Stone of Power: Dighton Rock, Colonization and the Erasure of an Indigenous Past
Hunter, Douglas William
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation examines the historiography of Dighton Rock, one of the most contested artifacts of American antiquity. Since first being described in 1680, the forty-ton boulder on the east bank of the Taunton River in Massachusetts has been the subject of endless speculation over who created its markings or “inscription.” Interpretations have included Vikings, Phoenicians and visitors from Atlantis. In its latest incarnation the rock is celebrated in a dedicated state park museum as an artifact of a lost Portuguese explorer, Miguel Corte-Real. I accept the Indigenaiety of its essential markings, which has never been seriously contested, and show how antiquarians and scholars into the twentieth century pursued an eccentric range of Old World attributions. I contend that the misattribution of Dighton Rock (and other Indigenous petroglyphs, as well as the so-called Mound Builder materials) has been part of the larger Euro-American/Anglo-American colonization project and its centuries-long conceptualization of Indigenous peoples. As with colonization itself, the rock’s historiography is best understood through the criteria of belonging, possession and dispossession. The rock’s historiography not only reflects that colonization project and its shifting priorities over time, but its interpretation has also played a significant role in defining and advancing it. By disenfranchising Indigenous peoples from their own past in the interpretations of Dighton Rock and other seeming archaeological puzzles, colonizers have sought to answer to their own advantage two fundamental questions: to whom does America belong, and who belongs in America?