Native Insight: An hypothesis about ‘The Mystery Stone’

  • The four sides of the “Mystery Stone of Winnipesaukee” depict elaborate carvings that experts claim could not have been created by Native Americans. Contributed photo/New Hampshire Historical Society

  • The four sides of the “Mystery Stone of Winnipesaukee” depict elaborate carvings that experts claim could not have been created by Native Americans. Contributed photo/New Hampshire Historical Society

  • The four sides of the “Mystery Stone of Winnipesaukee” depict elaborate carvings that experts claim could not have been created by Native Americans. Contributed photo/New Hampshire Historical Society

  • The four sides of the “Mystery Stone of Winnipesaukee” depict elaborate carvings that experts claim could not have been created by Native Americans. Contributed photo/New Hampshire Historical Society


Recorder Staff
Published: 3/16/2018 3:25:30 PM

Peculiar, that’s what I’d call it — that has been the general assessment regarding this mysterious artifact dug from the Meredith, N.H. ground in 1872. It came when a construction crew was digging fence-post holes for the property owner, businessman Seneca Ladd.

There, at a depth of four feet, not far from the Lake Winnipesaukee shore, was a strange, black, egg-shaped stone measuring four inches from top to bottom and 2½ inches at its widest point, with a hole running vertically through it. The find was an immediate sensation in the community and press. What was it? Who performed the exquisite carvings? Why?

Ladd died in 1892. Twenty-five years later, his daughter Frances Ladd Coe had the stone in her possession and donated it for posterity to the New Hampshire Historical Society in 1927. It remains on display there to infect visitors to the society’s Concord, N.H. home with the same questions that, to this day, are still unanswered.

What makes the stone unique to North America and rare worldwide are its sophisticated carvings on four sides, the execution and fine details of which is believed by expert archaeologists and art historians alike to be above and beyond Native American capabilities.

The largest, central image is an oval face that stands alone. Then, three sets of images circle the oval. One “side” shows a teepee above a perfect circle. The second displays an ear of corn (17 minutely carved kernels in each row) above three images — including a large-eared animal and what looks like a deer’s leg. The third side shows what are believed to be “inverted arrows,” a crescent moon and a spiral that’s ubiquitous in cave and rock art on this continent and worldwide, dating back to the beginning of man.

The stone’s symbolic meaning and function is still anyone’s guess, thus the name “Mystery Stone of Winnipesaukee.” Despite the advanced cultures discovered in North, Central and South America, the experts agree that this polished, egg-shaped stone could not have been produced by Native American people inhabiting this part of the world. It’s too sophisticated, they say, for these “primitive people,” whose intellect was vastly inferior to those who arrived to colonize them. To those who say all men were created equal, the timid response has been, “Well, yes, to some degree.”

You know the game. Spanish conquerors destroy all the stone tablets recording Aztec, Inca or Mayan history, then proclaim them ignorant because they have no written language, just “unreliable” oral history. The same can be said of North American tribes whose birch-bark scrolls documenting important cultural and spiritual data and events were burned and smashed to smithereens by clergy, soldiers and government officials alike.

That doesn’t even consider the petroglyphs and pictographs executed upon cliffs, caves, jewelry, stones and boulders protruding from rivers and lakes. Hell no, said 19th-century government officials and anthropologists overseeing “Manifest Destiny,” Native Americans couldn’t have produced the Mississippian mounds. Those pre-Columbian agrarian city cultures had to have been created by a lost tribe of Israel or Phoenicians or Celts or even wandering Norsemen. Not Native Americans.

Well, think again. None of it is true, regardless of what has been imprinted in your Eurocentric consciousness. Erase it all. It’s bunk. Native Americans who greeted the Pilgrims, Puritans and Spanish conquistadors alike were not only advanced, but capable of producing sophisticated art and construction, and this Mystery Stone is very likely a prime example.

Yet, of course, the experts have tried to dismiss it as a grand hoax perpetuated by Ladd or his workmen, or maybe pre-Pilgrim, European explorers or even extraterrestrials, yes Martians … anything but Native Americans or, in this case, Eastern Algonquians. They were the people who occupied the Merrimack Valley, a headwaters of which is Lake Winnipesaukee atop the eastern leg of “the forks,” where the Winnipesaukee and Pemigewasset rivers meet to form the Merrimack River in Franklin, N.H. This confluence is known to have been a habitation site of the central Abenaki Penacook people of the great historical contact period Chief Passaconaway. This chief had extraordinary clout among New England tribes, not to mention professed supernatural powers that frightened Christian colonials. Though the main Penacook village was thought to have been along Amoskeag Falls in Manchester, N.H., for millennia this tribe traveled and resided up and down the Merrimack Valley from its Atlantic Ocean outflow to its headwaters.

Enter an opinion from local indigenous historian Joe Graveline, a longtime Northfield Historical Commission member and former Friends of Wissatinnewag/Nolumbeka officer with some Abenaki blood. In telephone conversation this week, Graveline brought this Mystery Stone to my attention and declared an explanation. Having learned about “birth stones” from a Wampanoag woman who lives on Cape Cod, he’s certain that’s precisely what the Mystery Stone is — a stone that was heated and internally placed inside the pregnant woman by midwives to relax muscles during difficult births.

Sophisticated Native midwives are well documented in anthropological studies, and the best among them held high status as shamans or medicine women. Such spiritual leaders would have carried medicine bags, which have for more than a century been hot items among well-heeled collectors and museums. These bags would have contained tools used in ritual or ceremony or, in the case of midwives, during challenging births. Still today, hot baths are employed by some for comfort during the birthing process.

Graveline strongly believes the Mystery Stone was such a birth stone from the medicine bag of a Native midwife. He believes this particular stone had special significance because it helped deliver a person who became a venerated spiritual or governmental leader of either sex. It’s Graveline’s guess that, had the 1872 work crew unearthing the clay-covered stone, dug a little deeper, then they would have found a burial. Yes, he believes strongly that the stone was an important grave offering.

If so, judging by the exquisite carving believed by experts to have been executed with metal tools and drills (which could indeed be an arrogant Eurocentric evaluation), it was probably created during the early colonial period, when New England tribes had access to metal tools. As a tool in the medicine bag, it would have been smooth and often lubricated, in Graveline’s opinion, with bear grease. Then, after the important man or woman died and was buried, the sacred stone was carved and included among grave offerings in the ground above the body. It could have taken days, weeks or months to create.

It makes sense. And what great food for thought. More time is needed to follow through with this fresh hypothesis straight from Northfield. So, stay tuned. It should be fun. Maybe enlightening.

Of course, some will join the chase while expert debunkers will, with a knee-jerk, dismiss it as pure hocus-pocus.

“Prove it,” they’ll snicker.

“Disprove it,” I’ll counter.


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