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Dighton Rock

Coordinates: 41°48′45.92″N 71°6′38″W / 41.8127556°N 71.11056°W / 41.8127556; -71.11056
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Dighton Rock
Dighton Rock is located in Massachusetts
Dighton Rock
LocationBerkley, Massachusetts
Nearest cityDighton, Massachusetts
Coordinates41°48′45.92″N 71°6′38″W / 41.8127556°N 71.11056°W / 41.8127556; -71.11056
NRHP reference No.80000438[1]
Added to NRHPJuly 1, 1980

The Dighton Rock is a 40-ton boulder, originally located in the riverbed of the Taunton River at Berkley, Massachusetts (formerly part of the town of Dighton). The rock is noted for its petroglyphs ("primarily lines, geometric shapes, and schematic drawings of people, along with writing, both verified and not."),[2] carved designs of ancient and uncertain origin, and the controversy about their creators. In 1963, during construction of a coffer dam, state officials removed the rock from the river for preservation. It was installed in a museum in a nearby park, Dighton Rock State Park. In 1971, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).


The boulder has the form of a slanted, six-sided block, approximately 5 feet (1.5 m) high, 9.5 feet (2.9 m) wide, and 11 feet (3.4 m) long. It is gray-brown crystalline sandstone of medium to coarse texture. The surface with the inscriptions has a trapezoidal face and is inclined 70 degrees to the northwest. It was found facing the water of the bay.

History and mythology[edit]

In 1680, the English colonist Rev. John Danforth made a drawing of the petroglyphs, which has been preserved in the British Museum. His drawing conflicts with the reports of others and the current markings on the rock.[2] In 1690 Rev. Cotton Mather described the rock in his book The Wonderful Works of God Commemorated:

Among the other Curiosities of New-England, one is that of a mighty Rock, on a perpendicular side whereof by a River, which at High Tide covers part of it, there are very deeply Engraved, no man alive knows How or When about half a score Lines, near Ten Foot Long, and a foot and half broad, filled with strange Characters: which would suggest as odd Thoughts about them that were here before us, as there are odd Shapes in that Elaborate Monument.[3]

During the 19th century, many popular publications and public figures mentioned the rock. The poet and critic James Russell Lowell suggested that presidential candidates' letters to newspapers should be written in its undeciphered script: "[I]f letters must be written, profitable use might be made of the Dighton rock hieroglyphic or the cuneiform script, every fresh decipherer of which is enabled to educe a different meaning."[4] Lowell made other references to the rock in his widely circulated satirical writing, and may thus have helped to popularize it.

The rock in 2015 is on display in a small museum

Hypotheses about the creation of the markings include:

Indigenous peoples of North America
…who were known to have inscribed petroglyphs in rocks (a schematic face on the Dighton Rock is similar to an Indian petroglyph in Eastern Vermont)[5]
Ancient Phoenicians
…proposed in 1783 by Ezra Stiles in his "Election Sermon" as the "descendants of the sons of Japheth" [6]
…proposed in 1837 by Carl Christian Rafn. Rejected by archaeologists such as T. D. Kendrick[7] and Kenneth Feder.[8]
…proposed in 1912 by Edmund B. Delabarre, who (after seeing Portuguese writing) believed that they then used the rock for their own inscriptions[9][10] Delabarre wrote that markings on the Dighton Rock suggest that Miguel Corte-Real reached New England. Delabarre stated that the markings were abbreviated Latin, and the message, translated into English, reads as follows: "I, Miguel Cortereal, 1511. In this place, by the will of God, I became a chief of the Indians."[11] Hunter (2017) provides copious evidence and analysis debunking the Corte-Real origin myth.[12]
…proposed by Gavin Menzies in his 2002 book 1421: The Year China Discovered America

State park[edit]

Park sign

In November 1952, the Miguel Corte-Real Memorial Society of New York City acquired 49+12 acres (20.0 ha) of land adjacent to the rock to create a park. However, in 1951 the Massachusetts Legislature expropriated the same land for a State Park. More land was purchased. Dighton Rock State Park now has an area of 100 acres (40 ha). The vicinity of Dighton Rock has been beautified and furnished with parking and picnic facilities.

Depths of inscriptions[edit]

Although Mather described these as deeply cut, a statement which has been repeated to the present day, early reports suggested that this was not exactly the case. DelaBarre wrote:

One thing is certain, that former descriptions of the depth of the incisions cannot be used as evidence for any change. The first who describes them calls them "deeply engraved" in 1690; but Cotton Mather had never seen the rock, so far as we know, and this statement of his is doubtless on a par with his other statement that the characters are on "a mighty Rock." Greenwood gives the first reliable description, in 1730. He definitely says that the "indentures are not very considerable," and his drawing and his other statements prove that he had as much difficulty in making out the real characters as has ever been experienced since then. Even on the lowest part of the face, which alone does show evident signs of much wear, Mather's draughtsman, and Greenwood, and their next followers, were even less successful in making out apparent characters than have been some later observers. Sewall in 1768 and Kendall in 1807 made definite statements to the effect that the greater part of the lines were so much effaced as to make their decipherment impossible, or wholly subject to the fancy.[13]

An exact copy of all symbols or petroglyphes by the Historical Commission of Providence, Rhode Island, published 1830
Daguerrotype (mirror-reversed) image of Seth Eastman on Dighton Rock (c. 1853)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  2. ^ a b Kenneth L. Feder, Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis To The Walam Olum, page 80 (Greenwood, 2010). ISBN 978-0-313-37919-2
  3. ^ Edward Brecher (June 1958). "The Enigma Of Dighton Rock". American Heritage. Retrieved August 2, 2011.
  4. ^ Lowell, James R. The Biglow Papers (VIII) London, Trubner (1861), via Project Gutenberg- accessed 2007-12-08
  5. ^ Kenneth L. Feder, Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis To The Walam Olum, page 81(Greenwood, 2010). ISBN 978-0-313-37919-2
  6. ^ "The Missing Phylactery" (PDF).
  7. ^ Kendrick, T. D. (2012). A History of the Vikings. Courier Corporation. ISBN 978-0-486-12342-4. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  8. ^ Feder, Kenneth L. (2019). Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Forty Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and Other Strange Sites in North America. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 35–38. ISBN 978-1-5381-0597-9. Retrieved 20 December 2019.
  9. ^ Martha Mitchell (1993). "Delabarre, Edmund B.". Encyclopedia Brunoniana. Brown University Library.
  10. ^ DelaBarre 1928
  11. ^ Edmund B. Delabarre (1928). "Dighton Rock A Study of the Written Rocks of New England". Walter Neal. Retrieved October 26, 2014.
  12. ^ Douglas Hunter: “Reconstructing the history of writing about Dighton Rock” The Place of the Stone: Dighton Rock and the erasure of America's Indigenous Past University of North Carolina Press, 2017
  13. ^ Delabarre, Edmund Burke (1919). Recent History Of Dighton Rock. John Wilson and Son. p. 409.

Further reading[edit]

  • Douglas Hunter, The Place of Stone: Dighton Rock and the Erasure of America's Indigenous Past. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.

External links[edit]

Media related to Dighton Rock at Wikimedia Commons