Popular Science Monthly/Volume 8/November 1875/A Curious Indian Relic
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A Curious Indian Relic
By Charles Conrad Abbott
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AMONG the several thousands of Indian relics gathered by the writer, in the immediate vicinity of Trenton, New Jersey, there has occurred one wholly different from all the others, and which bears some resemblance to the well-known Indian bark-letters, as figured by Schoolcraft and Catlin; but this inscribed stone is far more primitive than these. The specimen (as shown in the following diagram) is a slab of impure mica or micaceous slate, about an inch in thickness, seven inches in length, and four and three-fourths inches in
greatest width. The edges have been rudely beveled, and the specimen chipped into its present shape previous to the inscribing of the peculiar markings which characterize the relic.
These consist of a series of well-defined lines, one extending the entire length of the specimen, and dividing it into two nearly equal parts or surfaces. There are also three well-defined lines crossing the central one at right angles, and a fourth short one, with "split" ends, on the left-hand side, below the centre of the slab.
The wide, shallow groove crossing obliquely from left to right is, I think, a subsequent marking, possibly from a ploughshare passing lightly over the stone. It has the appearance of having been done quite recently. Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the inscribed side of the stone is the well-defined arrow, extending obliquely across the specimen from right to left. This certainly helps one, at least, to imagine some plausible explanation of the meaning of the various markings.
The relic was found in a dense swamp, which until very lately has in no way been disturbed, otherwise than by cutting off the matured timber. Just where found it probably had been lying since the distant day when, for some purpose, it was placed in position by the aborigines.
That the specimen is really an Indian relic I am positive, having examined the spot where it was found; and from the fact that the lad that found it brought it to me with considerable doubt in his own mind as to its being really "Indian" work. In the immediate neighborhood were found quite a number of stone axes, spears, and arrow-points, all of them of the rudest workmanship.
As the specimen exhibits no attempt on the part of its primeval owner at ornamentation, not even polishing, it can scarcely be doubted that the markings upon it were placed there to express some fact to others who might find it; that it is a "bark-letter" written upon stone—a very primitive attempt at "picture-writing."
Admitting, then, that the specimen has been engraved, as we now find it, by an aborigine, I suggest the following as an explanation or interpretation of the various markings: The slab has been engraved and then placed in the trail which the Indian or party of them were following, with the long central line pointing due north or else in the direction of the trail. The crossing lines would indicate three days' journeys up to the time of "locating" the stone, or, more probably, that three streams of water had been crossed; and the direction of the arrow indicated the direction the party had taken from the point where the stone was placed, on leaving the trail they had been following.
That the specimen was intended to convey some such meaning, I have myself no doubt; but, looked at in any light, it is certainly a very remarkable form of "relic," and being (as yet) unique, in the enormous "find" from this neighborhood, I think goes to show it is really a "record" or "letter," as such "picture-writings" would naturally be made at rare intervals and under unusual circumstances.
The specimen is preserved in the Museum of the Peabody Academy of Science, at Salem, Massachusetts.