After taking a closer look at the field circumstances under which the Madison Tablet (Figure 1) was found and after obtaining a better understanding of the person who found it in the field—and their now known inability to properly interpret what they were seeing in the field, I have concluded, beyond any reasonable doubt of my own, that the Madison Tablet is not a prehistoric or Historic period American Indian artifact. It is most likely an odd-looking piece of 20th century folk art, a piece of personal art created by a rather untalented student in a high school or college art class, or a decorative garden rock. In fact, for many years, a gardening and nursery business was located at the curb of Gallatin Road in a location very near to the large archaeological site where the Madison Tablet was found.
Figure 1. Freehand Drawing of the Madison Tablet
(Tablet Measurements are 14 in. x 10 in. x 3 in.)
As previously noted on this blog, the incisings on the Madison Tablet do not contain any of the typical artistic motifs and themes associated with traditional Mississippian period art in Tennessee or the American Southeast. In other words, the Madison Tablet does not fit in with the now well-understood canon of Mississippian period artistic styles and related mythologies. I now feel certain that my fellow professional archaeology colleagues here in Tennessee and elsewhere would agree with my revised assessment of the Madison Tablet. Indeed, I strongly suspect that my colleagues, bless their hearts, have been snickering and joking behind my back about what an idiot I was to even entertain the possibility that the Madison Tablet might be a piece of prehistoric art. This change of my mind is the primary reason why this tablet and the images incised on it were no longer used as the logo for the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute after May 2018.
The Madison Tablet was found in 1968 at a time when massive earthmoving was underway on a portion of a large Mississippian period archaeological site in preparation for construction of a “big box” Zayre’s discount store, quite similar to K-Mart and Wal-Mart stores. This earthmoving had most likely impacted the human burial wherein the Madison Tablet was found. Given the presence of a Historic period component associated with the occupation of an old house on the site, such soil disturbance would easily explain the presence of the oddball artifacts found in the grave, including a complete broken-off rim from a Mississippian period ceramic vessel and dinner table knife with a bone handle. Both the Madison Tablet and these other artifacts were likely redeposited in this human burial from some nearby location by the operation of large earthmoving equipment such as bulldozers and backhoes.
Finally, I feel fairly certain that the current owner of the Madison Tablet has seen my assorted metropolitan newspaper and social media pleas for the past 12 years—all pleas for him to get in touch with me and provide me with an opportunity to closely examine this tablet. For some unknown reason, this person has perpetually sat on their bottom and never gotten in touch with me—and so have his artifact collector friends who know he owns it. That refusal was certainly within their rights to do. I have no idea what their motives were, and I refuse to speculate any further on that matter.
For the current owner of the Madison Tablet, whoever you are, I have just one crystal clear message for you this afternoon. Here it is:
One thing all professional scientists know is that our understandings of various objects, phenomena, and processes change over time as we obtain more information and revise our perspectives in light of it. This is normal in the world of science. My recently revised understanding of the Madison Tablet has hereby officially removed it from its former status as a quite possibly authentic prehistoric American Indian artifact. As a result of this change in status, the Madison Tablet that you bought from Danny Lea or someone else for $1,000, $2,000, $5,000, or $10,000 is now officially worth maybe—just maybe if you are lucky—$2.98, meaning just shy of three dollars. As the old saying goes, “Karma can be a real bitch!!!” Life is just like that sometimes.
I will close with a brief warning to the current owner of the Madison Tablet and all other artifact collectors who read this message. If the owner of the Madison Tablet tries to sell you this tablet as an authentic prehistoric American Indian artifact from a Mississippian site in Tennessee, he will be committing a crime called fraud——-that is if he has read this message first. Any artifact collector who reads this message and is stupid enough to buy the Madison Tablet, or trade an authentic artifact for it, will lose a whole bundle of money or trade value for nothing. I know how much artifact collectors try to avoid prehistoric artifacts that are not authentic. The Madison Tablet is now officially one that you definitely need to avoid.