In New Hampshire there is an old stone site with the unfortunate name “America’s Stonehenge,” located on “Mystery Hill.” Who knows why the cheesy name, maybe to draw in more tourists? But this is so much more than a tourist stop. In my opinion, this place should be a federal protected area. It is possibly 4000 years old. Online reasearch reveals arguments by a few people about this site history. Everything I found online was unsatisfactory. Some legit scientists need to go in there and spend some time to unravel the tangled mess it is today and provide us with a verifiable story in the form of multiple peer-reviewed published findings. I want a story sans the cosmic hippie mumbo jumbo and dispensing with the pre-Columbian Irish Monk settlers theory.
For a privately-owned historic site, they do a fair job of it, with a small museum, a theatre with a short movie, awesome self-guided tour app, and excellent maintenance. The brochure provided on site is the most convincing scientific information I could find, though it’s designed for tourists and provides no supportive evidence. Their website includes a blog that states there has been ongoing archaeological excavations for thirty years, though I saw no evidence of any active work while we were there. They should eliminate the mock American Indian stuff along the trail, because it’s embarrassing and demeaning, and the alpaca barn is off topic. They take care to highlight the possible function of this site as a stop on the Underground Railroad, and they explain reasons why the site was used as a stone quarry, and how that use caused irreparable damage.
All over the world, people have built with stone for obvious reasons. Stones are a useful building material, particularly when manipulated by humans’ ingenuity. One of the arguments I read about this place is that the structures could not have been built by indigenous North Americans because everyone knows Indians don’t build with rocks. It’s a ridiculous argument. The site website does acknowledge that the builders could have been indigenous North Americans. This simple question does bring up an example of why I am frustrated with the lack of clear science at this site though. Archaeology here reminds me of comments on an Internet post: a string of bold opinions, a dearth of reliable documentation. (So, ahem, let me add my opinions…)
Ok, enough with the complaining!
The stone structures were amazing for me to see because I recognized the construction style of corbelling. Arguments have been made that a previous landowner built all the structures in the 1800s for storage purposes, or that a different landowner built it in the 1930s. Possibly farmers built a little more each year. Tara and I just returned from a trip where we got a close-up look at some neolothic corbelling of stones in Ireland, and some modern corbelling in southwest Ireland. Corbelling is when stones are stacked on top of each other, overlapping each layer a little bit more till there remains a small hole in the roof that can be topped with a large flat stone. This style is used all over the site.
Another thing that reminded me of Ireland is a large standing stone in the museum with hatch marks in the side of it. In an Irish museum I saw something very similar, and the hatch marks were a form of writing. If you click the image of the stone above, you can see that someone else thought the marks on the New Hampshire stone could be writing.
At America’s Stonehenge there are stone walls creating a path, outlining common areas, and forming rooms. Some of the rooms are reconstructed enough so that visitors can enter. Some rooms are too small or unsafe, and you cannot enter them. There are two wells, multiple channels in rocks that have been identified as a means of draining water from the site, and an astonishing huge flat table with a groove around the outside. People have opined that this slab was used to leach lye for soap making, to catch juice in cider making, or to catch blood during animal sacrifice. Guess which option I eliminate immediately.
Here’s the barest bones summary of the white man’s part in this story I can gather: Mr. Patee owned the site in the early 19th century. He may have built it or added to it. It was quarried around the same time. Also at the same time, it may have been a stopover place for escaped slaves along the underground railroad. Excavated iron shackles have been found on site, and are on display in the museum. In the 1930s it was purchased by Mr. Goodwin, and by the 1960s it was a roadside tourist attraction, after being rebuilt in the image imagined by the owner, who was convinced that Irish monks came here before the Vikings and settled. (By the way, the information provided by American’s Stonehenge reminds us that names of points of interest here, such as the “pulpit” and the “sacrificial table,” are only used as identifiers and are not meant to deter from an accurate interpretation of the site. I appreciate this kind of scientific integrity.) Current owners state that radiocarbon dating shows that at least some walls existed prior to Mr. Patee’s ownership, and dating of charcoal found in the walls dates it to 2000 BC.
Seemingly incongruent with the various theories of the purpose of the constructed rooms are the large pointed stones circling the site. If you stand on an observation deck (shown in a photo above), you can spot the stones aligned in a circle to mark the point where the sun will rise on important astronomical dates like winter and summer solstices and equinoxes. If the walls and rooms were merely constructed for root cellars, foundations for a home, or for cider making, why erect the astronomical stones? Who did it?
That’s a lot going on in this one place, and why I call it a tangled mess. I am dying to know more.