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Photo: Burnt Hill Site-Western Massachusetts, by Colgate Gilbert
Mystery Hill, the Upton Cave, Calendar I and Calendar II, Gungywamp and Druid’s Hill are just several of the names given some incredibly important historical sites of which many have never heard a whisper.
But their existence—and their importance—is becoming harder and harder to hide as more are discovered and interested folk become exposed to their grandeur.
Sometime in the late 1600s or early 1700s, early American colonists began discovering and utilizing underground "root cellars" made of large, but manageable pieces of dressed stone as storage houses for food stuffs.
Many also had carefully crafted openings in their roofs which allowed a small amount of light to pass through to the interiors.
The colonial newcomers were convinced that these so-called root cellars had been constructed by the former Amerind inhabitants of the area—irregardless of the fact that their Indian neighbors showed little hint of an ability to work in large stone or the desire to do so.
Before long, the inheritors of these properties thought their own American ancestors had built these cellars—some which were eighty feet deep and lined the entire way with roughly hewn stone.
Simultaneously, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of oddly-inscribed flagstones were being found in the surrounding New England woods, carted off by farmers for use in stone walls or in larger stone structures in the settlements of the growing northeast.
The angular cuts on these stones looked much like the marks a plow makes when it strikes a submerged piece of stone—at least they looked that way to most of the simple country farmers of the day. Others believed the markings appearing in rocks all across New England were "the action of the roots of trees."
For decades nothing at all was thought of them. As any New Englander can tell you, the entire northeast is strewn with large chunks of striated stone material left from the last era of glacial recession.
But a local Puritan clergyman, Cotton Mather, was not convinced. In 1712 he discovered some strange incisions on an exposed seaside rockface in Dighton, Massachusetts—far from where any plow could have marked it. Winter ice and constant submergence at high tide under the Taunton River began obliterating some of the older markings and Mather was concerned the inscriptions would be lost for posterity.
He immediately wrote to the Royal Society in London, England, to inform them of his find and to convey his belief that the rock carvings were in fact an ancient scriptural alphabet—perhaps several differing ancient alphabets.
Unexpectedly, his letter generated little interest. The scientists of the Royal Society were already busy exploring newly discovered rock inscriptions in neighboring Ireland.
These European inscriptions were later identified as Irish Hinge Ogam, a form of Gaelic Keltic writing unknown for centuries and stubbornly undecipherable.
It is referred to as "hinge" Ogam because a central dividing line or a facet edge was used to separate the subtly different individual characters. Little did anyone know at the time, the inscriptions found on both sides of the Atlantic were firmly connected.
Why had they come and what evidence is there to support such a far-fetched notion? And what of the large stone structures found across the American northeast, eerily similar to types found in Europe?
The answers were being spoken loudly and clearly if someone could only listen to what the rocks and buildings themselves had to say. But time seemed to be running out. Thousands of the inscribed rocks were being broken up for building material and the larger stone structures were being dismantled or vandalized, destroying the monumental works of these mysterious builders.
For answers, we first turn to an odd stone arrangement found in the hills of New England. In 1823 a stone complex in North Salem, New Hampshire known as Mystery Hill became the property of a settler named Jonathan Pattee. An ardent abolitionist, Pattee was said to have turned the stone caves and structures of Mystery Hill into a way station for the Underground Railroad, hiding slaves in the ancient edifices found there.
Pattee, an insurance millionaire of the time, built a home directly upon several of the most important ancient buildings of the site. Experts estimate that during the next 50 years, contractors bought and removed over 40% of the stone structures found at Mystery Hill.
To this day, many of the older churches, stone fences and stone houses in the area contain bits of stone from the site (although most of the stones were used as street curbing and for the construction of the nearby Lawrence Dam). Ancient inscriptions can still found be on the stones used to build these more modern-day edifices.
Even as the Mystery Hill site was being hauled away by quarrymen, other sites like it were not going unnoticed by more learned men. In 1893, Professor Hugh Morrisson, Chairman of the Architecture Department of Dartmouth College and Daniel Fiske, an interested author, wrote about the impossibility of the megalithic structures at Mystery Hill and the surrounding New England area being the work of Amerinds or American settlers.
They each focused on an extraordinary building known as the Upton Chamber, one of the many, what they called, "unexplained stone works" of the area.
The Upton Chamber is one of the the largest and most perfectly built stone chambers in New England and is all underground. It is mammoth—a six foot high and fourteen foot long tunnel leading into the side of a hill with an inner chamber of small quarried stones.
The chamber is topped with several large oval stones weighing several tons as a roof and measures 12 feet in diameter and 11 feet high. The Upton chamber has been dated by experts to 710 A.D.
Even with the publicity generated by the Upton Chamber, it took until 1936 to find an owner for the Mystery Hill property who truly appreciated the importance of the site and the structures within.
In that year William Goodwin purchased the property and erected a high fence around much of the site, ending, for a time, the rampant vandalism. He was the first owner to begin the restoration and study of Mystery Hill.
Goodwin believed, erroneously, that the site was built by Culdee Monks from Ireland. He spent the rest of his life trying to find evidence to support his theory. Irish Monks did in fact arrive and settle in the new World, but over a thousand years after construction of the mysterious megalithic sites had begun. (See TBR, October 1995)
In 1950 Mystery Hill was leased by a far-sighted and open-minded man named Robert Stone. He later purchased the property in 1956 and began in earnest the restoration, study and preservation of the area around Mystery Hill. Stone’s informed (still-ongoing) restoration of the site has yielded some astonishing finds.
Even now the site can be used as an accurate yearly calendar utilizing the stones set up over two thousand (perhaps as long as 5,000) years ago. The lack of household artifacts and grave goods leads us to believe that the site was a ceremonial center and neither living quarters nor a "city."
Over the years the more interesting features and structures on-site have been given un-scientific names that insinuate inferred function. The "Watch House" is the name given to a chamber structure located outside the main complex at Mystery Hill.
The entryway of the structure is not easily accessible. After passing through a small entrance hole, a narrow stone passageway leads into a large interior space. An existing glacial boulder was used for one of the walls of the chamber and smaller field stones make up the other walls.
The roof is a massive, quarried slab of granite of several tons. On the back wall of the chamber the stones contain a high percentage of white quartz, a stone found in its pure form in many of the neolithic structures over the world and treasured by ancient peoples for its reflective qualities.
This particular chamber is aligned to the February first sunrise and lunar minor south. At sunrise on this date the sunlight enters the entrance of the chamber and slowly moves along one wall until it illuminates the quartz crystals at the back wall, making the semi-precious gems sparkle noticeably.
February first was one of the eight most important divisions of the Keltic year as we shall discuss in more detail later.
The "Oracle Chamber" is one of the most interesting and important structures located at Mystery Hill—or anywhere for that matter. It is significantly larger than any other chamber found at the site and contains unique characteristics found nowhere else in any of the other megalithic sites in New England.
The Oracle Chamber has two entry passageways that form a "T," with one of the arms forming another unique chamber under a five foot thick wall/ceiling of stonework. One enters the Oracle Chamber through a vestibule, once capped by large roof slabs. A 42-foot stone-lined drain exits from the wall and still keeps the underground excavation free from flooding. The bedrock floor of the Oracle Chamber was channeled for drainage as well and the corbeled roof, made without mortar, does not leak, the interior staying remarkably dry.
A "secret bed," a niche cut carefully into the wall that is 6’4" long by 22" wide by about 12" high, is just the right size for a man to lie within it and be completely hidden from view but still able to monitor activity within the chamber.
A 4" by 6" shaft, lined with thin facing stones, runs from the exterior down through the roof material and exits through the interior wall at about chin level. A stone step is below the hole in the wall this shaft makes, ostensibly for the comfort of a speaker.
The "Speaking Tube," as it is called, emerges above ground, yet concealed underneath a sacrificial altar with runnels. It would seem that the speakers within the Oracle Chamber would talk into the tube, their voices warped and amplified, carrying up to the altar above and creating quite an impressive sound to a group of worshippers who might be gathered around the altar—in effect making the altar talk.
Two great corner stones were used to solidify the entire structure. These have been determined NOT to be glacial stones and were moved with great effort to create the structure.
The weight of the two stones has been estimated at 45 tons and 70 tons each. A stone bench, comfortable seating for three, has been carved into one wall and a finely made "closet" exists in one wall above a 21 ton worked stone. The ultimate purpose of this feature is unknown.
It is obvious from the layout of the Oracle Chamber that each of the features found within had a particular ceremonial or functional purpose in this incredibly well thought-out and masterfully crafted underground edifice.
Also found across the Mystery Hill site are huge monolithic standing stones (some now fallen) all of which line up to sun, moon or star alignments as seen from a central viewing slab located by one of the earlier researchers at the site.
On these days the sun will either rise or set above worked monolith stones. Exact alignments coincide, according to scholars and astronomers, with a date of 2499 B.C. to 1900 B.C.
Stone walls throughout the site also provide over 200 astronomical alignments with the moon, 45 different stars and important geographic points. One long stone wall aligns with true south. Another alignment wall allows one to observe the southernmost standstill of the moon on its 18.61 year metonic cycle.
This cycle reflects the imperfect elliptical orbit the moon takes around the earth. Gravitational forces may sometimes take the moon away from a perfect ellipsis by a relatively subtle 5 degrees north or south of the southern limit of the sun.
A period of 18.61 is required to carry the moon to all of its possible positions in respect to the sun. This event is marked at Mystery Hill as the moon passes above the Winter solstice stone and then aligns with the terminal of this wall.
This moon cycle was supposedly discovered by the Greek astronomer Meton in 433 B.C. although this astronomical phenomenon would now seem to have been understood much earlier than originally believed.
The purpose of other walls seems less clear to scholars. Two walls made of quarried bedrock (not the field stones of colonial walls) delineate a long path whose starting point is bathed by the May first sunrise.
It would appear that it was a processional way through which worshippers would pass to enter sacred areas, much like at several of the megalithic sites in the British Isles, most notably the much larger, mile-long stone-lined Kennet and Beckhampton Avenues of the huge megalithic complex at Avebury, built sometime between 3,000 B.C. and 2,500 B.C.
It would be quite a site to have a throng gathered for procession, cued by the crossing of the sunlight and shadow cast by the sunrise across the processional way.
This chamber is oriented to the southwest like many similar European Neolithic structures and bears a striking resemblance to those found like it in the British Isles.
The East-West chamber, a three sectioned chamber also made with massive roof lintels and entry stones of several tons is on site as well. This chamber, like others in Europe, is located on an old fault line some say because of the discernible magnetic phenomenon that occur near geological sites of this kind.
The calendrical orientations of the slab-roofed chambers, it would seem, would rule out these structures being constructed as root cellars by early American colonists or the woodlands Indians of the northeast as neither were concerned with alignments that coincide with the most important of yearly Keltic celebrations.
Suffice it to say, it is obvious that the alignments found at Mystery Hill, and other sites are not random.
According to Charles Pearson, who surveyed the complex in 1987, . . . the number of very large and prominent stones is limited and those very large stones happen to be the ones that make up the significant astronomical alignments. To state that this site is a calendar by statistical probability or by "accident" and not by design demonstrates a complete misinterpretation of the obvious physical evidence at the site, and a misrepresentation of the facts located at the site.
Comments were made indicating that with over 100 standing stones and the freedom to adjust the observation center of the site to any location desired, that purely by chance one could demonstrate a calendar site at any location. This is obviously not the case at Mystery Hill.
There are many other exciting and surprising features at the Mystery Hill complex. These include an ancient on-site well providing the site with fresh water and not dated to the Colonial period; a megaron court area which may have been an entry area to the complex or a gathering place for large groups of worshippers to meet before entering; a tool sharpening stone and a quartz crystal mining shaft for the extraction of pure quartz.
According to archaeologist Warren Dexter, ". . . quartz [like copper] was a very valuable commodity to the ancient peoples, but quartz was equally, if not more, important for spiritual reasons and mystical science."
Quartz, in fact, was purposefully embedded in triangular chunks at the back of many New England and European chambers, positioned to be illuminated by the sun as it shone through roof openings only on those very few days, usually the Equinoxes, when the sun could pass through the roof opening.
Quartz can be found not only in areas where it naturally abounds, but in areas where it is scarce, having been brought there for ceremonial purposes by ancient peoples.
". . . others believe it was used for sacrifices, not only because of its central location, its size, but also because the Oracle speaking tube was beneath it, as well as the carved channel [for the draining of blood] on the top surface. It is positioned on four worked stone legs and is located at the center of the site in a large courtyard."
It too bears a striking resemblance to altar stones found at megalithic sites in Europe. And we do know that blood sacrifice and altars such as these were connected firmly to Neolithic religions.
The builders of Avebury, the Iberian Phoenicians and the Vatic Druids were known to conduct human sacrifices. The bodies of small children or "strangers" (referred to as strangers because the artifacts found with the skeletal remains did not match the cultural objects of the builders of the sites) have been found near megalithic monuments.
They were many times interred with the remains of specific animals—a boar in one or an ox in another—inferring a totem or clan relationship to the grave site. These bodies showed obvious forensic signs of ritual murder.
It was said in Ireland, a land with over 2,000 megalithic sites, that the greatest enemy of St. Patrick was manifest in a standing stone addicted to human sacrifice.
Carbon tests conducted on charcoal found alongside a stone pick and a hammer stone unearthed at an excavation near one of the underground chambers reveal a date of 2,000 B.C.
The artifacts were clearly related to Neolithic pieces of the same era in the British Isles and Iberia. The excavation pit carbon tested had been undisturbed before digging and layers of strata above were perfectly intact.
Charcoal dating of tree roots penetrating one of the other chambers revealed a date of 1690 B.C. (Could it be that this complex was started by the same culture who built Stonehenge? The Stonehenge builders must have possessed sturdy ships if scholars are correct about their ability to haul the multi-ton monoliths hundreds of miles along the rivers of England to their resting sites on the Salisbury Plain . . . )
Artifacts found near another charcoal pit included a hammer stone, spallings and a scraper. Its carbon date was determined to be later—995 B.C. Obviously this complex had been inhabited, and these tools left, by our distant ancestors thousands of years ago.
Unfortunately, many of the other structures at the site were carted away, vandalized or destroyed—yet what remains should be viewed as one of the most important historical sites in the Western Hemisphere. And Mystery Hill is not—by far—the only megalithic site in New England whose origins are somewhat clouded.
Megalithic constructions known as dolmens can be found all across new England, the western part of Europe and even into Syria and South Africa. Dolmen comes from the Breton word for stone table as the dolmens in many instances are three, four or five smaller boulders topped by an immense, flat-topped boulder than can weigh any where from several tons to 90 tons. Many of these capstones are however roundish, dressed stones, and not flat topped.
The dolmen usually was erected to commemorate the death of a chieftain or an historical event of great importance and scriptural incisions usually accompany the dolmen on stone markers. Some experts believe that the dolmen was actually a tomb that was then covered in huge amounts of earth—in effect a a tumulous tomb in which the earth has been eroded away.
Dolmens are frequently occurring structures in the American northeast. There are in fact over 200 examples of dolmens in New England alone and some very impressive examples can be found in our country as far away as California.
And noted ancient sites expert and archaeologist James Whittall adds,
"I find it difficult to distinguish the North American examples from the European ones and I believe that both sets were produced by ancient builders who shared a common culture."
Another frequently occurring megalithic structure familiar to all readers is the stone circle. We know of the great Stonehenge complex in England with its huge Sarcen (meaning "heathen stones" and derived from the word Saracen) stones found there and the many calendrical alignments they delineate. But there are ancient stone circles in New England as well.
Probably the most intriguing archaeological site in Connecticut is located in Groton and is called "Gungywamp," thought to be an ancient Indian name, but actually ancient Gaelic meaning, "Church of the People."
Besides containing beehive chambers and petroglyphs, the Gungywamp site has a double circle of stones near its center, just north of two stone chambers. Two concentric circles of large quarried stones—21 large slabs laid end to end—are at the center of the site.
Extensive fire burning on some of the slabs is apparent which leads many to believe it was an ancient altar. Nearby there are several large pillar stones and one boulder slab that have been carefully positioned along astronomical site lines.
Visiting the Gungywamp site on the afternoon of September 21st, Dave Barron, the head of the Gungywamp Society, saw a sight that he would never forget. He said,
The setting sun had cast a beam of light through the vent shaft at the back of the chamber. This beam of light slowly moved down the east wall and spotlighted into the small beehive crypt near the entrance.
This stone-lined tube was designed precisely to permit the Equinoctical sunset to fully penetrate the chamber’s dark interior on only two days during the year—March 22nd and September 21. The high density of garnet in the stones magnified the intensity of the sunlight entering the chamber. It certainly acts as a predictable calendar. The Gungywamp site has been carbon dated to 600 A.D.
This oval mound was measured at 112 feet long by 56 feet wide. And the stones, as Whittall predicted, pro vided astronomical alignments. The monoliths were oriented east to west, and bearings of the sight indicated that it had been used to observe solar events.
The first observation was made on September 22nd, the fall equinox, from the highest stone on the western side from the peak of the eastern most stone. The sun set behind stone number four just as Whittall had surmised.
"On November first we returned to the site, primarily because it was the ancient Keltic ritual day of Samhain, and we got a perfect alignment of stone nine over stone six and we had a setting alignment.
At the Winter solstice observations were made again and stone one and stone ten aligned. The red disk of the sun slowly descended in a long arc towards the point on the monolith until it split the disk. This site had been known for generations as Druid Hill.
Taken all together, these megalithic carvings, buildings, monoliths, calendar circles, stone phalli, fertility fetishes and other striking stone monuments, all so reminiscent of those in Europe, might be enough to infer an ancient European culture had built them—but was it possible that the Amerinds had in fact constructed them?
After all, scientists are now realizing that an invention, such as pottery or weaving, can be invented in two places by two different cultures at the same time. So what did the undecipherable rock carvings strewn across New England have to tell us, if anything at all?
This will be explored in depth in next month’s installment of The Mysterious Megaliths of New England.
Photo: Attending reburial of ancient remains.
A study of ancient human remains and artifacts found in the Guadalupe River floodplain of south Victoria County (Texas, USA) shows that a relatively advanced people who had contacts with others living hundreds of miles away populated the area.
Ricklis is director of the Corpus Christi office of Coastal Environments Inc., which conducted the archaeological dig to unearth and study the human remains and artifacts discovered at the Buckeye Knoll site near the Invista plant.
The excavation produced a large collection of artifacts dating back from 500 to 10,000 years, Ricklis said.
He also said archaeologists didn't even suspect that people in Texas had major cemeteries 7,000 years ago. "It's a sizeable cemetery," Ricklis said. "We excavated about 80 burials, but there are a lot more than that in the site."
He estimated there could be as many as 200 burials there that date back 7,000 years. Based on radiocarbon dating, he said, the oldest of the human remains tested dates back 8,500 years.
Ricklis said researchers are confident the site was occupied as far back as 10,000 years ago because of flint points found there that are known to be from that period.
"Specifically, we found dart points of the Golondrina, St. Mary's Hall and Wilson types, all known to date to before 9,000 years ago."
Ricklis said he has no idea where the predecessors of these Native Americans originated, but there is nothing to indicate a European connection.
He said they could be part of an early population that may have come from northeast Asia. But he added some in the field question that and believe there may have been immigrants from Europe or the Pacific region who contributed to early American populations.
"Probably the most interesting thing we have regarding the cemetery is a lot of artifacts found with the burials and placed in the graves as offerings," Ricklis said.
He said those artifacts are evidence of links to the Mississippi River Valley, the Southeast United States and possibly even Mexico. Examples include bannerstones, flint projectile points, beads, shell pendants, and bone and antler tools for working flint.
A bannerstone is a piece of stone that was worked by pecking and grinding into an oblong shape. It was typically 4 to 6 inches long, carefully crafted and usually smoothed, sometimes to a polish.
Also found were plummets, or teardrop-shaped stones, that have been drilled and are more typical of the Southeast for this time period.
Ricklis said he still doesn't have the final report on the physical anthropology showing the sex and age of the people. But the study showed there were several individuals who lived to be 70 years old and still had their teeth, indicating they led relatively healthy lives.
He said he's not sure what the typical lifespan would have been for these people. But he said he would expect hunter-gatherers to have had a lifespan of 45 to 50 years.
It appears they had a diet that was a mix of plants and animals they got from the local river floodplain and the prairie environment.
There were also indications they brought food from the coast.
Source: The Victoria Advocate (2 April 2006)