Saturday, February 1, 2014


Dighton Rock at mid-tide, in its original location.

When was the first report of a rock art inscription filed? Well, the first one to be reported that I know of was done in 1680 A.D. about Dighton Rock, in Berkley, Massachusetts. Kenneth Feder, in his Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology, From Atlantis to the Walam Olum (2010:80-81) explained it as follows:

Rev. Danforth's drawing, 1680. British Museum.

“The earliest extant record of the petroglyph-covered boulder dates to 1680, when an English settler Rev. John Danforth, produced a drawing of the images. Unfortunately for those who believe that the marks on Dighton Rock represent the equivalent of graffiti left by ancient European (or African or Asian) seafaring visitors to America’s shores, it should be pointed out that Danforth’s drawing of the markings he saw look virtually nothing like what can currently be seen there today.” (Feder 2010:80)

Dighton rock,, public domain.

The Dighton rock is described in Wikipedia as - “ 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."), 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 1980 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.” (Wikipedia)
Reverend Danforth produced a drawing of the petroglyphs in 1680, which still exists in the British Museum, although his drawing is considerably different from others that followed, and from what can today be seen on the rock. (Wikipedia)

“Ten years after Danforth drew the markings, the famed Rev. Cotton Mather noted the existence of the marked stone and said about the petroglyphs:
“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.”” (Feder 2010:80)

We all know that much of what is seen in rock art depends upon the sympathies of the viewer. In the case of Dighton Rock, however, the range of what is seen reached the extreme.
Sewell's drawing, 1764.

“Several other sources for the Dighton Rock petroglyphs have been cited, all of which depend on the assertion that European, Asian, or African explorers were present in New England at some point before the arrival of English settlers in the seventeenth century. A long-standing suggestion is that the markings were left by the Portuguese explorers Gaspar and Miguel Corte Real. Brown University professor Edmund Burke Delabarre became convinced that among the admitted hodgepodge of scratches, X’s, lines, circles, geometric shapes, and whatnot, there was an actual written message in Portuguese: “Miguel Cortereal by will of God, here Chief of the Indians.” - -
Others look at the same rock and see completely different messages in completely different languages. Danish writer Carl Rafn saw the name of Thorfinn Karlsefni, whose name also shows up in the Norse sagas about the discovery of Newfoundland.
Gavin Menzies (2002, 333-35) looks at exactly the same series of markings and proposes that they were left by Chinese world explorers.” (Feder 2010:81)

Rhode Island Historical Society drawing, 1830.

Now Feder’s inclusion of Dighton Rock in his Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology has nothing to do with questioning its authenticity, he was writing about the many outlandish interpretations it has inspired. I previously had read Cotton Mather’s account of Dighton Rock, but did not know of Rev. Danforth’s record until reading this book. We all know that much of what is seen in rock art depends upon the sympathies of the viewer, and we often see what we expect to see. Perhaps people should expect less, and study the facts more! In any case, until I see an earlier record of North American rock art I will list Reverend Danforth's drawing as the earliest North American rock art record.

NOTE: Dighton Rock has been moved into a small museum built for the purpose, and is now Dighton Rock State Park, at Berkley, Massachusetts.


Feder, Kenneth L.
2010    Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum, Greenwood, Santa Barbara, Denver, and Oxford.


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