America's Stonehenge

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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 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. America's Stonehenge is open to the public for a fee. Part of a recreational area that includes snowshoe trails and an alpaca farm, it is a tourist attraction, with particular appeal to believers in New Age systems.

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 in the 1930s.[1] Claims that the site has pre-Columbian European origins are regarded as controversial, possibly even pseudoarchaeological, or as the result of an early-20th century hoax.[2] Archaeologist David Starbuck has said that "It is widely believed that Goodwin may have “created” much of what is visible at the site today".[3]:106

The site was first dubbed Mystery Hill[4][5] by William Goodwin, an insurance executive who purchased the area in 1937.[6] 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 reinforce the idea that it is an ancient archaeological site. Although the area is named after Stonehenge in England, there is no cultural connection between the two.


The site first appears in print in the 1907 History of Salem, N.H. It is described thus: "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. No unequivocal pre-Columbian European artifacts have been found at the site.[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, a concept he sought to publicize. The site has been altered by stone quarrying and by the efforts of Goodwin and others to move the stones to what they considered their original locations, with Goodwin perhaps responsible for much of what can now be seen.[3]:106–107 Many of the stones have post 1830s drill marks from the quarrying that took place on the site.[3]:108

While more fanciful origins have also been proposed, 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, 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.[9]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Archaeologist Clive Runnels stated that "If you've got a Bronze Age site in, say, Great Britain, near Stonehenge, you're going to find pottery, tools, evidence of burials, and hearths" and that "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."[2]

Carbon-14 dates[edit]

All dates are uncorrected radio carbon years expressed as Years before Present (BP) with present being defined as the year 1950. A number of them have no clear association with human activity.[3]:108

  • 6530 ± 40 BP Excavation in wall east of north stone by David Stewart-Smith, Patricia Hume & W.E.J. Hinton Jr. in 1995. Lab Report 8923 (PDF)
  • 3470 ± 30 BP Fire pit at North Stone excavated by David Stewart-Smith, Patricia Hume & W.E.J. Hinton Jr. in 1995. Lab Report 8924 (PDF)
  • 3475 ± 210 BP Flecks of charcoal were found lodged between the exterior stones of the north wall of the Collapse Chamber 2 to 4 inches above the bedrock during a 1971 excavation. The charcoal was most likely in backfill disturbed during the construction of the chamber and therefore does not date the chamber.[10] Lab Report GX2310 (PDF)
  • 2995 ± 180 BP James Whittall Jr. excavated several units outside the north wall of Collapsed Chamber in 1969. At the 24 inch level charcoal was found in association with fire-burnt stone spalls, hammer stone, broken pick, and scraper.[11] Lab Report GX1608 (PDF)
  • 2120 ± 95 BP James Whittall Jr. excavated a unit near the earthen ditch on the summit of the hill near the main complex of structures. Charcoal was found on and in a seam of quarried bedrock.[12] Lab Report GX2029 (PDF)
  • 1910 ± 190 BP Excavation in 1995 by David Stewart-Smith, Patricia Hume & W.E.J. Hinton Jr. in the parking lot for the visitors center uncovered the remains a Native American lodge and multiple hearth features. Charcoal from the different hearths produced three C-14 dates. Lab Report GX20669 (PDF)
  • 1640 ± 135 BP Native American lodge hearth feature (see 1910 BP for details) Lab Report GX20670
  • 1195 ± 75 BP Native American lodge hearth feature (see 1910 BP for details) Lab Report GX20671 (PDF)
  • less than 400 BP In 1967 Frank Glynn excavated the lower section of the covered drain which originated in the Sunken Courtyard. Between 1825 and 1849 Jonathan Pattee utilized a portion of the courtyard as a foundation for his house. The C-14 date was from charcoal found in the drain. Glynn argued that the sample came from soil contaminated by Pattee era sediments which intermixed with earlier sediments in the drain. This was one of two C-14 dates from this excavation.[13] Lab Report GX0025
  • 260 ± 90 BP Wood sample from root of a pine stump[14] Lab Report GX1118 (PDF)
  • 220 ± 140 BP charcoal from a fire pit excavated by James Whittall Jr. The lab report cover letter mentions brick making suggesting the location was near the clay pit. It is known that Jonathan Pattee produced his own bricks on site, therefore this fire pit may be related to that activity. Lab report GX1651 (PDF)
  • 75 ± 160 BP Excavation by W.E.J. Hinton Jr. (no information) Lab Report GX15348 (PDF)
  • 140 BP See the "Less than 400 BP" entry for details. Lab Report GX-0024.

In popular culture[edit]

American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, an enthusiast for New England megalith stone sites, is known to have visited Mystery Hill sometime between 1928 and the 1930s. Mystery Hill is popularly attributed as inspiration for Lovecraft's story "The Dunwich Horror".[15] Scholars, however, place Lovecraft's visit too late to have inspired the 1929 story.[16]

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, and in which Boston University archaeology professor Curtis Runnels refuted the theory that the site was built by Celts in ancient history.[2]

In Search of..., a 1970s show narrated by Leonard Nimoy, did an episode about the site, titled "Strange Visitors". It was referred to as "Mystery Hill".

In the Weird or What? TV series hosted by William Shatner, the "Human Popsicle" episode covered America's Stonehenge and a variety of explanations as to its origin.

In the pseudo-documentary TV series America Unearthed, hosted by Scott Wolter, the episode "Stonehenge in America" dealt with the possible connections of the site to Stonehenge in England and the Phoenician culture.

It is also mentioned briefly in the X-Files episode "Die Hand Die Verletzt".



  1. ^ Professor at Central Connecticut State University view of site's history
  2. ^ a b c Fitzgerald, Brian. "Archaeology professor debunks claims for ancient rock structures as pseudoscientific fallacy". B.U. Bridge (February 1, 2002)
  3. ^ a b c d 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. 
  4. ^ Greenberg, Joel (March 20, 1977). "Mysteries in Stone – Near the Dairy Queen". Detroit Free Press. North Salem, New Hampshire. Knight Newspapers. 
  5. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Mystery Hill
  6. ^ Wright, Karen "Light Elements: Yankee Doodle Druid", Discover (February 1998)
  7. ^ Gilbert, Edgar (1907). The History of Salem, N.H. Rumford Press. p. 418. [1]
  8. ^ Morison, Samuel Eliot, The European Discovery of America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971, p.30
  9. ^ Wagg, Jeff (July 24, 2009). "Lie Leaching". James Randi Educational Foundation. Retrieved September 28, 2015. 
  10. ^ Anon, "New Radiocarbon Dating Indicates an Even Greater Antiquity for North Salem Megalith Site." NEARA Newsletter vol. 6 no. 2 pp. 40 (June 1971)
  11. ^ James Whittall Jr. "2995 B.P. +/- 180." NEARA Newsletter vol. 4 no. 3 pp. 50-54 (Sept. 1969)
  12. ^ James Whittall Jr. "Megalithic Site – Mystery Hill North Salem, New Hampshire Radiocarbon Date Excavation October 1970." NEARA Newsletter vol. 6 no. 1 pp. 19-20 (Mar. 1971)
  13. ^ Glynn, Frank, "1966-67 Excavations at Mystery Hill." NEARA Newsletter v.2 no.4 (Dec. 1967) pp. 55-57
  14. ^ Glynn, Frank, "1966-67 Excavations at Mystery Hill." NEARA Newsletter v.2 no.4 (Dec. 1967) pp. 55-57.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Joshi, S.T. The Annotated Lovecraft. New York: Dell, 1997. 106.

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