America’s Stonehenge

America’s Stonehenge is an archaeological site in Salem, New Hampshire. It consists of a number of large rocks and stone structures scattered around roughly 30 acres.

I visited there about 15 years ago when we were driving through the area on our way to Maine. If you’re in that area, I think it’s a curious place to visit. It doesn’t look like the much more famous Stonehenge in England and it is not a circle of vry large stones set on a big open field.

The site was first dubbed “Mystery Hill” by William Goodwin when he purchased the area in 1937. In 1982, it was renamed “America’s Stonehenge” to reflect the idea that it is an ancient archaeological site. However, there is no cultural connection to Stonehenge in England.

The complex of stone chambers, standing stones, niches, and other stone structures served as a sacred spiritual and ritual center for a group of ancient Native American people.

Construction of the complex seems to have begun over 3,000 years ago and evolved through five major periods of construction and change until its final closure with the arrival of European colonists.

But, there are several hypotheses about the site’s origin and purpose. On one extreme, you have theories that it was partially constructed and used by local farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries. A grooved “sacrificial stone” which channeled blood closely resembles “lye-leaching stones” found on many old farms that were used to extract lye from wood ashes in order to manufacture soap.

Another popular theory is that it was a sacred ceremonial and ritual site for Native Americans. In 1982, David Stewart-Smith, director of restoration at Mystery Hill, conducted an excavation of a megalith found in a stone quarry near 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.

There are over 350 megalithic sites in New England, as well as other sites around North America and all over the world.

William Goodwin didn’t help matters by claiming that the site proved that Irish monks (the Culdees) had lived there long before the time of Christopher Columbus. He rearranged many of the stones from their former positions to better support this idea.

So, is there anything to the historical claims? Some structures (as with the original Stonehenge) seem to have been erected to align with astronomical events.

And, on the other extreme, there are those who claim that the site has pre-Columbian (but non-Native American) origins. Proponents of this hypothesis argue that some stones are encased in trees that may have sprouted before the arrival of the first colonists.

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.

Claims have been made that there are similarities between the ruins and Phoenician architecture.

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.

The theorizing on both sides makes some people claim that the whole thing is “pseudo-archaeological” or just an early-20th century hoax.

America’s Stonehenge is a tourist attraction open to the public for a fee. It’s popular with believers in New Age systems.

H. P. Lovecraft visited Mystery Hill sometime around 1928 and some consider it to be the inspiration for his story “The Dunwich Horror”.

The site was featured at least twice on television. In Search Of…, a series narrated by Leonard Nimoy during the 1970s did an episode about the site, titled “Strange Visitors”. In 2002, an episode of the History Channel series Secrets of the Ancient World featured a Boston University archaeology professor, Curtis Runnels, who “debunked” the claim that the site was built by Celts in ancient history.

Dig Deeper

America’s Stonehenge: The Mystery Hill Story (book)’s_Stonehenge

America's Stonehenge: The History of a Sacred Place
America’s Stonehenge: The History of a Sacred Place is a DVD about the site, and America’s Stonehenge Deciphered is the book the film is based on.

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Ken Ronkowitz

Random by design. Predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente. A lifelong educator.

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