Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ohio Rock

Geographer Ulf Erlingsson, author of a book identifying Atlantis with Neolithic Ireland, has kindly alerted me to an unusual find. It's a worked sandstone slab found by Mr William M. Smith near Manchester, Ohio in 1977. The slab's function and date are discussed among amateur archaeologists, but apparently no professional scholar has published any views about the find. The finder believes that the artefact is very old indeed and that it is a casting mould used to make an astronomical instrument. Although I am completely ignorant of the archaeology of Ohio, I do make my living as an archaeological research scholar, so I thought I might collect my thoughts on the matter and put them on-line, for what they're worth.

Here's a Quicktime animation allowing you to rotate the slab and look at its top face from different angles.

The stone is a flat triangular sandstone slab measuring about 1.5 m across, with a shallow V-shaped trough carved on one side, and half a funnel-shaped depression remaining between the arms of the V. The funnel looks like half a water drain. The trough looks a bit like a bird bath, an interpretation considered by the finder.

I have no detailed information as to the find context. The spot (N 38°42.867,W 083°34.116) is about 200 m from an old cabin foundation. Other finds include "broken flint pieces".

I believe that the finder has been misled in his archaeo-astronomical interpretation by zoologist and nutty-fringe epigraphist Barry Fell who corresponded with him on the matter in 1979. An archaeologist has also told him that the carving has been made with stone tools, which seems highly unlikely.

Writes Steve C. Gordon:
For much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Ohio was a national leader in the production of building stones ...


In simple terms, the building stones of Ohio are all sedimentary rocks represented by fossiliferous limestone and carboniferous sandstone. Ohio's earliest commercial sandstone quarries, located near Buena Vista in Scioto County, were opened ca. 1830 and supplied much of the quality "freestone" used in buildings along fashionable streets in Portsmouth and Cincinnati. Commercial sandstone quarries opened in Berea and South Amherst in northeastern Ohio a few years later. These became one of the nation's chief sources of buff-colored sandstone.

Sandstone, softer, less friable, and more uniform in texture than limestone, was well suited to architectural details, finish work, and carved ornament. Blocks of it with neatly tooled margins were frequently used for foundations and wall surfaces, plinths, quoins, beltcourses, lintels, and lugsills. Its virtuosity as a building stone and decorative element would not be challenged until the mass production of terracotta and concrete. [Link]
The object is in my view most likely a piece of recent post-Columbian building stone having something to do with water (viz the funnel-shaped drain).

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Martin for contributing with some comments. There is unfortunately a certain degree of disconnect between the average Joe who is interested in pre-history, and scholars with a formal education. The discussions are carried out in different fora. I think we are doing everyone a service when we take the time to listen to other ideas and respond seroiusly like you did here.

Ulf Erlingsson
(PS my PhD is in Physical Geography not Geology)

20 July, 2006 22:51  
Blogger Martin said...

Sorry about the misidentification, I've corrected it.

20 July, 2006 22:58  
Anonymous Ulf Erlingsson said...

Thanks. When we are at trivialities, it is also somewhat of an oversimplification to say that I identified Atlantis with Neolithic Ireland. The conclusion was only that Plato based the geographic description of Atlantis on Ireland. Obviously Ireland was not Atlantis as Plato described it.

20 July, 2006 23:02  
Anonymous Mattias said...

Hmm... interesting. Ireland do have very early neolitic tombs, save the underground temples of Malta. Could the story of Atlantis have remained traces of the fall of the megalith "civilisation" and the huge floods following the last Ice age?

21 July, 2006 13:58  
Blogger Martin said...

I find it highly unlikely. If Plato was passing on dim memories of any real catastrophe, it would have been the Thera eruption in the Bronze Age. But the Atlantis story is probably like the biblical Deluge: just a moralising fairytale.

21 July, 2006 18:25  

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