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