Newark Holy Stones
The Set of Controversial Stone artifacts discovered in the 1860's
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. The set consists of the Keystone, a stone bowl, and the Decalogue with its sandstone box. 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 events surrounding the discovery and authenticity are controversial. A wide consensus believes that the artifacts are either the subject of a hoax or originate from a time period that has no relation to the Hopewell. Others believe that the artifacts' inscription contains dialect that is in fact of Judean descent and could have existed during that time period.
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 limestone rock within (the type of rock was identified by geologists Dave Hawkins and Ken Bork of Denison University). This rock was carved with post-Exilic square Hebrew letters on all sides translated to be 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". Also found nearby during the same excavation was a small stone bowl about the size of a tea cup, which is also on display with the other artifacts
As a member of the American Ethnological Society, J.H.M Founder,David Johnson was part of a scientific movement that was interested in the division of humankind into races--their origin and distinctive qualities. In the organization’s 1861 bulletin it was noted that Mr. D. M. Johnson opened a small mound under the Great Stone Stack and found human bones. Other interesting meeting minutes were recorded in that bulletin. Someone read an account “of the Micronesian mission, published in June last, of a voyage of five hundred miles and back, made by a few natives in their little canoes, without a compass, and with only two stopping-places, guided by the stars, currents, winds, &c. This writer remarked that this fact proved that the islands of the Pacific might have been peopled either by accident or by design, and accounted for known resemblances in languages, &c.”
In the 1863 American Ethnological Society bulletin there was mention of stones sent by Wyrick for the Society to examine. Members measured, drew and consulted with each other over the course of three meetings. “Opinions of learned men has (sic) been sought on every side but no substantial evidence has yet been found against the time, place or circumstances of the discovery of either of the stones, nor light on their origin, or authors.”
The Newark Holy Stones stirred up controversy from the start. Had a lost tribe of Israel lived in America at the time of the Moundbuilders? Were the Moundbuilders actually Jewish, not American Indian? Are the stones genuine relics from the post-exilic Jews? Jewish scholars were asked to evaluate the Hebrew. Some expressed unmitigated belief in their ancient authenticity; others dismissed them as a hoax. The Holy Stones came to the attention of scholars in the east. Most disparaged them as fakes. David Johnson, apparently disillusioned by public opinion, attempted to sell the Decalogue Stone in New York. In a letter from Nathan Brown to David on December 16, 1871, he encourages David to keep the stone, but if he still wants to sell it, he should place it in a window of some large store on Broadway like Tiffany’s. He should definitely not send it to an auction house.
The Newark Holy Stones are on permanent display at the Museum.