Wednesday, October 23, 2013

America's Stonehenge

Pondering the mysteries of America's Stonehenge
When a nephew in Vermont suggested that I should not miss visiting America's Stonehenge in nearby Salem, N.H., I agreed it was something I needed to see. Once called Mystery Hill, this 4,000-year-old site has stone walls and structures with apparent astronomical alignments serving several possible purposes, such as acting as a calendar, predicting solar and lunar events, and determining planting and harvesting times. No one has solved the mystery of who built this site, which could be the oldest man-made construction in the United States.
Various archaeologists have found an amazing range of prehistoric and historic artifacts. That it had been used later for other purposes was shown by 18th- and 19th-century housewares and iron wrist manacles that had probably been removed from slaves who used this as a stop on the Underground Railroad in the 1830s and 1840s.
Need an account? Create one noA movie at the visitor center did little to explain who made these structures. I followed a self-guided tour map, which included information for 32 stopping points. For example, at point No. 18: "The 'V' Hut: This small chamber is named for its shape. The large basin to the left in front of the chamber is the starting point for a network of drains which extend to the east."

 America’s Stonehenge 4½-ton sacrificial rock
There are a variety of man-made chambers, stone steps and walls. What really caught my attention was a 4½-ton sacrificial rock, a table that left little doubt to what is was because of the grooves around the sides that led to a channel to allow blood to flow into a container. The archaeologists working on the project felt this was important enough to build a special viewing platform so visitors could look down on the slab, which had underneath a speaking tube that could carry sounds from the nearby oracle chamber.
How was it possible to work stone without any metal tools, or even to lift them into place with only muscle? Some people think aliens from outer space constructed the site, but I'm sure aliens also would have polished their work.
Visitors are given an astronomical trail map pointing out the complicated alignments of the stones and the information they convey. For example: "When viewed from a large boulder about 20 feet north of the south end of this wall, the Winter Solstice Stone (C) becomes the most southerly position of the 18.61 year cycle of the moon."
Wow. How many years of observation would it take for one to come up with that alignment? Most of the stone alignments are more mundane, such as those that provide dates for the solstices and equinoxes.
One theory is that Jonathan Pattee, the early owner of the land, had built the site, but carbon dating shows that it was built around 2000 B.C. The number of theories about other builders is rather overwhelming, with the following being candidates at one point: Atlantan, Maltese, Norse, Irish and Celtic colonies. Others think it was some American Indian group.
I left the site thinking the builders were more advanced than any other American group of the time in their knowledge of stonework and astronomy. 

Entrance to the underground Oracle Chamber