Newark Holy Stones
The Newark Holy Stones refer to a set of artifacts allegedly discovered by David Wyrick in 1860 within a cluster of ancient Indian burial mounds near Newark, Ohio, now generally believed to be a hoax. The set consists of the Keystone, a stone bowl, and the Decalogue with its sandstone box. They can be viewed at the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum in Coshocton, Ohio. The site where the objects were found is known as The Newark Earthworks, one of the biggest collections from an ancient American Indian culture known as the Hopewell that existed from approximately 100 BC to AD 500.
The first of these artifacts, popularly known as the Keystone due to its shape, was excavated in June 1860. Unlike other ancient artifacts found previously in this region, the Keystone was inscribed with Hebrew. It contains one phrase on each side:
- Holy of Holies
- King of the Earth
- The Law of God
- The Word of God
The second find came later in November 1860 when Wyrick and his excavation team came across a sandstone box which contained a small, black rock within it. The black rock was identified as limestone by geologists Dave Hawkins and Ken Bork of Denison University. On this stone were carved Hebrew text that was translated as a condensed version of the Ten Commandments. The name Decalogue Stone, comes from the translation of the Hebrew letters that outline the religious and moral codes described in Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21, which refer to the Decalogue or Ten Commandments. The inscription begins on the front at the top of an arch above the figure of a bearded man who is wearing a turban, robe, and appears to be holding a tablet. It runs down the left side, continues around all sides, and makes its way back to the front up the right side to where it began. This pattern indicates that the inscription was meant to be read repetitively. Right above the figure of the man is a separate inscription which translates to "Moses". This rock was carved with a unique form of Hebrew, which gave the appearance of ancient post-Exilic square Hebrew letters that later was shown to be derived from the modern Hebrew alphabet.
Radiocarbon date of wooden platform
In 2014, Bradley Lepper of the Ohio History Connection discovered that a fragment of the wooden burial platform underneath which the Decalogue Stone was found had been preserved at Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History. This sample yielded a calibrated radiocarbon date range of CAL AD 85 to CAL AD 135 (95% probability). Since the platform had been made from an approximately 2-foot diameter oak tree, the burial itself could have been several decades later than this tree growth. These dates are consistent with the Hopewell culture that would have constructed the mound.
The Newark Holy Stones are an archaeological fraud used to support the "Lost Tribes" theory, which posits an ancient Israelite presence in Ohio. The idea that there is a connection between the ancient Hopewell mound builders and Jewish settlers that were in the Americas before Columbus is a form of pseudoarchaeology.
The first stone to be found was written in modern Hebrew. In July 1860 Abraham Geiger wrote in the New York Times that "the bungling work of an unskilled stone mason and the strangeness of some letters as well as the many mistakes and transpositions was his fault. The letters are not antique. This is not a relic of hoary antiquity".
Just over three months later, the second stone was found. This was not only considerably more elaborate, it was written in archaic Hebrew. Ken Feder compares this with someone today announcing that they had discovered a hitherto unknown play by Shakespeare which was then exposed as a modern forgery, then shortly thereafter announcing the discovery of a more plausible new play.
It is possible that the stones were forged to support a political viewpoint. Brad Lepper, of the Ohio Historical Society who has extensively studied the Hopewell culture, suggests that the artifacts might have been scientifically forged to help advance the theory on monogenism. In 1860, slavery was a subject of heated debate that was reaching a critical point in American society. Anthropology and other forms of science were often used in defense or opposition. Discussions promoting monogenism, for example, were often used to oppose slavery and segregation.
Among some of the hoax theories is that Wyrick faked the artifacts and planted them at the excavation sites. Prior to his discovery, Wyrick supported the belief that the Lost Tribes of Israel were the ancestors of ancient mound builders in Ohio. Wyrick spent a great deal of time searching a number of excavation sites at various mounds attempting to find supporting evidence of this belief. Some argue that Wyrick could have become more desperate as time went by providing the motivation to commit such an act.
In 1861, Wyrick published a pamphlet that described his account of the artifact discoveries. The publishing included woodcuts of the inscriptions found on the stones. When comparing Wyrick's woodcuts of the Decalogue to the actual inscription found on the stone, Wyrick made at least 38 errors involving 256 Hebrew letters. Mistakes include illegible and omitted letters. Wyrick's depiction of Moses on the woodcuts had inconsistencies as well. Wyrick shows Moses wearing a beret instead of a turban. He also shows Moses in a 19th-century dress instead of the flowering robe shown on the stone.
Some believe that the person or group responsible for the inscription had to have an extensive knowledge of the Hebrew language. Given that Wyrick made a large number of mistakes on the woodcuts seem to indicate that he may not have been the stone's author. Beverley H. Moseley, Jr., former art director of the Ohio Historical Society, compared the carving of Moses on the stone to Wyrick's woodcut copy. He concluded that both images couldn't have been made by the same person. After Wyrick's death, Colonel Charles Whittlesey published a paper in 1872 in which he recalls discovering a Hebrew Bible among Wyrick's personal items. Whittlesey concludes at the time that the stones were a hoax, and assumed that the Bible was Wyrick's source of inspiration for the inscription. This theory was later discredited after it was determined that the letters used on the Decalogue did not represent a style that would have been consistent with the theory.
The Hebrew version used in the inscriptions is another point of contention. The version used was post-Exilic, which would not be from a "Lost" Tribe. Some believe this is another example that shows the artifacts were either a hoax or did not date back to the time of the mound builders. Wyrick also made a claim in a letter he wrote to Joseph Henry in 1863—one year before his death—that he might have been a victim of a hoax.
Rev. John W. McCarty and stonecutter Elijah Sutton
Rev. John W. McCarty and Elijah Sutton were both residents of Newark when the Decalogue Stone and the Keystone were found. Elijah Sutton was a stonecutter with no other direct link to the event other than his part in carving Wyrick’s headstone when he died. However, it is asserted that because the Decalogue Stone is made from similar materials and is of the same width (thickness) as his headstones, he must have cut the stone. As for Rev. John W. McCarty, he played a more direct role in the artifact’s discovery.
It was with the help of McCarty that the stone was translated. Upon receiving the stone McCarty was able to translate it within hours. It is also likely that many Christian clergy supported the idea of the Lost Tribes myth during the 1800s, for it not only would have validated the biblical tale of the Lost Tribes but also implied their religious right to continue to colonize America and their Christianization of the Native Americans.
Source for the design
Archaeologist Brad Lepper believes that the inspiration for the Decalogue stone was Austen Henry Layar's book Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon. Layard's work had become a sensation at the time and McCarty had access to it and given his profession would have taken an interest in it. Lepper writes that a stone carving on a temple entrance "looked very familiar. In fact, it duplicated, in great detail, the form of the Decalogue Stone. Compare the images for yourself. Both have a tombstone-shaped frame with a bearded man shown in left profile and the left arm of both men is bent. Both men are wearing long gowns and have some sort of domed head-covering. Finally, there is an inscription arcing over the heads of both men."
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There were other stones found at the Newark site, like the Keystone. Two other stones were also found at Newark shortly after Wyrick’s death (they have since been lost). These stones were quickly dismissed as fakes when the local dentist, John H. Nicol, claimed that he had carved and introduced the stones to the site.
A fifth stone was allegedly found at the same site as the Decalogue stone two years later by David M. Johnson, a banker, and Nathaniel Roe Bradner, a physician. Named the Johnson-Bradner Stone, it has since been lost. A lithograph of the stone, published in France, still survives.
- Robert Alrutz (1980). "The Newark Holy Stones: The History of an Archaeological Tragedy," Journal of the Scientific Laboratories, Denison University, 57: 1-57. Copies available from Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum
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- Feder, K.L., Barnhart, T. Bolnick, D.A., and Lepper, B.T., 2016. Lessons Learned from Lost Civilizations. In Card, J.J. and Anderson, D.S. eds., Lost City, Found Pyramid: Understanding Alternative Archaeologies and Pseudoscientific Practices.University of Alabama Press, pp. 167-184.
- Lepper, Bradley T. (2016). "A Radiocarbon Date for a Wooden Burial Platform from the Reservoir Stone Mound (33LI20), Licking County, Ohio" (PDF). Journal of Ohio Archaeology 4:1-11. Ohio Archaeological Council. Italic or bold markup not allowed in:
|work=(help) Retrieved 12 March 2017.
- Beta Analytic Inc., Radiocarbon Dating Result for Sample ANT.003744 YPM.02624, June 1, 2015.
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- Kenneth L. Feder, Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis To The Walam Olum, pages 192-193(Greenwood, 2010). ISBN 978-0-313-37919-2
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- Ohio History: Ohio Historical Society. Columbus, OH: Fred J. Heer. 1908. pp. 217–218.
- Lepper, Brad. "A likely source for the design of the Newark Decalogue Stone". Ohio History Collection,. Retrieved 15 May 2019.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
- Heck, Jeff (1995) "The Mystery of the Newark Holy Stones", dramatized video containing interviews with Robert Alrutz, Bradley Lepper and others.
- Lepper, Brad, and Jeff Gill, 2015. The Newark Holy Stones - Episode 7, ArchyFantasies, The Archaeology Podcast Network
- Myers, Jan (27 March 2011). "Curator lectures about Newark Holy Stones". Coshocton Tribune. Gannett. Archived from the original on 21 January 2013. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
- Williams, Stephen (1 May 1991). Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of North American Prehistory. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 167–75. ISBN 0812213122.