Monday, August 30, 2010

Los Lunas "Mystery Stone" Explored

Still On My Feet
Back on Aug. 18, 2010, io9 posted an article about “The ‘mystery stone,’ discovered on a mountainside in New Mexico” ( Being that we live in New Mexico, Little Dragon read the article with interest and was surprised to find that this “mystery stone” was right in our proverbial backyard. With a little investigation we determined that it was in close enough that at least Little Dragon would reach it on foot and that it would be an interesting adventure. Not to mention, it seemed our duty to our fellow io9ers to investigate. So the day after a marathon Skype session with some io9ers, we set out with ice coffee, ice water, and a camera.

In spite of my concerns about trekking to an off-road site, I was delighted that I was able to make the one-and-a-half- to two-mile round trip walk to see the Los Lunas Decalogue stone (the “mystery stone”). Little Dragon and I drove out to see it on Sunday, August 22. (One can easily find it by going to Google maps and typing in “Hidden Mountain, Los Lunas.”) The Rio Grande valley is a halted continental rift that has seen volcanic activity on its west side and which has been filling for millennia with fluvial deposition. Hidden Mountain itself is a handful of small hills of basaltic rock rising up from the surrounding desert.
One turns off state road 6 onto a dirt road across the railroad tracks. Straight ahead is the Valencia County solid waste disposal area. To the left is a very sturdy locked gate that bars vehicular traffic but a pedestrian bypass invites anyone on foot to take a walk up the road. I ambled along at my pace aided by my cane while Little Dragon forged ahead.
It was a lovely afternoon – hot and sunny but a breeze and gathering clouds made for a comfortable stroll. The road, lined with wildflowers, led past the first hill on our right. A wash leading out from the dip between the hills provided a shortcut to the base of the trail. We ducked under a loosely held barbwire fence and each of us put a stone on a small pile that previous visitors had started, a bit of a tradition when starting a journey, even a short one. The trail was clearly marked with arrows scratched into boulders at a couple of points where one might have done some head scratching. It was a bit difficult for me because it is narrow and for the most part up hill, in some places fairly steep. It also crossed several spots of loose rock as well as a patch of sand at a critical point. However, with Little Dragon’s help I was able to make it.
The inscribed rock is in a little gully between two hills filled with basalt boulders and rocks with sandy pockets providing plenty of places for plants to grow. A small tree is growing to the right of the rock. There is nothing remarkable about the boulder having a flat surface. Many of the boulders (and smaller stones) there have flat faces to one degree or another. The inscribed rock face has been cleaned of its desert varnish and any lichens and the letters have obviously been cleaned even more thoroughly. I doubt the accuracy of the inscription as being, in 1933, “covered with lichen and patination and . . . hardly visible.” (This description was given in 1996 by Professor Frank Hibben, then a retired archeology professor from the University of New Mexico, to Prof. James D. Tabor of the Dept. of Religious Studies during an interview. Hibben died in 2002 at the age of 92. Wikipedia notes that Hibben’s work has come under question: “In at least two separate incidents, Hibben fabricated some or all of his archaeological data to support his pre-Clovis migration theory.) The flat face may have been as dark colored as the surrounding rocks but while there are lichens growing here and there on the boulders, none of them could be construed as being “covered in lichen.”

The markings themselves are not very deep and although it is a shame that someone has defaced them by scratching out the top line, it is an indication that the rock would not have been difficult to inscribe. People have also scratched their initials on the portion of rock just behind the inscription.
I have read accounts on line by various (Christian) religiously inclined people, one of whom believes the rock was at the top of the hill when the markings were made and that it has slid down to its present location. He also believes that the rest of the boulder, which extends to the left, is a separate piece of an “alter.” Obviously these boulders have been in their current position for a very long time. If it is an ancient inscription, it was done in the boulder’s current location and angle.

I believe the inscription is a hoax, perpetrated by someone wanting to give a young archeologist a rush or even a young archeologist himself. It would not have been difficult to reach these hills in 1933. The original Route 66, which the current state route 6 follows, dipped down from Albuquerque to Los Lunas before heading west again. (I have a 1931 Rand-McNalley atlas and have checked my information with it.) It would have made a day’s outing even then. Little Dragon states that she is undecided: “I cannot deny or confirm anything.” Hopefully, we will be making another trip out to Hidden Mountain, if no other reason than it is a beautiful place to visit.

Little Dragon: “Let me amend that earlier statement. I figured it out. There was a reason Moses was lost in the desert for forty years. He was so lost he ended up here. There is that bush he talked to right next to the rock. He didn’t smash the first set. He looked at this one and told that bush, “Look dude. I know you can do some pretty cool stuff. Bush burning and rock work and all. But dude. Buddy. I ain’t you. No way can I carry this down a mountain. I know it’s not a big mountain but, dude, I have been wandering around the desert for a long time. I’m tired. And not as young as I was when you got me started on this little sighting tour of yours.” So the bush was all, “Fine. I send you snakes and plagues and kill a whole bunch of kids for you and you can’t even move a little rock,” and proceeded to rewrite the commandments on some of the smaller rocks that were lying around, correcting some of the spelling mistakes he had made in the first draft as he wrote. It’s not like they had spell check back then.


  1. Plus as no one seems to have said yet, it's a long way from where any Greek ship would have stopped, right?

  2. It would be interesting to measure the relative weathering on the modern inscriptions, ie the initials you mentioned, versus the "original" letters - if they are indeed modern, the weathering on their inner surface should indicate that versus older lettering which would possibly show some oxidization (depending on the levels of iron in the rock).