The Bat Creek Stone was professionally excavated in 1889 from an undisturbed burial mound in Eastern Tennessee by the Smithsonian's Mound Survey project. The director of the project, Cyrus Thomas, initially declared that the curious inscription on the stone were "beyond question letters of the Cherokee alphabet." (Thomas 1894: 391:4)
In the 1960s, Henriette Mertz and Corey Ayoob both noticed that the inscription, when inverted from Thomas's orientation to that of the above photograph, instead appeared to be ancient Semitic. The late Semitic languages scholar Cyrus Gordon (1971) confirmed that it is Semitic, and specifically Paleo-Hebrew of approximately the first or second century A.D. According to him, the five letters to the left of the comma-shaped word divider read, from right to left, LYHWD, or "for Judea." He noted that the broken letter on the far left is consistent with mem, in which case this word would instead read LYHWD[M], or "for the Judeans."
Hebrew scholar and archaeologist Robert Stieglitz (1976) confirmed Gordon's reading of the longer word, and identifed the second letter of the shorter word as a qoph. Mertz (1964) herself had first proposed that the first letter is a (reversed) resh. The main line would then read RQ , LYHWD[M], i.e. "Only for Judea," or "Only for the Judeans" if the broken letter is included.
In Paleo-Hebrew, words are required to be separated by a dot or short diagonal stroke serving as a word divider, rather than by a space as in English or modern Hebrew. The short diagonal word divider used on the Bat Creek inscription is less common than the dot, but appears both in the Siloam inscription and the Qumran Paleo-Hebrew Leviticus scroll.
In 1988, wood fragments found with the inscription were Carbon-14 dated to somewhere between 32 A.D. and 769 A.D.(McCulloch 1988). This range is consistent with Gordon's dating of the letters.
In McCulloch (1988) I note that although a few of the letters could be taken for Cherokee in either orientation, and although several of the letters are not perfect as Paleo-Hebrew, the inscription matches Hebrew much better than Cherokee. As English, for example, the main line could be forced to read "4SENL , YP" (sic) in the Mertz/Gordon orientation, or "dh ' 7NESb" in Thomas's orientation. The match to Cherokee is no better than to English, and no one has ever proposed a Cherokee reading of the inscription.
The lone letter below the main line is problematic, but could conceivably be either an aleph or a waw, in which case it might be a numeral indicating Year 1 or 6, respectively, of some era. The two vertical strokes above the main line are test scratches made by an unknown party while the stone was at the Smithsonian, sometime between 1894 and 1971.