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The Stone of Witness.
At 45 tons and 22 feet long, the stone is a hefty treasure for the town of Manchester.

Stone of Witness - Red Bird Petroglyph

Field review by the editors.

Manchester, Kentucky

James Burchell, like most people in Clay County, Kentucky, had known of the mysterious petroglyphs along the Red Bird River since childhood, and for his first 60 years of life assumed that they were carved by Native Americans.

The Stone of Witness.
James Burchell says this is a monogram honoring the Egyptian sun god Ra and Tanit the moon goddess.

That had changed by the early 1990s. Mr. Burchell had seen the translations of other petroglyphs by "ancient America" authority Barry Fell, and became convinced that the Red Bird River inscriptions were not Native American at all. They had, he said, been carved by pre-Columbus explorers from Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa -- and were perhaps the earliest Christian writings in the USA.

Other, influential people in Clay County knew of James Burchell's theory and were convinced, too.

So when the 50-ton sandstone slab on which they were carved fell onto Kentucky Highway 66 on December 7, 1994, the rock was not simply bulldozed into a ditch. It was carefully hoisted by crane onto a flatbed truck and driven 20 miles to the county seat of Manchester, where it was set on a concrete base and protected under a custom-built metal shelter. James Burchell wrote the text for two signs flanking the slab, calling attention to several of its inscriptions. He also wrote a booklet that went into more detail, naming the rock The Stone of Witness, a nod to its place in both American history and Christian gospel-spreading (Despite this, most people still call it the Red Bird Petroglyph).

The Stone of Witness.
Ogam script reads "Exalted Lord" according to James Burchell.

"You have a treasure here," James Burchell told the Clay County Chamber of Commerce. "You could go to North Africa, to Spain, and to the British Isles and you'd find these writings. But who would think you could find them on one stone in North America? That's what you have."

The Stone of Witness.
Germanic runes were sometimes stained with the runemaster's own blood.

Mr. Burchell -- a local historian whose career spans years as a coal miner, taxidermist, and pastor at the Fellowship Tabernacle Church -- has identified eight different ancient Old World scripts on the rock, carved by people that he believes included 8th century BC Ra-worshippers and 1st century AD Christian missionaries.

Some see the smorgasbord of languages as evidence that James Burchell is wrong, but he sees it the other way around. The rock, he told us, was next to a trail that led from Lake Erie to the Gulf of Mexico, in a sheltered spot that was ideal for an overnight camp. Like any other graffiti-prone surface, it was tagged by generations of travelers. It just so happened that those travelers were from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Not everyone agrees with James Burchell, particularly the descendants of Kentucky's Native Americans. Some complain that Mr. Burchell only highlights certain lines on the rock, which distorts their true meaning. Others attribute any non-Native-looking symbol on the rock to early White settlers, who supposedly altered the Indigenous Peoples petroglyphs to provide "proof" that Europeans were in Kentucky before the Indians, who therefore had no right to the land.

The Stone of Witness.
The sign of the cross, says James Burchell, means that early Christian missionaries visited Kentucky.

Mr. Burchell has his own conspiracy theory -- but its malefactor is the U.S. federal government, which he says censors any non-Indian interpretation of the glyphs. He calls it the "doctrine," and told us that professional archeologists who defy it imperil their careers. Why? Because if there was evidence that people from, say, Libya or Greece had visited the rock before the voyage of Columbus, then those countries could conceivably claim Kentucky as their own.

Mr. Burchell, an outsider, is under no pressure to conform. His name appears nowhere at the rock, which is fine with him; his goal, he told us, was simply to present the evidence, although it is a one-sided presentation. He said that the protection offered by Manchester to the rock is extremely rare for a Kentucky petroglyph, most of which are left undefended by the federal government, perhaps in an attempt to hasten their oblivion through neglect.

As proof of its continued support, Manchester in 2018 moved the massive rock and Mr. Burchell's signs into a new, nicer shelter in the city park, a place of honor in any municipality.

"They're open-minded," said Mr. Burchell of the local officials. "There's probably some doubt as to what the stone is, but they know me. They know that I won't lie."

Also see: Judaculla Rock | The Moon-Eyed People

Stone of Witness - Red Bird Petroglyph

Memorial Drive, Manchester, KY
Hal Rogers Pkwy exit 20. Drive north into town on US 421, bearing left at the fork. Just after you pass under a pedestrian bridge, turn right at the next stoplight onto Memorial Drive. You'll quickly see the park and rock shelter on the right.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Lincoln Carved by Mysterious HoboLincoln Carved by Mysterious Hobo, Conkling, KY - 16 mi.
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Outdoor Millstones CollectionOutdoor Millstones Collection, London, KY - 17 mi.
In the region:
Banjo Toting Old Joe Clark, Mt. Vernon, KY - 35 mi.

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