’Jewish’ Stone

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© Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

Sumerian cuneiform is presumably the world's earliest writing system. Yet billions of years before its invention, nature itself created a stone that looks to some like it was carved with writings in Arabic script, Germanic runes or Persian cuneiform. To others, the 'inscriptions' may resemble math formulas and even Morse code characters.

The rock is called pegmatite and is also known as a 'Jewish stone'. Ancient people thought the carvings onto it were made by the hands of the gods, believing they depicted the mystery of human origins. Pegmatites were worshipped by the Native Americans and indigenous peoples of the North of Russia. They were also revered by the Arabs and Scandinavians, who considered a pegmatite a legacy of ancient civilizations. Christians still believe that the Ten Commandments tablets God passed on to Moses on Mount Sinai were, in fact, pegmatite slabs.

Since the rock looks similar to a sheet inscribed with incomprehensible writing, people mistook it for the product of an unknown culture, with scholars working through the epochs to decipher the mysterious 'messages'. Their interest was somewhat stirred up by the fact that pegmatite samples sometimes bore patterns that matched the letters of known alphabets. One particular specimen discovered in the Ural had an 'inscription' that looked as if written in ancient Hebrew. Not just some individual letters, but the entire syllables were readable – hence, the 'Jewish stone' name arose.

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© Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

As time went by, it became clear that this rock was hardly an answer to the riddles of the universe. On the other hand, it could tell a lot about the laws of crystallography. Alexander Fersman, a prominent Soviet mineralogist, studied the 'Jewish stone' in the early 20th century. The perfection of crystal texture and form within the pegmatitic rock is what caught his eye. Humans were unlikely to produce such designs back then. As it turned out, the formation of patterns on the rock surface had a natural explanation. Feldspar and quartz intergrow, showing graphic textures resembling inscriptions.

One can see pegmatites – or graphic granite, as they are also referred to – in St. Petersburg Mining Museum. Amongst the exhibits on display are the samples with original symbols from the Ilmensky Mountains, Southern Urals, along with the rarities retrieved from Larisa Popugayeva. The discoverer of Russia's first diamond deposit once had those items in her collection.

еврейский камень
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей