Metallic vase from Dorchester, Massachusetts

A bell-shaped vessel discovered in 1852 at Dorchester (Massachusetts, USA)
A bell-shaped vessel discovered in 1852 at Dorchester (Massachusetts, USA)

In the spring of 1852, a metallic vessel was found during rock blasting at Meeting House Hill in Dorchester (Massachusetts, USA), a short distance south of a meetinghouse established by the reverend Nathaniel Hall (1805-1875). The rock was said to be a puddingstone type, known as Roxbury conglomerate and of Precambrian date, found at a depth of around 4.6 m (15 feet). According to an account published in Scientific American 7 (5 June 1852) page 298 as A Relic of a By-gone Age, the blast scattered a mass of rock, some of the pieces weighing several tons, in all directions. On sorting through the rubble, a metallic vessel was found in two parts, thought to have been broken by the explosion.

Reconstructing the vessel, it was found to have been bell-shaped, 114 mm (4½ inches) high, 165 mm (6½ inches) in diameter at the base and 63.5 mm (2½ inches) in diameter at the mouth. The metal was about 3 mm (⅛ inch) thick. The metal was described as resembling zinc or a silver alloy. The decoration included six inlaid silver flowers and an inlaid silver vine around the base. It has been compared by Biagio Catalano with an Indian pipe-holder (illustrated in Iyer 1964, fig. 81 and in Wikipedia) stored at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (ex Prince of Wales Museum) in Mumbai.

An Indian pipeholder
An Indian pipeholder: almost identical to the Dorchester vessel! (From Wikipedia)

It is difficult to understand why anyone might take this report seriously. Firstly, it was found among rubble, with no proof that it was ever inside the rock. So why was that assumption made? Secondly, it is clearly an object of obviously Victorian style. Why would anyone in 1852 believe that it was more than a few years old? These are questions that cannot now be answered, but they clearly demonstrate the credulity of those who discovered and reported it.

There is now a comprehensively documented refutation of the object (in French) on Le Site d’Irna. It is well illustrated with similar objects.


Iyer, K Bharata 1964 Arte Indiana Rome: Arnoldo Mondadori

32 Replies to “Metallic vase from Dorchester, Massachusetts”

  1. I think this refutation is inadequate. The circumstances could just as well have been favorable to the find being genuine. We just do not have the details. It has been reported to be still of known whereabouts as of about 1975. How is the candlestick Victorian in style?

  2. I’m going by the indianesque style of the decoration. It’s something that was popular during the period of British rule in India. There is also the nearly identical vessel in the museum in Mumbai, which has a known provenance.

    The biggest problem with accepting that this object was blown out of solid rock is its apparently pristine state. No corrosion from having lain in the ground for countless aeons, no evident physical damage from the blast (the photograph does not even show it in two pieces, as the account claims it was found).

  3. Archaeology student sitting in Boston to Archaeologist. I keep reading in every source that they indicate this candle stick was dated. What method was used? I am curious as no one mentions which kind was used. If it was carbon dated, 15 feet down in MA, it would have been sitting in a puddle of ocean water full of marine stuff…. Making it immune so to speak to carbon dating. That is, if it was in fact in the ground ever at all. Was it dated with exact dating methods or non exact dating methods? It looks like something common to the era of the explosion loosely speaking…. Perhaps someone can answer this little question for me? It would be most appreciated. Thank you

    1. You cannot use radiocarbon to date metal! The dating is based on style: it is identical to a candlestick of known date and manufacture.

  4. I have read the comments and ridiculous explanations made by the person in charge of these articles, and I have to say that this person is no more than an evolution-obsessed short minded ignorant. For everybody to know, there is a different explanation for all these discoveries, and that is this: The Sedimentary layers are not Age layers, they point to the occurrence of a world wide flood, please see: And knowing that, we will know that all these objects are not millions of years old. They are objects burried during the big Biblical flood, that has being recorded by every ancient culture around the world. Including the Iron Cup from Oklahoma found inside a big chunk of Coal, which is not a fossil fuel as it’s said, and which formation doesn’t require millions of years neither, for that, please see: Thetre is a lot to know when there’s the will to know, eyes open. Please see Romans 1:18-28.

    God Bless,

    1. Gonzalo, I am not “an evolution-obsessed short minded ignorant”. Evolution is a biological concept, not archaeological: I find it provides the best explanation for the biological diversity of our planet, but it has no bearing whatsoever on my understanding of archaeology or alleges “mysteries”. Rather, I suspect that you are the one who is “evolution-obsessed” in that you seem passionately to dislike its implications. You are the one who appears to me to be “short minded” if you can’t see (or are unwilling to see) what the evidence from multiple sources suggests.

      You can post as many links to ridiculous creationist YouTube videos as you like, but they are just plain wrong.

      Here is the text you recommend that I read:

      18 Ἀποκαλύπτεται γὰρ ὀργὴ θεοῦ ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ ἐπὶ πᾶσαν ἀσέβειαν καὶ ἀδικίαν ἀνθρώπων τῶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἐν ἀδικίᾳ κατεχόντων, 19 διότι τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φανερόν ἐστιν ἐν αὐτοῖς, ὁ [a]θεὸς γὰρ αὐτοῖς ἐφανέρωσεν. 20 τὰ γὰρ ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ κτίσεως κόσμου τοῖς ποιήμασιν νοούμενα καθορᾶται, ἥ τε ἀΐδιος αὐτοῦ δύναμις καὶ θειότης, εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτοὺς ἀναπολογήτους, 21 διότι γνόντες τὸν θεὸν οὐχ ὡς θεὸν ἐδόξασαν ἢ ηὐχαρίστησαν, ἀλλὰ ἐματαιώθησαν ἐν τοῖς διαλογισμοῖς αὐτῶν καὶ ἐσκοτίσθη ἡ ἀσύνετος αὐτῶν καρδία· 22 φάσκοντες εἶναι σοφοὶ ἐμωράνθησαν, 23 καὶ ἤλλαξαν τὴν δόξαν τοῦ ἀφθάρτου θεοῦ ἐν ὁμοιώματι εἰκόνος φθαρτοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ πετεινῶν καὶ τετραπόδων καὶ ἑρπετῶν.
      24 [b]Διὸ παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς ἐν ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις τῶν καρδιῶν αὐτῶν εἰς ἀκαθαρσίαν τοῦ ἀτιμάζεσθαι τὰ σώματα αὐτῶν ἐν [c]αὐτοῖς, 25 οἵτινες μετήλλαξαν τὴν ἀλήθειαν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν τῷ ψεύδει, καὶ ἐσεβάσθησαν καὶ ἐλάτρευσαν τῇ κτίσει παρὰ τὸν κτίσαντα, ὅς ἐστιν εὐλογητὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας· ἀμήν.
      26 Διὰ τοῦτο παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς εἰς πάθη ἀτιμίας· αἵ τε γὰρ θήλειαι αὐτῶν μετήλλαξαν τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσιν εἰς τὴν παρὰ φύσιν, 27 ὁμοίως τε καὶ οἱ ἄρσενες ἀφέντες τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσιν τῆς θηλείας ἐξεκαύθησαν ἐν τῇ ὀρέξει αὐτῶν εἰς ἀλλήλους, ἄρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσιν τὴν ἀσχημοσύνην κατεργαζόμενοι καὶ τὴν ἀντιμισθίαν ἣν ἔδει τῆς πλάνης αὐτῶν ἐν [d]ἑαυτοῖς ἀπολαμβάνοντες.
      28 Καὶ καθὼς οὐκ ἐδοκίμασαν τὸν θεὸν ἔχειν ἐν ἐπιγνώσει, παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς εἰς ἀδόκιμον νοῦν, ποιεῖν τὰ μὴ καθήκοντα,
      (18 God shows his anger from heaven against all the evil and wrong things that people do. Their evil lives hide the truth they have. 19 This makes God angry because they have been shown what he is like. Yes, God has made it clear to them.
      20 There are things about God that people cannot see—his eternal power and all that makes him God. But since the beginning of the world, those things have been easy for people to understand. They are made clear in what God has made. So people have no excuse for the evil they do.
      21 People knew God, but they did not honor him as God, and they did not thank him. Their ideas were all useless. There was not one good thought left in their foolish minds. 22 They said they were wise, but they became fools. 23 Instead of honoring the divine greatness of God, who lives forever, they traded it for the worship of idols—things made to look like humans, who get sick and die, or like birds, animals, and snakes.
      24 People wanted only to do evil. So God left them and let them go their sinful way. And so they became completely immoral and used their bodies in shameful ways with each other. 25 They traded the truth of God for a lie. They bowed down and worshiped the things God made instead of worshiping the God who made those things. He is the one who should be praised forever. Amen.
      26 Because people did those things, God left them and let them do the shameful things they wanted to do. Women stopped having natural sex with men and started having sex with other women. 27 In the same way, men stopped having natural sex with women and began wanting each other all the time. Men did shameful things with other men, and in their bodies they received the punishment for those wrongs.
      28 People did not think it was important to have a true knowledge of God. So God left them and allowed them to have their own worthless thinking. And so they do what they should not do.)

      I’m unclear how the ramblings of Paul have any bearing on this object.

      Oh. By the way, posting the same response five times to different articles does not make it any more convincing (and, yes, I’ve just done the same!)

  5. is this the same relic that is mentioned in a book about ..atlantis….explaining that if the relic was encased in rock it would have taken 150 years to encase it ..(.cant remember the name of the book )

    1. Hello.
      A bit late :)
      Do you remember the name of the book ?
      I m working on the pot and I think I know exactly what it is, when and where it was build and how it came to Dorchester :)
      But I didn t know it appears in a book about Atlantis …

  6. Hi,

    While I agree with your overall assessment, I think, at the end, the wrong questions are posed. Why would one assume that the original reporters and readers of the story were credulous or gullible? Tall tales, yarns and hoaxes were as common as anything in the 19th century newspapers. My guess is that those involved all knew very well it was a yarn and nothing more – see the opinion of Scientific American. Perhaps that’s why no follow-up was ever published, because, ultimately, there was no cup at all.

    I think the story could be cleared up very quickly once the provenance of the photo of the so-called object could be established.

    The right questions then would be: when did the photo become latched on the tale? What was its first point of entry in this saga? Bibliographical details? What its provenance, who took it? If these details are lacking, that’s a red herring. Someone somewhere provided that image after all.

    My theory (since in all honesty I have no proof) is that the photo was added later to the story and is from another source and depicts another object; there never was a Dorchester cup in the first place; the story was just one of those yarns, of which thousands were published in the 19th century U.S. newspapers.

    Remember the hoax of the living pterodactyl found embedded in a stone quarry in France as published in Illustrated London News in 1856?

    We have just forgotten how playful and humorous our ancestors were.

    Best regards,


    1. Where’s the upvote button on this site?
      I came across this site while wandering from here to there and further on. Bookmarked it for further exploration. Thanks for your effort Mr. Fitzpatrick-Matthews

  7. Update on the french website, I finally had some details, and think I now know where and when the one from Wikipedia was made :)
    But note I totally disagree with the idea that s it s the one found in 1852.

    1. I think that we need to be very careful with the identity of the object in the photograph. As Irna’s page notes, there were no photographs available before 1979, a full 127 years after the alleged discovery. The photograph was published in a book by Brad Steiger, an author not widely known for forensic accuracy and the photograph was provided by a Milton R Swanson (1912-2005), who had bought the object.

      The chain of provenance is very dubious: the original object was supposedly given to Harvard College and placed in a cupboard because of its poorly documented origins and was then taken home by the caretaker (I assume that’s what “building supervisor” means), who sold it to Mr Swanson. First, we need to ask how Mr Swanson knew that it was the “vase” found at Dorchester in 1852. Presumably, it was the “building supervisor” who was the source of this information. Next, we need to ask how the “building supervisor” knew it to be the “Dorchester vase”. Thirdly, we should ask how it was that someone whose job title suggests that they were not on the academic staff of the college was able simply to take the object home. Most nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century museums (I assume that it was given to the college museum) were quite happy to accession objects of dubious provenance. Simply putting them in a cupboard seems curious.

      In other words, we have only Brad Steiger’s authority for connecting the photograph with the “Dorchester vase”. Clearly, further evidence is needed!

      1. I totally agree with you.
        I m the one who wrote the article on Irna s page, so I know the story :)
        There are several different things:

        1/ Is the pot discovered in 1852 a hookah ?
        It s possible, reading the description and the date it was found.

        2/ Is it the one on the picture ?
        I clearly think no. The description mention 6 cartouches, and the one from Steiger only has 4.
        The size also doesn t match. 2 ½ inches on top and 6½ inches for the base. The ratio is not the same on the picture. The picture is a regular hookah. The description is a “mini hookah”. I think there are some in the V&A museum in London.

        3/ Did the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston analyzed the object ?
        I don t think. This museum has a lot of information about the Great Exhibitions. Even in 1979 or before, I can t believe an expert would be unable to see it s a hookah.

        4/ Did M. Swanson really have this object ?
        I don t think so. Because according to me, the story with the Fine Arts is a hoax.

        5/ Where s the object found in 1852 ?
        I still need to find if M. Kettel as family nowadays, I m working on it :)

        6/ Where the picture from Brad Steiger comes from ?
        I have no proof about it. But my feeling is it comes from a catalog from a later Great Exhibition, arts books from India, or the “Journal of Indian Art and Industry” circa 1885.
        The Fine Arts Museum as a few books about bidriware from Lucknow, but they are not available freely to the public.
        I know at least 3 books where the picture may come from. One is from 1885, and the other is from 1925.

        T.N. Mukharji “Bidri Ware (of Lucknow), “Journal of Indian Art and Industry, April 1885.
        Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish : Bibliographies of Indian Art (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts 1925)

        Maybe this one from 1980, but I m not sure because of the year:
        Shahir M. Naqvi “Bidri Ware with spécial Reference to its collection in the State Museum, Lucknow”
        Journal of Indian Museum .

        So I need to find the 2 old books, it seems to me there s at the Fine Arts Museum, I hope to get some help from them :)

  8. The claim instigate to the fact that many findings of this nature be it pre-flood or to be considered by evolutionist ideals to be millions of years old. The fact remains many artifacts of this nature are and have been found from the Granite floors found of old buildings in the San Francisco gold rush era by the miners to the hammer in stone along with figures drilled up commonly at depths of 200-400′ of bed rock while drilling water wells. From my understanding of that bell is the plants are not recognizable language not known and I do believe in the bible from the fountains of the deep it speaks of in the flood that we recently found 3/4 the worlds water is actually locked deep beneath the crust not able to be seen to believing all the figures drilled up out of water wells are false idols. But just me the crazy christian. We are all able to have our veiws as crazy as they seem to the next person.

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