Calalus 775-900 A.D. : A Re-examination of the Bent Artifacts – PART 1

Calalus 775-900 A.D. : A Re-examination of the Bent Artifacts – PART 1

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.

Washing it when he got home revealed it actually a pair of crosses riveted together by pouring molten lead through juxtaposed holes. A half-pound of stinking wax had formed a protective layer between the smooth inner surfaces; Manier saved this in a jar when he pried the pieces apart. On each inner surface a text had been engraved in capital letters and, across one transept, three heads outlined in profile, labeled IACOBVS, THEODORVS, and ISRAEL. A Professor Kennison among the neighbors crowding around the operation recognized the language of the texts as Latin. Manier took the lead halves right on out to the classicist, Frank Fowler, at the University of Arizona who immediately translated: “We are carried forward on the sea,” the word Calalus, which he put a question-mark after, then “An unknown land/ A people widely ruling,” then Toltezus, which got another question-mark, and so on. Professor Karl Ruppert of the University’s State Museum also studied the relic that day and, the day following, directed the picking and spading out of the second find, a seven-pound rough, fractured triangle of caliche which had been a trial specimen for the memorial recording finally appeared on the cross already discovered, as if the maker had first tried caliche and found it unreliable. (The fourth discovery, two and half months later, was a second trial specimen for the initially discovered cross, in lead. Thus the first discovery would have been the first of the series of double crosses manufactured-for the evident purpose of permanent memorial recording; and the manufacturing of these would evidently have occurred in the vicinity where they were found, because the trial specimens would not have been worth lugging with the rest.) Manier left the jar of wax with the university for analysis but a student threw it out.

Only the first cross and the caliche chunk had been found by November, when Manier visited his friend Bent, a 28-year-old employee of the Public Health Service whom he knew from veterans’ organization activities. Bent was inclined to dismiss the finds as a grave-cross and headstone, but Manier carted them over to his house late that month and not only convinced him they were more than that; they formed a partnership for further excavating. The discoveries had been made on public domain. Since Manier was neither physically nor financially able to homestead, Bent took possession of the land enclosing the artifacts site by homesteading it beginning February 20, 1925.

The celebrated archaeologist Byron Cummings, director of the State Museum, dean of the College of Letters and Sciences, and in 1927 acting president of the university, contracted on behalf of the university to pay Bent and Manier $16,000 for all the artifacts discovered and to be discovered at the site, provided only that they were genuinely precolumbian. So the university took over the excavation from January to early March 1928 and found five spearhead and spear-shaft fragments before abruptly quitting. Bent and his brother John found part of a broken sword-handle March 15, 1930, the last of the artifacts known to have been recovered from the site. The artifact collection altogether consisted of six paired crosses, two ceremonial crosses and a ceremonial standard, very hard shortswords and spearheads and fragments of swords and spears-all carefully wrought as with loving care, many with symbolic pictures and two with Hebrew words as well Latin, the shade of lead ranging light gray to gunbarrel blue, the total collection weighing 145 pounds.


Thank you Mr. Dave Brody for allowing us to share your incredible image of some of the artifacts. Please visit his very important website and the below article on the artifacts.