Journalism as history II — the Phoenicians in Maine

Earlier I posted a story I wrote about some ancient amphoras (jugs) that were found by divers on the sea floor off Maine. That story included some expert opinions that the amphoras came from ancient Phoenicians who had visited the Maine coast before the birth of Christ. Now, my rummaging around in my old files has turned up a second story I wrote in 1976 that claimed the stone etchings on Monhegan Island (and perhaps elsewhere) also had connections to the Phoenicians. I don’t recall the origins of either of these stories, so I don’t know if they came from the same source. But both of the stories were well played in newspapers around the country.


MONHEGAN ISLAND, Maine (UPI) – A few crude rock carvings on this craggy coastal island could force historians to take another look at who discovered America and where the American Indians came from.

The carvings, known as the Monhegan Inscription, have been studied since 1855. But they and other carvings in New England have taken on new meaning to archeologists and linguists in the past few years. And they may indicate that the New England coast was a busy trade center for Phoenician sailors as long ago as 200 B.C.

For many years the inscriptions along with inscriptions in Bourne, Mass. and elsewhere in the region have been thought to be the work of Norse sailors. The theory was that the Norsemen discovered America several hundred years before Columbus.

But now some archeologists, including James P. Whittall, director of archeology for the Early Sites Research Society in Boston, feel the inscription is written in Ogam script used by the Celts in the Iberian peninsula as long ago as 2000 B.C.

Whittall said the inscription was translated by Dr. Barry Fell, president of Boston’s Epigraphic Society, to read “Long ships of Phoenicia: cargo lots landing quay.” If the translation is correct, it could have been a message to Phoenicians who may have landed at Monhegan long before the birth of Christ to deal in fish, furs and minerals.

“When these inscriptions were found along the New England coast, some tried to apply them to the Norsemen because some of the symbols are the same,” Whittall said. “They forced the symbols into a Norse translation, so scholars ended up calling them a fraud.”

“They never studied Iberian script, because it then was very little known and not translated,” he said. “One of the problems with the Norse is there is a close similarity between Iberian and Norse runic script, and we feel runic script was developed out of Iberian script.”

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