I could have sworn it was a clever hoax. I truly thought someone on the Google Earth software team had manipulated one of the satellite images when a friend showed me on his laptop two very strange looking mound clusters. They were simply too perfect; too geometric; too…weird. Mounds that resembled crop circles when viewed from above? Right there in the shadow of ultra–sacred Mt. Shasta? It seemed like a proficient Photoshop netizen was perpetuating a cruel joke at my expense. I was determined to find the truth.
Google Earth shot of Mt. Shasta Mounds.
Sacred No Spin Zone!
As a lifelong traveler and researcher of worldwide sacred places I have come across some truly amazing locations. Of course there are places we all know that boggle the mind such as the Great Pyramids in Egypt or Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Then there are the lesser known sites that also have a profound story to tell. This classification includes many locations that are no longer in use or have been lost to time and rediscovered, such as the Neolithic stone circles in Europe or the medicine wheels of North America.
To be sure, these sites attract tourists and native people in droves, but their original purpose may be lost to time. Only in the last few decades have most of the Neolithic sites and medicine wheels been determined by Archaeoastronomers to feature prominent sightings of the sun, moon and bright summer stars, proving the ancients were a lot more clever than anyone guessed.
Discussing unpopular theories is fascinating to me, especially because I like to test the water for feasibility. I think it is necessary to cover all angles to a story, no matter how outrageous they might seem when first proposed. When researching the "Sacred Places" guidebook series, I feel it is my duty to cut through any dogma (if present) and report both sides of the story in as balanced a way as possible. Growing up with atheist parents I started life with a "religious clean slate" so to speak, and this I feel gives me an especially objective point of view when digging deep into the mysteries of sacred places. No preference, no bias, no agenda. Just straight up reporting.
A Sunken City Resurfaces
That being said, let me take you on a short tour of some of the most remarkable sites I've recently come across with a history of intrigue and mystery. Let's start with Rock Lake in southern Wisconsin, dubbed "North America's Most Controversial Underwater Archaeological Discovery of the 20th Century." The first settlers of Lake Mills, Wisconsin in the 1830s heard stories from the Winnebago Indians about "stone teepees" submerged in nearby Rock Lake. Over time, especially during periods of extreme drought, fishermen reported seeing large geometric structures on the lake floor. The few times archaeologists came to investigate, they couldn't locate the structures and dubbed the underwater features a hoax. At one point the mayor of Lake Mills spotted one of the pyramids himself and the technological search was on.
Aerial photos, side boat sonar scans, and underwater divers eventually charted a complex of at least nine different stone structures, including: two rectangular pyramids, several stacked–rock walls, two "Stone Cone" areas, a conical pyramid, and a large "Delta Triangle" structure. There is also a part of the lake floor that supposedly features Indian mounds similar to Aztalan, a prehistoric Mound Builder site located only two miles away. The largest underwater structure, dubbed the Limantis Pyramid, has a length of about 100 feet (30 m), a base width of 60 feet (18 m), and a height of 24 feet (7.2 m), although only about 12 feet (3.6 m) protrude from the silt and mud of the lake floor. The Limantis Pyramid is a truncated tent–like pyramid, built largely out of rounded black stones. The cap stones on the two rectangular pyramids are squared rather than round. Small amounts of a plaster coating are still detectable, similar to the coating used on the Aztalan stockade walls.
Murky dive conditions usually make the ruins hard to locate, but scuba enthusiasts continue to report their presence when the lake is clear. So what are stone pyramids doing at the bottom of a Wisconsin lake? It seems the ancient Aztalan people constructed a dam at the feeder stream to control water flow into Rock Lake. Apparently they kept the wide lake basin dry but could fill it at will. It is anyone's guess if the structures were funerary, part of a larger construction, or used for ritualistic ceremonies.
Prehistoric Blacksmiths in Ohio?
Another one of the most enigmatic North American archaeological sites, if not the single most underreported and misunderstood location, is the "Ancient Stone Work" called Spruce Hill in the Paint Valley of south–central Ohio. The flat–topped hill has attracted generations of amateur archaeologists to study the massive wall enclosure made entirely of stone, plus the once abundant vitrified fire pits presumably used for casting metals. The furnace remains were first reported in 1811 by James Foster, a newspaper editor in nearby Chillicothe, Ohio who was led to the site by astonished local residents curious to know more about the ruins.
Foster reported seeing "about 30 furnaces" in the stone–pile walls which encloses 140 acres (56 ha) of the hilltop plateau, upon which huge trees were growing. The tree age implied to Foster that the furnaces were at least several hundred years older, perhaps even a thousand. After visiting the site, Foster wrote in a letter that he could not speculate what the furnaces had been used to produce, but he said ashes in the furnaces resembled those of a blacksmith's forge. Because of the huge trees growing along the walls, Foster concluded that the furnaces must be ancient.
In 1847, Spruce Hill was mapped by the famous archaeological team Squier and Davis, who mapped hundreds of other earthworks across the eastern United States. They depicted the narrow neck of the plateau, or "the isthmus," as the spot where many of furnaces were located, and where casting molds were found. At another location within the compound Squier and Davis reported seeing "strong traces of fire" in "two or three small mounds of stone, which were burned throughout." They also said many stone mounds along the wall exhibited marks of intense heat, vitrifying the surface of the stones. They noted that "light, porous scoriae are abundant in the centers of some of these piles." Celedon glazes that can still be found in Spruce Hill debris piles are proof that temperatures of 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit (1,260 C) were reached, implying the use of both charcoal fuel and a powerful air blast. The glaze results from the reduction of red clay mortar, which contains iron oxide, exposed to extreme heat.
It is unfortunate that no fully intact furnaces remain at Spruce Hill. Destruction of the walls and furnaces took place before and for nearly two centuries after Foster's 1811 visit, mainly by souvenir collectors. Despite the evidence, stodgy academic archaeologists will have nothing to do with this site, insisting there never were any furnaces on Spruce Hill. Indeed, the furnaces present a major dilemma to historians because modern archaeologists are unwavering in their opinion that no pre–Columbian Native American people ever cast metals. But no matter what kind of inconvenient truth this may be for rewriting the past, some sort of prehistoric metallurgical operation was being conducted on Spruce Hill hundreds of years before the site was re–discovered.
The Mound Hunt is On!
I arrived at the town of Mount Shasta, California over the Fourth of July weekend. As we were mingling with Shasta friends at a fireworks party, in comes a dreadlocked and bearded guy named Oberon who pulls out his laptop to show me some mounds the locals told him about. It took Oberon four full days in a cyber café searching Google Earth to locate them. The next morning four of us went out looking for the mounds, only using the coordinates from Google Earth to work from. It was 105 degrees that day, and at first we couldn't find the mounds. After several dead ends we gave up and became resigned that the mysterious mounds must be a hoax. Oberon would not give up however, insisting they were real. There was just one more possible location to check out. We went there and across the meadow there they were. Bingo!
The mounds apparently were built fairly recently because there were few signs of erosion. This ruled out Native American mounds, plus there were no posted signs either telling people to keep out or to respect the mounds. As you can see from the Google Earth shot, nature does not create things in a geometric fashion with perfect right angles or shapes in this manner. That ruled out the natural feature on the landscape theory. But the most interesting tidbit of information we gathered right away was that the mounds had a clear relationship with water. Around every mound was a moat, now dried up, but showing signs of being filled not too long ago. In the nearly two decades of investigating sacred sites, and this includes dozens of mound locations on several continents, I have never witnessed anything quite like this! Geometric water mounds? What on earth could they be used for? Now it is possible some eccentric rancher with a penchant for sacred geometry created them with a bulldozer, but why?
All four of us knew right away this was a special location. I named them the Tennant Water Mounds, based on their location near the small town of Tennant and their clear integration with water. I looked around quite a bit on Google Earth when I got back home and found out the hunting group Ducks Unlimited created symmetrical water mound groupings near Goose Lake for migratory birds, but none I found could match the proportional shapes of the Tennant site. Looking further I found other mounds around Mt. Shasta that were intact when the first explorers charted the area. I found several of these mysterious mound clusters at different locations around the mountain. One interpretive sign off U.S. Interstate 5 noted that archaeologists and geologists were in stark contrast with one another, each claiming the other must be the explanation for the mounds.
Larger boulders are featured at the top, rather than rolling down with gravity over time, and the mounds showed little sign of deterioration or erosion. What's more, none of the Native American groups in this region claimed responsibility, nor had a history of creating mounds in this part of the world. One thing is clear: no one has attempted to interpret the Tennant Water Mounds or explain why they might be there. They seem to have been purposefully ignored, as if they were waiting to be discovered from above. I can tell you it is one of the most anomalous sites I have ever witnessed. For me, the jury is out on the Tennant Water Mounds, and that includes not ruling out an extraterrestrial origin. After all, Mt. Shasta is quite famous for its numerous UFO sightings and a supposed underground Lemurian city called Telos. If that link could ever be substantiated we would really be discovering forbidden archaeology!
Brad Olsen is the author of seven books and runs CCC Publishing, which has put out 11 travel titles. He also contributed to the Rough Guides World Party book and is a regular contributor to several magazines and media outlets. See more at www.bradolsen.com and www.stompers.com. Brad Olsen's 7th book: Sacred Places Europe: 108 Destinations is out now.
Photos by Brad Olsen except where indicated.
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