I was in the University of Tennessee’s McClung Museum today to check out an exhibit that my wife wants to take the kids to about dinosaur eggs. While there I decided to walk around the small museum and see what else they had on display. There was a “large” section of the museum set aside for Cherokee artifacts found in Tennessee.
I was watching a video on what archeology is and I started to get bored. Looking on the opposite wall, I noticed nearly rectangular stone no bigger than a dollar bill mounted in a Plexiglas case. Curious, I drew closer and read the small caption next to the display.
It was a small stone found in a burial mound 40 miles south of Knoxville, Tennessee that dated back to about 100 B.C. I continued to read and discovered that this little stone was the center of much controversy. It turns out that a Smithsonian archeologist (i.e. John W. Emmert) discovered the stone in 1889 and sent it to the Smithsonian where it stayed in storage for about 70 years.
The interesting thing about it was the letters carved into its surface. When Emmert found the stone he reported the letters to be Cherokee in origin. However, 60+ years later a professor of Mediterranean Studies named Cyrus Gordon claimed the characters were a form of paleo-Hebrew and that they translated into English as “for the Judeans”. At this point I was reading intently.
This new revelation lead to the theory that ancient Romans actually discovered America before Columbus. I seem to remember that it is widely accepted that Columbus was not the first to discover America, but nobody has proposed that it was the Romans that were first. Of course I immediately thought of the Book of Mormon and how odd it was that I had never heard of this stone before. The review ended by stating there continues to be controversy to this day as to the
authenticity of the stone.
After doing a little research (I got a bibliography of all the papers published on the subject at the museum) I found that there are many that believe it is a hoax and a few that believe it is real. Although the critiques are quite compelling, none of them really rule out that the stone is indeed authentic. Of course other than the stone and the circumstance of its discovery there is nothing that compels anyone to say that it is authentic either.
I have attached a drawing of the stone and can vouch that it is an accurate rendering of the stone I saw in the museum. It appears that generally this stone is considered suspect by many mainstream archeologist. This doesn’t surprise me because there is very little, if any, archeological evidence of Book of Mormon peoples in America. So the notion that the only thing left is this stone makes it highly suspect in the eyes of professional archeologist. Some say that Emmert fabricated it to get notoriety. This was my first thought too, but Emmert claimed it was Cherokee writing and never received or sought after any unusual recognition for the find. So if he was seeking for fame, he had a strange way of going about it. There are other valid critiques of the stone out there if you’re interested. None of them I’ve read so far conclusively rule out its authenticity. At the very least it make you wonder.
I was just surprised that there was something in this little museum that had a connection with the Book of Mormon (even though it was not presented as such). It’s weird some of the things you run into.