Inspiration for stories come from innumerable sources, but I find most of mine in the real world. I especially love the unsolved mysteries of history, as they can be a wonderful focus for the imagination. Unsolved puzzles and indecipherable relics are my favorites, because there are no answers, only questions. I've talked about my fascination with and theories about The Voynich manuscript and how to use other mysterious finds as story starters; today let's look at another one:
People have been bickering over the origins of the Dighton Rock for centuries. Discovered in the Taunton River in Massachusetts, this big rock has enduring intrigue written all over it. Cotton Mather talked about the mystery it presented back in 1690; others have attributed it to the ancient Spaniards, Phoenicians, and Vikings. It may even date back to 1502 or so. Since it's a forty-ton boulder covered with enigmatic and potentially untranslatable petroglyphs, that debate will likely continue.
Chiseling images in stone is not an easy task. Someone spent considerable time creating the glyphs on this rock. Before you ponder what it means, consider why the artist would go to all that trouble. Does the Dighton Rock offer an ominous warning, such as "Everyone who follows the river beyond this point dies badly" or could it be graffiti along the lines of "For a good time, visit the village around the next bend."
I see a horse, a fish, three people and four X's in the rock's image. It also looks a bit like a map to me. I could easily write a story about seven wandering medieval soldiers in a strange land, four of whom died in a skirmish with the locals. Since the survivors are left with only one horse, the dead are buried by the river along with a fabulous paranormal treasure they were transporting. The other three miss their ship's sailing and are marooned in this new land where their treasure is now worthless. They make friends with the locals and join their tribe (or lose another skirmish), and the treasure is forgotten.
Now fast-forward to modern times: the last descendant of the survivors decides to investigate and comes to examine the glyphs, and discovers the four dead guys didn't stay dead? Competes with another survivor to find the treasure? Finds the treasure and is transformed by it? Lots of possibilities.
What story could this rock help you tell?