The Elephant Slabs of Flora Vista: Enigmatic Artifacts with Ancient African Origins
In Did West Africans live in the Four Corners Region of the United States from 12th Century?, published in Ancient Origins, I discussed the Mande inscriptions found in the Four Corners region of the Southwest United States. It illustrated that the Mande people (ethnic group of West Africa) belonging to the expedition of Voyager Mansa Abubakari left many inscriptions throughout the Southwest and generally, the Americas.
The 'Voyager King' Mansa Abubakari II - Africa's Greatest Explorer (muslimnewsmagazine.tv)
William James Veall in Sea-Farers from the Levant: Do Ancient Inscriptions Rewrite History of the Americas? - Part 2, also published in Ancient Origins, provides a detailed discussion of the Mande inscriptions found in South America left by Abubakari and his followers along the coast.
The Four Corners region is the red circle in this map. The four corners states – Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, USA—are highlighted in orange. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
These inscriptions are not the only Mande inscriptions found in Four Corners. Another interesting inscription found is the Elephant Slabs.
The Enigmatic Elephant Slabs
E. B. Sayles offers a detailed discussion of the Elephant Slabs in his book Fantasies of Gold. Sayles was on the staff of the Arizona State Museum; he first wrote about the slabs in an official pamphlet called ‘Elephant Slabs’.
Sayles discussed many artifacts discovered in Four Corners, like the elephant-decorated Montezuma Valley Jar, that was found by Frederick Bennett Wright in 1885. Wright claimed the jar was found in ruins situated in the Montezuma Valley “within sight” of the place where the Elephant Slabs were found.
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The Elephant Slabs were discovered in 1910 in Native American ruins, by a boy at Flora Vista, New Mexico. Edwin Sayles of the Arizona State Museum made it clear that the Elephant Slabs arrived at the museum in 1950.
There are two Elephant Slabs. The smallest slab is six inches wide and six inches long (15 cm by 15 cm), we will call this artifact Elephant Slab 2. The largest slab with eight lines of inscriptions is six inches wide and fourteen inches long (15 cm by 35.5 cm).
Elephants in America?
Brad Steiger in his book Mysteries in Time and Space, discussed the Flora Vista Elephant Slabs that depicted elephants along with inscriptions.
There is some evidence that elephants may have been in the American Southwest in historic times.
Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of vertebrate paleontology, in 1731 or 1782, wrote: “A Mr. Stanley, taken prisoner by the Indians near the mouth of the Tanissee [Tennessee River], relates that after being transferred through several tribes, from one to another, he was at length carried over the mountains west of the Missouri [Rocky Mountains?] to a river '"which runs ... ,westwardly; that these bones abounded there, and that the natives described to him the animal to which they belonged as still existing in the northern parts of their country from which description he judged it to be an elephant. Bones of the same kind have been lately found, some feet below the surface of the earth, in salines opened on the North Holston, a branch of the Tanisee about the latitude of 361/2° ”.
The discovery of elephant bones in Tennessee and out West were not the only evidences of elephants in the United States. For example, many elephantine rock art motifs have been found from Utah to Florida.
Bednarik and Tuohy believe that the Yellow Rock, Nevada elephant images were made in the 1840’s. Layton on the other hand, believes the creator(s) of the wounded elephant petroglyphs are “authentic” and made by an actual witness of the event.
The Native American tradition recorded by Jefferson, and the Montezuma Valley jar make it clear that the Elephant Slabs are authentic artifacts and not forgeries. The Mande inscriptions on the Elephant Slabs illustrate that when the Mande lived at Flora Vista there were elephants in the surrounding region. The slab indicates that it was the Malians who took the elephants with them to Flora Vista.
Ancient Peoples of America
Brad Steiger has suggested that the inscriptions were written in Phoenician, but the signs do not resemble this script. Dr. David Imhotep, claims the Elephant Slabs were written by Africans.
When the Spanish arrived in Arizona they reportedly found Black communities. In 1775, Father Francisco Garces discovered Black men, clearly African, living in a community beside the Zuni Indians in New Mexico.
Father Garces explored Arizona and California. He was assigned to Mission San Xavier del Bac, which was situated near Tucson Arizona.
According to the French anthropologist A. de Quatrefages, Father Garces found two races, one Black the other Red, that spoke different languages. Father Garces said he was told that (“les noirs etaient les anciens habitants du pays”) the Blacks were the ancient inhabitants of the land.
In 1528, the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca and Estevanico the Moor (Blackman) from Azamor discovered numerous people living in the American Southwest as they sought to discover the Seven Cities of Cibola. The Seven Cities of Cibola were said to be centers where fantastic amounts of gold could be found.
In New Mexico and Arizona, de Vaca found numerous ethnic groups speaking a multiplicity of languages. Due to the pluralistic nature of these societies, the people could only communicate using sign language. Ceram in the The First Americans noted that: “In reality the inhabitants of the pueblos, as we now know, were members of extraordinarily varied tribes. They spoke widely different languages and had different historical backgrounds”.
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De Vaca said that one of these ethnic groups was named Mendica. This name is almost identical to the word Mandinka (Malinke), the name of one of the Manding speaking people.
Deciphering the Inscriptions
The Elephant Slabs are written in the Vai script which was used by the Malians to record their messages when they came to the Americas. The Malians sailed to the Americas around 1310. The Mandinkas founded the Mali Empire.
The Vai script is written in over 200 syllabic signs. It dates back to the Chariot period (circa 1200 BC) when the Mande left inscriptions beside Chariot routes from the Fezzan in Libya, to Dar Tichitt, and the Niger River Valley.
The Mande writing was popular in ancient times. But since the adoption of Islam by the Malinke and Bambara, the Mande speakers learned to write the script if they belonged to the Mande secret societies. In addition to being found on the Chariot routes, the Mande signs were found by archaeologists at Grotte de Goundaka in the region of Bandagara and the Central Niger Area.
We can now read the Elephant Slabs that are written in the Malinke-Bambara language which was spoken in the Mali Empire of Mansa Abubakari.
Figure 1: Elephant Slab
Ga gya Birds Kpa nde ngbe Ka go ne
Sama(elephant) ga ka bi kpa
Ni ngbe nde kai Sama gya Sun (ga kpa)
Pe kpe gbe nge gya
De kpa ne mbe nde bi-nu gya
Gya pe ndԑgyi ngba kai ga
Gyi nde pԑ du ke nu
Ga gyi Sun
The desert is hot Birds are numerous, white, just as the Go (police bird) in our language. The elephants are sick and angry. At present (the sick elephants) are considerable. Life (is spent) removing thou sick elephants dried up by the sun. Many are sick. (The dead elephants) are pushed down (into a hole/buried) and sealed on the flat terrain adjoining the bed of the river (at) the dry place-- the zone of inundation. My existence at the present family habitation is lean. (On) dry land adjoining the bed of the river break up the terrain for cultivation (and) thou cut the hearth. Break to pieces the flatlands to carve and make the family habitation. Warmth, water, Sun.
Figure 2: Elephant Slab 2
Transliteration Elephant Slab 2:
Dè ki bird gba Sama (elephant)bo-kpo gbe-kpe ka-kpo dè be Bear.
“Uncultivated land, hunt the birds, cook the elephant (it is) easy to roast, grow on the flat terrain the maize (in) arid uncultivated land. There are also bears.”
The mention of bears in Elephant Slab 2 is interesting because the Black Bear is found in the deserts of Arizona.
The Elephant Slabs tell us that Flora Vista was an arid region. We learn that the Malians at Flora Vista found the Sama, or elephants, as a source of food, because many of them died due to the heat. The author of the Elephant Slab makes it clear that the Malians cultivated Ka, or maize, in the Mande language. It also tells us that the Malians built a ‘family habitation’.
The Montezuma Valley jar may have come from the ruins of this ‘family habitation’, made by the Malians.
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It is interesting that the author of the Elephant Slabs describes the elephants as “thou sick elephants”, which suggest that the Malians may have introduced the elephants to the American Southwest. Elephant Slab 1 also makes it clear that “[The dead elephants] are pushed down on the even surface (into a hole) and sealed”. This corresponds to Jefferson’s report of the burial of elephants in Tennessee. Jefferson wrote: “Bones of the same kind have been lately found, some feet below the surface of the earth, in salines opened on the North Holston, a branch of the Tanisee about the latitude of 361/2° ”.
In summary, the Mande lived in the American Southwest. They were probably the Mendicas (Mandinka) tribe met by Cabeza de Vaca in 1530. These Malians probably inscribed the Elephant Slabs to record some of their activities at Flora Vista.
Featured image: The ‘Elephant Slab’, (left) and sketched markings (right).
Unless otherwise noted, images via Dr Clyde Winters.
By: Dr Clyde Winters
Winters,Clyde Ahmad, "The influence of the Mande scripts on ancient American Writing systems", Bulletin l'de IFAN, T39, serie b, no2, (1977), pages 941-967;
Winters,Clyde Ahmad,"Manding Scripts in the New World", Journal of African Civilization 1, no1 (1979a), pages 61-97;
Winters,Clyde Ahmad,"The Ancient Manding Script",In Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern, (ed) by Ivan van Sertima, (New Brunswick:Transaction Books ,1983a) pages 208-214.
Harris, Neil J. (1971). The mystery of America's Elephant plates, Science Digest, 69:74-77.
Sayles, E.B (1968). Fantasies of gold;: Legends of treasures and how they grew. University of Arizona Press
C.C. Young, The Environment and Science: Social Impact and Interactions, (2005) p.239.
Bednarik, R.G. (2014). Pleistocene Palaeoart of the Americas. Arts 3:190-206.
Tuohy, D.R. (1969).A ‘wounded elephant’ and three other petroglpyhs in northern Washoe County, Nevada. Nevada Arch. Survey Report, 3: 9–12.
Layton, T. N. (1976). Stalking Elephants in Nevada, Western Folklore, 35( 4 ):250-257. Nevada, Nevada Archaeological Survey Reporter.
David Imhotep, The First Americans Were Africans: Documented Evidence, 2011.
Alphonse De Quatrefages, Histoire Generate des Races Humaines, p. 558. Retrieved July 12,2016 at: https://archive.org/stream/histoiregnralede00quat#page/552/mode/2up
C.W. Ceram, The First Americans, (New York,1971) p.70.