Did Inuit carver create “mystery” stone?

Curious object found in New Hampshire in 1872


Did some early Inuit carver make this egg-shaped stone? No one knows who made this so-called “mystery stone,” or why, how and when it was made.

In 1872, workers digging fence post holes near Lake Winnipesaukee in the state of New Hampshire found a lump of clay.

Inside the clay was a dark, egg-shaped stone with carvings of a face, teepee, and an ear of corn. Arrows, a moon, some dots, a spiral, and a circle with three figures, one of which resembles a deer’s leg, are also carved into the four-inch-long, 2 1/2-inch-thick stone’s smooth surface.

These days, the unusual stone is on display at the New Hampshire Historical Society as a “mystery stone.”

Wesley Balla, the society’s director of collections and exhibitions, admits he’s still in the dark about the stone’s origin.

That’s despite a slew of emails received after a recent article circulated widely on the Internet renewed interest about the stone.

“We received dozens of comments,” Balla said in a telephone interview. “A few people have suggested Inuit connections. We’ve asked people to please substantiate this somehow and send us documents or something. Speculation is nice, but there’s too much chance to it. We need something we can document. That’s what museums are all about, documentation — and giving things a context.”

There’s an additional challenge to explaining more about the stone, because when it was found in 1872, no one noted in more detail about the place it was found.

“People didn’t think to document what was around it,” Balla said.

The site where workers found the stone now lies under a parking lot near a touristy lakeside beach area.

Most research on the stone dates from the 1870s when it was found and it was widely assumed to be a Native American artifact. The American Naturalist said at the time that the stone “commemorates a treaty between two tribes.”

In 1931, a letter sent to the historical society suggested the stone was a “thunderstone,” which “always present the appearance of having been machined or hand-worked: frequently they come from deep in the earth, embedded in lumps of clay, or even surrounded by solid rock or coral.”

In 1994, the stone was sent out for a physical study, to examine the bore holes in both ends of the stone.

Examination concluded the stone was machine-made and that the technology which made it dates from the 19th century.

Each bore hole in the stone is straight, not tapered. Scratches in the lower hole suggest it was placed on a metal shaft and removed several times.

Balla said a few pieces of metal were still found clinging to the inside of the holes.

The analysis found the stone is a type of quartzite, which is related to sandstone, or mylonite, a fine-grained rock, rock types not usually found in New Hampshire.

“That’s what the physical evidence suggested. But who knows how something gets into the ground,” Balla said. “We almost have the whole world to look at in terms of objects. No one to date has produced images of any like objects, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something out there.”

At the historical society’s museum, mirrors surround the “mystery stone” so people can see it from every angle. A label explains what little the historical society knows about its origins and how much is unknown.

“It’s still a mystery,” Balla said.

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