By Sue Coletta
One of my recent research trips led me to the New Hampshire Historical Society and Museum. I went there to copy two diaries — one from 1880, another from 1881 — written by a close family friend of the victims and female serial killer, a man who gave a fascinating firsthand account of daily life before, during, and after the murders. Reading the handwriting is a challenge that I’m still working on.
Quick research tip: if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, it helps to photograph the handwritten pages so you can enlarge the chicken-scratch at home.
After I finished photographing the diaries, my husband and I toured the museum, and we stumbled across an intriguing unsolved mystery.
In 1872 construction workers unearthed a suspicious lump of clay near the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee (also in New Hampshire). The clay casing hid an egg-shaped stone with nine carvings, depicting a face, a teepee, and an ear of corn, along with strange geometric designs.
Amateur and professional archaeologists have speculated about the “mystery stone” ever since. At the time, the American Naturalist described it as “a remarkable Indian relic.” In the 1880s and early 1890s, sources claimed, “this stone has attracted the wonder of the scientific world, European savants having vainly tried to obtain it.”
A geological study of the stone conducted in the 1990s found it to be made of quartzite or mylonite, material not known to be otherwise present in New Hampshire. The “mystery stone” is perfectly shaped and unblemished by any distortions or markings other than the pictogram carvings. Recent examinations with a microscope suggest that the hole bored through the stone may actually have been drilled by a machine. Whether carved by hand or power tools, the stone’s manufacture indicates it lands somewhere in the mid to late 19th century. But does it?
The stone quickly gained public attention, with the New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette, the leading newspaper in the Granite State at the time, running a piece on July 17, 1872, announcing the stone’s discovery.
With such publicity, word of the stone reached far and wide, even to European scientists, who could not discern any more about the stone’s history than the Americans. In succeeding years, newspaper stories about the stone popped up at random intervals. In 1895, the Manchester Union reported that “the strange relic has attracted much attention,” even from the likes of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. A geological survey conducted by the State of New Hampshire in 1994 failed to shed much light on the stone, either.
To this day, amateur and professional archaeologists have speculated about the Mystery Stone’s origins.
NH Historical Society writes…
The most prevalent explanation has been that the Mystery Stone is a prehistoric Native American artifact. The discovery of an unusual Indian relic was not unprecedented at the time, encouraged by a highly romanticized view of America’s native heritage developed in the mid-19th century, especially in the East where fears of Anglo-Indian conflict were generations in the past.
An increasing reverence for the power of nature combined with nostalgia for a pre-industrial America combined to elevate Native Americans to the role of “noble savages” for many Americans. Indians’ perceived ability to commune with a pristine and unspoiled environment lent an air of mystery to the natural world, suggesting that natives could somehow unlock the secrets of the universe in a way that “civilized” men and women were no longer able to do, bound as they were by an overreliance on logic and reason and wholly cut off from their more intuitive and emotional natures by the standards of society.
The anomaly of the stone’s alleged “machine-made carvings” and the fact that it was composed of a rock type not found in New Hampshire could never be explained, nor does it support the idea that the stone is of Native American origin. The native culture depicted on the stone bear no resemblance to the Abenaki, New Hampshire’s native people. The face on the stone likens more to Eskimo or Aztec culture, and the carved teepee leans more toward natives in the American West.
Some Mystery Stone enthusiasts have suggested that the stone has spiritual significance for a prehistoric native culture that once covered most of North America. If that’s true, the stone may depict the forging of a treaty between two different tribes, or it may have been part of a ritual that accompanied a water burial for a native figure of importance in New Hampshire.
Over the years, other theories as to the stone’s origin have been posited. In 1931 a letter-writer suggested to the president of the New Hampshire Historical Society that the Mystery Stone was actually a thunderstone (rocks that fall from the sky during lightening storms), calling it “the most perfectly worked thunder-stone ever discovered.”
Another more recent theory argues that it is a lodestone, a natural magnetized mineral used for navigational purposes in the 16th century as an alternative to a compass. Other theories link the Mystery Stone to numerology, aliens, massive planetary shifts, or a worldwide apocalypse.
We know the stone was found encased in clay in 1872 at Lake Winnepasaukee. The stone is either quartzite or mylonite, neither rock type found in New Hampshire. There is a hole bored through both ends, done with different sized bits — 1/8″ at the narrow end, 3/8″ at the broad end. Each bore is straight, not tapered. Scratches on the stone’s lower bore suggests it was placed on a metal shaft and removed several times (which might make sense if it’s lodestone and was used as a compass). There’s a notch or divot in the bore. Perhaps it’s some sort of “key” for mounting the stone?
Who made the stone?
Who carved the stone?
For what purpose was the stone made?
How old is it?
How was the stone carved, by hand or machine?
No one else has ever reported finding another stone like this anywhere in the United States. The one thing that most Mystery Stone interpreters can agree on is that it’s an “out-of-place artifact.” Meaning, it should never have been discovered in New Hampshire.
Any guesses what the Mystery Stone might be?
I can’t offer up a theory, but what a great run of story ideas! Thanks, Sue. (Your piece on crows today was great too.) 🙂
Thanks, Harvey! I thought it was a fun mystery. Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving. 🙂
Thanks, Sue. Very nice, and I hope it was the same for you.
Really nice, thanks. Gearing up for the next one. 😉
I usually get yelled at a lot for saying this, and I suspect here will be no different:
The Biblical interpretation of man (humankind) is that man was created in perfection by a perfect Creator. The original man and woman, Adam and Eve, sinned, and the human race began to fall from its perfection. But in the times nearer the creation of the world and of humans, man continued, for a time, to be smart, wise, resourceful until, through the generations and centuries, all of that began to disintegrate into the morass of a sinful and chaotic mess.
In such a model, humans did accomplish remarkable things. Such as inventing a machine to bore a hole through something we now call the Mystery Stone. The model also explains that OOParts phenomenon. Things–screws, bullets, nails, batteries and other clearly manufactured items–that are found in, on, and through various other things, often buried deep in the earth, and which are separated from modern machinery, engineering, and present capabilities by eons of geologic intervention–are called OOParts, Out Of Place Parts. The OOParts phenomenon seems to drive the various scientific communities into rages because humans, they say, could not yet have reached a stage of development that is required to create or manufacture these things.
On the other hand, the creation model–the Creation model–explains these things perfectly: that man was once much smarter than we are now, but that intelligence and all other things that matched it within the human race are continuing to disintegrate. (It MAY be that the generations are in fact becoming dumber, as many parents who thought they have raised perfectly normal children, suddenly come home one day to find their fine son who dressed for Sunday School and polished his shoes and bathed everything, has turned into the guy wearing a mohawk haircut, numerous tattoos, smells like an unbathed monkey, smokes weed, and mumbles profanity or other not-understandable utterances.) Why could that son not hold on to the person his parents thought he was? Sinful rebellion–the same problem that tumbled humankind from its place.
So WHERE, people ask, chortling and guffawing, did these so-called smart humans go? Where are the cities and machines and flying aircraft go? Why can’t we find them and set up amusement parks and museums to learn of our over-the-top intelligent ancestors?
Again, the Creation model has an answer for that: Noah built and large, floating, covered barge, took clean and unclean animals onto it, and then mankind and his remarkable things were buried by a world-wide flood. The Flood apparently not only came down, but also heaved up from the depths, from below the earth’s surface, making the destruction pretty complete. So every once in awhile, things (sorry for using such scientific language) from those bygone eras are found. They are not understandable to contemporary humans because all of the things that put them in context, are gone. Perhaps still buried in the turnover and destruction of the Flood.
The existence of a perhaps manufactured Mystery Stone is more understandable to me when I look at it from the point of view that once Mankind was once far more intelligent than our current societies. So tell me, is a society that creates an atmosphere in which tattooed women play football in lingerie and shoulder pads on its way up? Or down.
If we follow the creation model, that society is on its way down. If we follow the evolutionary model, football-playing monster-women are from a people who are on their way UP. Hu-waaat? How can a society that sent men to the moon–no, not a shooting sound stage–create such disparate anomalies?
If humankind has not yet reached the stage where we are hopelessly tied by our downward slide, then perhaps we reached deeply into ourselves, to a residual place where lickets (don’t bother–it’s not in the dictionary) of our once-perfect abilities still somehow remain. (Licket–as in my Dad saying, “Sometimes, Son, people don’t have a lick of sense.”)
Can I explain it all, against all the psychology, philosophy, anthropology that has tried to explain humans and human behavior? Of course not.
But it’s the best that the grandson and great-grandson of Baptist preachers can do.
Your explanation was way more entertaining than my is-it-a-hoax suggestion, that’s for sure and certain!
And you might not be far off…
No one will yell at you while I’m around, Jim. Love your explanation. In fact, while writing this post, you’re the person I had in mind. 🙂 I always look forward to your well-thought-out comments. Thank you for that. Hope you had a nice holiday, my friend.
I loved your explanation.
Thank you @Sue for the great article.
Some years back I was in a museum about Celts. They showed glass bracelets with no beginning and no end. Scientists couldn’t determine how those bracelets were made. Neither with currently available technology nor with the technology they assume the Celts had available.
Now I’m researching more Out of Place Artifacts. Lots of story ideas coming my way …
Has anyone suggested it’s a hoax? Or has it been confirmed that it’s not? Other than that, I don’t have any clue what it could be given the facts you shared.
Very interesting post, Sue. I do love a mystery!
There was talk of a hoax, Deb, but a very old hoax dating back centuries. Most Mystery Stone enthusiasts have ruled that out, though.
Thanks! Me too.
How about simply that it’s a fake, a fraud, or a piece of art by an enthusiast of Indian culture? The 19th century was awash in religious and spiritual hokum, and forgeries and faux amulets were used to create publicity or followers….or easy money.
What do we really know about the “discovery”? Who was there? Who told the story? Who questioned the witnesses?
Occam’s Razor is telling me the simplest explanation is probably correct.
The lawyer in you is showing. 🙂 You could be right, Jim. Anything’s possible. Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving!
Ancient Aliens from outer space. No doubt about it.
Hahaha. Mystery solved!
Great article, Sue!
“In 1872 construction workers unearthed a suspicious lump of clay near the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee.”
What does a suspicious lump of clay look like?
A lump of clay that doesn’t fit with its surroundings. The shores of Lake Winnepesaukee are sandy. No clay in the area. 😉
MYSTERIES AT THE MUSEUM has lots of stories about historic hoaxes like this stone. I’m surprised that it hasn’t been scrutinized by new technologies. But, sometimes, the mystery is more fun than solving it.
You’re so right, Marilyn. The mystery is more fun than reality.
I love this kind of US historical mystery. The Roanoke mystery is one of my favorites. This weird egg stone is fascinating. Thank you for sharing!
Me too, Carl. My pleasure. ?
After reading about lodestones (thanks for the link!), I think the thing would actually have to be made of magnetite and associated minerals to be used as a lodestone, yes? Though quick-reading comprehension isn’t my strong suit…
I immediately started thinking in the same direction which JSB took. Even for the 19th century, the etchings on the carving seem romantic and stereotypical. Maybe the hole in the bottom was where it was mounted on a spindle to create the designs. What could the hole in the top have been for, I wonder.
Why the clay? Was it wet? Baked? Inquiring minds want to know! How was that beautiful, flawless shape achieved?
In the absence of sufficient facts, then ALIEN TECHNOLOGY is the simplest answer.
Now I want to know about those diaries! I use the take-a-picture and enlarge method when I do jigsaw puzzles, too.
Re: lodestones… I would think so, too, Laura.
The clay had hardened into crust, I believe. Great question about the shape. No idea.
The diaries are absolutely fascinating, but the handwriting is horrendous. The man who wrote them took over the job when his father passed away (his diaries date back to the late 1700s), and they recorded everything that happened in town. So, if someone had a question about the weather on a certain day (which is really helpful for writers of today) or if they wanted to know if so-and-so attended a wedding, they went to these two men. Because the diaries are so detailed, they’re testing my patience as I wade through the fluff. 🙂
Fascinating, Sue! I like the biblical explanation. Look at the Aztecs themselves. They were one of the most advanced cultures. Their disappearance is a mystery in itself.
So true, Traci! I’m leaning more to a compass of sorts, but it certainly could be left by the Aztecs. Our society hasn’t even scratched the surface of figuring out how invented they were.
Intriguing and amazing story Sue! Thanks for sharing!
You betcha, Philip! My pleasure. Glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂
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