The Place of Stone

The Place of Stone: Dighton Rock and the Erasure of America’s Indigenous Past | University of North Carolina Press, 2017; paperback 2021


First noticed by colonists in 1680, Dighton Rock in Massachusetts by the nineteenth century was one of the most famous and contested artifacts of American antiquity. This forty-ton boulder covered in petroglyphs has been the subject of endless speculation that defy its Native American origins. Interpretations have included Vikings, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Lost Tribes of Israel, visitors from Atlantis, ancient Freemasons, and (today) the lost Portuguese explorer, Miguel Corte-Real. Author Douglas Hunter dissects almost four centuries of Dighton Rock’s misinterpretation, to reveal its larger role in colonization and the conceptualization of Indigenous peoples. This sprawling study brings a fresh perspective to scientific racism, the rise of American archaeology and anthropology, the intellectual weaponry of colonialism, and the construction of migration theories for the peopling of the Americas. By disenfranchising Indigenous peoples from their own past in interpretations of Dighton Rock and related archaeological puzzles such as the Mound Builders, colonizers have sought to answer to their own advantage two fundamental questions: to whom does America belong, and who belongs in America?

Available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook. Visit the book’s page at UNC Press

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Read the Introduction

Read an excerpt on Henry Rowe Schoolcraft from Chapter 7.

Listen to my interview at York University on the Active History podcast


“A fascinating study that intertwines Indigenous history with colonial narcissism, told in an accomplished and engaging voice. A rich and deep story with lessons that still resonate.”  —James Carson, head of school, school of humanities, languages, and social science, Griffith University, author of The Columbian Covenant: Race and the Writing of American History

“A model of research and style, The Place of Stone is required reading for anyone interested in American history, anthropology, or archaeology.” —Kenneth Feder, professor of archaeology, Central Connecticut State University, author of Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology

“Hunter’s deeply researched, heavily detailed study raises fascinating questions about white Americans’ understanding of Native American culture as well as their own sense of identity and nation.” Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

“recommended” —Choice 

“may finally set the public history straight.”—American Historical Review

“Although Hunter is ostensibly focused on the Dighton Rock, a forty-ton boulder adorned with petroglyphs, this history does much more, uncovering attitudes towards Native people and the willful ignorance of Europeans and Americans alike as they sought to erase Native history…Hunter’s facility with language is a great strength of the work…The Place of Stone is deeply researched and fascinating to explore.” — Historical Journal of Massachusetts

“Douglas Hunter gives a richly detailed and researched account of this seemingly enigmatic rock that will appeal to readers fascinated with the minutiae and ironies of antiquarian scholarship…For non-Indigenous people, the rock’s textual messages have taken precedence over its materiality and spatiality and have been crucial to theorizing colonial possession, de-indigenizing its origins, and establishing whiteness. The Place of Stone is about these theories.…Hunter, a journalist and historian, succeeds in doing for Dighton Rock what Robert Silverberg, a popular history writer, did for the continent’s earthworks in Mound Builders of Ancient America: The Archaeology of a Myth. He compiles information about ‘an ancient puzzle’ that exists in archives rarely visited by everyday people or partially reported in scholarly works into an engaging book that shows the relevance of local history in national and international debates about the ontology of Native Americans. It is a timely contribution that provides a historical perspective on current discussions about who is and who is not American, and about whose history matters, and raises questions about political uses of the past, historical imaginings, and evidentiary constraints.” —Patricia E. Rubertone, author of Archaeologies of Placemaking: Monuments, Memories, and Engagement in Native North America, in Winterthur Portfolio

“Would be useful in public history, Native American history, or history of archaeology courses. Given its regional emphasis, the book will be especially useful for instructors in New England.” —The Journal of American History 

“A timely and important contribution, which sheds light on larger conversations about who really belongs in American society and who does not, and whose history gets to be told and whose is ignored or erased. Furthermore, Hunter’s detailed historical account demonstrates how narratives of power often overwhelm the ability of the public to discern what evidence is credible and what evidence is not.” David M. Krueger, author of Myths of the Rune Stone, in Public Historian. Read full review.

“richly textured and thoroughly researched…Hunter’s book is relevant, both as a detailed reference and a resourceful guide, for scholars whose work seeks to understand and critique settler-colonial discourse through archaeology, anthropology, and historiography. Moreover, in The Place of Stone, Hunter demonstrates how the eccentricities of biography inform the broader discourse of historiography—or how the settler story of antiquity interpreted in Dighton Rock is inseparable from the personal and political motivations of its settler storytellers…As a lucid and detailed account of settler imagination, Hunter’s The Place of Stone makes for a compelling read, archiving the many ‘places’ Dighton Rock holds in settler-colonial interpretations of antiquity, and the many ‘pasts’ into which it has been assigned.” —Transmotion. Read full review.

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