On a hilltop in New Hampshire near the Massachusetts border are a series of low stone walls and cobbled rock chambers called America's Stonehenge. The entire complex covers about 30 acres of hills and woodland, around which extends an apparently haphazard collection of walls interspersed with tall, triangular–shaped standing stones. The site's central feature is "Mystery Hill," situated on a single acre, which contains 22 stone chambers which can be characterized as dolmens, plus other megalithic features. Immediately surrounding the central site are upright stone monoliths aligned to predict prominent astronomical sightings.
In the central section of Mystery Hill are several engaging features of curiosity. The centerpiece is a T–shaped chamber with internal structures similar to a chimney and hearth, as well as a "couch" sculpted right into the living rock. From the couch, a pipe–like hole called a "speaking tube" ascends to the surface and runs directly below an enormous rock table weighing 4.5 tons. The tube may have been used for some kind of spooky oracle because it distorts voices when heard from below, and the table above may have served as a sacrificial altar because of the carved gutters on top to funnel blood.
Surrounding the "Oracle Chamber" are more than 20 stone chambers of various sizes, which may have been used as shelters for the presumed Bronze Age inhabitants, or were utilized collectively as some kind of religious ceremonial center. There is evidence that the entire complex is built over a natural cave system, but no entrances have yet been located. Instead, deep well shafts have been discovered, and the most intriguing pit leads not to a cave, but to a natural fault where a cluster of quartz crystals were recovered by archaeologists. The crystals may have been mined nearby, or came from afar with the inhabitants and were ritualistically placed into the well to indicate the site as a power point. It is known that crystals were worshipped or used for tools by ancient cultures.
The hilltop position of the megalithic beehive chambers suggests this location was used primarily as a village, but the site also appears to double as a celestial and astronomical observatory. The Summer Solstice Sunrise Monolith is situated where the sun rises over this upright slab of granite around the date of June 21st of each year. The top of the stone is uniquely shaped to match the landscape on the horizon where the sun rises. The place to make these sightings is in the middle of a stone circle, where other astronomical computations can also be made.
Nearby the stone circle there is a tall rock called the True North Stone, which was determined in 1975 to have lined up with the pole star Thuban around 1750 BCE, and is on the main central axis from which other alignments can be calculated. These alignments include the annual summer and winter solstices (June 21 and Dec. 21) and seasonal equinoxes (March 22 and Sept. 22), as well as specific solar and lunar events of the year. Several of the low stonewalls also indicate true north–south and east–west alignments.
It is interesting to note that all astronomical sightings at America's Stonehenge were in a position to accurately predict their events around 1500 BCE. However, due to the earth's changing tilt over several thousand years, called the procession of the equinoxes, they can no longer precisely predict astral movement events.
Located in North Salem, America's Stonehenge is only about an hour's drive from Boston, and 18 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Boat captains of antiquity would have reached the hilltop location by navigating up the Merrimack River to a tributary that runs just below the site. Today most visitors drive to America's Stonehenge and take Exit 3 off the I–93 to Route 111. Motorists should follow the signs from North Salem.
Mysteries in Western Massachusetts and Beyond
There are many other enigmatic stone structures to discover scattered across the New England landscape. In Massachusetts, The Wendell Beehive Cave is very similar in size and design to the nearby Pelam Chamber, being about four feet tall in the main chamber, constructed of mortar–free masonry in the shape of a beehive, and covered with earth. The Wendell "cave" is located on a hillock known as Mount Mineral, about 12 miles north of Pelham in Franklin County. Pelham Chamber is on private land, two miles west of Quabbin Reservoir on Route 202 in Hampshire County.
In Vermont, the vast South Woodstock complex is on private land surrounding the town of the same name. Nearby Elephant Valley in South Royalton, Vermont is home to the famous "Calendar I site." Another prominent ancient observatory site is located in South Woodstock, Vermont. The South Woodstock complex consists of stone chambers, standing stones, and cairns in a natural bowl surrounded by hills and ridges. Besides having close proximity to waterways connecting with the Connecticut River, the beehive structures would have been interconnected by an intricate network of footpaths.
Sometimes seeing is the only way to believe, at least that's how I felt before I had the opportunity to visit the locations outlined above.
Although some of the beehive chambers are on private land, there is a good chance the owners will grant access, or at least they won't obstruct those who respectively come to visit. Only America's Stonehenge is a regularly operated tourism attraction. Try to time your visit during the solstice or equinox dates. I think you will be pleasantly surprised and agree with me that these stone chambers of New England are indeed one of the great mysteries of North America!
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.
Some parts of this article were excerpted from Brad Olsen's latest book: Sacred Places North America: 108 Destinations (2nd edition). Purchase it at the links to the top right or visit CCC Publishing to order by phone.
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