America's Stonehenge

America's Stonehenge is an archaeological site consisting of a number of large rocks and stone structures scattered around roughly 30 acres (120,000 m2) within the town of Salem, New Hampshire in the northeast United States. The origin and purpose of the structures is usually attributed to a mixture of land-use practices of local farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as construction of structures by owner William Goodwin in the 1930s. A number of other hypotheses exist. Although the area is named after the archaeological site of Stonehenge in England, there is no cultural connection between the two.

America's Stonehenge is open to the public for a fee. It is part of a recreational area that includes snowshoe trails and an alpaca farm. It is a popular tourist attraction, with particular appeal to believers in New Age systems. Among several theories put forward concerning the site's origins are claims that it could be an astronomical observatory built by some unknown pre-Columbian civilization.

The site was first dubbed Mystery Hill by William Goodwin, an insurance agent who purchased the area in 1936. This was the official name of the site until 1982. The site was renamed "America's Stonehenge" (a term coined in a news article in the early 1960s). It was an effort to separate it from roadside oddity sites and reinforce the idea that it is an ancient archaeological site

The site's history is muddled partly because of the activities of William Goodwin, who became convinced that his Mystery Hill was proof that Irish monks (the Culdees) had lived there long before the time of Christopher Columbus, a concept he sought to publicize. He moved many of the stones from their former positions to better support his idea, thus obliterating a good deal of the archaeological record. The site's current owners, the private company America's Stonehenge Foundation, say his activities are "one of the reasons the enigma of Mystery Hill is so deep".

Proponents of a pre-Columbian, yet non-Native American, origin for the site argue that some stones are encased in trees that may have sprouted before the arrival of the first colonists, claim that there are similarities between the ruins and Phoenician architecture, and say that marks on some stones resemble some ancient writing systems of the Old World. The late Barry Fell, a marine biologist from Harvard University and amateur epigrapher, claimed that inscriptions at the site represented markings in Ogham, Phoenician and Iberian scripts (also referred to as Iberian-Punic). He detailed his claims in his book America B.C.

Artifacts found on the site lead archaeologists to the conclusion that the stones were actually assembled for a variety of reasons by local farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, a much-discussed "sacrificial stone" which contains grooves that some say channeled blood closely resembles "lye-leaching stones" found on many old farms that were used to extract lye from wood ashes, the first step in the manufacture of soap. Carbon dating of charcoal pits at the site provided dates from 2000 BC to 173 BC, when the area was populated by ancestors of current Native Americans. In archaeological chronology, this places indigenous use of the site into either the Late Archaic or the Early Woodland time periods.

In 1982, David Stewart-Smith, director of restoration at Mystery Hill, conducted an excavation of a megalith found in situ in a stone quarry to the north of the main site. His research team, under the supervision of the New Hampshire state archaeologist, excavated the quarry site, discovering hundreds of chips and flakes from the stone. Both the state archaeologist and Dr. Stewart-Smith concurred that this was evidence of indigenous tool manufacture, consistent with Native American lithic techniques, although no date could be ascertained. It is possible that in its original form the site may have been one of the ceremonial stone landscapes described by USET, United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc., in their resolution on sacred landscapes.

Jonathan Pattee

In 1823 Mystery Hill became the property of a settler named Jonathan Pattee. The recent history of the hill starts with Jonathan Pattee. Pattee was a farmer who lived on the site from 1826 to 1848. There are many different and conflicting stories about Pattee, including that he was a robber, ran an illicit still, and operated a stop on the famous 'underground railroad' that spirited escaped slaves from the south to safety. One thing for sure is that he used one of the structures as a cellar for his farmhouse.

Rumors abounded that Pattee had built the structures, with the help of his five sons, for no apparent reason. This seems unlikely as one of the site stones was found locked in the stump of a tree that started growing around 1769, long before Pattee came to the area.

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.

Upton Chamber

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.1

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.

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.

The Mystery Hill complex, the largest and most sophisticated of its kind in North America, covers over 30 acres and is composed of monolithic standing stones, stone walls and underground chambers, most of which are aligned to obvious astronomical points. 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."

The Watch House

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.


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. From this slab, monoliths align to the Midwinter solstice sunrise and sunset, the November one sunrise and sunset, the Spring and Fall Equinox sunrises and sunsets, the May one sunrise and sunset, the Midsummer solstice sunrise and sunset, the August one sunrise and sunset and true north (This stone is aligned to the star Thuban, the pole star of 2,000 B.C.). 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.

Other impressive constructions on the site include a number of underground chambers with clear astronomical alignments including; a "south facing" chamber made of large quarried rock and covered by several multi-ton lintel slabs; a classic V-hut chamber, above ground, wedge shaped and adjacent to a large basin cut into the bedrock which was a starting point for a network of sophisticated drains that extends to the east. 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. Further, noted archaeo-astronomer Byron Dix has determined that New England is replete with underground chambers. He says, ". . . there are some 105 astronomically aligned chambers in Massachusetts, 51 in New Hampshire, 41 in Vermont, 62 in Connecticut, 12 in Rhode Island, and 4 in Maine. Suffice it to say, it is obvious that the alignments found at Mystery Hill, and other sites are not random.

Charles Pearson, who surveyed the complex in 1987

Archaeologist Warren Dexter

Archeologist and Mystery Hill curator Robert Stone:

The Oracle Chamber

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.

But even more than mere physical resemblance to European sites, it was carbon dating, carried out under the supervision of respected scientists from Geochron Laboratories in 1971 that supported the disputed claims of researchers who were being ridiculed for insisting that Mystery Hill was a site of extreme antiquity. 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 destroyedoyet what remains should be viewed as one of the most important historical sites in the Western Hemisphere. And Mystery Hill is notaby 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.

Of the dolmen found at Salem, Massachusetts, author Robert Ellis Cahill asks, "How did these men, without the assistance of proper tools, lift and balance boulders weighing from 30 to 90 tons squarely on top of three little boulders?" 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.

Sunrise Stone - Summer Solstice

The ancient megalithic builders knew that when the sun rose over the
center of this stone - it was the beginning of the summer solstice.