Tibetan Tablet Found At Zuni      
Written by Christopher O'brien    

Zuni Enigma: Tibetan Inscribed Tablet Found at Ancient Zuni Site

Last Fall, David Hatcher Childress and myself made a road trip to the magical Zuni Pueblo to visit Clifford Mahooty, a Zuni Elder, who is a medicine holder for the Zuni Clown (trickster) Society. I met Clifford last year at the UFO Congress in Laughlin when he introduced himself and told me he was a fan of my Mysterious Valley books. We kept in touch and last summer he came to Sedona for a visit.  He is a highly intelligent, engaging man with a twinkle in his eye and a wonderful sense of humor. He related several stories about the Zuni that I found extremely interesting and before leaving he extended an open invitation to come visit him at the Zuni Pueblo with an offer to show me around some of the ancient Zuni pueblo sites. Clifford is a rare individual—a living link between the ancient past and the modern world. He is a high-powered, ex-Department of the Interior civil engineer, now retired, but he walks confidently in both worlds. He is deeply connected with his cultural heritage and he considers himself to be one of the last true historian/storytellers of the tribe. Mahooty is extremely concerned about the future of his people’s wonderful culture and is worried about the younger generation’s desire and failing ability to keep their rich cultural traditions alive.

Prior to our trip, I conducted a bit of research to learn more about these enigmatic people. Of course, like most everyone today in the 21st Century, the Pueblo has their own website (ashiwi.org) and I found the following thumbnail sketch that they have posted pertaining to their history.

 The Zuni Pueblo is nestled in a scenic valley, surrounded by the enchanting mesas, located about 150 miles west of Albuquerque. The main reservation is located in the McKinley and Cibola counties in the western part of New Mexico. Zuni Pueblo consisting of approximately 12,000 people is located in the northwestern part of New Mexico. The pueblo is about 35 miles south of Gallup, NM and 150 miles west of Albuquerque, NM. The reservation, covering 418,304 acres, just rests on the western border of New Mexico.

The ancient homelands of the Zunis are along the middle reaches of the Zuni River where their cultural ancestors lived for centuries. Near the settlements and villages left by the ancient people, the Zuni Indians built compact villages of multi-storied houses. These were the towns seen and lived by Coronado and his men and called them the "Seven Cities" in the land of Cibola. The mythical Seven Cities of Cibola (Spanish word for "buffalo") lured Coronado to the southwest in 1540 in a treasure quest. Unfortunately, with the exception of the village of Zuni, all those sites were abandoned long ago.

For the last three hundred years, most of the Indians had lived in a single village, the Pueblo of Zuni. Within the boundaries often small, rather cramped reservation are smaller farming villages at Pescado, Nutria, and Ojo Caliente, which were established probably in the eighteenth century but which in more recent years have been occupied only during the time of planting and harvest. Beyond the boundaries of the reservation, there are ancient sites and areas, sacred points and shrines, and places of pilgrimage central to Zuni life and history.

 The reclusive Zuni are not well known to the world-at-large. Their neighbors to the northwest on the mesas, the Hopi, are high-profile celebrities compared to the Zuni, who like the Hopi, are an ancient people whose past is enigmatic and obscured to outsiders.  This is undoubtedly by design and there is much about the Zuni culture that deserves mention. They have a hidden past and there is some controversy in mainstream academia concerning where the Zuni actually originated. For instance, in her book The Zuni Enigma: A Native American People's Possible Japanese Connection, Nancy Yaw Davis postulates compelling evidence of a connection between the Zuni and the ancient Japanese culture. Clifford commented that Davis started out on the right track but quickly went astray with her theorizing. One of the stories that Clifford mentioned during his visit to Sedona was his Zuni friend Dan (an archaeologist) finding a worked sandstone slab, with what appears to be a Tibetan prayer carved into its face in what appears to be a Sanskrit form of Tibetan. Dan found the artifact at a historic Zuni pueblo archaeological site that dates from the 1500s and secreted it away. When I asked Clifford why he didn’t mention it to the other (Anglo) archaeologists, Clifford said, “why should, he? They’d just steal it, like everything else!”  David Childress, your avowed “diffusionist” archaeologist, was understandably excited when he returned to Arizona and learned of the amazing find and was eager to mount a road trip to visit Clifford and Dan.

We packed the cooler, picked out some tunes and set out and headed north along the General Cook Trail that skirts along the Mogollan Rim, with its awe-inspiring view to the south. After a night camped high on the rim we then headed north out into the timeless Arizona high desert plains that stretch all the way to Four-Corners. Towering thunderheads dotted the skyline as we motored up through St. Johns, AZ toward the small village of Concho—site of the sacred twin peaks of the Zuni. Serenaded by the whiny country-rock guitars and voices of the Drive By Truckers, we made the turn to the east at Witch Wells, crossed the state line into New Mexico and entered the mysterious Zuni Pueblo. I noticed a large hand painted sign that forbade any cameras or videotaping during ceremonies at the pueblo. We stopped at the local gas station quick mart and fell under the watchful, stoic glances of the several customers who were in the store. Outside, a local Zuni farmer was selling his melons by the roadside and I suggested we bring a melon as a gift to Clifford. We received directions and headed south toward the edge of the pueblo where Clifford had a modest house with two nearby single-wide trailer homes. Dogs seemed to be running loose everywhere as we made the turn into Clifford’s driveway. We shook hands and gifted him with the melon and down fin lawn chairs for the first of several extensive chats.

One of the first things that Clifford did was show us the enigmatic sandstone slab that he brought out from the house, wrapped in a towel, he kept inside a cardboard box.

When was this placed where it was found? Whodunnit?

The slab is approximately 18 inches by 12 inches and the letters were exquisitely carved into the sandstone face—divided into eight distinct lines of text. David and I examined it closely and our first impression was that it was not an ancient artifact. The carvings looked like they had been done fairly recently, however if the artifact had been covered by sand, the artifact could have been older than it appeared. David immediately noted that it was a Tibetan form of Sanskrit and made the comment that this style of inscription is seen all over Tibet on pilgrim trails and around shrines. After photographing the slab, a truck pulled up and out stepped Dan, the archaeologist, and his young son. Introductions were made and we sat in the sunshine listening to the two tell us about interesting events that had occurred over the years in and around the reservation. Several stories pertained to amazing-sounding UFO sightings that had been witnessed by the Zuni in the area and one story, in particular, stood out. It seems that back in the late 1930s, a craft had evidently crash landed part of the way up a mesa and had sat for a couple of days before taking off and disappearing. At the time the Indians interpreted the event as being the visit by a “thunderbird” but Clifford mentioned he thought it was a technological craft that was damaged and then repaired by the occupants before flying off. We also listened with rapt attention to a story told by Dan of a hovering craft late at night that had visited Dan group of hikers back in the 1980s. Many sightings seem to centered around a particular canyon where “the UFOs seem to come and go from.” This canyon also is where we were told “the Cave of Fear” is located. This cave is evidently a taboo spot on the reservation. I asked if this taboo spot was somehow connected to the many UFO sightings seen in that area and I never received a direct answer, but had the impression that they thought there was some kind of connection. Possibly this where a particular sky kachina is thought to lurk?

After meeting Dan and talking for a while, the two of them suggested we visit the spot where Dan claims he found the inscribed sandstone slab. We climbed into our vehicles and headed through the village turning east and heading out to the location of the now abandoned pueblo site. Clifford explained to us that the abandoned site was at the base of a mesa where the Zuni had lived prior to Coronado’s arrival in 1540. After the Spanish arrival in the area, the Zuni retreated to the top of the Mesa.

Coronado heard first about the Zuni Pueblo from Estevanico, a black slave who was one of three survivor’s of the ill-fated Narvaez expedition that was shipwrecked in Florida in 1527. Surviving slavery and starvation, Estevanico, Cabeza de Vaca and another Spaniard walked from Texas, through the southwest, down into northern Mexico where they were reunited with their Spanish brethern. Coronado sent a friar and Estevanico north to scout the area. Estevanico was killed by the Zuni and the friar returned with a story about a fabulous city of gold. Intrigued by the story, Coronado mounted an expedition and with 350 soldiers headed north into what is now Arizona looking for Cibola which was thought to be near Zuni. Wikipedia summarizes their first encounter with the Zuni:

 Coronado traversed Arizona's Mogollón Rim, and from the headwaters of the Little Colorado he continued on until he came to the Zuni River. He followed the Zuni until he found the region inhabited by the Zunis. The members of the expedition were almost starving and demanded entrance into the village of Hawikuh. The natives refused, denying the expedition entrance to the village or trade. Coronado and his frustrated soldiers entered Hawikuh on Coronado's demands, when the Spanish requested intelligence and resources. The ensuing skirmish constituted the extent of what can be called the Spanish "Conquest of Cíbola." During the battle, Coronado was injured and had to stay with the Zuni while healing.

 According to the Zuni version of the event, Coronado was severely injured by a lucky Zuni warrior who threw a rock from high up on the mesa that beaned him in the head. It must have left quite a dent in his helmet for “he was never the same after that,” according to Clifford. After exploring the Rio Grande Valley the ill-fated expedition ended up guided by a wily Indian to central Kansas in search of the fabled city of gold. Frustrated and finding only a small mud-hut village, Coronado and the surviving Spanish soldiers garroted their guide, turned around, and began the long arduous journey back to Mexico empty-handed but much the wiser. Coronado died 14 years later in Mexico City.

The former pueblo site at the base of the mesa is where the archeological dig was being conducted at the time of Dan’s of the enigmatic tablet’s discovery by Dan. I asked them why the discovery wasn’t mentioned to the other archaeologists and Clifford made the comment, “Why show it to them, they’d just steal it like everything else.” Thinking about it, (and other stories of inexplicable archaeological discoveries in the region, such as the alleged 1909 Egyptian/Buddhist find in the Little Colorado River Gorge, that may have been covered up by the Smithsonian), he does have a point. The ancient pueblo site was located north of a dirt road that snaked east from the present day pueblo. We parked and began to walk up a sandy hill that was covered in prickly pear and rabbit-ear cactus. We wound our way up and over the hill—headed toward the base of the beautiful mesa that towered over the site.  We took a break as Dan showed us the exact spot where he found the tablet. I looked around and marveled that I was standing on such a historic spot and I wondered if this was the exact spot where Coronado got beaned off his horse. The view to the south was spectacular in the late afternoon light that graced the ancient site. Majestic clouds dotted the sky and a pair of soaring ravens eyed us from high above as we headed over to a line of large sandstone slabs that had been planted upright deep in the sand. “Looks kind of like a Zuni Stonehenge,” I joked as we scratched our heads and tried to figure out why this unusual arrangement of large stone slabs had been placed there. “It looks like it may have been a defensive wall,” David observed.  We took several photographs before heading further up the hill toward the base of the mesa where a number of large, impressive, deeply etched petroglyphs adorned the cliff face.

Thinking about where the tablet was allegedly found, I wondered, if this was some kind of mistake, or at worst, a hoax, why bury a tablet with Tibetan writing in this location? Dan seemed completely baffled and his story seemed legit to both David and I, but the artifact did not belong where it was found. To make the story even more puzzling, the day after we returned to Arizona, I found out a special hollow 50 foot high Tibetan stupa had been dedicated by Bhakha Tulku Rinpoche of the red-hat Nyingma tradition at the Tibetan Mountain Retreat—located just over the northeast border of the reservation! I was told by an informed source that the stupa was built for “earth exorcism work.” It is a place where prayers and meditation work is offered up to stop earthquakes, drought, pestilence and negative Gaia-generated events. Is there a connection between this dedication and the discovery of the tablet? The plot thickens…

The following day Dan took us to a special petroglyph site in a slit canyon located just outside the reservation. We were told this is where the Zuni stopped after emerging onto the current worldfrom the Sipapu (in the Little Colorado Gorge) and were divided into the different clans. The site is well-hidden and impossible to see unless you right at the edge.  It is narrow—about 100 feet wide and about 20 to 30 feet deep. We wound our way through the vegetation and descended down one of only a few ways into the canyon on the way passing several impressive Datura plants. I was astounded by the shear number of petroglyphs that literally cover many rock faces throughout the canyon. There must be thousands of glyphs at this ancient site. The canyon obviously had slowly filled with sand over the millennia and the oldest glyphs disappeared down into the shifting sands at the canyon’s floor and who knows how many glyphs could lay buried at the lowest levels. Clifford had mentioned to us several peculiar glyphs that Dan wanted to show us. And peculiar is right! One glyph looks like a cross between “Shrek” and a Bigfoot with oversized feet, another glyph looks like a perfect flying saucer. The “Bigfoot” glyph is quite interesting as are the many footprint glyphs that are scattered around the site. I have seen plenty of hand print glyphs at many—if not most—petroglyph sites, but I’ve never seen a single footprint glyph. That’s not the case here for they are numerous. One interesting possibility is that the figure could be the representation of a skinwalker for I have seen several skinwalker kachina dolls that have the exact same kind of feet. In any case, the glyph site is the most amazing site of its kind I have ever visited.

After our visit to the glyph site, we returned to Clifford’s energized by the amazing, historic site. All-in-all, the trip to Zuni was well worth the time and we thanked Dan and Clifford for taking the time to show us around. The possibility of establishing a Zuni-based WEX club was bantered about and David and I eagerly look forward to our next trip back to “the rez” to do some more quality exploring around this magical, historic locale.   As far as the enigmatic Tibetan writing on the sandstone slab, I have obtained two translations and am awaiting a third translation. As you can imagine, this is a developing story, so tune in next issue for an update on this potentially bombshell story.