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The Newark Holy Stones are a set of artifacts purportedly discovered near Newark, Ohio by David Wyrick in 1860. These objects were claimed to have been discovered within a cluster of mounds and other earthworks just south of Newark, which is now regarded as belonging to the Hopewellian culture. The first of these stones was excavated in June 1860 by Wyrick with the help of his teenage son, and was named "The Newark Keystone," due to its shape resembling a keystone. Unlike the plethora of artifacts found in this region, the keystone was inscribed with Hebrew lettering containing one phrase on each side:

  • Holy of Holies
  • King of the Earth
  • The Law of God
  • The Word of God

Wyrick presented this as evidence proving his theory that "The Lost Tribes of Israel" were the true moundbuilders, not the indigenous peoples of the region. The second holy stone, called the Newark Decalogue Stone, was discovered by Wyrick in November of the same year was found ten miles south of Newark at the Great Stone Mound. Wyrick, accompanied with a small group of men, came across a stone with a condensed Hebrew inscription of the Ten Commandments which surrounded a picture of a human figure described by Wyrick as none other than Moses. This became known as the Decalogue Stone due to its inscription of the Ten Commandments and was used to further prove his theory of the presence of The Lost Tribes.

Contents

Holy stones, or Hoax?

These artifacts seemed to verify Wyrick's theory of the origins of the Moundbuilders, but many questions arose concerning their validity upon closer inspection. After the Keystone was deemed a genuine find by local authority, more knowledgeable experts found the inscriptions consistent of a modern style of Hebrew writing which is conflicting with its alleged date of 431 B.C. The "Lost Tribes of Israel" would have used the pre-Exilic "Old Hebrew" alphabet, rather than the post-Exilic or "Square Hebrew" alphabet adopted in the time of Ezra by the Jews. Due to arising speculation, outside experts wished to view the object first hand. Wyrick made the trip to Cincinnati on July 17 where the allegations were further verified, in addition to the inscription issues the keystone was said to be much too fresh and was not stained in accordance to its alleged dating. By fall 1860 the keystone was defined a crude hoax.

Who made them?

There is some speculation as to who made the stones, one would assume Wyrick created them in order to prove his theory, yet some feel otherwise. In 1861 Wyrick published a pamphlet which describes his account of the discoveries; it 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 38 or more errors out of the 256 Hebrew letters, in which he either made a legible letter illegible, even omitting some letters. Some believe that whoever created the stone had an imperfect knowledge of the language, and given that Wyrick made this many errors in addition, proves he had a far worse understanding, and therefore could not be the author. In addition to that, his woodcut of Moses presented similar inconsistencies. Wyrick's Moses is wearing a beret instead of a turban and is also in a 19th century dress, not a flowering robe as shown on the stone. Beverley H. Moseley, Jr., former art director of the Ohio Historical Society, has compared the carving of Moses on the stone to Wyrick's woodcut copy. It is his opinion as a professional artist that the same person could not have made these two images. Whether or not these inconsistencies were intentionally done by Wyrick to disprove his involvement is unknown, yet after his death Colonel Charles Whittlesey published a paper in which he discovered personal items such as a Hebrew Bible, engraving tools, and some black rock were found suggesting his involvement in the hoax.

The Newark Decalogue Stone

The Newark Decalogue Stone, or “Holy Stone”, is an artifact that measures 6-7/8" (17.5 cm) long, 2-7/8" (7.3 cm) wide, and 1-3/4" (4.2 cm) thick, and inscribed with Hebrew letters. It was found in the Newark, Ohio earthworks by David Wyrick in 1860. Along with the stone, a smooth sandstone box that had been hollowed out to encase the stone was also discovered. The post-Exilic Hebrew letters are carved into a dark limestone rock (the type of rock was identified by geologists Dave Hawkins and Ken Bork of Denison University), and arc around the outer rim of the stone face and back, encapsulating a carved figure in robes. 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. As for the figure, he has been identified as Moses through the translation of the letters that crown his head.

The Decalogue Stone, along with the Keystone, were discovered in the context of a Hopewell earthen mound. This would suggest, if the stones were true artifacts, a connection with the Hopewell Indian culture, which thrived from 100 BC to 500 AD.

However, the stone is generally considered to be fraudulent, an example of pseudoarchaeology.

Why the stone is considered a hoax

The Decalogue Stone is viewed with a healthy amount of skepticism, because the idea of Jews in the Americas before Columbus falls under the pseudoarchaeological belief that the Lost Tribes of Israel colonized America at sometime in the past. This is further followed by the now falsified theory of a Moundbuilder culture, which states that the great American earthworks were not built by the ancestors of the Native Americans but by a mysterious race of white settlers, such as the Lost Tribes or Norse Vikings. Further speculation is added by the prevalence of hoaxes and false testimony in this area of study, such as the Cardiff Giant, the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone and Beringer's Stones.

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Wyrick’s Hoax

Among some of the hoax theories is that Wyrick, the discoverer of the stone, planted it at the site. Because Wyrick was an archaeologist and had access to the site, he could have easily placed the stone in an area of his choosing and simply “discovered” it the next day. However, there are other points that are highly contested.

It is asserted that Wyrick believed that the Lost Tribes of Israel had crossed into America and settled there (see Mound builder (people)), and because he believed this theory, it is asserted that he would be driven to plant fake artifacts to verify it. This conjecture is postulated, though not solely, by archaeologist Stephen Williams in his book Fantastic Archaeology, though not necessarily supported. However, others assert that since Wyrick did not mention his belief in the Lost Tribes theory in any of his pamphlets or essays on the artifact, Wyrick did not hold such beliefs.

The inscriptions on the stone are another point of contention. Though Wyrick was a man familiar with Hebrew and various types of artifacts, it is unlikely that he wrote the symbols or the image of Moses. In his pamphlets and woodcarvings of the artifact, Wyrick made 38 errors when copying the inscription from the Decalogue Stone. Also, though the language on the Stone is not perfect post-Exilic Hebrew, the errors are at regular intervals, so it could either be a dialect or the particular style of an individual. However, the letters being in post-Exilic cannot be right if the inscription is supposed to be from a Lost Tribe. To be from a Lost Tribe of Israel, the letters should have been in pre-Exilic. If Wyrick was going to bother making a believable hoax, he would have used pre-Exilic. Furthermore, there is his later discovery of the Keystone, a wedge shaped stone—like a large thick arrowhead—made from novaculite and inscribed with fairly Modern Hebrew letters. There is very little reason for Wyrick to change the lettering from one artifact to another. Also, Modern Hebrew has taken a millennium to develop from pre-Exilic and post-Exilic. The idea that almost identical letters could develop isolated from each other is highly unlikely. Finally, in regards to the figure depicted on the artifact, when Beverley H. Moseley, Jr., a former art director from the Ohio Historical Society, compared the images of Moses in Wyrick’s woodcarvings (these woodcarvings were used to preserve 3D representations of the Stone) and the artifact he found that the stylistic aspects were too different for the artists to be the same.

From this, many draw the conclusion that Wyrick is in fact innocent of falsifying evidence, and that he is the subject of someone else’s hoax. In fact, Wyrick himself, in 1863—a year before his death—expressed in a letter to Joseph Henry that he might have been a victim of a hoax.

Rev. John W. McCarty’s and stonecutter Elijah Sutton’s Hoax

Rev. John W. McCarty and Elijah Sutton were both residents of Newark when the Decalogue Stone (and the Keystone) was 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 not egregiously wrong to say that many Christian clergy would support the idea of the Lost Tribes myth during the 1800s, for it not only validated the Biblical tale of the Lost Tribes but also implied their religious right to continue colonize America and their Christianization of the Native Americans. However, it is not uncommon for a member of the clergy to be well versed in Hebrew and thus be able to decipher an inscription with relative ease. Also, McCarty did not get the translation right the first time. When deciphering the letters above the figure’s head, McCarty first believed that it read “Messiah” and thus thought the figure was Jesus. Upon further study, he realized it read “Moses” instead, and released a second translation.

Related Discoveries

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). However, they were quickly dismissed as fakes when the local dentist, John H. Nicol, claimed that he had carved and introduced the stones to the site. Finally, a fifth stone was found at the same site as the Decalogue stone two years later by David M. Johnson, a banker, and Dr. Nathaniel Roe Bradner, a physician. This fifth stone, named the Johnson-Bradner Stone, was also inscribed with post-Exilic Hebrew. The Johnson-Bradner Stone has since been lost.

Is the Decalogue Stone credible?

Through this evidence, it is easy to assert that all three men, David Wyrick, Rev. John W. McCarty and stonecutter Elijah Sutton, may not have created the stone. However, this does not mean that the Decalogue Stone is credible. The lack of a perpetrator does not give way to plausibility. There is already proof that several stones found at this site were in fact forgeries, such as the two stones made by John H. Nicol. Also, the archaeological contexts in which the Decalogue Stone and the Keystone were found are still unknown. For all cultural and physical evidence, as outlined above, little credibility is allowed for these stones.

See also

References

  1. Stephen Williams, Fantastic Archaeology. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1991, pp. 167–75.
  2. Charles Whittlesey. Archaeological Frauds: Inscriptions Attributed to the Mound Builders. Three Remarkable Forgeries. Western Reserve Historical Society Historical & Archaeological Tract #9, 1872.
  3. The Newark, Ohio Decalogue Stone and Keystone
  4. Wyrick's Letter to Joseph Henry

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