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The discovery of rune stones bearing inscriptions in early Scandinavian languages has long since cast doubt on the notion that Christopher Columbus was America's first tourist from Europe. Another inscribed stone, discovered in 1850 in the Rio Puerco Valley eighteen miles west of Los Lunas, New Mexico, makes the Norsemen, too, seem like latecomers. Long ago an inscription was chipped in a basalt outcrop in strange characters. Dixie L. Perkins, quoted here from her The Meaning of the New Mexico Mystery Stone, believes the inscription was the work of a Greek sailor about 500 B.C. who wrote: "I have come up to this point . . . to stay. The other one met with an untimely death a year ago . . . I remain a hair of rabbit. I, Zakyneros . . . out of reach of mortal man, am fleeing and am very much afraid . . . I become hollow or gaunt from hunger."
[A] significant communication was carved upon the Los Lunas, New Mexico, "inscription rock" or "mystery stone."
People were aware of the inscription when New Mexico became a territory in 1850, but no one could read it, However, one century later, Robert H. Pfeiffer of Harvard University, made the first known translation of the strange writing. He was considered to be an authority on the Old Testament; he concluded that the inscription was a copy of the Ten Commandments. He decided it was written in the Phoenician, the Moabite, and the Greek languages.
To my knowledge, Professor Pfeiffer did not state, at the time, who he thought carved the message. However, his translation seemed to satisfy the curiosity of the people of that era. Indeed, it stoodfor many years as the final word. The stone is still referred to, occasionally, as the "Ten Commandments rock."
Further speculation involved the origin or the author of the inscription. Some viewers conjectured a member of one of the lost tribes of Israel, spoken of in the Bible, wrote it. In 1936, an anthropologist from the University of New Mexico, Dr. Frank C. Hibben, saw the rock. He expressed the view the writing could have been carved by the Mormons when they migrated westward ....
In 1964, Robert H. LaFollette wrote an interesting translation of the inscription. As did Robert Pfeiffer in 1949, Mr. LaFollette determined some of the letters in the inscription were Phoenician. In addition, he concluded that other letters were in Hebrew, Cyrillic, and Etruscan. Thus, Robert LaFollette made the first attempt at a translation which would, in any way, challenge the established one of Robert Pfeiffer ....
Zakyneros, the Greek, left the metropolitan Mediterranean area with its empires, armies and navies. Behind him were the seething cities and towns with attendant manufacturing, marketing, and trading industries.
He arrived in the vast, relatively empty region of central New Mexico in 500 B.C. Blue, spruce-covered mountains stood apart in green grasslands. Lean red and purple mesas stretched themselves for many miles. From the north the great Rio Grande twisted to receive a watery contribution from the lesser Rio Puerco. Except for scattered ancient Indian tribes engaged in hunting, farming, and food-gathering pursuits, Zakyneros existed alone ....
At any rate, he carved his story into pink-gray basalt. Geologists identify basalt as an igneous or lava-type rock. It varies in texture and in color, also, but the one Zakyneros wrote upon is very fine.
The denseness of this particular rock made Zakyneros' self-assigned task more difficult. Possibly, he possessed bronze or iron tools. Archaeologists found several such European tools and weapons, too, in some of their digs in the United States.
In whatever manner he did it, Zakyneros cut letters about .25 in. or .635 cm. deep into the basalt. The letters average 1.75 in. or 4.45 cm. high, and 1.50 in. or 3.81 cm. wide. The great depth of his letters indicates an ancient inscription. Despite some weathering, it has been preserved in excellent condition ....
The size of the rock's writing surface measures 4.50 ft. or 1.37 m. wide, by 3.33 ft. or 1.02 m. high.
The inscription rock is located on the lower right side of a large mound of lava. The lava mound lies in a little canyon. The canyon dents the base of a small, extinct volcanic mountain. Its altitude is 5,500 ft.
The mountain is, appropriately, named Hidden Mountain on a present-day geological survey map. Scientifically, the area is known as the Lucero Basin, on the western edge of the Rio Grande trough. Hidden Mountain and the adjacent basaltic rocks, including the one on which Zakyneros carved, were formed only 20,000 years ago. The Lucero Uplift and the Puerco Fault Zone come together nearby.
Located approximately in the middle of New Mexico, Hidden Mountain rises eighteen miles west of the city of Los Lunas. The mountain stand on privately owned ranch land in the desert, a mile south of New Mexico Highway 6. Best of the West. Copyright © by Tony Hillerman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.