Canadian archaeomythologist and researcher Robert Burcher has been studying stone carvings and ancient artifacts for almost 20 years. If his theory about the inscriptions found on a local stone is correct, North America may soon find itself re-writing the history books – again.
The boulder, which sits under a thicket of bush in the community of St. Lunaire-Griquet, is not unlike the many large stones that can be found scattered throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, but it’s the carved inscriptions in the stone that has recently drawn attention from researchers and archeologists.
The large stone is not a new discovery. Scientists have been curious about it for at least 40 years and community members have wondered about it for generations. It is commonly referred to locally as St. Brendan’s Boulder or Irish Rock, because an initial archaeological survey completed in the 1970s speculated a similarity between the etchings and ancient Celtic language.
Mr. Burcher said, while the discovery of the boulder is nothing new, what is new is the potential deciphering of the inscriptions.
He said the etchings match letters of a paleohispanic alphabet used by an ancient culture known as the Tartessians from ancient Tartessos, or modern day Spain. They are known to have travelled widely and had early Celtic ties. They were rich in metals like tin and copper, as well as gold and silver, found primarily in Celtic lands. The culture was lost or assimilated into Phoenician culture around 500 B.C.
“I believe ancient Celts and Tartessians came here over 2,000 years ago. They traded in copper and were looking for mineral resources,” he said. “They found it here, took it back to Europe and it was used during the Bronze Age.”
Mr. Burcher said a key point in this story is that people, particularly in ancient times, did not simply go wondering off into the world without having some kind of economic purpose.
“Many people say the Basques and Portuguese came here for the fishing and whaling,” said Mr. Burcher. “If you wind the clock back far enough through time, I believe what the early travellers were looking for were minerals like copper.”
Mr. Burcher became aware of the inscriptions while researching other North American connections to ancient Celtic travellers and mythological voyages like that of the Irish monk, St. Brendan. Stories of St. Brendan’s travels have existed since the ninth century and place his voyage somewhere between 565 and 573 A.D.
There are ancient stone etchings in Celtic, Tartessian and Phoenician languages throughout North America, said Mr. Burcher.
“To find them here in Newfoundland indicates a European presence dating back over a thousand years before the arrival of the Vikings.”
Many civilizations throughout time have fished the waters and stacked the stones in Newfoundland and Labrador. However, until now the recorded history of Newfoundland and Labrador had begun around the year 1,000 A.D., about 1,000 years ago.
Mr. Burcher says the presence of these ancient carvings likely date Tartessian arrival to North America back at least another thousand years, well before the time of Christ.
“I’m the only person who has cracked the code on this inscription and I’ve gone further with it than any other archaeologist has, and there are inscriptions like this up and down the coast,” said Mr. Burcher.
The exact time frame of the ancient Tartessian arrival is still uncertain. In their two-day archaeological survey of the area, which took place last week, the team of scientists was unable to uncover any organic signs of settlement or extended visitation.
“It would have been absolutely astounding if we had found something on the site in an archaeological context that would indicate the time period of the carvings,” said Mr. Burcher. “But according to the archaeologists onsite, the soil here is too acidic to sustain the preservation of organic matter and the peat bogs are continuously building up on themselves, making it very difficult to find other signs of activity without completely excavating the site.”
Mr. Burcher has also been working on similar sites in other parts of Newfoundland and Labrador. One carving site near Placentia Bay is being regarded as ancient Phoenician in origin and could potentially confirm the presence of ancient trans-oceanic travellers pre-dating the Vikings.
“Who arrived to these shores first remains unseen, but the presence of these inscriptions and their similarity to these ancient European languages is undeniable and begs further research,” said Mr. Burcher.
During the 1970s, two respected archaeologists, Robert McGee and James Tuck, surveyed the boulder site and determined the inscriptions were not Native. They were etched with a steel or metal tool, and judging by some of the characters, could be Irish in origin, but the site was left when no more information could be discovered.
“In those days there was a lot of other, more pressing archaeology being done in the area,” said Mr. Burcher, referring to the discovery of a Viking settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows.
A few years later in 1988, one of the original archaeologists, Mr. McGee, went on record saying he did not believe the inscriptions could be Irish. Further study on the ancient Celtic alphabet did not provide positive matches to the inscriptions.
Mr. Burcher said this helps provide further evidence of earlier Tartessian activity in the area.
The team of archaeologists who were inspecting the boulder site brought along cameraman and photographer James Lisitza to record their efforts and potential findings. The footage may be used by the History Channel in a documentary on the possibility of Tartessian or early Celtic visitors to North America.
Also part of the team was archaeologists Ken Reynolds and Stephen Hull of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, though due to the nature of archaeology, the scientists were unable to provide official comment.
Mr. Burcher has contacted Dr. John T. Koch, professor at the University of Wales Centre of Advanced Welsh and Celtic studies in Aberystwyth, which is located in Ceredigion, West Wales, for confirmation of the Tartessian inscriptions.
He is anxiously awaiting reply.
“If the carvings on the boulder are confirmed to be Tartessian in origin, these stone markings may very well be some of the oldest inscriptions in North America,” said Mr. Burcher.“This could create an entirely new historical conundrum.”