The Newark, Ohio Decalogue Stone and Keystone

Online PDF of "An Annotated Transcription of the Ohio Decalogue Stone," by J. Huston McCulloch, Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers vol. 21 (1992): 56-71.

The Decalogue

In November of 1860, David Wyrick of Newark, Ohio found an inscribed stone in a burial mound about 10 miles south of Newark. The stone is inscribed on all sides with a condensed version of the Ten Commandments or Decalogue, in a peculiar form of post-Exilic square Hebrew letters. The robed and bearded figure on the front is identified as Moses in letters fanning over his head.

The inscription is carved into a fine-grained black stone that only appears to be brown in the accompanying overexposed color photographs. It has been identified by geologists Ken Bork and Dave Hawkins of Denison University as limestone; a fossil crinoid stem is visible on the surface, and the stone reacts strongly to HCl. It is definitely not black alabaster or gypsum as previously reported here. According to James L. Murphy of Ohio State University, "Large white crinoid stems are common in the Upper Mercer and Boggs limestone units in Muskingum Co. and elsewhere, and these limestones are often very dark gray to black in color. You could find such rock at the Forks of the Muskingum at Zanesville, though the Upper Mercer limestones do not outcrop much further up the Licking." We therefore need not look any farther than the next county over to find a potential source for the stone, contrary to the previous assertion here that such limestone is not common in Ohio. [Paragraph updated 8/7/00, per personal communication from Murphy.]

The inscribed stone was found inside a sandstone box, smooth on the outside, and hollowed out within to exactly hold the stone. Click here to view the stone box. Click here for viewing tips.

The Decalogue inscription begins at the non-alphabetic symbol at the top of the front, runs down the left side of the front, around every available space on the back and sides, and then back up the right side of the front to end where it begins, as though it were to be read repetitively.

Click below for

  • additional views of the decalogue stone.
  • printable alphabet chart. Chart courtesy Beverley H. Moseley, Jr.

    David Deal and James Trimm (1996, referenced below) note that the Decalogue stone fits well into the hand, and that the lettering is somewhat worn precisely where the stone would be in contact with the last three fingers and the palm if held in the left hand. Furthermore, the otherwise puzzling handle at the bottom could be used to secure the stone to the left arm with a strap. They conclude that the Decalogue stone was a Jewish arm phylactery or tefilla (also written t'filla) of the Second Temple period. Although the common Jewish tefilla does not contain the words of the Decalogue, Moshe Shamah (1995) reports that the Qumran sect did include the Decalogue in their tefilimot. [Sentence added 8/7/01.]

    Cyrus Gordon (1995), on the other hand, interprets the Newark Decalogue stone, like the Los Lunas NM Decalogue inscription, as a Samaritan mezuzah.

    For a full transcription, see McCulloch (1992), and compare Deal (1996).

    The Decalogue stone measures 6-7/8" (17.5 cm) long, 2-7/8" (7.3 cm) wide, and 1-3/4" (4.2 cm) thick (as measured from cast).

    The Keystone

    Several months earlier, in June of 1860, Wyrick had found an additional stone, also inscribed in Hebrew letters. This stone, shown above, is popularly known as the "Keystone" because of its general shape. However, it is too rounded to have actually served as a keystone. It was apparently intended to be held with the knob in the right hand, and turned to read the four sides in succession, perhaps repetitively. It might also have been suspended by the knob for some purpose. Although it is not pointed enough to have been a plumb bob, it could have served as a pendulum.

    The material of the Keystone has been identified, probably by geologist Charles Whittlesey immediately after its discovery, as novaculite, a very hard fine-grained siliceous rock used for whetstones. The photographs here show its natural color. [Added 10/4/99.]

    Click here to view the inscriptions on the four sides:

  • Qedosh Qedoshim, "Holy of Holies"
  • Melek Eretz, "King of the Earth"
  • Torath YHWH, "The Law of God"
  • Devor YHWH, "The Word of God"

    Wyrick found the Keystone within what is now a developed section of Newark, at the bottom of a pit adjacent to the extensive ancient Hopewellian earthworks there (c. 100 BC - 500 AD). Although the pit was surely ancient, and the stone was covered with 12-14" of earth, it is impossible to say when the stone fell into the pit. (See Wyrick's map of the Newark earthworks below.) It is therefore not inconceivable that the Keystone is genuine but somehow modern.

    The letters on the Keystone are nearly standard Hebrew, rather than the very peculiar alphabet of the Decalogue stone. These letters were already developed at the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls (circa 200-100 B.C.), and so are broadly consistent with any time frame from the Hopewellian era to the present. For the past 1000 years or so, Hebrew has most commonly been written with vowel points and consonant points that are missing on both the Decalogue and Keystone. The absence of points is therefore suggestive, but not conclusive, of an earlier date.

    Note that in the Keystone inscription Melek Eretz, the aleph and mem have been stretched so as to make the text fit the available space. Such dilation does occasionally appear in Hebrew manuscripts of the first millenium AD. Birnbaum, The Hebrew Scripts, vol. I, pp. 173-4, notes that "We do not know when dilation originated. It is absent in the manuscripts from Qumran ... The earliest specimens in this book are ... middle of the seventh century [AD]. Thus we might tentatively suggest the second half of the sixth century or the first half of the seventh century as the possible period when dilation first began to be employed." Dilation would not have appeared in the printed sources nineteenth century Ohioans would primarily have had access to.

    The Hebrew letter shin is most commonly made with a V-shaped bottom. The less common flat-bottomed form that appears on the first side of the Keystone may provide some clue as to its origin. The exact wording of the four inscriptions may provide additional clues.

    Today, both the Decalogue Stone and Keystone, or "Newark Holy Stones," as they are known, are on display in the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum in Roscoe Village, 300 Whitewoman St., Coshocton, Ohio. Phone (740) 622-8710 for hours (note new area code). Plaster casts of the Decalogue stone and Keystone may be purchased from the Museum.

    The Newark Earthworks

    This map was published in the 1866 Newark County Atlas. Clarified image copyrighted and reproduced by permission of Arthur W. McGraw.

    Wyrick, who had been Licking County Surveyor, drew the most detailed surviving original map of the Newark earthworks, depicted above. He found the Keystone in one the "wells or caches" along the parallel walls east of the Octagon "A".

    The Octagon and adjacent circle "B" are preserved by the Ohio Historical Society, and are now used as a golf course. For your peace of mind, I suggest you wear a bike helmet or other hardhat when you visit them. These earthworks are said to be aligned to the northernmost setting of the moon. Concern has recently been expressed that proposed expansion of the Moundbuilders Country Club, which leases the site from the OHS, may encroach on the earthworks. [Added 8/23/00]

    The Fairground Circle "C" is also preserved by the OHS and is the site of the Newark Moundbuilders Museum. A fragment of Square "D" survives as the Wright Works. The curved walls extending from the Octagon south and west to the title box are the beginning of the "Great Hopewell Road" that once extended as far as Chillicothe.

    The Decalogue was found in an earthen mound under the "Great Stone Stack", some 10 miles to the south of the works on this map, but presumably contemporaneous.

    Did Wyrick Fake Them?

    Archaeologists, following Whittlesey (1872), have generally believed that the Decalogue and Keystone are hoaxes concocted by Wyrick himself.

    However, in 1861 Wyrick published a pamphlet (reproduced by Schenck) containing his account of the discoveries, and included woodcuts depicting, to the best of his ability, the inscriptions on the stones. A careful comparison of Wyrick's woodcuts of the Decalogue to the actual inscription (McCulloch 1992) shows that out of 256 letters, Wyrick made no less than 38 significant errors, in which he either made a legible letter illegible, turned a legible letter into a different letter, or omitted the letter altogether. Whoever carved the Decalogue stone had only imperfect knowledge of Hebrew, and introduced a few errors of his own. Wyrick, however, piled his own errors on top of these. He clearly did not even understand the inscription's peculiar, yet consistently applied, alphabet, and therefore could not have been its author.

    Moses on the stone has a mild expression and fine features. He is wearing a turban and flowing robe, and is either holding a tablet or wearing a breastplate. Wyrick's Moses, on the other hand, glares over a projecting nose. He is wearing a beret, Mrs. Wyrick's 19th century dress, and a minister's ecclesiastical shawl. Wyrick was evidently a fine draftsman, but not much at life drawing. Beverley H. Moseley, Jr., former art director of the Ohio Historical Society, has compared the carving of Moses on the stone to Wyrick's woodcut copy. It is his opinion as a professional artist that the same person could not have made these two images.

    In Wyrick's drawing of the Keystone, he confuses he with taw, so that the inscription TWRT YHWH, (Torath YHWH, The Law of God) appears as HWRH YHWH, or Horah God, which amusingly could be taken to be a reference to a popular Israeli folk-dance. Wyrick therefore could not have produced the Keystone either.

    Archaeologist Stephen Williams claims that Wyrick was "very committed to the Lost Tribes of Israel as the origin of the Moundbuilders" prior to his discovery of the Keystone, with the implication that Wyrick may therefore have fabricated the Keystone and Decalogue in order to support his pet theory (1991:168).

    However, Wyrick somehow neglected to mention this alleged obsession in any of his surviving correspondence or even in his very pamphlet on the stones. He was described at the time of the Keystone discovery as merely an "enthusiast for natural science" (by Charles Whittlesey in the Ohio Farmer July 14, 1860, reprinted by Schenck). Wyrick's documented interests, besides mound exploration and surveying, included geo-magnetism, anomalous boulders, river terraces, beaver dams and sorghum processing.

    In any event, the "Lost Tribes of Israel" would have used the pre-Exilic "Old Hebrew" alphabet, rather than the post-Exilic or "Square Hebrew" alphabet adopted in the time of Ezra by the Jews (by definition the "Unlost" tribe), and which appears, in two versions, on both these stones. There is therefore no question of a "Lost Tribes" connection here, Williams' misconception to the contrary notwithstanding.

    Or Was it Rev. McCarty who "Dunnit"?

    [Section added 8/25/99]

    Archaeologist Bradley T. Lepper now accuses Rev. John W. McCarty and stonecutter Elijah Sutton of having composed and executed the Keystone and Decalogue, planting them where Wyrick would innocently find them. For details, see Mark Coleman's videotaped interview with Lepper (1999).

    Lepper's view is based on the presupposition that the stones must somehow be frauds, in conjunction with the entirely circumstantial evidence that a) McCarty knew how to read Hebrew and quickly translated the inscription despite its peculiar alphabet, b) Elijah Sutton was the stone cutter who carved Wyrick's tombstone, along with many other Newark tombstones of the period, and c) the Decalogue stone and Keystone are of approximately the same thickness as a typical Newark tombstone of the period.

    Although McCarty did publish an article in a Cincinnati newspaper with a translation of the Decalogue stone within just a couple of days of its discovery, this feat would be no more difficult for a well-trained nineteenth century minister than it would be for any student of American history to decipher a copy of the Gettysburg Address that had been semi-encrypted by consistently replacing half the letters of the alphabet with distorted versions of themselves or even entirely arbitrary symbols. Once a few unencrypted words are recognized, the other letters fall into place quickly.

    A few days later, McCarty published a second article, correcting some errors he had made his initial interpretation. In his first attempt, for example, he read the letters over the head of the carved figure as Mem-Shin-Heth, or Meshiach (Messiah), and concluded, as a good Episcopalian minister, that the figure was intended to represent Jesus Christ. In his second version, he read these letters correctly as Mem-Shin-He, or Moshe, and conceded that the figure in fact represented Moses. If he had composed the text himself, he would surely have gotten the translation right on his first try, particularly on such an important (and, in retrospect, obvious) point.

    Furthermore, the similarity of the thickness of the stones to that of local tombstone stock is entirely irrelevant, given that none of the tombstones Sutton carved (or any other tombstone in Newark) is claimed to be of the same stone as either the Decalogue or the Keystone. Wyrick's tombstone, in particular, is of white limestone that looks nothing like either of the stones.

    It seems rather hasty to convict McCarty of composing the two Wyrick stones, simply on the grounds that he happened to be the first Hebrew scholar to come along. This is particularly true, given that there is not yet so much as a corpus delicti to indicate that a fraud has occurred in the first place.

    Lepper's accusation at least indicates that Rev. McCarty has come a long way since 1875, when Hubert Howe Bancroft wrote, in his monumental 5-volume work on The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America, "My father saw a stone tablet taken from a stone mound near Newark, covered with carved characters, which the clergy man of the town [McCarty] pronounced to be the ten commandments in ancient Hebrew. I have no doubt that the figures did closely resemble the ancient Hebrew in one respect at least -- that is, in being equally unfamiliar to the clergyman." (vol. 4, p. 785)

    Joseph Naveh, an authority on ancient Hebrew scripts, has examined Wyrick's woodcut of the Decalogue stone, and confirmed that, for all of Wyrick's errors, it does contain a cogent abridgement of the ten commandments in Hebrew language. (Communication reprinted in Schenck, 1982. See also McCulloch, 1992, Deal 1996.) Whatever the merits of the rest of Bancroft's opus, his dismissal of the inscription as not Hebrew, and of McCarty as incapable of reading Hebrew, is entirely without merit.

    It should be noted, however, that in 1863, a year before Wyrick's death, he did express a suspicion that he had been the victim of a hoax, in a letter to Joseph Henry, then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Nevertheless, a close examination of the letter shows that this suspicion is entirely based on faulty chronological reasoning on Wyrick's part. See McCulloch (1989).

    The Wilson Mound Stones

    One year after Wyrick's death in 1864, two additional Hebrew-inscribed stones were found during the excavation of a mound on the George A. Wilson farm east of Newark. These stones have been lost, but a drawing of the one and a photograph of the other are reproduced in Alrutz (1980), referenced below.

    The two stones from the Wilson farm, known as the Inscribed Head and the Cooper Stone, at first caused considerable excitement. Shortly afterwards, however, a local dentist named John H. Nicol claimed to have carved the stones and to have introduced them into the excavation, with the intention of discrediting the two earlier stones found by Wyrick.

    The inscription on the Inscribed Head can be read in Hebrew letters as

    J - H - NCL
    In Hebrew, short vowels are not represented by letters, so this is precisely how one would write
    J - H - NiCoL
    The Cooper stone is less clear, but appears to have a similar inscription. The inscriptions themselves therefore confirm Nicol's claim to have planted these two stones. Nicol was largely successful in his attempt to discredit the Wyrick stones, and they quickly became a textbook example of a "well-known" hoax. It was only with Alrutz's thorough 1980 article that interest in them was revived.

    Although the Decalogue is of an entirely different character than either of the Wilson Mound stones, it is disturbing that Nicol was standing near Wyrick at the time of its discovery ...

    Note -- The negative of the sketch of the Inscribed Head was somehow flipped over in producing Alrutz (1980), so that it appears there in mirror image. The profile should face left, not right. With this correction the Hebrew letters have their proper orientation, and may be read right to left as above.

    The Johnson-Bradner Stone

    Lithograph J. Royer, Nancy. Congres International des Americanistes, vol. 2, p. 192.

    Two years later, in 1867, David M. Johnson, a banker who co-founded the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum, in conjunction with Dr. N. Roe Bradner, M.D., of Pennsylvania, found a fifth stone, in the same mound group south of Newark in which Wyrick had located the Decalogue. The original of this small stone is now lost, but a lithograph, published in France, survives.

    The letters on the lid and base of the Johnson-Bradner stone are in the same peculiar alphabet as the Decalogue inscription, and appear to wrap around in the same manner as on the Decalogue's back platform. However, the lithograph is not clear enough for me to attempt a transcription with any confidence. However, Dr. James Trimm, whose Ph.D. is in Semitic Languages, has recently reported that the base and lid contain fragments of the Decalogue text. Click here and select 5/11/98, James Trimm, Johnson-Bradner Stone, to view his report. (Link updated 12/05.)

    The independent discovery, in a related context, by reputable citizens, of a third stone bearing the same unique characters as the Decalogue stone, strongly confirms the authenticity and context of the Decalogue Stone, as well as Wyrick's reliability.

    To construct a model of the Johnson-Bradner stone, click here to display the stone by itself, somewhat enlarged, and then print out its image on light cardboard or on paper that you paste to light cardboard. (I've now solved my earlier technical problem of its not printing out correctly.) Cut out the solid black portions of the three pieces, including the hatched blemish. Ignore the thin lines. Tape point A on the Base to point A on the Side. Continue taping these edges together, bending the Side to follow the base. Tape the two ends of the Side together so that the two identical markings at the ends overlap and so that it stands at a right angle to the Base the whole way around. Tape the lid onto the upper edge of the Side, so that the blemishes align. The result is roughly coffin-shaped. The original was approximately 3 in. (7.6 cm.) long.

    Mr. Myron Paine of Martinez, Calif., has cogently noted that the Johnson-Bradner stone, if bound in a strap so as to be held as a frontlet between the eyes, would serve well as a head phylactery, while the Decalogue stone was being used as an arm phylactery per the Deal-Trimm hypothesis noted in the first section above. [Paragraph added 3/22/02.]

    The Stone Bowl

    Photo Jeffrey A. Heck, from cover photo for "The Mystery of the Newark Holy Stones" video.

    A stone bowl was also found with the Decalogue, by one of the persons accompanying Wyrick. By Wyrick's account, it was of the capacity of a teacup, and of the same material as the box. Wyrick believed both the box and the cup had once been bronzed (Alrutz, pp. 21-2), though this has not been confirmed. The bowl was long neglected, but was found recently in the storage rooms of the Johnson- Humrickhouse Museum by Dr. Bradley Lepper of the Ohio Historical Society. It is now on display along with the Decalogue stone and Keystone.

    An interview in the Jan/Feb 1998 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review ("The Enigma of Qumran," pp. 24 ff) sheds light on the possible significance of the stone bowl. The interviewer, Hershel Shanks, asked how we would know that Qumran, the settlement adjacent to the caves in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, was Jewish, if there had been no scrolls. The four archaeologists interviewed gave several reasons -- the presence of ritual baths, numerous Hebrew-inscribed potsherds, and its location in Judea close to Jerusalem. Then Hanan Eshel, senior lecturer in archaeology at Hebrew University and Bar-Ilan University gave a fourth reason:

    ESHEL: We also have a lot of stone vessels.
    SHANKS: Why is that significant?
    ESHEL: Stone vessels are typical of Jews who kept the purity laws. Stone vessels do not become impure.
    SHANKS: Why?
    ESHEL: Because that is what the Pharisaic law decided. Stone doesn't have the nature of a vessel, and therefore it is always pure.
    SHANKS: Is that because you don't do anything to transform the material out of which it is made, in contrast to, say, a clay pot, whose composition is changed by firing?
    ESHEL: Yes. Probably. Stone is natural. You don't have to put it in an oven or anything like that. Purity was very important to Jews in the late Second Temple period. (p. 26)

    In an article in a subseqent issue of BAR, Yitzhak Magen (1998) goes on to explain that in the late Second Temple period, the Pharisees ordained that observant Jews should ritually rinse their hands with pure water before eating, and that in order to be pure, the water had to come from a pure vessel. Pottery might be impure, but stone was always pure. The result was a brief "Israeli Stone Age," during which there flourished an industry of making stone teacups to pour the water from and stone jugs to store it in. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, this practice quickly disappeared. [Added 8/23/99]

    The stone bowl therefore fits right in with the Decalogue Stone as an appropriate ritual object. It is highly doubtful that Wyrick, Nicol, McCarty, or anyone else in Newark in 1860 would have been aware of this arcane Second Temple era convention.

    Perhaps the stone box is another manifestation of the same "Stone Age" imperative: The easy way to make a box to hold an important object (or a prank) is out of wood. Carving it from stone is unnecessarily difficult, and would be justified only if stone were regarded as being significant in itself. According to Wyrick the bowl and box were made of the same sandstone.

    Two unusual "eight-square plumb bobs" were also found with the Decalogue. Their location is unknown, though they might also turn up in the Museum's collections.


    This page is dedicated to the memory of Bob Alrutz, who regretably passed away in 1997. Alrutz was a Professor of Biology at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, who became interested in the Newark stones through his work on Ohio ecology. Without his meticulous investigation of the history of the stones they would be long forgotten.


    Robert Alrutz, "The Newark Holy Stones: The History of an Archaeological Tragedy," Journal of the Scientific Laboratories, Denison University, 1980, 57: 1-57. Copies available from the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum in Roscoe Village, 300 Whitewoman St., Coshocton, Ohio. Phone (740) 622-8710. Plaster casts of the Decalogue stone and Keystone may also be purchased from the Museum.

    Bancroft, Hubert Howe, The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America, Vol. 4. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1875.

    Mark E. Coleman, producer/director, "Holy Stones," a 40-minute videotape documentary on the Newark stones, 1999. Interviews with Midge Derby of the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum, Bradley T. Lepper, and J. Huston McCulloch. Available inexpensively from Coleman at

    David A. Deal, "The Ohio Decalog: A Case of Fraudulent Archaeology," Ancient American Issue # 11 [Jan/Feb 1996], pp. 10- 19.

    David A. Deal and James S. Trimm, "Ohio Decalog is Ancient Arm Phylactery," Ancient American Vol. 3, Issue # 13 [May/June 1996], pp. 25- 27.

    Cyrus H. Gordon, "Diffusion of Near East Culture in Antiquity and in Byzantine Times," Orient vol. 30-31 (1995): 69-81.

    Jeffrey A. Heck, producer/director, "The Mystery of the Newark Holy Stones," a professionally-made 23 minute video with re-enacted discoveries, interviews pro and con with Robert Alrutz, Bradley T. Lepper and J. Huston McCulloch, and computer-generated disassembly of the Great Stone Stack. $14.95 + $5.00 S&H from NaJor Productions at or 1-888-823-2881, or from Video Media Services at their website or at 1-800-469-8273.

    Yitzhak Magen, "Ancient Israel's Stone Age: Purity in Second Temple Times," Biblical Archaeology Review, Sept./Oct. 1998, pp. 46-52.

    J. Huston McCulloch, "The Newark Hebrew Stones: Wyrick's Letter to Joseph Henry," Midwest Epigraphic Journal Vol. 6 (1989), pp. 5-10. Click here to view.

    ____________, "The Newark, Ohio Inscribed Head -- A New Translation," Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers vol. 19 (1990): 75-80. Online PDF.

    ____________, "An Annotated Transcription of the Ohio Decalogue Stone," Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers vol. 21 (1992): 56-71. Online PDF.

    Joseph Schenck, Mysteries of the Holy Stones. Pheasant Run Publications, St. Louis, 1982.

    Moshe Shamah. Judaic Seminar Vol. 2, No. 24, "Survey of Deuteronomy 6 - 11," 1995. Online at

    Charles Whittlesey. Archaeological Frauds: Inscriptions Attributed to the Mound Builders. Three Remarkable Forgeries. Western Reserve Historical Society Historical & Archaeological Tract #9, 1872.

    Stephen Williams, Fantastic Archaeology. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1991, pp. 167-75.

    Additional references not currently discussed

    Rochelle I. Altman, "'First, ... recognize that it's a penny': Report on the 'Newark' Ritual Artifacts," The Bible and Interpretation (an online journal), Jan. 2004, at

    Bradley T. Lepper and Jeff Gill, "The Newark Holy Stones," Timeline (a publication of the Ohio Historical Society) vol. 17 no. 3 (May/June 2000): 16-25.

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