Get Outta Town: Try to make sense of the Mystery Stone of Los Lunas

by Nick Gonzales

On a hillside west of Los Lunas, New Mexico, about 35 miles south of Albuquerque, sits a large boulder bearing a message etched into the stone. This, in and of itself, isn’t unusual; after all, petroglyphs are found throughout the region.

But this stone is different: Its etchings are an inscription … and they’re in ancient Hebrew … or Greek … or something.

The Los Lunas Decalogue Stone, which sits on the equally mysterious-sounding Hidden Mountain, supposedly bears an inscription of the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments. At least that’s what people who believe the writing is Paleo-Hebrew say, as Harvard scholar Robert Pfeiffer did in 1949.

The 80-ton stone was first seen by Frank Hibben, an archaeologist from the University of New Mexico, in 1933. But he wrote that he was shown the boulder by someone who discovered the inscription in the 1880s.

The idea that it was there in the 1880s, when few people knew of the existence of Paleo-Hebrew script, leads some to believe that the stone is evidence of Pre-Colombian contact between the Americas and the Middle East.

Then again, Dixie Perkins, an epigrapher who was also from UNM, suggested that the inscription is in Cypriotic Greek and is a report from an explorer named Zakyneros, who was struggling to survive in the wilderness.

Outside of the world of academia, it gets even weirder. People cite the 4.f-foot-tall stone as proof of the existence of the lost civilization of Atlantis and just about everything except space aliens.

Of course, there’s a pretty decent chance it’s not real. The etchings on the rock are remarkably easy to make out for something that is supposed to be ancient. And they don’t grammatically match the languages in which they’re allegedly written.

Also … it’s all alone – there are no other rocks like it, and no signs that the site was important to ancient Hebrews, Greeks, or Atlanteans.

Scholars have always been dubious about Hibben’s work – there’s pretty good evidence that he would salt archaeological sites with artifacts so he could later dig them up in support of his theories. So he might have faked it himself. On the other hand, though, he wasn’t known for creating artifacts wholesale, and the Decalogue Stone doesn’t provide evidence for any of the theories to which he was attached.

According to an oral tradition at UNM, the bedrock near the stone is inscribed with “Eva and Hobe 3-13-30.” Purportedly, Eva and Hobe were anthropology majors and students of Hibben who created the inscription as a hoax. This would make it a case of hoaxers hoaxing the hoaxers.

According to the same story, Eva and Hobe’s deception was uncovered and they were told never to do it again.

It might be telling that five Mormon archaeologists from Brigham Young University, a group that would be very interested in ancient Hebrew artifacts being found in America, visited the stone in 1953 and called it a fake. (They noticed that there was no patina covering the inscription as there is for every petroglyph in the area left behind by actual indigenous peoples.)

Is the Mystery Stone of Los Lunas evidence of a long-lost civilization or is it a hoax created by two college students trying to prank their professor in the 1930s? You can hike up Hidden Mountain and judge for yourself if you get a $35 recreational access permit from the New Mexico State Land Office. (Just don’t vandalize the stone like someone did in 2006, scratching off the first line of the inscription.) The site is off New Mexico State Road 6.

Nick Gonzales

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