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Misplaced objects: Lake Winnipesaukee stone

The mysterious Lake Winnipesaukee stone is a supposed “out of place artifact” (oopart) discovered in 1872 during an excavation for the construction of a fence. The Stone Age, its purpose and its achievers are unknown. The stone is currently on display at the Museum of New Hampshire History.

Misplaced objects: Lake Winnipesaukee stone
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In 1872, a group of workers excavating a fence near Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, came across an object that seemed out of place, an enigmatic black egg-shaped stone with a series of strange engravings, including a face, a teepee (typical American Indian tent), an ear of corn, a spiral and other enigmatic symbols.

When it was presented to the experts, some questions immediately arose: who made the stone and why? How old it is and, above all, how was it sculpted?

At the time of its discovery The American Naturalist described the stone as “an extraordinary Indian relic that has attracted the wonder of the scientific world”. However, to this day no one has been able to definitively answer the questions posed by the stone.

The stone was acquired by Seneca Augustus Ladd, a naturalist and collector. “Mr Ladd is already in possession of a large private collection of artefacts. He was delighted with the new discovery and showed off the relic with the enthusiasm that only a true scholar can feel,” continues the article in The American Naturalist.

Ladd died in 1892, and in 1927, his daughter Frances Ladd Coe donated the stone to the New Hampshire Historical Society. The stone, surrounded by mirrors to allow observation of the symbols, is currently on display at the Museum of New Hampshire History.

The stone measures approximately 10 cm high and approximately 7 cm wide. All the symbols engraved on it are subject to various interpretations. On one side there are symbols that look like inverted arrows, a moon, some dots and a spiral. The other side shows a wheat stalk and a circle with three figures, one of which resembles a deer's leg.

In 1872, construction workers dug up a suspicious lump of clay near the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee,
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In 1872, construction workers dug up a suspicious lump of clay near the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, and Seneca A. Ladd of Meredith discovered this intriguing carved stone within the clay casing. Amateur and professional archaeologists have speculated about the “Mystery Stone’s” origin for over one hundred years. At the time of discovery, the American Naturalist described it as “a remarkable Indian relic.” In the next decade sources claimed, “This stone has attracted the wonder of the scientific world, European savants having vainly tried to obtain it.” Frances Ladd Coe of Center Harbor, the daughter of Seneca Ladd, donated the "Mystery Stone" to the New Hampshire Historical Society in 1927. The Society does not know of any other reported findings of a stone like this in the United States.

The American Naturalist suggested that the stone could be a treaty between two tribes. Others have speculated that it may be of Celtic or Inuit origin.

A curious detail is represented by two holes drilled on the upper and lower ends of the stone. Each hole is straight and some scratches near the lower hole, according to an analysis carried out by state officials in 1994, suggest that the stone was placed on a metal support.

“I have already seen holes drilled in stone with technology associated with the prehistory of North America,” Richard Boisvert, a state archaeologist, explained in a 2006 article in the Associated Press. “There were a certain amount of irregularities present, but these holes are extremely regular.” According to Boisvert, the holes were drilled with precision tools available only in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Boisvert's study included the conclusions of the geologist Eugene Boudette, according to which the stone is a type of quartzite, derived from sandstone or mylonite rock, a metamorphic rock that occurs mainly along a fracture line in the Earth's crust. This is a type of rock not found in New Hampshire, but the area cannot be ruled out as a source.

As the New Hampshire Historical Society states, the Lake Winnipesaukee stone is a unique find, as no similar objects are known to exist in the United States. “This makes it very difficult to understand its provenance,” comments Boisvert. “The problem is that the history of discovery is fuzzy. We are not certain of the context in which the discovery occurred, which makes an assessment difficult. The context of the discovery is sometimes more important than the object itself.”

Wesley Balla, director of collections and exhibitions at the New Hampshire Historical Society, said the story of the discovery reflects the way archaeological finds were treated in the 19th century: the focus was more on the object itself than on the details of the context, such as the depth of the ground, whether anything else was near the find, or how far from the lake it was. “All this has been lost,” concludes Balla.

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