Centerpieces of the Collection
Tablets made of clay, slate and copper are the best-known of the
Michigan Relics. Encompassing an enormous range of sizes, they are the
most intriguing of the relics because of the combination of images and
the supposed language engraved on them. Close observation reveals
differences in style that probably indicate the work of more than one
The tablets carry two main categories of images, biblical stories and
happenings in the mythical history of the "relic people." The
stories of creation, the flood and the giving of the ten commandments
dominate the biblical tablets, although a few New Testament images,
including the cross, are also found.
The "relic people" tablets show ceremonial activities
taking place in temples, heroic figures and/or gods, objects resembling
Egyptian mummy cases and zodiacs or calendars. They also present graphic
scenes of torture and execution and battle scenes with another people,
presumably Native Americans.
A number of features, discussed elsewhere in the exhibit, are
inconsistent with the supposed age of the tablets. One particularly
glaring anachronism is the portrayal of a guillotine, an implement of
execution not invented until the 18th century.
Long and Tall
Two extraordinary tablets show the imagination of the
fabricators and their willingness to use exceptional pieces of raw
material. One carries the Old Testament story of Genesis in a series of
cartoon-like panels. This panel (below) shows a series of medallion-like images apparently presenting the main
characters in a long struggle between the "Relic People" and their
enemies, who appear to be Native Americans.
A temple scene on the
tablet's opposite side includes additional evidence of its fraudulent antiquity. It is rendered in perspective, which
was unknown as an artistic technique until invented by Filippo
Brunelleschi in the 15th century.
Given their exceptional size and probable fragility, it seems
unlikely that the long tablets were ever buried. It seems more likely that
relics like these were sold directly out of Scotford's workshop, helped
along by Soper's salesmanship. They are made of what is known in the trade as "unfading,
mottled, purple and green slate," a type found only in the Slate
Valley along the border between New York and Vermont. The slabs were
probably intended to be used as windowsills or fireplace mantels.