America's Stonehenge

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For the granite monument erected in Georgia, see Georgia Guidestones
Some of the rocks at America's Stonehenge.

Coordinates: 42°50′35″N 71°12′25″W / 42.84306°N 71.20694°W / 42.84306; -71.20694 America's Stonehenge is a privately-owned tourist attraction and archaeological site consisting of a number of large rocks and stone structures scattered around roughly 30 acres (12 hectares) within the town of Salem, New Hampshire, in the United States. It is open to the public for a fee as part of a recreational area which includes snowshoe trails and an alpaca farm.

A number of hypotheses exist as to the origin and purpose of the structures. One viewpoint is a mixture of land-use practices of local farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries and construction of structures by owner William Goodwin, an insurance executive who purchased the area in 1937.[1][2]

Some claim that the site has a pre-Columbian European origin, but this is regarded as pseudoarchaeological or the result of an early-20th century hoax.[3] Archaeologist David Starbuck has said: "It is widely believed that Goodwin may have 'created' much of what is visible at the site today."[4]:106

The site was first dubbed Mystery Hill[5][6] by William Goodwin. This was the official name of the site until 1982, when it was renamed "America's Stonehenge", a term coined in a news article in the early 1960s. The rebranding was an effort to separate it from roadside oddity sites and to reinforce the idea that it is an ancient archaeological site. The area is named after Stonehenge in England, although there is no evidence of cultural or historical connection between the two.


The site first appears in print in the 1907 History of Salem, N.H.:

Jonathan Pattee's Cave. He had a house in these woods 70 years ago; took town paupers before the town farm was bought. This is a wild but beautiful spot, among rough boulders and soft pines, about which the most weird and fantastic tale might be woven. There are several caves still intact, which the owner used for storage purposes.[7]

Many believe that Pattee built the site in the nineteenth century, and no unequivocal pre-Columbian European artifacts have been found there.[8]

The site's history is muddled partly because of the activities of William Goodwin, who became convinced that the location was proof that Irish monks (the Culdees) had lived there long before the time of Christopher Columbus, and he sought to publicize the concept. The site has been altered by stone quarrying, and also by Goodwin and others who wanted to move the stones to what they considered to be their original locations; Goodwin might have been responsible for much of what can now be seen.[4](pp 106–107) Many of the stones have drill marks from the quarrying that took place on the site.[4](p 108)

More fanciful origins have also been proposed, but artifacts found on the site led 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, there is a so-called "sacrificial stone" which contains grooves that some say channeled blood, but it 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.[9]

In 1982, David Stewart-Smith, director of restoration at Mystery Hill, conducted an excavation of a megalith found in a stone quarry to the north of the main site. His research team excavated the quarry site under the supervision of the New Hampshire state archaeologist and discovered hundreds of chips and flakes from the stone. They concluded that this was evidence of tool manufacture, consistent with American Indian lithic techniques, although no date could be ascertained.[citation needed] Archaeologist Curtis Runnels stated, "No Bronze Age artifacts have been found there. ... In fact, no one has found a single artifact of European origin from that period anywhere in the New World."[3]

In 2019, the site was vandalized with power tools, with police saying the person may have been trying to re-enact a scene from a fictional work.[10] On March 4, 2021, NH State Police arrested a member of the online group "QAnon" and charged him with criminal mischief.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft was an enthusiast for New England megalith sites, and he visited Mystery Hill sometime between 1928 and the 1930s. The site is popularly attributed as inspiration for his story "The Dunwich Horror".[12] Scholars, however, place Lovecraft's visit too late to have inspired the 1929 story.[13]

The site was featured on an episode of the American History Channel TV series Secrets of the Ancient World which aired on January 14, 2002, in which Boston University archaeology professor Curtis Runnels refuted the theory that it was built by Celts in ancient history.[3]

The site was also featured on the "Strange Visitors" episode of the In Search of... TV series which focused on investigating mysterious phenomena. The show presented the theory that the site was of ancient Minoan origin. The episode aired on April 24, 1977, as the second episode in the first season of the show.[14]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Wright, Karen "Light Elements: Yankee Doodle Druid", Discover (February 1998)
  2. ^ Professor at Central Connecticut State University view of site's history Archived 2011-07-26 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b c Fitzgerald, Brian. "Archaeology professor debunks claims for ancient rock structures as pseudoscientific fallacy". B.U. Bridge (February 1, 2002)
  4. ^ a b c Starbuck, David R. (2006). The Archeology of New Hampshire: Exploring 10,000 years in the Granite State. University of New Hampshire Press. ISBN 978-1-58465-562-6.
  5. ^ Greenberg, Joel (March 20, 1977). "Mysteries in Stone – Near the Dairy Queen". Detroit Free Press. North Salem, New Hampshire. Knight Newspapers.
  6. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Mystery Hill
  7. ^ Gilbert, Edgar (1907). The History of Salem, N.H. Rumford Press. pp. 418. [1]
  8. ^ Morison, Samuel Eliot (1971). The European Discovery of America. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 30.
  9. ^ Wagg, Jeff (July 24, 2009). "Lie Leaching". James Randi Educational Foundation. Retrieved September 28, 2015.
  10. ^ "Power tool used to vandalize America's Stonehenge". Concord Monitor. 4 October 2019.
  11. ^ Union-Leader: "NJ man accused of vandalism at Americas Stonehenge" 4 March 2021
  12. ^ Goudsward, David and Peter Stone. America's Stonehenge: the Mystery Hill story, from Ice Age to Stone Age. Wellesley, MA: Branden Books, 2003. 65-66.
  13. ^ Joshi, S.T. The Annotated Lovecraft. New York: Dell, 1997. 106.
  14. ^ "Strange Visitors/Oracle Chamber". In Search of.... Season 1. Episode 2. 24 April 1977.

Further reading[edit]

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