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Letter shapes in marble

Letter-like shapes seen in marble from the Henderson Quarry at Norristown (Pennsylvania, USA)

In November 1829, workers at the Henderson Quarry near Norristown, 17 km (12 miles) north-west of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA), cut a block from a layer of marble found at a depth of 18-21 m (60-70 feet) and estimated to be around eight million years old. While sawing through the block, workmen at the Savage Sawmill spotted a rectangular indentation, about 38 mm (1½ inches) wide by 16 mm (⅝ inch) high, with two raised characters inside it, one of which was said to resemble the Greek letters pi and iota (ΠΙ) (some accounts reverse the letters and make them IU) (Browne 1831, 361). Norristown has long been known for its marble and limestone, the latter being quarried commercially as early as the 1690s.

It is difficult to know what this is meant to demonstrate. Does the discovery mean that someone was writing using the Greek alphabet (or, if we reverse the figures, the modern Latin alphabet) eight million years ago? If so, how did the ‘letters’ come to be encased inside a block of marble? Whilst Greek inscriptions (or any other type) may easily be made on the surface of a marble block, it is impossible to inscribe inside marble, which is what this discovery would demand if we are to accept it as part of a writing system. This phenomenon is known as a simulacrum: something in nature that happens to resemble something else with meaning to the observer.

6 Responses to Letters inside marble?

  • bad mojo says:

    Could it be something like a shaped iron tool, embedded inside the marble 8 millions years ago, that latter went to dissolve by oxidation, leaving the empty volume it once occupied?

    • Andrei says:

      Quite unlikely that it is an iron tool. Beginning of the bronze age (when the use of soft metals has started) is dated with four thousand years BC. Even stone age has begun only 2.5 mio. years ago.

      • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

        The entire story is just plain bizarre. I have no idea what it is meant to show. How on earth could anyone have carved letters inside the stone and how could anyone believe that they had?

        • Andrei says:

          Well, sub-surface laser engraving can in principle do that in relatively transparent solids. But it is difficult to believe that such technology was available 8 million years ago :-)

  • Claire Howdle says:

    Wish there was an actual photograph of this marble. Is this still being studied as there is such a big question mark over how,what,where and when? Does any one know how reliable the dating tests are these days? I have heard stories about volcanic rock being tested a few days after it had cooled and the tests came out it was millions of years old. Don’t know how reliable that information was though, i did get it from the internet lol

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      All we have is this one drawing. Dating the marble would not give the date of any inscription, of course.

Agree or disagree? Please comment!