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Dighton Rock. A mass of silicious conglomerate lying in the margin of Taunton River, Bristol County, Massachusetts, on which is an ancient, probably prehistoric, inscription. The length of the face measured at the base is 11½ ft. and the height a little more than 5 ft. The whole face, to within a few inches of the ground, is covered with the inscription, which consists of irregular lines and outline figures, a few having a slight resemblance to runes; others tri angular and circular, among which can be distinguished 3 outline faces. The earliest copy was that of Danforth in 1680. Cotton Mather copied a part as early as 1690 and sent a rude woodcut of the entire inscription to the Royal Society of Great Britain in 1712. Copies were also made by Isaac Greenwood in 1730; by Stephen Sewell, of Cambridge, in 1768; by Prof. Winthrop in 1788; by Joseph Gooding in 1790; by Edward A. Kendall in 1807; by Job Gardner in 1812, and one for the Rhode Island Historical Society in 1830. Soon after this the suggestion was made that it was a runic inscription of the Norsemen, and the interest excited by this caused it to be frequently copied and published. The subject, with accompanying figures, was thoroughly discussed by Danish antiquaries, especially by Rafn, in Antiquities Americans (1837). The earlier drawings mentioned above are re produced by Mallery1. The annexed illustration from a photograph is perhaps the most nearly correct of any published. The opinions advanced in regard to the origin and signification of the inscription vary widely. The members of the French Academy, to whom a copy was sent, judged it to be Punic; Lort, in a paper in Archaeologia (London, 1786), expressed the opinion that it was the work of a people from Siberia; Gen. Washington, who saw Winthrop’s drawings at Cambridge in 1789, pronounced the inscription similar to those made by the Indians; Davis and Kendall also ascribed it to the Indians, the former thinking it represented an Indian deer hunt, The Danish antiquaries decided that it was the work of the Northmen; Prof. Finn Magnusen interpreted the central portion, assuming it to consist of runes, as meaning that Thorfinn with 151 men took possession of the country; and even Dr De Costa was persuaded that the central part is runic. Buckingham Smith, according to Haven2, was inclined to believe it to consist of ciphers used by the Roman Catholic Church. Schoolcraft, although charged with wavering in his opinion, decided without reservation in 1853 that it was entirely Indian. The latter author submitted several drawings of the inscription to an Algonquian chief, who, rejecting a few of the figures near the center, interpreted the remainder as the memorial of a battle between two native tribes. Although this Indian’s explanation is considered doubtful, the general conclusion of students in later years, especially after Mallery’s discussion, is that the inscription is the work of Indians and belongs to a type found in Pennsylvania and at points in the west.
- Ancient Inscription on the Assonet, or Dighton Rock
A more in-depth look at the inscriptions of the rock, including a descriptive analysis of the petroglyphs by the Iroquioan Meda, Chingwauk, in 1839 at the behest of Henry Schoolcraft, as mentioned above. Included with the article are Henry’s own deductions based on several decades of research into the early North American petroglyphic arts.
Further Information on Dighton Rock
Following are the more important writings on the subject of Dighton Rock:
- Antiquities Americans, 1837;
- Archaeologia, viii, 1786;
- T. Ewbank, North American Rock-writing, 1866;
- Gravier in Compte-rendu Cong. Internat. des Américanistes, i, 1875;
- Haven in Proc. Am. Antiq. Soc., Apr. 29, 1863, Oct. 21, 1864, Oct., 1867;
- Kendall, Trav., 11, 1809;
- Mallery in 10th Rep. B. A. E., 1893;
- Mem. Am. Acad. Arts and Sci., n, pt. 2, 1804, in, pt. 1, 1809;
- Philos. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond., xxviu, 1714;
- Rau in Am. Antiq., i, 1878;
- Rau in Mag. Am. Hist., Feb., 1878, Apr., 1879;
- Schoolcraft, Ind. Tribes, i, 1851, iv, 1854;
- Trans. Soc. Antiquaries, Lond., 1732;
- Winsor, Hist. Am., i, 1884. (C. T.)