The Grave Creek Tablet is West Virginia’s most controversial archeological relic. According to local legend, the tablet, an engraved piece of sandstone measuring approximately 1 1/2 by 2 inches, was discovered in the spring of 1838 when Abelard Tomlinson and others first excavated Grave Creek Mound at Moundsville. Although accounts differ slightly, all agree that the tablet was found as laborers excavated near the mound’s upper burial vault. Tomlinson, whose family owned the mound, claimed to have found the stone under the floor of the upper burial vault. Others who were present claimed to have found it themselves or said that it was pulled from a wheelbarrow of dirt taken from around the upper burial. At the time of its discovery, Tomlinson and the others did not attach any significance to the tablet, believing the characters carved into one side of the stone simply to be Indian hieroglyphs.
Soon after, however, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, an eminent ethnographer, studied the tablet and became convinced that the characters were carved by Celts from ancient Spain or Britain, rather than early American Indians. With this pronouncement, the Grave Creek Tablet became the center of controversy. Different scholars concluded that the characters resembled those in a variety of ancient alphabets, including Tunisian, ancient Greek, Egyptian, Etruscan, and Phoenician, as well as those from Algiers, Libya, and the African interior. Other scholars, most notably archeologist Ephraim George Squier, denounced the stone as a fraud. Despite years of study and debate, the origin of Grave Creek Tablet was never conclusively resolved. The present location of the tablet is unknown, although the Smithsonian Institution has four casts of it.
This Article was written by Lora Lamarre
Norona, Delf. Moundsville's Mammoth Mound. Moundsville: West Virginia Archeological Society, 1954, Reprint, West Virginia Archeological Society, 1998.
Barnhart, Terry A. Curious Antiquity? The Grave Creek Controversy Revisited. West Virginia History, (1985-86).
Cite This Article
Lamarre, Lora "Grave Creek Tablet." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 13 February 2012. Web. 28 April 2017.