The Newark Decalogue and Keystone Revisted

Jim Goodman comments on my post, The Pseudoarchaeology of Glenn Beck, to point out the waste of his tax dollars on my education. Perhaps. But I doubt any of his tax money went to my tuition.

Still, his primary criticism surrounds a portion of that post which deals with some 19th century hoaxes used to promote a political agenda of the day, which is to say that there were many folks who were opposed to attributing the construction of the various mounds of the northeastern United States to the ancestors of Native Americans who lived there upon the arrival of European settlers. The mounds, they claimed, must have been built by ancient Europeans, therefore it was right to displace the Indians (i.e. Trail of Tears).

My chief disagreement was with Beck’s implication that there was somehow evidence that the “lost tribes of Israel” made their way to the Americas because of these artifacts. The “lost tribes” notion is one that Beck’s adopted religion of Mormonism believes.

The artifacts in question are primarily known as the “Decalogue” and “Key stone,” both inscribed with Hebrew script. The former includes a bas-relief of Moses (it reads in Hebrew square script, mosheh above the figure’s head) and an abbreviated version of the Ten Commandments from the Torah -the Decalogue- on the sides and back.

Beck’s implication in the video linked in the previous article was that these are artifacts suppressed by “mainstream archaeologists” and evidence of a much earlier presence of Israelites in America. Ironically, one of the purposes for the hoax in the 19th century was, in part, to justify our actions in stealing land from the Native inhabitants. Another part of it was that there existed a ethnocentric bias against Natives in that settlers of European descent couldn’t accept that they were capable of the technology or had the know-how to build the intricate mounds that exist in places like Newark, Ohio. Beck exhibits this same ethnocentric attitude even today in his show, but perhaps for somewhat different reasons.

The commenter, Jim Goodman, was, however, right to criticize my conclusions that the stones were forgeries. They’re hoaxes, but further investigation on my part reveals that they’re very likely the real thing.


Not having an expertise in ancient phonetic scripts, I had to rely on whatever information I could obtain from my university library or the internet on these stones. Most of the sources I was able to locate were either of the Glenn-Beck-America-is-the-Land-of-the-Lost-Tribes-of-Israel variety or of the aliens-are-among-us-variety. I remembered a Skeptical Inquirer article from years ago on the subject, but that issue has been long absent from my personal library. The author of that article eventually commented on my Beck-post, confirming what I remembered and linking to an article at Ohio Archaeology that sums it up.

Recently, however, a friend sent me a link to an article by Rochelle Altman, who is an expert on ancient phonetic scripts, in which she goes into great detail about the “…Newark Ritual Artifacts.”

Her explanations are convincing as well as her arguments, and I’m inclined to accept her conclusions that the artifacts themselves are genuine, Late-Medieval ritual objects. She bases this on the “stylistic features on the bas-relief sculpture […] and the Late Medieval Hebrew base-script used for the consolidated grid font that appears in the inscriptions.” She goes on to say, “[t]he artifacts are authentic, if not what they were thought to be in the 19th century, and, unfortunately, even today.”

The likely source of the objects is a European settler, from whom these may have been stolen and subsequently deposited at the sites where they were located in the early 19th century. The Decalogue and Keystone may not be forgeries, as I stated in an earlier post, but they are certainly hoaxes when presented as artifactual evidence of an “ancient America” with ties to the “lost tribes of Israel” and the other mumbo-jumbo Glenn Beck was alluding to in his program.

I highly recommend Rochelle Altman’s article, “‘First, … recognize that it’s a penny’: Report on the ‘Newark’ Ritual Artifacts,” found at The Bible and Interpretation. I find that I have to thank Altman and my friend for setting me straight on this and I wish I would have found this article earlier. I find I must also offer some thanks to commenter Jim Goodman, though I was already thinking of writing a short article either by itself or a part of my annual round of of pseudoarchaeology (which will be published here in a day or so). I doubt, however, that I’ve fully satisfied Mr. Goodman: the Newark artifacts might not be fakes, but they are frauds in the manner by which they are being promoted.

The sad truth, pointed out by Altman, is that the true nature of these artifacts is being sidelined by nutters and skeptics alike (though she certainly didn’t say “nutters”).

EDIT (12/28/10): after a personal correspondence with Brad Lepper, I’m, again, back to wondering about the veracity of the artifacts. It is very suspect that a person who had a preconceived notion of how the mounds were built (David Wyrick thought the mound-builders were not the Natives that lived in the region and was digging to prove it) should find just the sort of artifact that could be used to show the site was not Hopewell.

It’s also convenient that the person who was able to translate it happened to be on-hand.

So, were these artifacts entirely fraudulent, created in the 19th century and planted as a means to confirm a conclusion about Native Americans that was popular among many? Or were these genuine artifacts, salted in the places Wyrick was to dig. It would be simpler to salt the site with genuine artifacts if they were available -not inconceivable given the number of European immigrants out nation had up to then. But, it’s also not inconceivable that the artifacts could have been created of locally quarried limestone, then salted at the site.

What Lepper and Altman agree on, however, is that this is not evidence of any “Lost Tribes of Israel” in the Americas.

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About Carl Feagans 334 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

5 Comments

  1. The only reason I know anything about the artifacts is that I’m from the city of Newark, Ohio and people have talked about them when discussing the mounds.

    I find that both you and Beck seem to have motives to for your conclusions. You have a goal in mind before you start your research and it spoils your conclusions.

    One thing is certain, they are interesting and nobody has any real conclusive evidence, only theories to argue. I think we can also conclude that you harbor some dislike for Beck not for his presentation of the side he believes, but for Beck himself. I think you fail to realize that Beck only made the presentation and he had many researchers assist with the production. You make it sound as though this one man just created this theory on his own.

  2. It is true that I have motives, but not for conclusions that I’ve previously arrived at. My motive is to educate the public on science and archaeology, exposing pseudoarchaeology and pseudoscience for what it is in the process. Those are my goals and I hardly see how they can spoil conclusions that aren’t pre-conceived.

    While I agree the artifacts are “interesting,” my interest is in their true history, not the history that nuts like Beck would impose upon them. And Beck is a nut. This much is clear to anyone of a rational mind. I really never listened to read anything about Beck in any detail up to the show I linked to in the previous article. I’d heard of him, of course, mostly by those poking fun at him and criticizing him for being “stupid”, “ignorant”, etc. I must say, these characterizations were born out by his show on the Newark Earthworks and the artifacts alleged to be of the region. That he is the victim of his own researchers is a very poor excuse. He alone presents it and is responsible for the information. If he’s put himself in a position to rely on faulty research, this is of his own doing. I would, however, welcome an apology from Beck for being misinformed and for his ultimate ignorance on the topic of archaeology. I shan’t hold my breath, however.

    The mounds of Newark have nothing to do with the mystery-mongering garbage Beck was attempting to peddle. Nor are the artifacts, whether they are genuine or not (read my edit in the article above), evidence of the nonsense he suggested. As a public figure, Beck deserves to be called out-right on his pseudoscientific assertions. If he refuses to correct them, he then deserves the ridicule that follows.

  3. It’s sad to see an educated person resort to name calling. When I see it, I realize the person resorting to it has lost his ability to reason. Beck has done many great things in his profession, he’s respect among millions, and he’s a charitable person. Somehow though, you can find a way to simply discount him as a nut based on your research alone. Is your reader supposed to just discount Beck on everything? You say you don’t watch him, yet you reference the chalkboard and other parts of his show enough to show me that you do watch him and you’ve watched him enough that he has really irked you.

    I know enough about maps to know that you can’t just draw a straight line in Google to come up with an accurate measure of degrees. The earth is curved so it can’t be done accurately this way. Should I just call you a nut and consider everything you say to be a conspiracy? No, I would simply ask what the degree of error is for this. If you don’t know are you stupid? No! You just would have to research more.

    One thing Beck does frequently, but lacks the time for in TV, is that he sites as many references as he can. I’m sure if I look into this further, he’ll give the references of his information.

    What I find most entertaining is that you say that his audience is not of rational mind. I wonder why Beck even bothers with with so many references then? They’re just mindless followers right? I find that so-called intellectuals take offense at the masses learning and debating subjects that they would prefer to have the absolute authority on. I think that is what irks you with this subject.

    I do appreciate your side of this, but I find it’s credibility severely lacking when I consider the references to Glenn Beck.

  4. It’s sad to see an educated person resort to name calling.

    Perhaps for you. I’m sure there are many of equal, better, or lesser education than I who are quite satisfied with it. Particularly in regard to Beck. Who is clearly an idiot of grand proportion. In addition, your claim that name-calling is an indication of an inability to reason. Clearly this is a logical fallacy and it doesn’t follow that labeling Beck stupid or idiotic automatically invalidates my ability to reason. I did so in two separate articles posted on my blog. I called Beck an idiot (probably other things too) and I also reasoned out why. His respect among “millions” is questionable -I’d be willing to concede to perhaps thousands. Still, even if he has respect among “millions,” that only demonstrates that “millions” are easily swayed by ignorance, rhetoric, xenophobia, hatred, etc. -something that is very evident in history.

    As far as “watching him,” that was the most of any of his shows I’d ever watched. Of course I’d heard of Beck. Everyone from Letterman to John Stewart has ridiculed his chalk board silliness. I think I even saw an episode of SNL that spoofed this quirk of Beck’s.

    I know enough about maps to know that you can’t just draw a straight line in Google to come up with an accurate measure of degrees.

    Then you don’t know as much about maps as you think you do. The declination due to the curvature of the Earth is so low that at the order of distance being used it makes almost no difference. In fact, I probably wasn’t using the number of decimal places required to demonstrate that difference. But the angles aren’t really the central part of Beck’s ignorance and stupidity in that video. His measurements of distance are, claiming that there are “staves” being used to lay out the Newark Earthworks. Which is, of course, complete and utter crap. Demonstrated by my measurements in Google Earth which you can replicate yourself. And Google Earth is that accurate.

    One thing Beck does frequently, but lacks the time for in TV, is that he sites as many references as he can. I’m sure if I look into this further, he’ll give the references of his information.

    Feel free to find those citations (it’s actually “cite” not “site”) and post them here. I’m very interested in where he gets his information. And why he doesn’t get it from real historians and archaeologists. Beck probably supplies spurious references to his claims, references that either don’t say what he claims they do, that are taken out of context, or are illegitimate to begin with. Feel free to cite his references to the Newark Earthworks, artifacts, or any other archaeological claim here. Please do not bother with his political crap as I detest politics and this isn’t a politics blog.

  5. Man there was a lot of smoke from spinning tires in spite of no rubber meeting the road of legitamate references to argue from apart from Mr. Beck who’s just another Jew media shill; whether he’s got a spare wife tucked in bed just in case or not. The Old Testament is rife with justifiable poligamy. Wake up and smell the coffee from more than wife. (Duet. 21:15) Settling the argument over Native Indians with no origin but the Bering Straight: Please merely read Eli James’ “How the Antichrist Has Deceived the Whole World and Arthur Koestler’s “The 13the Tribe.” The Cherokee Indians have remnants of name’s as in Yahweh, that has EVERYTHING to do with “the Lost Tribes of Israel.” Don’t throw the “Indians” out with the bad Beck bath water!

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