by Robert Stewart
When volunteer workers uncovered a cement type block while re-laying bricks in front of the First Parish Meeting House, it drew attention because of the Latin words inscribed on the stone.
The stone and inscription so intrigued the volunteers working on the front steps that they enlisted scholars, archaeologists and historians to unravel the mystery of the stone itself and what the inscription said.
Allen King who was working on the renovation project along with several other volunteers is also a member of Groton’s Historical Commission. Uncovering the stone not only piqued his interest but also created excitement for him because the stone presented a mystery that had to be solved.
King knew exactly who to call upon to help him solve the mystery – a colleague who sits on the Historical Commission with him and a person who is known locally as “Groton‘s Indiana Jones,” Michael Danti.
Danti is an archaeologist, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Program manager of the Iraq Heritage Stabilization Program and a Consulting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. The challenge for Danti was formidable as he had to determine if the mystery stone was genuine and not just a piece of junk stone used for fill, try to date the stone if it was found to be genuine, to interpret the Latin inscription on the stone and draw some conclusion as to why the stone was placed there.
Danti was up for the challenge and his sleuthing skills made use of ancient reference books, his knowledge and use of old Latin language, old church records and local historians of Groton’s past. Based on his own experience in restoring historic and antique buildings and through research of reference books on bricks, Danti determined that the mystery stone was indeed old and the physical materials of the stone and surrounding stone materials was typical of bricks and mortar
used in the 19 century.
Based on this finding, Danti consulted local histories to see what events occurred in town during the 19th century. He also scoured old church publications during that era like the Christian Register and Boston Observer and found that the First Parish Meeting House was renovated in 1840 and the stone slab could possibly serve as a recording of that event. Danti also believed that it was possible that the mortar slab could date to the 18th century when the meetinghouse was built, in 1755, and redeposited there when the meetinghouse was renovated in 1840.
As “frontier” towns developed and became more stable, the church hall was also used as a meetinghouse and seat of the local government. This dual purpose also complicated the research effort for Danti especially in trying to determine the purpose of the slab with its Latin inscription. The Latin inscription contained four lines of text and Danti was able to translate three of the four lines. This is what he has translated so far:
Latin Inscription Translation:
Line 1: URBS. [In] The City [Of]
Line 2: RA/P.BE. ING?STONA Unable to translate
Line 3: CAPUT. [Is] The Head
Line 4: IMPERII Of The Government
Danti believes that the second line of text might refer to a person or persons but could not deduce if it might point to people connected to town government at that time. However, based on his extensive research and experience, Danti believes the mortar slab and inscription date to 1840 when the meetinghouse was renovated. What is less clear is why was it buried in that spot and what does it say. In all likelihood, the mortar slab was buried there not as an official recording of the event but possibly by an observer who wanted to make note of the renovation.
Regardless, both Danti and King want to know more about the mystery stone and are reaching out to the community to see if anyone has information that could help to better determine the purpose of the stone and what the inscription means. Anyone who has a suggestion, a thought or information about the 1840 renovation is encouraged to contact Allen King at 978-852-1121.