Demonstrating How to Make the Ancient Engravings

Article Written by John Lefgren with Blaise Colasante as the artisan.

Date Line: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, September 20, 2023

In honor of the 200th year since the appearance of Moroni to Joseph Smith, we thought it would be appropriate for us to try to replicate the ancient inscriptions cut in stones from the Mississippi River Valley.

Cutting these inscriptions would not have been possible without the twenty-five years of stone tool manufacturing that Blaise Colasante brought to the project.

Burins exhibit a feature called a burin spall—a sharp, angled point formed when a small flake is struck obliquely from the edge of a larger stone flake. These tools could have been used with or without a wooden handle.
Primarily an engraving tool, this was the tool that could have been used to produce the beautiful works of art carved on Mammoth tusk ivory, antler and some of the softer carveable stone types.
Limestone is a relatively soft stone, rated between a 3 and 4 on the Mohs scale of harness. Flint (hardness 7 on the Mohs scale) typically has a glassy lustre and can be flaked with limited effort.
First srcatches made with flint burin into limestone. We are only at the first grade level and we are still leaning.
First character cut in limestone with flint burin tool.
Ancient tools for making flint burin. Note that we used a hard round stone, copper tipped stick, and the base of a moose antler.
On a large screen, we looked at a close-up picture of characters found on Stone 32 from the John White Collection. Blaise Colasate identified the fracture mechanics of the stone from the attached photo. He also noted that the cutting of the “O” shows the manufacture of the cut has straight lines from the hand working of the burin.
n the field of lithic reduction, a burin /ˈbjuːrɪn/ (from the French burin, meaning “cold chisel” or modern engraving burin) is a type of handheld lithic flake with a chisel-like edge which prehistoric humans used for engraving or for carving wood or bone.
In archaeology, burin use is often associated with “burin spalls”, which are a form of debitage created when toolmakers strike a small flake obliquely from the edge of the burin flake in order to form the graving edge.
Stone Number 32 from John White Collection. In the last week Brian Nettles made a meaningful translation of this stone.
Menorah stone from John White Collection.