are no known caves in the proper area of Illinois--the geology isn't right:
In the May 2012 issue of Public Archaeology, Joseph Wilson, a University of New Haven anthropologist, describes it as a phantasmagorical cave in southern Illinois that contains “life-sized solid-gold statues and a series of gigantic black stone statues in Egyptian and Carthaginian dress, solid gold sarcophagi and coffins containing mummies, stone sarcophagi, pagan idols, arsenals of bronze weapons, suits of armor ...” It goes on, but you get the idea.
Why haven’t you read about this amazing discovery in National Geographic? Burrows Cave has been largely ignored by archaeologists because there is no evidence to back up any of the extravagant claims made about the site.
In fact, Wilson observes that “there is no geological evidence of any caves” in that part of Illinois. Not surprisingly, the guy who claims to have discovered Burrows Cave has never allowed anyone else to see it. 
If we cannot confirm that a cave exists, and experts cannot even visit the cave, we ought to put no trust in its claims until they can be publicly demonstrated.
The Burrows Cave claims and artifacts should not be used as evidence of the Book of Mormon's account
Tablets that reportedly come from the cave are also not plausible:
Wilson says that thousands of inscribed stone tablets that were supposedly taken from the cave have been sold to “hopeful collectors and sympathetic research institutions such as the Midwestern Epigraphic Society in Ohio.”
Wilson says the tablets are obvious fakes. They include a weird mix of styles representing cultures separated by thousands of years. For example, one tablet has an image of an apparently Phoenician ship that is a carelessly copied, ridiculous mash up of two entirely different kinds of vessel — one end is the front of a warship with a ram, and the other is the front of a merchant ship with a carved animal-head at the prow. 
The Burrows Cave claims and artifacts should not be used as evidence of the Book of Mormon's account or of other aspects of ancient history.
Question: Are the Michigan Artifacts evidence for the Book of Mormon?
The "Michigan Artifacts" or "Michigan relics" are a group of "artifacts" produced by hoaxers in the late 19th century: They do not provide any evidence for the Book of Mormon
The "Michigan Artifacts" or "Michigan relics" are a group of "artifacts" produced by hoaxers in the late 19th century and around the turn of the 20th Century from Michigan. They wanted to produce "proof" of the existence of the ancient civilization known in 19th century lore as the Mound Builders. Many contain scenes from biblical stories. Some LDS members have been misled into believing that the artifacts are genuine. Not surprisingly, advocates of the Michigan artifacts also push the Burrows Cave collection.
Both LDS and non-LDS scholars have repeatedly demonstrated the fraudulent nature of the Michigan artifacts
Both LDS and non-LDS scholars have repeatedly demonstrated the fraudulent nature of the Michigan artifacts.  Among the first to do so was James E. Talmage, a trained scientist who met some of the forgers, demonstrated evidence of the forgeries, and preserved accounts of these things in his journal.  Talmage recorded that the stepdaughter of the man who discovered the relics:
...solemnly declared to me that she positively knows her step-father, James Scotford, has made, buried, and dug up many of the articles reported to be genuine archaeological relics. She gave circumstantial details, and agreed to sign a written statement with the proviso that such statement shall not be made public without her consent during the lifetime of her mother, Mrs. Jas. Scotford. 
Also, in August of 1911, Elder Talmage published a document containing his evidence called "The 'Michigan Relics': A Story of Forgery and Deception."
A more recent assessment of the Michigan artifacts was performed by LDS scientist Richard Stamps, and reported in BYU Studies. 
A separate line of evidence likewise demonstrates the the Michigan artifacts are of recent date. As one archaeologist explained:
...Thom Bell, a documentary filmmaker with access to some of these artifacts, submitted one of the clay tablets to the Luminescence Dating Laboratory at California State University, Long Beach.
Luminescence dating is a relatively new technique that can be applied to materials including sediment and ceramics. The method is based on the principle that charged particles, created by cosmic ray bombardment or the radioactive decay of certain elements in rocks and the soil, might become trapped within flaws in crystals.
The longer a crystal is exposed to these various sources of radiation, the more particles accumulate. When the crystals are exposed to direct sunlight, they are "bleached," meaning the reservoir of particles is emptied and the "hourglass" is reset.
When a clay tablet is manufactured, for example, crystals in the grit temper are exposed to light and bleached. But when the clay hardens, those crystals sealed inside the clay begin to accumulate charged particles once again.
Technicians can carefully remove those crystals and measure their luminescence to determine how long ago the clay tablet was made.
The results obtained by the CSU team are illuminating if not surprising. Assuming the tablet was buried for some part of its history, it was made at around AD 1905.
This is precisely the period when these bizarre objects were being planted in mounds and then "discovered" - sometimes by innocent dupes such as William C. Mills, former curator of archaeology for the Ohio Historical Society.
Although this result applies to one of the hundreds of "Michigan relics," it kills the idea that these things have any relevance to American prehistory. Instead, they are windows onto a period of American history when archaeology was in its infancy and numerous frauds were being used to promote various religious, political and personal agendas. 
The Michigan artifacts should not be used as evidence of the Book of Mormon's account or of other aspects of ancient history.
Question: Can the Newark "Holy Stones" be used as evidence to support the Book of Mormon?
We don't have the sort of details on their discovery that we would like to be able to verify some sort of authenticity
The are two main issues with artifacts of this sort. The first is the issue of discovery. While there are several interesting artifacts, we don't have the sort of details on their discovery that we would like to be able to verify some sort of authenticity. Most of them were discovered by an individual, who wasn't using any kind of modern archaeological standards. This allows for questions of fraud and hoax to enter into the picture (particularly when we combine it with the fact that such a discovery, if authenticated, would be absolutely huge by any archaeological standards). Related to this issue is that since we have developed more rigorous standards for doing archaeological excavations, we haven't continued to find additional examples of these kinds of artifacts. This further encourages the sense that they may have been a hoax. (This isn't to say that they are a hoax - just that the evidence is inconclusive). It also shows how difficult it is to date objects once they have been removed from their original setting. This is true of nearly any single object - and we have the same problems with artifacts in the old world that simply show up (particularly on the proverbial black market). Any artifact which turns up on its own without some kind of rigorous investigative process is considered suspect.
Even if they are valid, these artifacts are outside the time frame that would be helpful for validating the Book of Mormon
The second issue is more relevant to us as LDS members. These objects use what you can see labeled in the link as a "post-Exilic square Hebrew letters". In the reference to Cyrus Gordon, we have mention of the first text as a potential Samaritan mezuzah. These issues give us some idea of what to consider in terms of dates on the assumption that they are authentic. They would most likely come from the period of about 100-300 AD - potentially representing a group leaving Palestine sometime during or after the second Jewish revolt in the second century. This places these artifacts outside the time frame that would be helpful for validating the Book of Mormon (or determining Book of Mormon geography related issues). It would help us recognize another potential migration from the old world to the new world. But I think that as LDS we want to be careful in trying to suggest that this is potential evidence here for the Book of Mormon.
- Cyrus Thomas, Report on the Mound Explorations of the Bureau of Ethnology Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology for the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution 1890-‘91 (Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.), 394.
- Robert C. Mainfort, Jr. and Mary L. Kwas, "The Bat Creek Stone Revisited: A Fraud Exposed," American Antiquity 69/4 (2004): 762-763.
- Cyrus H. Gordon, "New Directions in the Study of Ancient Middle Eastern Cultures," Bulletin of the Middle Eastern Cultural Center 5 (1991): 62. See Gordon's argument in an LDS publication: Cyrus H. Gordon, "A Hebrew Inscription Authenticated," in By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 1:67-80. ISBN 0875793398. Vol. 1 off-site Vol. 2 off-site
- Mainfort and Kwas, 762-763.
- Mainfort and Kwas, 764.
- Mainfort and Kwas, 765.
- Stephen Williams, "Fantastic Archaeology: Another Road Taken by Some," Paper presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Boston, Massachusetts, 1993 as cited by Mainfort and Kwas, 765.
- Mainfort and Kwas, 765-766.
- His reply was rejected for publication in American Antiquity where the original debate took place. It is available on-line in PDF.
- Mainfort and Kwas, 766. The authors cite their own previous work, Robert C. Mainfort Jr. and Mary L. Kwas, "The Bat Creek Stone: Judeans in Tennessee?" Tennessee Anthropologist 16/1 (Spring 1991): 1-19. For the reply, see J. Huston McCulloch, "The Bat Creek Stone: A Reply to Mainfort and Kwas," Tennessee Anthropologist 18/1 (Spring 1993): 1-26.
- J. Huston McCulloch, "The Bat Creek Stone," on-line posting, December 2005. His reply was rejected for publication in American Antiquity where the original debate took place. It is available on-line in PDF.
- Bradley T. Lepper, Archaeology: Magic caves in Illinois and other archaeological myths, The Columbus Dispatch (4 March 2013).
- Lepper, "Magic caves"
- Francis W. Kelsey, "Some Archaeological Forgeries from Michigan," American Anthropologist 10/8 (May 1908): 48–59; Francis W. Kelsy, "A Persistent Forgery," The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal 33/1 (1911): 26–31; Stephen D. Peet, "A 'Stamp' Table and Coin Found in a Michigan Mount," The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal 15 (September 1894): 313.
- Frederick Starr, J.O. Kinnaman, and James E. Talmage, "The Michigan Archaeological Question Settled," The American Antiquairian and Oriental Journal 33, no. 3 (1911): 160–164.
- James E. Talmage, journal, June 1921; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "Mormonism's Encounter with the Michigan Relics," Brigham Young University Studies 40 no. 3 (2001), 187. (needs URL / links)
- Richard B. Stamps, "Tools Leave Marks: Material Analysis of the Scotford-Soper-Savage Michigan Relics," Brigham Young University Studies 40 no. 3 (2001), 210–238. (needs URL / links)
- Bradley T. Lepper, "New light shone on 'old relics'," The Columbus Dispatch (13 July 2009).