Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Grave Creek Stone

The Grave Creek Mound (or Mammoth Mound), located at Moundsville, West Virginia, is one of the two largest mounds in the U.S. It was constructed over a period of 100 or more years by the people of a culture known as Adena, which flourished in the Ohio River Valley between about 800 BCE to 100 CE. It is a gigantic burial mound which began at ground level, with the graves covered by a slight mound of dirt. Over the years, successive graves were laid on top of the original mound, then covered with soil. Eventually the tiny cemetery became a huge gravesite standing approximately 70 feet (21 meters) high, with a diameter of roughly 295 feet (88 meters) and containing more than 60,000 tons (54,400,000 kg) of earth.

The mound apparently was first excavated in 1838 by local amateur archaeologists. They dug two shafts into the mound, one horizontal and one vertical. They found two burial vaults approximately 60 feet (18 meters) down from the top of the mound. In one vault, they found a skeleton wearing copper arm rings, along with other ornaments. In the upper vault, they found a tiny, flat sandstone disk about 1-7/8 inches (4.8 cm) wide and 1-1/2 inches (3.6 cm) long with an inscription on one side. It became known as the Grave Creek Stone, and the inscription was identified by epigrapher Barry Fell as being derived from an ancient Phoenician alphabet which had been used on Europe’s Iberian Peninsula during the first millennium BCE.

The ancient script found on the disk had not been deciphered by scholars at the time of the 1838 discovery. This, of course, makes it unlikely that it was a 17th century forgery, as is the fact that the translation made some sense when it was eventually translated. It read: “The mound raised on high for Tasach - This tile [His] queen caused to be made.” Who was Tasach and who was the queen? And for that matter, where did the Adena people learn to how write in a European Semitic script? Did someone bring this ancient written language to the Adena people, or did they bring it with them?

Other stones marked with ancient Celtic/Punic writings have been found in the area, but none of these can be dated with any certainty. Others may exist still in some of the hundreds of Adena mounds scattered throughout the Ohio River Valley, but the Grave Creek discovery remains unique.

The Delf Norona Museum located in Moundsville, West Virginia contains an exhibit featuring the Iberian translation of the Grave Creek Stone along with numerous other artifacts from the area. If you happen to be in Moundsville, it might well be worth a visit.

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