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A collection of artifacts unearthed near Tucson in 1924 continue to spark controversy today. The Tucson artifacts, or as they're also known, the Silverbell artifacts, are a collection of 31 lead objects such as crosses and swords. Many have Latin or Hebrew inscriptions.

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Photo: Mark Duggan

They were found along present-day Silverbell Road by Tucsonan Charles Manier and his family. By the time they stopped digging, a number of objects had been unearthed - the largest being a 64-pound, 20-inch long lead cross.

Everyone seemed to have a different idea about the where the Tucson artifacts came from and what the engravings meant. Some were convinced of their authenticity, maintaining that they were genuine archaeological finds that suggested a Jewish settlement, founded by people who came from Rome to the Tucson area in 800 AD. Others called it a hoax.

The controversy sharpened when scholars found that some of the inscriptions on the objects were, word for word, standard literary quotations from Cicero and Latin grammar books. Soon, the Smithsonian and the British Museum were involved. The curator of the Smithsonian, for example, looked at the artifacts and opined that they may have come from “some mentally incompetent individual with a flair for old Latin and the wars of antiquity.”

Julia Arriola, curator with the Arizona History Museum, says the objects have been on display there before. But a recent History Channel special that looked at the artifacts has renewed interest in them.

The Tucson artifacts are on display at the Arizona History Museum in Tucson.

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Photo: Mark Duggan


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Photo: Mark Duggan


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Photo: Mark Duggan