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The "Marked Rock" in Manchester, KY
Page 3: The Theories

[image ALT: A more or less rectangular boulder, appearing to be sandstone, and measuring roughly 1.5 meters high, 7 meters long and 0.8 meter thick; it sits under an open metal shed in a small chain-link enclosure on a well-tended plot of grass with trees in the background. It is an overall view of the so‑called 'Marked Rock' in Manchester, Kentucky (central eastern United States).]

The visitor information panel next to my friend Susan, after summarizing how the Red Bird Petroglyphs came to this park in Manchester — (see my page 1), goes on to state confidently that "[A]t least 8 Old World alphabets are engraved on it. These alphabets were extinct when Columbus arrived in the New World in 1492. The alphabets are first century Greek and Hebrew, Old Libyan, Old Arabic and Iberian-Punic which probably dates from the 9th century B.C. Ogam, Germanic Runes and Tiffinag-Numidian are also on this stone." The panel also describes the petroglyphs (you probably saw the detailed photos of them on page 2 already) as "translatable".

A second panel, to the left of the stone, and barely visible above because seen edge‑on — no, let it speak for itself:

[image ALT: zzz. It is a visitor information panel standing near the so‑called 'Marked Rock' in Manchester, Kentucky (central eastern United States).]

Now there is no reason, a priori, why a stone in Kentucky might not have writing in an Old World language, or maybe even two: the world is stranger than we know; although eight of them seems a bit much.

But when I decipher an inscription, the burden is on me to give my grounds for the decipherment: merely stating something to be a fact won't hack it, especially if it runs counter to traditional knowledge. For example: of this rather striking mark, or group of marks, our panel asserts it is a "[f]irst century Christian monogram in Hebrew and Greek letters; it means 'Jesus Christ Son of the Father' " — quite a lot to pack into that squiggle, especially when we consider that both Hebrew and Greek are alphabetic, not pictographic languages. The phrase in ancient Greek is pretty much as long as it is in English: ΙΗΣΟΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ Ο ΥΙΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΠΑΤΡΟΣ; and nothing in our glyph, except the Χ that might be taken as the initial letter of ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, "Christ"; you might as well take it for a pair of crossed oars, parked here by those mariners of the Nile, so far from home. . . . The statement on the panel is just not true. Similarly, the purported Ogham "rebus" — didn't we just see a "monogram"? do we sense someone repeatedly hedging their bets? — looks nothing like Ogham (for what Ogham does look like, see this excellent page at TITUS).

Consider also how very rarely one meets with bilingual inscriptions; texts in three scripts, like that on the Rosetta Stone, are correspondingly rarer; and eight? In forty years of poking around looking at ancient inscriptions, I've never come across one nor heard of one. (Modern scholarly publications not infrequently show such a wide mix of languages or scripts, as for example in Karl Müller's magisterial edition of Ptolemy; but ancient inscriptions, whether on stone or parchment, no.)

So why do we have eight scripts proposed here? Very simply, because someone has gone fishing for them to support a preconceived notion. If this squiggle isn't Greek, well it's Ogham or "South Semitic" — this last term, by the way, covering several dozen languages modern and extinct, none of which has signs for vowels — or Punic or Runic. Worse than "not true", this is . . . boulderdash; and very likely with something of an agenda: see this page on Chief Red Bird and the petroglyphs.

That said, the Red Bird Petroglyphs are an interesting monument; it seems likely that they bear witness to our past and the history of America. We just don't know what they mean. There are a lot of things we don't know, and consequently no shame in ignorance; there is, on the other hand, something very like shame in spreading fantastic tales. Many people, abhorring a void, fill it up with nonsense.

The Manchester Marked Rock deserves to be studied. Is there any way of telling, for example from residual toolmarks and a study of wear and erosion, when the various glyphs were made? Would careful analysis show multiple layers, allowing us to determine various stages in the carving, and to separate the glyphs that belong together from those that don't? Working from the other end of the question, as it were, who can be shown to be the most likely people to have scratched up this stone? Can we find archaeological remains of these people near the cliff at Eriline where the rock was found? Shouldn't these glyphs be compared to the many other petroglyphs and pictographs found across the New World, to establish similarities, families, identities among them?

To be perfectly clear (and logical), I should add that just because these petroglyphs are not ancient Greek or Hebrew or Ogham or Punic — doesn't mean they're not old. For all we know right now, they may date back 3000 years; or, as I suspect (although with no particularly good reason) they may only go back to the 17c or 18c: we just don't know.

Now we're all human, and I have an opinion too. It is not certainty or truth, however; just an unsubstantiated idea of what seems plausible to me — my initial working hypothesis if I were to embark on a serious investigation of this rock:

The first and most important step in the study of the Manchester Marked Rock has been taken, though: identifying it and preserving it. Thus there is still no better conclusion, to my mind, than that of the first information panel: "Clay County and the City of Manchester have granted protection to this Stone. In doing so, they have obtained a good name and public esteem worldwide."

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Page updated: 28 Nov 09