Where Did Chief Joseph Get His Mesopotamian Tablet?


When Chief Joseph, a renowned Nez Perce leader, surrendered to Europeans in 1877, he gave a special gift to General Nelson Appleton Miles, wrote Vine Deloria, Jr. in his book Red Earth white Lies. The gift received by the general was a pendant that turned out to be an ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet. According to Benjamin Daniali of AssyriaTimes.com, the tablet was translated by Robert Biggs, professor of Assyriology at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Professor Biggs found that it was a sales receipt for a lamb dating back to 2042 B.C.

Mary Gindling of Helium’s History Mysteries wrote, “The chief said that the tablet had been passed down in his family for many generations, and that they had inherited it from their white ancestors. Chief Joseph said that white men had come among his ancestors long ago.” Chief Joseph was a man of honor, and there was no reason for him to invent a flowery story about the origins of his gift. Furthermore, Gindling eliminated the possibility of forgery based on the fact that cuneiform had not been deciphered until 1846, and a potential forger would have had to be “familiar not only with the ancient language itself, but with the shape of the tablets created by the ancient scribes”.

The story of Chief Joseph’s tablet leaves us with a mystery. How did the ancient Assyrian artifact make it to the Western Hemisphere? The scholars are still scratching their heads in search of an explanation.

Chief Joseph’s pendant was not the only Mesopotamian tablet found in North America. NativeVillage.org mentioned another cuneiform tablet that was found in 1963 in Georgia, by Mrs. Joe Hearn. It was written in the Sumerian language and dated to approximately 2040 B.C. According to Weird Georgia by Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran, the tablet discovered by Hearn was a receipt that recorded a purchase of several sheep and goats for a ceremonial sacrifice.

Gloria Farley, an independent researcher from Oklahoma who was interested in pre-Columbian visitors to North America, wrote about numerous occasions on which ancient coins and other artifacts from the Mediterranean and the Middle East were found in North America. One of such occasions was cited by NativeVillage.org: “In 1980, a small heavy black stone found near Hodgen was brought to her for her opinion. The design resembled a flower with a complicated base”. According to NativeVillage.org, Farley consulted with Dr. Barry Fell, a zoologist at Harvard who was also an expert in ancient inscriptions, and he concluded that the design resembled the seals from ancient Dilmun in the Persian Gulf. “The inscription, said Dr. Fell, appeared to employ the ideographs used by Dilmunian scribes, especially the ones for ‘Inanna, Goddess of Love and Queen of Heaven.’”

Do these discoveries beg for a reevaluation of world history? Do they prove that merchants and explorers traveled between the Western and the Eastern hemispheres long before Columbus stepped his foot on the American land? At the very least, they mean that may be, scholars need to start asking new questions.

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Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
my travels have found, many indian possessions over the years and returned them[arrowheads,moteroes,pestiles...the grandest including sacred kamaaya rain flute worth many thousands to war cultures.took 25 yrs searching before found out it was kumaaya. i found that there was no interest as the museum people call sacred medicine person rain flute, ''a pipe.'' they had no use for me,my white skin and blue eyes or my mothers story. they pd. no attention to me being a half breed. very sad as my family was broke and we need the ten thousand.have never heard a wrd. from barona museum

Drew Muir
Drew Muir
Submitted by Drew Muir on
The Minoans, The Romans, The Vikings, The Chinese were in N.America before Colombus, do some research for pity's sake!

RedGinger's picture
Submitted by RedGinger on
In the early 1800s "Egyptology" and all kinds of raiding of Egyptian (and middle eastern) artifacts was going on. They were stealing and shipping these things to North America. There are still mummies in "curiosity shops" that were shipped from the middle east. There are a few of these in Pike's Place in Seattle. Joseph Smith (Mormon founder) collected Egyptian things, and had scrolls that were written in hieroglyph and stones with cuneiform. He told people he could read them, but the eventual translation (after his death) was very different than what he had said. That is a little off-topic, but America was full of stolen artifacts from all over the world.

PeterD's picture
Submitted by PeterD on
..." Do these discoveries beg for a reevaluation of world history?..." I certainly support this notion...Far too much of what we take for granted, or what we were taught in school, clouds much of the "truth"... As the father of 7 sons ages 12 to 32, I remind them often that they will have to "dig" for the truth and even then, it may not be "real truth"... Even with all the most recent historical information, the average History Book in our schools and elsewhere contain much erroneous information...as stated in another comment, ..." do some research for pity's sake!"...

Joey 16's picture
Joey 16
Submitted by Joey 16 on
I do not think that there is any reason to make this story a reason to discredit anyone. I think Chief Joseph was telling the truth. I don't think people 'stole' artifacts from Egypt because ownership of the artifacts by Egypt as an entity was not established at the time and there was a simple exchange of goods for pay between individuals until the attitude about the goods changed. As for Joseph Smith, this does not seem to be a forum for the long discussion that would be needed to understand him, nor is there any need to take jabs at him or the people who believe him. I appreciate that the article was informative and interesting and so are most of the comments. I think that there is much in the history of the North American continent and the people that have lived here to discover and appreciate. Some ideas from the past and some assumptions should be re-examined.

Juliet's picture
Submitted by Juliet on
At least it's not another BS artifact inscribed with the Ten Commandments. It's not impossible that other peoples reached the Americas long before the Scandinavians. As long as we don't fall into the 'Native Americans learned everything from the superior cultures of Europe/Asia/Africa' rubbish that too often springs from these unusual artifacts. [Really: I've read parts of arguments that Native Americans were taught everything more sophisticated than making fire and knapping flint by colonists from Egypt or Israel or wherever. Argh!] Now: does that tablet actually exist, or do we only have the claim that it did? (Barry Fell is more enthusiastic than knowledgeable about cuneiform, Ogham, and other ancient writing systems and the languages they transcribe.) For me, the lack of metal-using, horse-riding, cattle-herding Native Americans meeting the Spanish, French, and English means that none of the high cultures of the Old World, Africa, and Asia established a long-term presence in what is now the Americas. And even if they did, it doesn't justify what post-Columbian conquerors did (and still do) to the natives.