by Cyclone Covey, Professor of Ancient History, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC
(Editor’s Note: This paper #15 was presented at the first Westville Symposium in 1973 held at the outdoor tabernacle of the Westville Antebellum Living Museum located three miles southeast of Lumpkin, Georgia, a town located south of Columbus (for a description, see MEJ 9, 7-12 (1995)). Both the Symposium and the Museum were organized through the efforts of Dr. Joseph B Mahan, Jr (1921-1995). This was two years prior to publication of Professor’s Covey’s persuasive book Calalus, a Roman Jewish colony intertrepation of the famous Bent Artifacts of Tucson, Arizona. The topic remained low key until Barry Fell & Co. fired several critical broadsides in ESOP 19 (1990). When we heard the artifacts were on display at the State Museum in Tucson, we thought it was time to hear the story discussed again. The article that follows after this one is the author’s 30-year update.)
Originally published in the MES Journal, Volume 16.
In the area around Tucson, Arizona, rain and river-floods, dissolving the desert’s abundant calcium carbonate which, over slow centuries, percolates through and through, has turned the topsoil into cement-hard caliche that has accumulated in layers from a yard to more than two yards deep since the Pleistocene. It is in nature of the caliche formation that, once fractured, it may repack firmly but will not re-fuse for at least 500 years that we know of. It may be dismaying to realize as we recommence an old discussion that no one has been able to find a way to insert objects through many feet of undisturbed caliche, let alone past locked-in boulders, and leave no trace of the fracturing. Pockets of loose sand and conglomerate as well as tiny tunnels of onetime root systems and of lizards and other burrowers do ramify through the caliche layers, but the problem of driving even a short piece of small pipe to and along such a channel for more than yard undetectably becomes formidable even without the further problems of inducing cemented encrustration. But what about a 62 1/2 pound, two-inch-thick cross a foot and a half long with a foot-long crossarm? What about the three-pound, eleven-ounce cross found six feet deep underneath a hundred pound boulder whose weight had bent it and which had to be broken from the boulder with a heavy pick? If these artifacts could somehow have been planted at their 3 1/2-to-6 1/2-foot depths and the drill-shafts somehow cemented back, the planters could scarcely have hoped that their painstaking art would ever be found. The 27 artifacts (counting joinable sections or fragments as one) excavated by Thomas Bent and many others from mid-September 1924 to mid-March 1930 in a hundred-square-foot area give in fact every indication of having been strewn at random as though by battle, then slowly covered and incorporated by the glacially forming caliche where they lay.
In the year 1884 Mexican laborers excavating through six feet of caliche about nine miles out oTucson in order to lay a limekiln turned up two metal swords. One of the workers gave the swords to his children, who in time lost them. The still rough and remote little frontier town of Tucson required a lot of lime for the white-plastering of its adobes; hence the line of caliche reducing kilns approximately a mile apart along the former bank of the once voluminous Santa Cruz. The hired laborers tediously trenched through the caliche the 21 1/2 feet from the fence beside Silverbell Road to the kiln for a path to haul firewood in and lime out. A solitary mesquite grew at the entrance to the path.
The whole line of kilns had long been abandoned forty years later when, on September 13, 1924, Charles Manier, a disabled war veteran who had lived in Tucson four years and on this day was driving back to town from a visit to Picture Rocks with his wife, daughter, and elderly father, stopped at the mesquite tree to inspect a typical limekiln of the old days. On the righthand embankment along the trench-path within three steps of the kiln foundation, forty years’ erosion had exposed something protruding three inches not quite five and a half feet below the pre-digging surface. Manier happened to spot this and borrowed his father’s cane to tap it. It sounded off; so he fetched his army pick-spade from the car and with great difficulty dug the object out of its solid caliche casing. It was the 62 1/2-pound cross.