The Unexplained: What stories would the mysterious symbols tell?

A historic image of the strange carvings found on Dighton Rock. A scholarly debate rages on who left them.

Are the petroglyphs the work of Portuguese explorers, Vikings, the Phoenicians, or Native Americans?

The Taunton River of Berkley, Massachusetts was once the home of a mysterious boulder.  It was deposited in the riverbed 10-13,000 years ago, toward the end of the last ice age.  The huge, 40-ton rock, 5’ x 9’ x 11’ was composed of crystalline sandstone.  It is known as Dighton Rock for what was once a nearby town also named Dighton.  The enigmatic rock is no longer there—where did it go?

In 1963, when a coffer dam was being engineered, the rock was moved to a museum because of its historical value.  It has drawn the attention of esteemed archaeologists for over three centuries.  Of main importance are the deeply etched carvings engraved on the surface. 

The petroglyphs of lines and geometric shapes seem to be of footprints, turkey tracks, other animal tracks, and round-headed abstract beings.  When it was in the riverbed, it was at times, almost completely covered with water during high tide.  In fact, the artist would have needed to stand in waist-high salt water to accomplish the work.  It did not escape some erosion, but it is still easy to see the carvings clearly.

The imposing boulder first drew the attention of Massachusetts settlers in the 1600s.  The message of its drawings cannot be deciphered.  The symbols are from no known language.

Many non-scientists have claimed they have translated the symbols but their results are often comical.  Some are certain they were references to stories in The Bible.  In 1807 Samuel Harris, Jr., declared that he could make out the words for “king,” “priest,” and “idol,” as Phoenician words for ancient Hebrew terms.  Harris was a Harvard scholar at the time.  Cotton Mather included an entry about the mysterious rock in one of his books and James Russell Lowell included it in his poetry.  

All sorts of theories—at least three dozen—about who made the symbols have been offered up.  They are the work of Portuguese explorers, some are certain.  They are runes of the Vikings.  One theory even has the Phoenicians sailing out of the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic to carve on the rock.  Their symbols are similar.  There is a school of experts who think the symbols came from Carthage, another is certain they came from China and another from Japan.  There are even those who think they are alien in origin.

Although many scholars claim the carvings are not Native American in origin, many Native American websites say they definitely are.  They explain that they are probably part of an Algonquin vision quest, though very little has been learned about early Algonquin languages, and nothing more is explained.

Most who have studied the lines and symbols agree that their origin is still a very big mystery.  Is the Dighton Rock a modern-day practical joke, a hoax? 


We know that it isn’t because in 1680 a Massachusetts minister, the Reverend John Danforth, made a detailed and exact drawing of the symbols on the rock.  Danforth was a graduate of Harvard.  He was so perplexed and curious that he sent his drawing to the Royal Society of London to see if any brilliant scholars could decode the message.  His drawing was preserved and exists still, in the British Museum, even though no scholars would commit themselves to an answer for the mystery.

If the symbols can ever be decoded, what kind of fascinating story would they tell?  The tiny museum that houses the rock is in Dighton Rock State Park in Massachusetts and it is in the National Register of Historic Places.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of the award-winning novel, It Rises from the Pee Dee. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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