Is stone tablet from 1340 or 1940, expert asks
A flagstone tablet inscribed with symbols and what looks like an ancient, stylized, Mayan self-portrait has fascinated Vic Jensen for more than half a century.
More recently, it has flummoxed experts in Mexico and confounded investigators in western Colorado.
The tablet, as well as dozens of arrowheads and a half-dozen clay pots reflecting far less sophistication, are at the heart of the latest inquiry by the Western Investigations Team, a cooperative effort of the Museum of the West and Mesa State College.
Vic Jensen and his family found the trove on private land 53 years ago on Cactus Park.
“We were just out, walking around and enjoying Colorado,” he said. “I tell you, we were excited. It was the find of a lifetime.”
The pots were scattered out in the open, he said, “not buried and not hidden,” Jensen said. “We just gathered them up and brought them home.”
One of the people to whom he showed his collection was Dr. Rick Dujay, scientific coordinator for the Western Investigations Team. Dujay then brought in Dave Bailey, director of the team and curator of paleontology at the museum, who was intrigued.
The tablet has so far resisted all efforts to explain its meaning or its presence at the site. The markings on the stone, or glyphs, reflect only two known characters, one for Aztecs merchants who traveled long distances and another, more common, character that denotes the four suns as the Aztecs saw the ages of the earth.
“It’s not a known glyph system, although it is serpentine,” Bailey said. The Aztecs wrote in such a manner that the first line would be read right to left, then the line below would run left to right, leading the eye in a serpentine path.
Even in Mexico, experts in glyph systems don’t recognize the tablet markings, he said. It’s possible the site where the items were found was two sites in one, the first of a people who were beginning to understand pottery making, and another of a more technically advanced people, Bailey said.
Stone workers who have seen the tablet have been struck by the high level of workmanship, including beveling of the characters and the polished gloss of the head, Bailey said.
There is one possible answer: The tablet might have been created and planted precisely to confound one particular researcher.
Al Look, a Daily Sentinel reporter who also toted up archaeological and paleontological finds in the 1930s and 1940s, was the occasional target of practical jokes posing as prehistoric discoveries.
In one case, friends of Look planted evidence of ancient Egyptians in western Colorado, but the ruse was quickly uncovered.
There is no evidence, Bailey said, that the jokers left a “treasure” trove that Look never found, however.
Dujay is to test some of the obsidian arrowheads in Jensen’s collection to determine from where they came, as well as rule out the possibility that some are glass.
Even if the tests show the arrowheads to be of recent vintage, the pieces, especially the
tablet, are now a bit of local history, Bailey said.
If not, then the mystery deepens.
“That’s the one big question,” Bailey said. “Is it from 1340 or 1940?”