Hoax Archive: Time Periods
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Anthropological Hoaxes, 1800-1868
However, a few parts of the journal are accurate. This indicates that its author had access to a source of information about the Upper Missouri region. This source might have been a journal by Lewis and Clark member Sergeant Nathaniel Pryor, although it was not previously known that Pryor kept a journal. More→
The document, which described the peopling of North America, was long considered to be authentic and historically important. It was not until 1996 that the researcher David Oestreicher exposed it as a hoax. Based on an examination of Rafinesque's papers, Oestreicher concluded that Rafinesque had first translated the text from English into Lenape, rather than from Lenape into English, meaning that the Lenape document was a forgery.
The reason Rafinesque created this hoax, Oestreicher argued, was partly out of a desire for fame and recognition. Rafinesque may also have been inspired by Joseph Smith's then recent translation of the Mormon Bible from golden tablets inscribed with ancient Egyptian which he claimed to have found in upstate New York. Rafinesque had publicly denounced the Mormon Bible as a hoax, but viewing its success, he may either have decided to attempt something similar himself, or he may have been trying to cast doubt on the Mormon assertion that Native Americans had descended from Hebrew tribes.
As he examined it, Domenech came to believe it was an extremely important document that revealed much that was previously unknown about Native American history and culture. He convinced the French government to pay for the publication of a facsimile edition of the book, to which he added a lengthy introduction in which he analyzed and interpreted the symbols. Upon its publication, however, critics offered a far different explanation for the manuscript. They theorized it was actually the scribbling book of a German child, "the leisure pencillings of a nasty-minded little boy," that had for some reason been filed away in the French library, where it was mistaken for a Native American text. More→
The Kinderhook Plates, 1843 (April 1843)The Kinderhook Plates were an archaeological hoax designed to embarrass the Mormons by tricking their leader, Joseph Smith, into "translating" phony hieroglyphics written on them.
The plates were six bell-shaped pieces of flat copper, unearthed from an Indian burial mound near Kinderhook, Illinois in April 1843. The hieroglyphics were inscribed on the front of the plates. The plates were supposedly found buried beside the skeleton of a man.
Joseph Smith, who was living sixty miles away in Nauvoo, did examine the plates, but there is controversy about whether he attempted to translate the hieroglyphics. Some reports state that he did. An account published in the Mormon Deseret News in 1856 stated that Smith translated a portion of them and found them to contain "the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt."
However, the Mormon Church denies Smith ever made a translation.
The hoax was later revealed to be the work of three men Wilbur Fugate, Robert Wiley, and Bridge Whitton who lived near Kinderhook. According to a letter written by Fugate, the trio had heard a prophecy by Mormon Elder Orson Pratt that "truth is yet to spring from the earth", and they decided to "prove the prophecy by way of a joke."
Whitton, who was a blacksmith, made the plates, and Wiley, a local merchant, pretended to discover them in the Indian mound.
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