Studying the origins of the aptly named Mystery Hill megaliths, also known as America’s Stonehenge, piques one’s interest but does not satisfy — unless one is satisfied solely by the thrill of the perplexing mystery.
The site, in North Salem, New Hampshire, includes stone monoliths and chambers spread across 30 acres. According to legend, the stones have intricate astronomical alignments. A 4.5-ton stone slab that appears to be the site’s focal point might have served as a sacrificial altar. It is grooved with a channel for draining, possibly a victim’s blood.
A number of factors have contributed to the notion that America’s Stonehenge was constructed by Europeans as early as 2,000 BC — thousands of years before the earliest evidence of Viking colonization in North America. Archaeologists are split. Some argue that there is insufficient evidence to support this theory and that the site was built relatively recently.
There are many similar sites along the route from Maine to Connecticut, but none as large as Mystery Hill. Here’s a look at the site’s features and the opinions of several specialists.
Why it may have been the Celts
1| Symbols appear to indicate an old Irish language, yet decoding the glyphs has been controversial.
2| According to astronomical alignment, the megaliths appear to indicate cross-quarter festivals. According to astronomer Alan Hill, these holidays are solely observed by the Celts. Some have compared the megaliths to Stonehenge.
3| “Carbon-14 results coincide with the date of a major immigration by Celts,” according to a book by David Goudsward and Robert Stone titled “America’s Stonehenge: The Mystery Hill Story, from Ice Age to Stone Age.” Stone bought the site in the 1950s and opened it to public viewing and to further research.
Goudsward and Stone continue: “The Celtiberians [Celtic-speaking people of the Iberian Peninsula] interacted with Carthaginians, a nationality almost certain to have the skill to cross the Atlantic. However, there is not of the ornamentation on the stones that would be indicative of Celts.”
Why it may have been the Native Americans
1| Archaeologists discovered Native American artifacts dating back more than 1,000 years on the site.
2| The use of stone-on-stone implements demonstrates craftsmanship akin to that of Native Americans.
Glyphs of the Celts?
Ogham is a crosshatched Irish script that was used from the fifth to the sixth century. Glyphs, perhaps ogham, are reported to have been discovered on the stones.
Karen Wright, who wrote an article for Discovery Magazine in 1998 after visiting Mystery Hill, described what she felt to be dubious deciphering: “Various authors [have made interpretations,] consulting languages from ogham to Russian.”
The most baroque interpretation, an Iberic/Punic translation, was attributed to three equally spaced parallel grooves in a rust-colored cast: ‘This is dedicated to Baal on behalf of the Canaanites,’ read the translation.
“This, I decided, was the archeological equivalent of the scene from Lassie in which the dog barks once and Jimmy is given to understand that the leg of a six-year-old girl named Sally has been trapped under a fallen tree 30 yards north of the falls on Coldwater Creek near the old mine shaft and oh, by the way, she’s diabetic too, so bring some insulin.”
In 1969, archaeologist James Whittall unearthed stone tools at the site, along with charcoal flakes that could be carbon dated. According to Goudsward and Stone, the tools’ user was working approximately 1,000 B.C. Whittall found charcoal from a number of additional spots on the property, and carbon dating ranged from 2,000 B.C. to 400 B.C.
Dating using astronomical alignments
Astrological alignments support each other. The chief site scientist, astronomer Dr. Louis Winkler, discovered that the placements of several stones correspond to where the stars and other astronomical objects would have been roughly 2,000 years ago.
He has also conducted radiocarbon and laser theodolite dating to establish a Bronze Age (2,000–1,500 B.C.) origin. Anthropologist Bob Goodby of the New Hampshire Archaeological Society (NHAS) said the alignments are “coincidental.”
“With so much stone around, it wouldn’t be that difficult to find some alignments that correspond to celestial things,” Goodby told Boston University publication the Bridge. This isn’t the only “coincidence” cited by critics of the ancient-European-origin theory, nor the only one cited as a little too “coincidental” by supporters of the theory.
For example, critic Richard Boisvert, New Hampshire’s deputy state archaeologist, acknowledged that the buildings resemble old European megalithic monuments, but that this is just coincidental. He explained to Discovery that it’s a case of the same form serving the same purpose.
Alan Hill, an astronomy professor at New Hampshire Technical Institute, does not believe the astronomical alignments are coincidental. According to the New York Times, the megaliths commemorate cross-quarter days, which are the midway points between the solstices and equinoxes.
Cross quarter holidays are exclusively observed by Celts, he claims. Hill discounted the hypothesis that the buildings are cellars erected in the last few centuries, in part because the entrances are too narrow to accommodate wheelbarrows.
David Brody, a local lawyer, and mystery author told the Times that there are too many similarly perplexing stones and constructions in the area to write it all off as coincidence.
Stone-on-stone tools suggest primitive builders
The builders appear to have used stone tools rather than metal equipment. The stone-on-stone craftsmanship is akin to that of Native Americans, according to Boisvert’s employer, New Hampshire state archaeologist Gary Hume.
He was cautious to suggest the megaliths were 4,000 years old, but he appeared to leave the door open. He stated that he would not dispute “the two reputable surveyors who had vouched for the alignments,” according to Wright. Archaeologists have identified Native Americans and Celts as likely builders, but they are not the only ones.
Some believe it was the Phoenicians, a people from an ancient Mediterranean monarchy. According to Wright, the standing stones correspond to the site of the Phoenician polestar Thuban.
Jonathan Pattee, a shoemaker, and his family resided on the site for most of the nineteenth century, and many believe he and his family constructed the structures. Dennis Stone, Robert Stone’s son and the site’s current owner and operator told Discovery that some of the structures were most likely built by Pattee, but not all.
Others have speculated that the Pattee family would not have handled the complexities of building and alignment and that the family would have utilized metal tools rather than stone ones.
Archaeologists, according to Goodby and other skeptics of the ancient-origin idea, would have discovered traces of humans living on or around the site, such as burial grounds. He believes the sacrifice stone was most likely used by residents in the more recent past to produce soap.
Whatever the theories, as Goudsward and Stone write: “There has been so much damage in the last four millennia that no matter who you believe built the site, there is just enough physical evidence to warrant further investigation along that line. This has produced a spectrum of theories as wide and expansive as the skies that may or may not be charted by the ancient monoliths.”