Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Lenape Stone

The so-called Lenape Stone, likely an ornamental gorget of the type often buried with notable warriors, was discovered by Barnard Hansell in 1872 (a second piece was discovered in 1881) near Wycombe, Pennsylvania. The carvings on the stone depict traditional motifs such as fish, birds, and turtles and also what appears to be a mammoth or mastodon, types of prehistoric elephants. Several members of the Bucks County Historical Society, among them H.C. Mercer, examined the stone carving. Mercer was a proponent of the stone's authenticity, although that was called into question as early as 1884. The following is an excerpt of a letter from D.G. Brinton, an archaeologist and ethnologist from the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia:
Certain artistic details, as the lightnings shooting in various directions from a central point (as from the hand of Jove), were also unknown to the art notions of the red race. The treatment of the sun as a face, with rays shooting from it, I also consider foreign to the pictography of the Delaware Indians, nor have I yet seen any specimens proved to be of their manufacture that present it. It is found, indeed, in Chippeway pictography, but there only in late examples.

The execution of such imitations also usually betrays their origin. The lines on the Lenape Stone are obviously cut with a metal instrument, making clean incisions, deepest in the centre and tapering to points-quite different from the scratch of a flint point. Shrewder fabricators than the unknown author of this one make use of flint points. Some of the Western 'tablets' have been so inscribed. They may thus conceal their tools, but there are other resources for the archaeologist. The surface of all stones undergoes a certain chemical change on exposure to the air, which is called by the French term patine. In many varieties, as flints, jasper, and hard shales, this affords a decisive means of discriminating a modern from an ancient inscription or arrow-head. It requires the use of the microscope and some practice, but with these most of such impostures can be detected.
Several other scholars were of a similar feeling, that the Lenape Stone was hoaxed. Some have noted that the stone was broken, and that the mammoth carving does not align properly when the halves are joined.

The Lenape Stone is currently housed in the Mercer Museum in Doylestown.

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