How old is the Los Lunas Inscription?

This question may never be fully answered. In order to get at least some ideas about the age, several factors are to be taken into consideration:

  1. Geology of the Los Lunas site
  2. Other Phoenician and old-Hebrew inscription samples
  3. Phoenician and Bible history
  4. A zodiac calendar stone at the Los Lunas site


Geology of the Los Lunas site

The whole eastern side of Hidden Mountain, which is of the same basalt than the mesa top, has gradually moved down over the centuries. The boulder with the Decalogue inscription is now tilted by approximately 40 degrees. This supports the assumption that the inscription must be at least some centuries old. George Moorehouse, a professional geologist, has given a cautious estimate of the age (12). Critics claim that the engraving looks too fresh and lacks the patination characteristic of great age. However, Moorehouse concludes that the freshness actually derives from the frequent, recent scrubbing of the inscription (with wire brushes on some occasions) to improve its visibility. Taking this into account, Moorehouse estimates the age of the Los Lunas inscription by comparing its weathering with a nearby 1930 inscription. Conclusion: the Los Lunas inscription is much older than 1930. Any length of time from 500-2000 years or even more would be "quite reasonable" (13).


Other Phoenician and old-Hebrew inscription samples

Another way to narrow down the problem of the age is to compare the Los Lunas inscription with other Phoenician and paleo-Hebrew inscription samples from the Mediterranean Middle East. In general, if the Los Lunas inscription is old-Hebrew, it is no younger than 600 B.C.E. because after that old-Hebrew came to be gradually replaced by the square-Hebrew alphabet. The old-Hebrew and Phoenician characters used to be almost identical from 1100 B.C.E. to 600 B.C.E. Thereafter, mainly the Phoenicians continued to use this old alphabet, until their Mediterranean colonies were destroyed by the Romans during the Punic wars of the 2nd century B.C.E.

As mentioned in the Epigraphy section, the closest matching Phoenician or paleo-Hebrew writing samples are those from the Eshmunazar Sarcophagus (4th century B.C.E.) or those of the Bar Rakab Inscription and the Nerab Stelae.

Some scholars, such as Cyrus Gordon (6), think that the Los Lunas Decalogue is of Samaritan origin because the letters YOD, QOPH and SHIN have a Samaritan form. Others have suggested that the letters TAW, ZAYIN, DALETH and KAPH look like old-Greek letters indicating a Greek influence as well as a post-Alexandrian date. Gordon suggests that the Los Lunas inscription is an ancient Samaritan mezuzah with its abridged version of the Decalogue. This would indicate an age from the Byzantine period. However, the Los Lunas Decalogue follows the Masoretic text by saying "remember the Sabbath day" instead of the Samaritan "preserve the Sabbath day". Also, the additional Samaritan clause to the 10th commandment calling for a temple to be built on Mt. Gerizim does not appear in the Los Lunas Decalogue.


Phoenician and Bible history

Perhaps it makes more sense to assume that the Los Lunas Decalogue is indeed plain old-Hebrew. Its message certainly is in the Hebrew language. In that case the following question has to be answered: Has the ancient nation of Israel ever been capable of doing long-distance overseas expeditions and trading? The answer is Yes! According to the Bible record, ancient king Solomon of Israel and the Phoenician king Hiram of Tyre closely cooperated in their overseas trading activities (quotes are taken from the Revised Standard Version):

1 Kings chapter 10 verse 22:

For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.

1 Kings chapter 9 verse 27:

And Hiram sent with the fleet his servants, seaman who were familiar with the sea, together with the servants of Solomon.

Solomon and Hiram used to have ocean going fleets at around 1000 B.C.E.! Their joint fleets were based both in the Mediterranean Sea and in the Red Sea. This gave them access to both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The word Tarshish is an old name referring to the Iberian peninsular. It would take the fleet three years to complete each round trip. The only reasonable explanation for such an extremely long traveling time seems to be that of cross-oceanic voyages.

The Phoenicians eventually set up trading outposts and colonies all over the Mediterranean area, including Tarshish and e.g. Carthage in Northern Africa. When Carthage was founded, part of its culture may have been based on the Hebrew language, customs and names, along with the Phoenician traditions. Carthage called itself "Kirjath Hadeschath," a Hebrew name, while the name Carthage was given to it at a later time by their Roman enemies. Carthage became a leading Phoenician trading center during the second half of the 1st millennium B.C.E.. Herodotus, the Greek historian, confirms that the Carthaginians organized cross-Atlantic trips as part of their trading activities.

The Los Lunas site itself used to be accessible via the Rio Puerco, a contributory to the Rio Grande, which in turn leads into the Gulf of Mexico. The present dry climatic conditions did not always prevail in New Mexico. According to the climatologist C.E.P. Brooks (15) and the archaeologist Ellsworth Huntington there used to be wet periods during the first millennium B.C.E.. This would have allowed easy navigation along the Rio Grande and Rio Puerco for boats coming from the Gulf of Mexico.

Israel's capabilities of doing long distance overseas travels soon came to an end after king Solomon's death. The Phoenicians may have continued Atlantic crossings for centuries till their decline during the Punic Wars against the Romans. It was not until after the time of Alexander the Great and the subsequent spread of Greek culture and language in the Middle East when more Jews settled in places outside Israel, especially in Alexandria, Egypt. They came to be mostly Greek speaking people, with only some of them having a secondary knowledge of Hebrew. Interestingly enough, some letters in the Los Lunas Decalogue, such as the DALETH, ZAYIN, HETH or TAW, look like their Greek counterparts DELTA, ZETA, ETA or TAU. Also, the Los Lunas Decalogue uses the letter ALEPH like a vowel in a misspelled Hebrew word for "remember". This is an indication that the Los Lunas writer may have had only a secondary knowledge of Hebrew, with Greek as his primary language. If this is the case then the date of the Los Lunas Decalogue inscription has to be somewhere between the third and first century B.C.E., which in turn agrees with David Deals analysis of a nearby Zodiac calendar stone.


A zodiac calendar stone at the Los Lunas site

As pointed out in the section about the petroglyphs, on the top of Hidden Mountain there is a special petroglyph which seems to depict a sky-map. It is laid out on the broken pieces of a flat rock. The researcher David Deal has done some detailed studies of this calendar stone during the 1970s and 1980s and even found some broken off pieces from further down the hill. His conclusion, after comparing them with known astronomic sky maps over that area for the past centuries, is that they depict a nearly total solar eclipse over New Mexico from the year 107 B.C.E. (3). This, along with the fact that there used to be an ancient habitation or small fortification on top of that hill (8), again points to a time period before Christ.