The Place of Stone: Dighton Rock and the Erasure of America's Indigenous Past

The Place of Stone: Dighton Rock and the Erasure of America's Indigenous Past

The Place of Stone: Dighton Rock and the Erasure of America's Indigenous Past

The Place of Stone: Dighton Rock and the Erasure of America's Indigenous Past


Claimed by many to be the most frequently documented artifact in American archeology, Dighton Rock is a forty-ton boulder covered in petroglyphs in southern Massachusetts. First noted by New England colonists in 1680, the rock's markings have been debated endlessly by scholars and everyday people alike on both sides of the Atlantic. The glyphs have been erroneously assigned to an array of non-Indigenous cultures: Norsemen, Egyptians, Lost Tribes of Israel, vanished Portuguese explorers, and even a prince from Atlantis.

In this fascinating story rich in personalities and memorable characters, Douglas Hunter uses Dighton Rock to reveal the long, complex history of colonization, American archaeology, and the conceptualization of Indigenous people. Hunter argues that misinterpretations of the rock's markings share common motivations and have erased Indigenous people not only from their own history but from the landscape. He shows how Dighton Rock for centuries drove ideas about the original peopling of the Americas, including Bering Strait migration scenarios and the identity of the "Mound Builders." He argues the debates over Dighton Rock have served to answer two questions: Who belongs in America, and to whom does America belong?


“Every man will see something different from every other.”
—Edward Augustus Kendall, “Account of the Writing-Rock
in Taunton River,” 1809

“It is easy to imagine as present on the rock almost any desired letter of the
alphabet, especially of crude or early forms; and that, starting with almost any
favored story, he can discover for it, if he looks for them eagerly enough,
illustrative images to fit its various features, and initial letters or even entire
words or names.”
—Edmund Burke Delabarre, “Recent History of Dighton Rock,” 1919

On Saturday, September 24, 2011, several hundred Americans of Portuguese descent gathered on the shaded grass of Dighton Rock State Park in Berkley, Massachusetts, on the east bank of the Taunton River to celebrate “500 years in southern New England” for the Azorean people. the rallying point of the festivities, organized by the government of Portugal’s autonomous region of the Azores in cooperation with the park’s shoreside museum and local Portuguese-American groups, was Dighton Rock, a forty-ton boulder housed within the museum. the rock’s western face, eleven feet long and five feet high, is covered in enigmatic markings said to record a visit by a lost Portuguese explorer from the Azorean island of Terceira. Miguel Corte-Real was last seen sailing into the Atlantic in 1502, probably in the direction of Newfoundland. No one knew what had become of him until February 1919, when Edmund Burke Delabarre, a psychology professor at Brown University in nearby Providence, Rhode Island, announced he had detected amid the boulder’s tangle of lines, figures, and fissures the date 1511, along with Corte-Real’s name— and on further study, an abbreviated Latin inscription indicating he had become a leader of the local Indians. Nine years after departing Portugal, Miguel had reappeared by means unknown on the upper reaches of the shallow, somnolent Taunton River, a tidewater tributary of Narragansett Bay, some thirty miles north of the Atlantic Ocean. As the celebration proclaimed, Miguel Corte-Real had placed the Portuguese in New England more than a century . . .

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