In 1889 a curiously engraved stone was found in an Indian mound near Bat Creek, Ohio. The discoverer of the stone was John Emmert, who was working for the Smithsonian's Mound Survey Project. Emmert thought (or said he thought) that the inscription was written in Cherokee and sent the 'Bat Creek Stone' off to the Smithsonian, which accepted the stone as authentic. The Smithsonian then included a reference to the stone in its final report on the Mounds--the report in which it concluded that the mounds had been built by ancient American Indians, not by an ancient tribe of world-wandering Europeans or Israelites (the origin of the Indian mounds was a huge debate back in the 19th century and spawned numerous fanciful theories). Fast-forward to the 1960s when Hebrew scholar Cyrus Gordon realized that the Bat Creek Stone was actually inscribed with an ancient form of Hebrew, not Cherokee. Then in the late 1980s artifacts discovered alongside the stone were radiocarbon dated and found to be over 1500 years old. Some saw this as dramatic evidence of the presence of 'Hebrew sailors' in North America way back when. Perhaps a lost tribe of Israelites really had built the mounds? Or perhaps not. In the most recent issue of American Antiquity
, Robert Mainfort and Mary Kwas (archaeologists at the University of Arkansas) expose the Bat Creek Stone as a forgery (The Columbus Dispatch
has an article about this, but won't let people see it for free). Mainfort and Kwas discovered that the inscription was copied from an illustration that appeared in a widely available book titled General History, Cyclopedia, and Dictionary of Freemasonry
, published in 1870 (nineteen years before the finding of the stone). As for who the forger was, the obvious suspect is John Emmert, since he was alone when he dug the stone out of the mound. So much for those Hebrew sailors in ancient America.