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The Bat Creek Stone
The inscription of a Judean fleeing the AD70 desolation found in Tennessee?
JIM DAVILA: NEW WORLD HEBREW FORGERIES have been getting some unfortunate media attention lately. For some reason the Los Lunas "Mystery Stone" forgery in New Mexico is given gullible positive coverage by Digital Journal. Also, a visit to the stone is chronicled much more sensibly in Mama Dragon, in which post the burning bush is repeatedly addressed as "dude."*
Note also Glenn Beck's recent foray back into Hebrew studies with a segment on the Bat Creek Stone. The Bat Creek stone inscription was also debunked back in 1993 in the July/August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review by P. Kyle McCarter, supporting earlier conclusions by Frank Moore Cross. (Not online. Sorry.) Cross and McCarter are two of the most distinguished living Northwest Semitic epigraphers. (Full disclosure: Cross supervised my doctoral dissertation.) Both the paleography (letter shapes) of the letters that look like Hebrew and the content (the apparent geographical name Yehud) do not work for Second Temple Hebrew (or, in combination, any other kind).
Beck also mentioned the Newark Stones, which are clearly not actually Second Temple Hebrew inscriptions, although it has been argued that they are medieval Jewish relics that were salted into the digs where they were discovered. At least the residents of Newark were pleased with Beck's mention of the stones:
NEWARK -- The day after the Newark Earthworks were mentioned by television and radio host Glenn Beck on FOX News, there was an increase in visitors at the Great Circle.*Via James McGrath on FB.
Surely Hebrew, but Masonic?
Both inscriptions do contain two words, with the identical string LYHW- beginning the longer second word in both cases. However, the fifth letter of the second word is clearly different in the two cases. The Bat Creek word ends with a daleth, which also happens to be the second letter of the first word in the Masonic illustration, making the Bat Creek word "for Judea." The Masonic word ends with a second he, which makes it "for Yahweh" instead. The Bat Creek word also has the remnant of a sixth letter, presumably mem, that is completely absent from Macoy's illustration.
In fact it is not surprising that two Hebrew inscriptions would both contain the string LYHW-. The common prefix L- simply forms the dative case, indicating for, to, or belonging to the word that follows. The string YHW-, or Yahu-, the first three letters of the name YHWH or Yahweh of the Hebrew God, is a common theophoric component of Hebrew names. Judah or Yehud (YHWD in the Persian era, according to Gordon) is one such "Yahwist" name. A modern example of such a name is that of Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel from 1996-1999.
The January/February 2006 Biblical Archaeology Review happens to contain a photograph of a bulla (seal impression) that was recently excavated from Jersualem's City of David under the supervision of Hebrew University archaeologist Eilat Mazar. The inscription, in Old Hebrew letters closely related to those in the Macoy illustration, begins with the Masonic string LYHW- in the word LYHWKL, or "belonging to Yehucal" (Mazar 2006: 26). The second line actually contains the tell-tale string -YHW again, in the name of Yehucal's father, ShLMYHW or Shelemiyahu. However, the presence of the string LYHW- on both the Yehucal bulla and the Masonic illustration does not prove that the Mazar assistant who supposedly found the new bulla cribbed it from Macoy's book, but merely that this is a common component of Hebrew inscriptions. Likewise, the presence of this string on Bat Creek does not require it to have been copied from Macoy.
The shorter first words of the Bat Creek and Masonic inscriptions are also clearly different, the Bat Creek word having two letters and the Masonic word three. The distinctive W-like shin of the Biblical QDSh (Qedosh) is entirely missing on Bat Creek. The first letters of the two words do have essentially the same form, but are in fact different: In Macoy's illustration, this is clearly meant to be a qoph, but as such is not well made, since in Paleo-Hebrew it should have, in addition to a loop on the right, an arm to the left with an uptick at the end. This arm in fact appears on the second Bat Creek letter, which was consequently identified by Stieglitz as a qoph. Since this alternate form of Q is already present on Bat Creek, the first letter must be something different, and makes most sense as an inverted (rho-wise) resh, as originally proposed by Mertz. The second letter (D) on the Masonic inscription does look a little like the second letter (Q) on Bat Creek, but in fact there is already a D on Bat Creek, at the end of the second word, that looks nothing like the second Bat Creek letter. These are therefore different letters as well.
However, the most telling difference between the Bat Creek and Masonic inscriptions is in the different ways the two words are separated. Macoy's illustrator, who was undoubtedly working from a newly-available dictionary chart of Jewish War coinscript letters to transcribe standard Square Hebrew into the older alphabet, erroneously assumed that the words should be separated by a space, as in English or modern Hebrew. Bat Creek instead correctly uses a word divider. There is no way this subtle detail could have been copied from Macoy's illustration, even if the copyist threw in a few random changes to disguise his or her source.
If nothing else, the Masonic illustration newly discovered by Mainfort and Kwas does show that Bat Creek has an undeniable affinity to Paleo-Hebrew, and that this affinity should have been recognized already in 1889 by any competent student of antiquities. The fact that Thomas and subsequent American archaeologists failed to see this affinity until it was pointed out by Mertz, Ayoob and Gordon demonstrates their incompetence to adequately classify and evaluate ancient material. It does not, however, reflect on the Mound Survey's data-collecting abilities per se.
My reply to the new Mainfort and Kwas article, enumerating these and other considerations, was summarily rejected by American Antiquity as being "far outside the expertise and interests of the readership." It has nevertheless been accepted for publication in Pre-Columbiana, and a PDF of the draft is online at http://www.econ.ohio-state.edu/jhm/arch/AmerAntiq.pdf.
The Bat Creek Stone
By Lowell Kird
"Old myths die hard."
The two primary players in this story of intrigue and mystery are Luther Meade Blackman and John W. Emmert. Blackman was an absolutely brilliant, highly educated man, Civil War officer and prominent Republican who was much molded by his hatred of Rebels and Democrats. Blackman was born in Connecticut and educated in Michigan. He came to Knoxville 1855 as a letterer and engraver for a monument company. In l857 he moved to Bat Creek to operate a monument business. In l890, he was still in the monument business as well as being a Federal Claims Commissioner and leader of Monroe County Republicans.
Those who have believed the Bat Creek Stone to be a forgery of fraud, include Dr. Charles Faulkner, anthropologist at the University of Tennessee and Jefferson Chapman, Director of the U.T. McClung Museum. They believe that Emmert perpetrated the fraud. My researches indicate that Emmert himself, was a victim of the fraud, set up to send in a fraudulent engraved stone so he would get fired, for the second time.
Supporting players in my story John Wesley Powell, a key founder of the Smithsonian, and Cyrus Thomas, who directed the archaeological work. By l890, Thomas proved that the Mound¬ builders were Native Americans and not the Lost Tribe of Israel. Like John W. Emmert, Cyrus Thomas was born and raised in Bristol. Other supporting players include John P. Rogan, “scoundrel” and cousin of Cyrus Thomas who lost his job with Thomas in l886 and became a Bristol bookseller. Others include L.C. Houk, from Sevier County, who controlled the Tennessee state Republican political machine in the l880s, Grover Cleveland, President of the United States, who in the spirit of the l883 Pendleton Act, tried to clean up the corruption in the U.S. Postal Service and Pension Claims offices. Blackman worked as a Pension Claims Agent from l870 to l890. However, President Cleveland allowed most Republican’s who held Federal patronage jobs in East Tennessee to be replaced by Democrats by l886. In l889, Republicans in East Tennessee were out to get all Democrats fired from Federal jobs.
As I was engaged in my Bat Creek Stone research, always in the back of my mind was the hope that as I kept pursuing this “mystery,” that I would find some concrete evidence that Blackman was not involved, so that I could get my mind and time back on my Cherokee researches. Not one single piece of concrete evidence has excluded Blackman as the perpetrator of the Bat Creek Stone; and virtually every avenue I have pursued has added evidence that Blackman engraved the stone. He had the knowledge, skill, opportunity and extremely strong motive. by a letter written by his own hand, has proven himself to have been on the spot when the deed was done. He was intimately familiar with the U.S. Department of the Interior, of which the Smithsonian was a part. The circumstantial evidence pointing to Blackman is overwhelming.
The efforts of J. Juston McCulloch as published in a l988 article in the Tennessee Anthropologist, “The Bat Creek Inscription: Cherokee or Hebrew?” includes a large number of pieces of this puzzle. But McCulloch has not put all of them together in the right place. McCulloch is correct that the inscription is composed of ancient ”Hebrew” letters. But Chapman and Faulkner are correct in that the inscription is a skillful forgery done in the l9th Century! McCulloch wrote, “If one insists on making the Bat Creek inscription a forgery, one could easily find far more plausible culprits than Emmert.” Although it has not been easy, I have done that! What I have added to the puzzle is the man, the motive, the opportunity and the broad and complicated outline or border of the puzzle. it was the intricate and complicated was of a variety of nineteenth century developments that make up this border. When one stands back and looks at all the center of the puzzle of the Bat Creek Stone. And at the center is Major Luther Meade Blackman.
Blackman set John W. Emmert up to get him fired from his job by sending in a fake stone. J. Emmert was a Democrat who had been hired after Grover Cleveland and the Democrats took over the national government in l885. Emmert was an old acquaintance of Cyrus Thomas. Both were from Bristol, Tennessee. emmert’s leg had been badly wounded in the Battle of Drury’s Bluff in May of l864. In l885 he was disabled and badly needed a job. Although Republicans controlled East Tennessee, Democrats controlled the Federal government and fired most Republicans in Fed¬ eral patronage jobs in East Tennessee after l885. Emmert worked in Monroe county digging in Indian mounds in l886-87 along the Little Tennessee River and at Tellico. He also worked on mounds at Cog Hill and the Hiwassee River mounds in McMinn County. In l888 East Tennessee Republicans got him fired from his job on the Democratic Senator from Tennessee and his Republican friends in Bristol, President Grover Cleveland himself ordered an investigation in Washington which cleared Emmert. Emmert was rehired in January l889 and began digging again in Monroe County at the mouth of Bat Creek. During that time he resided in Morganton, just across the river from the mouth of Bat Creek.
When Emmert showed up in Luther Blackman’s back yard, Blackman was determined to get the old Confederate Democrat fired again, this time young local teenage boys that Emmert had hired to do the actual digging, as he was himself disabled. They gave it to Emmert, who claimed to have found it himself. One of those teenage boys was Jim Lawson, son of Blackman’s neighbor. I suspect that Blackman’s own son, who was a blacksmith, also assisted in the l889 dig in the Bat Creek Mounds.
Once the engraved stone was in emmert’s hands, local Republicans tried to get Emmert to send the stone to Knoxville to have it “translated.” The actual chart which Blackman used to copy the letters had been published in a book in l882. According to the chart which Blackman used to carve the stone, the translation would have read, reading from right to left as Hebrew was, “QM, LIES.” QM referred to Blackman’s position as Quartermaster of the Fourth Tennessee Union Cavalry in the Civil War. Emmert, of course, immediately sent the stone to Cyrus Thomas, never allowing a local "translation".
In l889 Blackman was the Monroe County leader of the L.C. Houk political machine in East Tennessee. The Houk machine controlled all Republican patronage in the First, Second and Third Tennessee Congressional Districts. One of the many complications to this puzzle was that the Republicans in the First District (Chattanooga) were in the process of stripping the Houk political machine in Knoxville of appointment power in their districts. The Houk machine was made up of old “Radicals” who were still engaging in “Bloody-Shirt” politics and carrying on the political aims of “Radical Reconstruction” politics. Those First District Republicans had given support to help Emmett get his job back after he had been fired in l887. Blacken, by getting Emmett fired for sending in a “fraudulent” stone, would also help discredit Hook’s enemies in the republican party in East Tennessee. That failed. By l892, the Hook Machine and the old Radicals and their “Bloody Shirt” politics were out of power.
All of this was never exposed at the time for an obvious reason. The stone was reported found February l4, l889. The Republican President Benjamin Harrison was inaugurated president on March 4. (Blacken went to the inauguration.) Harrison immediately began the process of removing all Democrats from Federal patronage jobs. So Emmett was removed from his job, without the stone. Syrups Thomas, who knew that stone was a fraud, simply “stonewalled by putting it in a drawer at the Smithsonian and never mentioning it again. If Thomas had made an issue of it, that could have gotten him fired. And so the stone lay undisturbed in the Smithsonian until about l960, when Hebrew scholars have attempted to prove it a genuine 2000 year old artifact.
The full outline of this story simply cannot be told in a short article. But the primary point to be remembered here, is that the Bat Creek Stone was a clever forgery, perpetrated for political reasons. If there were Hebrews in Monroe county 2000 years ago, they did not engrave the Bat Creek Stone. Luther Blackman did it in l889.
THE BAT CREEK STONE: JUDEANS IN TENNESSEE?
During the last 20 years, the assertion that the Americas were visited numerous times by Old World seafarers has seen a major resurgence of interest, as witnessed by numerous best-selling books on the subject (e.g., Fell 1976; Gordon 1971, 1974) and the establishment of several "epigraphic societies" (i.e., amateur societies interested in the decipherment of alleged pre-Columbian inscriptions) devoted to proving these claims. Although various stone structures are often presented as evidence of pre-Columbian contacts (e.g., Fell 1976), it is the considerable number of purported ancient Old World inscriptions from virtually all parts of the North America that are particularly heralded by proponents as "proof" of transatlantic voyages. Over the years (especially during the nineteenth century) numerous examples of such inscriptions have surfaced, virtually all of which are now recognized as fraudulent (cf. Peet 1890, 1892, 1895). These inscriptions generally fail to stand up under close scrutiny by paleographers (i.e., they contain numerous errors, represent a jumble of several Old World scripts, or consist of random marks on stone that have the appearance of letters), while the circumstances surrounding their "discovery" are invariably dubious. While few archaeologists would deny a priori the possibility of early voyages to the New World, the simple fact is that, with the exception of the Norse settlement at L'anse Meadows (Ingstad 1964), no convincing evidence for such occurrences has ever been found or recognized by professional researchers.
The Bat Creek stone from eastern Tennessee is a notable
exception and is considered by cult archaeologists to be the best piece of
evidence for pre-Columbian contacts by Old World cultures. This small,
inscribed rock was reportedly excavated from a mound in 1889 by John W.
Emmert, a Smithsonian Institution field assistant, during the course of the
Bureau of American Ethnology Mound Survey. Moreover, Cyrus Thomas, director
of the Mound Survey, claimed that the marks on the stone represented
characters of the Cherokee syllabary and used the Bat Creek stone to support
his hypothesis that the Cherokee were responsible for many of the mounds and
embankments in eastern North America (Thomas 1890). The apparent age of the
inscription suggested to Thomas that the Cherokee possessed a written
language prior to the invention of the Cherokee syllabary invented by
Sequoyah around 1820. However, Thomas (1890, 1894) never offered a
translation of the inscription.
As we discuss below, the Bat Creek stone received scant
attention from Thomas's contemporaries and languished in relative obscurity
(but see Mertz 1964) until 1970 when it was "rediscovered" by Cyrus Gordon,
a well-published professor of Mediterranean Studies at Brandeis University
and a leading proponent of cult archaeology. Gordon claimed that by
inverting the orientation of the stone relative to the published
illustrations (i.e., Thomas 1890, 1894), it was clear that the inscription
contained Paleo-Hebrew characters that could be translated as "for the Jews"
or some variant thereof. Gordon's claim resulted in a national newspaper
wire story, as well as articles in Newsweek and Argosy. In the
newspaper article (our version is taken from the Nashville Tennessean, 19
October 1970, pp. 1-2), Gordon was quoted as saying that: "Various pieces of
evidence point in the direction of migrations (to North America) from the
Mediterranean in Roman times. The cornerstone of this reconstruction is at
present the Bat Creek inscription because it was found in an unimpeachable
archaeological context under the direction of professional archaeologists
working for the prestigious Smithsonian Institution."
Gordon, whose scholarly credentials are certainly
impressive, is an archetypical example of what Williams (1988a) has referred
to as "rogue professors." Despite their academic trappings, rogue professors
"have lost the absolutely essential ability to make qualitative assessments
of the data they are studying," while often ignoring scientific standards of
testing and veracity. Lacking the critical standard of most scholars, rogue
professors "have the opportunity to rogue or defraud the public..."
(Williams 1988a:20). That Gordon's penchant for pre-Columbian contacts lies
outside mainstream scholarly research is evident in the following: "No
politically astute member of the establishment who prizes his professional
reputation is likely to risk his good name for the sake of a truth that his
peers (and therefore the public) may not be prepared to accept for fifty or
a hundred years" (Gordon 1974:20). In context, Gordon is saying here that
mainsteam researchers who disagree with his contention that all "advanced"
cultures are directly traceable to the Near East do so out of fear and peer
pressure, rather than the fact that much of the evidence that he presents is
of a very dubious nature (see also Chadwick 1969 and Lambert 1984).
BAT CREEK STONE
The Bat Creek stone is a relatively flat, thin piece of
ferruginous siltstone, approximately 11.4 cm long and 5.1 cm wide. Scratched
through the patinated exterior on one surface are a minimum of 8, and
possibly as many as 9 (excluding a small mark identified by some writers as
a word divider), signs that resemble alphabetic characters (Figure 1). Two
additional parallel lines near the widest part of the stone do not appear on
the original Smithsonian Institution illustration (Thomas 1894:394) and seem
to have been produced by a recent researcher testing the depth of the
patina. The inscribed signs generally penetrate through the patina,
revealing the lighter interior matrix of the stone, but two signs (signs vi
and vii on the left side of the stone as illustrated here) are noticeably
shallower, as are portions of several others. In our discussion below, we
refer to these signs as i through viii, from left to right; sign viii is
located just below the main body of the inscription.
Context of the Find
It was from the smaller Mound 3 that the inscribed stone
was allegedly recovered. This earthwork "was composed throughout, except
about the skeletons at the bottom, of hard red clay, without any indications
of stratification." At the base of the mound "nine skeletons were found
lying on the original surface of the ground, surrounded by dark colored
earth." This description suggests that the mound was constructed on top of
an occupation midden or old humus zone. Artifacts were associated with only
one of the 9 extended interments. Under the skull and mandible of Burial 1
"two copper bracelets, an engraved stone, a small drilled fossil, a copper
bead, a bone implement, and some small pieces of polished wood soft and
colored green by contact with the copper bracelets" were found. "The
engraved stone lay partially under the back part of the skull..." (Thomas
The Bat Creek stone (Catalogue No. 134902, Department of
Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution). Following McCulloch (1988), the
signs are numbered i - viii from left to right, with viii appearing below
the other signs
ii: Identified by Gordon as "waw", this sign is also
impossible as Paleo-Hebrew in the period 100 B.C.-A.D. 100, based on shape
and stance. McCulloch (1988) identifies sign ii as "waw" based partially on
a fourth century B.C. text. Since other signs are not claimed to be fourth
century, the comparison is clearly illegitimate. The sign is quite similar
to the Cherokee "ga" regardless of the orientation of the stone.
iii: This sign is impossible as Paleo-Hebrew in the
period 100 B.C.-A.D. 100 based on the shape and stance; Gordon identifies
this sign as "he." If reversed, the sign would represent a passable Cherokee
iv: Of all the characters on the Bat Creek stone this
sign bears the most striking resemblance to Paleo-Hebrew script ("yod")
circa 100 B.C.-A.D. 100 (but not the second century of the Christian era).
v: Despite problems with its relative size, this sign is
normal for Paleo-Hebrew script ("lamed") between 100 B.C. and A.D. 100, but
not for the second century C.E.
vi: We agree with the assessment by Gordon (Mahan
1971:43) that this sign is "not in the Canaanite system." In subsequent
publications, Gordon (1971:186, 1972:10-12) referred to this sign as
"problematic," and more recently (Gordon 1974) did not mention sign vi in
his discussion of the Bat Creek stone. The sign is impossible for Paleo-Hebrew.
vii: Our comments pertaining to sign vi apply in toto
here as well. In the illustration orientation, this sign resembles the
Cherokee "tlun:; inverted, it is somewhat similar to a reversed "si."
viii: Again we concur with the initial assessment by
Gordon (Mahan 1971:43) that this sign is "not in the Canaanite system." The
sign is impossible for Paleo-Hebrew. Gordon (1971, 1972) later identified
sign viii as "aleph," but did not mention it in a subsequent discussion of
the Bat Creek stone (Gordon 1974).
As a strong advocate of pre-Columbian contacts between
the Mediterranean region and the New World, Gordon's (1971, 1972, 1974)
interpretation of the Bat Creek inscription could justifiably be criticized
on the grounds that his zeal to make a case for the radiation of higher
culture from a single Near Eastern center caused him to relax the
disciplines of historical linguistics, paleography, and historical
orthography. Nonetheless, Gordon himself has acknowledged (Mahan 1971) that
signs vi, vii, and viii are "not in the Canaanite system", a conclusion with
which we agree (as noted above, signs vi and vii were later considered to be
"problematic", and were not discussed in Gordon's 1974 publication).
Ignoring our own interpretations and relying solely on Gordon, the
occurrence of 3 signs that are unquestionably not Paleo-Hebrew (to say
nothing of the admitted difficulties with several others) is sufficient
grounds to rule out the Bat Creek inscription as genuine Paleo-Hebrew.
Curiously, while urging readers to "seek out the views of
qualified... scholars" about the signs on the Bat Creek stone, McCulloch
(1988), an amateur epigrapher, offers interpretations of three signs (vi,
vii, and viii) that contradict the published assessments of one of the
stone's most outspoken proponents (Cyrus Gordon, a published Near Eastern
language specialist), implying that despite his own lack of expertise in
Paleo-Hebrew, McCulloch considers his own opinion to be as valid as those of
specialists in the field.
Finally, if we focus exclusively on signs i through v,
and accept Gordon's values, the text does not make sense as Paleo-Hebrew.
There may be a broken sign on the left edge of the stone. It cannot be
yod (cf. sign iv) or he_ (cf. sign iii), so to read lyhwdh or
1 yhwdym ("for Judea" or "for the Jews"), as advocated by Gordon (1971,
1972, 1974), is impossible (note that Hebrew is read from right to left). To
read lyhwdm is also impossible on two grounds. The broken sign cannot
be mem in the designated period and even if it could, it would not be
the spelling used after the sixth century B.C. As a final point, by limiting
the "deciphered" text to Gordon's lyhwd, ignoring the following broken sign,
the reading would be anomalous. In Paleo-Hebrew, Judah (Judea) is spelled
yhwdh, not yhwd. The latter is the Aramaic designation and appears only in
Although the authors have no formal training in the
Cherokee syllabary (nor do cult archaeology writers such as Gordon and
McCulloch), it seems necessary to
In Thomas' defense, however, it is worth noting that some
of the signs (ii, iii, and vii in the orientation illustrated by Thomas
[1890, 1894], and i, 11, iii, and vii in the purported Paleo-Hebrew
orientation) exhibit moderate to close resemblances with characters of the
Cherokee syllabary. Note that we do not contend that these signs are
Cherokee - only that there are some formal similarities (McKussick 
incorrectly asserts that the signs actually are a form of Cherokee). Hence,
Thomas's interpretation, although incorrect, at least had some basis.
The Brass Bracelets
Brass C-shaped wire bracelets are relatively common
artifacts on eighteenth century historic sites in eastern North America,
including Native American cemeteries (e.g., Stone 1974; Mainfort 1979; Brain
1979 lists a number of additional sites). They were typically formed by
bending sections of relatively heavy brass wire into a "C" shape. The
specimens from Bat Creek (Figure 2), however, exhibit a seam and a hollow
core indicating that they were wrought, rather than cut from brass wire. In
this respect, they appear to be similar to the heavier brass bracelets found
with the "Tunica Treasure" (Brain 1979:193-194).
The brass used to form the bracelets from Bat Creek
contains 66.5 - 68.2 percent copper and 26.5 - 27.5 percent zinc. This ratio
of copper to zinc is
The metallurgical evidence is, in itself, equivocal with
respect to the age of the brass bracelets; their composition could place
them within a period spanning nearly two millennia. Specimens similar
(albeit not necessarily identical) to the Bat Creek bracelets are we!
1-documented from eighteenth century sites in North America. Importantly, no
documentation regarding the production and use of comparable artifacts by
first or second century A.D. Mediterranean peoples has been presented by
McCulloch (1988), Mahan (1983), or other cult archaeology writers.
Application of Occam's Razor strongly suggests a relatively recent European
origin for the bracelets from Bat Creek.
The Radiocarbon Date
Arundale (1981) has offered a number of precautions
relative to the interpretation of radiocarbon dates. Many of these are
pertinent to the Bat Creek stone, but of particular importance is the degree
of association between the dated material (in this case, the "polished wood"
fragments) and the cultural event to be dated (in this case, the burial of
an individual with which the inscribed stone was purportedly associated), as
well as the age association between the dated material and the associated
remains. In the case of the former, the primitive excavation and recording
techniques employed render the certainty of association between the wood
fragments, the inscribed stone, and the skeletal remains indeterminant (or
at best very tenuous). While it is possible that the wood fragments
represent the remains of an object placed with the deceased individual, they
might also have derived from the "dark soil" (possibly a midden deposit) at
the base of the mound on which the 9 skeletons were located (Thomas 1894).
Similarly, the age differential class between the wood and the burial (or
the stone itself) is not precisely known. Furthermore, in his field notes,
John Emmert mentions the presence of "wet and muddy" soil at the base of the
mound (the level at which the burials were found), which raises the
possibility of contamination from groundwater.
While it is possible that the recent AMS determination
accurately dates the burial, McCulloch s claim that the date "rules out the
possibility of a modern origin for either the inscription or the bracelets"
(1988:116) is not only erroneous, but also represents a characteristic,
non-skeptical, cult archaeology assertion about a topic in which he has no
expertise. Moreover, since we have demonstrated that the Bat Creek
inscription does not represent legitimate Paleo-Hebrew, the radiocarbon date
becomes virtually irrelevant to arguments regarding the stone's
One of the principal arguments raised in defense of the
Bat Creek stone is that "authoritative contemporaries, who knew the
circumstances better than anyone today, accepted the tablet as genuine"
(McCulloch 1988:113). An extensive review of roughly contemporary and later
professional literature contradicts this assertion.
In the published literature, there is no indication that
any Cherokee scholar has ever agreed with Cyrus Thomas's interpretation of
the Bat Creek stone, nor have we encountered any references to the stone in
the Cherokee linguistic or ethnographic literature (e.g., Mooney 1892, as
well as examples noted below). Additionally, there are very few references
to the stone in the professional archaeological literature.
Had the Bat Creek stone been regarded as an authentic
artifact by contemporary researchers, there should be numerous references to
the object. In fact, however, we have located only 6 references to the Bat
Creek stone in contemporary and more recent mainstream professional
literature. Two of these are Thomas's (1890, 1894) own publications, as
cited earlier. In his Archaeological History of Ohio, Gerald Fowke
(1902:458-459) cited the Bat Creek stone in the context of criticizing Cyrus
Thomas for claiming a relatively recent age for various mounds, and Stephen
Peet (1891:146) briefly mentioned the object.
Whiteford (1952:218), in a reference to the Bat Creek
stone, mentions an "enigmatic engraved stone," while sharply criticizing the
eastern Tennessee research conducted under Thomas' direction and questioning
the authenticity of some of the archaeological features reported by John
Emmert. Finally, McKussick (1970) attempted to rebutt the Paleo-Hebrew
claims of Gordon and others, mistakenly asserting that the Bat Creek
inscription was, in fact, a form of Cherokee.
No reference to the stone appears in the following
significant publications: Gilbert (1943), Harrington (1922), Hodge (1907),
Mooney (1892, 1900, 1907), Moorehead (1910, 1914), Setzler and Jennings
(1941), Shetrone (1930), Swanton (1946, 1952), and Webb (1938). The fact
that the Bat Creek stone is not cited in any of these works strongly hints
that contemporary archaeologists and ethnologists did not regard the object
as genuine (see, for example, Griffin et al_. 1988).
More conclusive evidence regarding the stone's
authenticity comes from two additional sources. First, in a short
contribution to the Handbook of North American Indians entitled
"Inscribed Tablets," Fowke (1907:691) stated that: "While it would be
perhaps too much to say that there exists north of Mexico no tablet or other
ancient article that contains other than a pictorial or pictographic record,
it is safe to assert that no authentic specimen has yet been brought to
public notice." Fowke did not make this statement out of ignorance of the
Bat Creek stone's existence, because not only had he extensively studied the
lithic material recovered by the mound survey (Fowke 1896), but also
mentioned the stone in one of his own publications (1902).
Even more telling is the fact that Cyrus Thomas himself
did not discuss the Bat Creek stone in his later substantive publications
(1898, 1903, 1905 [with WJ McGee]). Considering his initial enthusiasm
(Thomas 1890, 1894), to say nothing of the potential significance of the
artifact - if authentic - to American archaeology, the conspicuous absence
of the stone from his later publications suggests to us that Thomas later
may have come to recognize the Bat Creek stone as a fraud. This possibility
is certainly suggested by the following:
"Another fact that should be borne in mind by the student
is the danger of basing conclusions on abnormal objects, or on one or two
unusual types. Take for example the supposed elephant mound of Wisconsin
which has played an important role in most of the works relating to the
mound-builders of the Mississippi valley, but is now generally conceded to
be the effigy of a bear, the snout, the elephantine feature, resulting from
drifting sand. Stones bearing inscriptions in Hebrew or other Old World
characters have at last been banished from the list of prehistoric relics.
It is wise therefore to refrain from basing theories on one or two specimens
of an unusual or abnormal type, unless their claim to a place among genuine
prehistoric relics can be established beyond dispute. It is unfortunate that
many of the important articles found in the best museums of our country are
without a history that will justify their acceptance, without doubt, as
genuine antiquities. It is safe therefore to base important conclusions only
on monuments in reference to which there is no doubt, and on articles whose
history, as regards the finding, is fully known, except where the type is
well established from genuine antiquities. One of the best recent works on
ancient America is flawed to some extent by want of this precaution. Mounds
and ancient works are described and figured which do not and never did
exist; and articles are represented which are modern reproductions" (Thomas
We believe that the "best recent work" alluded to by
Thomas is his own final report on mound explorations (1894), and that the
"articles whose history... is fully known" is a reference to the alleged
discovery of the Bat Creek stone. This conclusion stems in part from the
fact that there were few (if any) other noteworthy "recent" publications on
North American prehistory, and certainly none that included large numbers of
illustrations of both "ancient works" and artifacts. Moreover, Cyrus Thomas
was never shy about naming names, whether by way of praise or criticism. Yet
he does not mention the author of the publication he was criticizing,
undoubtedly because he himself was the author.
This of course begs the question of why Thomas did not
admit to the failings of his magnum opus in a more direct manner.
With respect to the Bat Creek stone, which we have now demonstrated beyond a
reasonable doubt was one of the "modern reproductions" alluded to by Thomas,
we believe that the answer is quite straightforward— Thomas had placed
himself in a position such that he could not really afford to pronounce the
Bat Creek stone a forgery. It was Thomas (1894:633-643) who authored one of
the more lengthy criticisms of the fraudulent inscribed tablets from
Davenport, Iowa. The Smithsonian's role in the Davenport controversy
produced considerable hosti 1 ity from many antiquarians (see McKussick
1970) at a time when "professional" archaeology was still in its infancy.
Thomas (1894:642) rightly challenged the authenticity of the Davenport
tablets in part
because they seemed to provide conclusive proof not only
of the contemporaneity of man and mammoth in the New World, but also of the
existence of a highly civilized "lost race" of moundbuilders. Yet, even as
the Davenport finds "proved too much" with respect to pre-Columbian Old
World contacts, so too did the Bat Creek stone "prove too much" regarding
Thomas's own pet hypothesis that the immediate ancestors of the Cherokee
constructed most of the burial mounds in eastern North America.
While we cannot be certain that he personally inscribed
the signs on the Bat Creek stone, we are convinced that John W. Emmert was
responsible for the forgery. Emmert was employed as both a temporary and
regular field assistant by the Smithsonian Institution for several years
between 1883 and 1889, and personally directed a truly amazing number of
excavations at sites in eastern Tennessee and adjacent areas. Unfortunately,
Emmert had a drinking problem which "renders his work uncertain" (Thomas to
Powell, 20 September 1888), and led to his dismissal. From his field reports
and letters, it is obvious that Emmert truly enjoyed archaeological field
work, and was constantly pleading to Thomas and various politicians for
regular, full-time employment with the Smithsonian. In a letter to Cyrus
Thomas dated 19 December 1888, Emmert stated that "I have kept up a constant
study of the mounds and who built them and should I ever have the
opportunity of exploring them again I can certainly give you greater
satisfaction than I ever did before... I have just received and read your
Burial Mounds (i.e., "Burial Mounds in the Northern Sections of the United
States" in B.A.E. 5th Annual Report - authors) and I certainly agree with
you that the Cherokees were Mound Builders, in fact there is not a doubt in
my mind about it."
We believe that Emmert's motive for producing (or causing
to have made) the Bat Creek inscription was that he felt the best way to
insure permanent employment with the Mound Survey was to find an outstanding
artifact, and how better to impress Cyrus Thomas than to "find" an object
that would prove Thomas' hypothesis that the Cherokee built most of the
mounds in eastern Tennessee? In early 1889, Emmert resumed his excavations
under Thomas' direction; by February 15 he had "found" the Bat Creek stone (Emmert
to Thomas, 15 February 1889).
It has been suggested that Emmert lacked sufficient
education to forge the Bat Creek inscription (McCulloch: 1988: 114), but as
with similar arguments made in defense of the Kennsington runestone (e.g.,
Gordon 1974:30), this assertion is not valid. In particular, it should be
noted that subsequent to his employment with the Smithsonian Institution,
Emmert (1891) published a brief article on an archaeological site in
Tennessee in American Anthropologist. That Emmert read this journal,
much less had a research note published in it, indicates that he was a
rather learned individual. Also relevant here is the
fact that during the Civil War, Emmert served in the
Confederate Quartermaster Department, presumably as a result of his previous
experience as a "store keeper" (John W. Emmert, Compiled Service Record,
M268/346, National Archives). This again suggests that Emmert was certainly
not an ignorant man. As to the specific signs on the Bat Creek stone,
several are passable Cherokee, and the inspiration for the remainder could
have been any number of published sources, including illustrations of the
Grave Creek stone and the Davenport tablets.
McCulloch (1988) also suggests that if Emmert "was not
above fabricating evidence" (i.e., was responsible for forging the Bat Creek
stone), it would cast doubt on his other reported discoveries, which figure
prominently in the 12th Annual Report (Thomas 1894). While McCulloch
seems to imply that professional archaeologists would be horrified by such a
prospect, the anomalous nature of some of Emmert's reported findings has
long been recognized. Whiteford (1952:207-225) summarizes some of these:
"It is impossible to use the data presented by Thomas in
the Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology with any
conviction that they present a complete or even, in some cases, an accurate
picture of the material which Emmert excavated in the Tennessee Area"
"Mound No. 3 at Bat Creek is also rather similar (to
Woodland mounds -authors) but apparently possessed non-typical traits such
as copper ornaments and enigmatic engraved stone" (1952:218)... "The
relationships and cultural significance of much of the material excavated by
the earlier archaeologists in this area can be explained in light of recent
and intensive investigations, but some of the phenomena uncovered by Emmert
has never been duplicated. Nothing resembling the mass bundle burials which
he found on Long Island in Roane County and on the McGhee Farm in Monroe
County has been recovered in more recent work. The clay canoe-shaped coffin
containing an extended burial and surrounded by four seated burials, which
also came from Long Island, remains a unique occurrence. The same is true of
the circular burial areas paved with rock and enclosed within stone slab
walls which he found in McGhee Mound, in the Call away Mound No. 2, in the
Bat Creek Mound, and on the Blankenship Place."
"Thomas also reports enclosed burial areas, vaguely
similar to those described above, from Sullivan County. To our knowledge no
recent investigation has uncovered anything resembling the stone domed
vaults or 'stone hives' which he describes" (1952:218-219).
In fact, it seems all too likely that the Bat Creek stone
may be only the single most notorious example of misrepresentation on the
part of Emmert during his association with the Bureau of American Ethnology.
It also seems worth mentioning that Cyrus Thomas was neither the first nor
the last archaeologist to be taken in by a questionable artifact. For
example, Frederic W. Putnam was the victim of the Calaveras skull hoax
(Dexter 1986) and several professional archaeologists have recently
championed the fraudulent Holly Oak pendant (see Griffin et al 1988 for
Although the conclusions reached in this paper may not
prove convincing to cult archaeology proponents, we hope that our comments
will prove helpful to our colleagues in responding to the Bat Creek
controversy and other claims made by cult archaeologists. Perhaps more
important, we hope that our efforts here will influence some of our
colleagues to take an active role in countering claims made by cult
archaeologists and particularly in providing the general public with
accessible information about the remarkable discoveries made by mainstream
archaeology (see Williams 1987, 1988a, 1988b).
1970a A Canaanite Columbus? Newsweek 76(17):65.
1970b Prof Says Jews Found America. Nashville Tennessean, October
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Gordon, Cyrus H.
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Harrold, Francis B. and Raymond A. Eve
Hodge, Frederick W. (editor)
Mahan, Joseph B. Jr.
1983 The Secret: America in World History Before Columbus. Published by
the author, Columbus, Georgia.
McCulloch, J. Huston
1979 Canaanites in America: a New Scripture in Stone? Biblical
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Thomas, Cyrus and W.J. McGee
von Wuthenau, Alexander
Whiteford, Andrew H.
Willey, Gordon R., and Jeremy A. Sabloff
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Date: 21 Jan 2010
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