It is afternoon and the sun casts long shadows on the hill of Stonehenge in America.

A resident alpaca chews what looks like hay in its enclosure and turns to watch the last passers-by.

An Amesbury mother and son, Mary and James Gage, walk down a woodchip path towards the main attraction, stone structures that are a lightning rod for controversy.

The Gages have studied the stone structures of the New England landscape for decades. They study the location, shapes and markings of stones, looking for signs of their origins and uses.

Here, on this 335-foot hill in Salem, New Hampshire, wedged between North Main Street and Haverhill Road, the big questions are who built the structures and why were they built?

Mary argues in her new book, “The Architecture of Stonehenge in America,” that the construction of these stone structures was initiated around 3,000 years ago by Native Americans.

The Gages are people of stone. They investigate cairns, caves, cellars, chambers, stone walls and rock quarries. They publish their findings on their website, Stone Structures of Northeastern United States, stonestructures.org.

Several years ago, they were asked by an Andover conservation group to investigate a rock structure in that town called Turtle Mound.

Some people had claimed that it was built by Irish monks. Or that it was built by Native Americans.

The Gages determined, based on drill holes and research, that it was a Victorian-era rockery, a whimsical setting designed to attract customers to a florist’s nursery between 1860 and 1880. It was interesting in itself, but not ancient, they say. .

The Stonehenge site is another story.

Mary estimates that she has been here over 100 times over the past 20 years. She is not alone. In a good year, 30,000 paying customers visit Stonehenge in America, according to its owner, Dennis Stone.

The attraction, formerly called Mystery Hill, has been the subject of articles, books, and TV shows, especially those that place it in a mysterious light.

Mary’s book also includes an element of mystery, proposing that the site was understood by native people to be sacred after rainwater cascading over sloping bedrock revealed a crystal geode to them.

But much of the book is focused on detail with photographs and illustrations and references to earlier studies of structures on the site’s 30 acres. She and her son have researched land deeds and wills, read articles and books on the site, and talked to people who share their interest.

A subject of debate

Many mainstream archaeologists argue that Stonehenge structures in America were built over the past few centuries by local residents and say they are unconvinced of the site’s ancient origins.

Some people have proposed that the structures were built by Irish monks who crossed the Atlantic before Christopher Columbus sailed the blue ocean in 1492.

Some archaeologists believe the site has been altered so much over the years that no determination can be made as to its origins.

Mary believes the structures were built by generations of native people who revered the spiritual presence here and held ceremonies to honor it.

She presents her ideas in the 335 pages of text, photos, deeds, drawings and genealogy of her 2021 book. There she also presents, and contradicts, other theories about the origins of the site.

Mary says her findings build on the work of the late David Stewart-Smith, who had a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies, wrote extensively on Native Americans in New England and was a professor of history at Norwich University in Vermont.

He was also a stonemason who surveyed the Stonehenge site, overseen by former New Hampshire state archaeologist Gary Hume, and determined that the stone from the original structures had been hand quarried on the hill with stone tools.

Mary says she acted like a detective, gathering information from Stewart-Smith and others and piecing together clues left behind by past builders.

Evidence includes grooves, rounded edges, and stone tool marks, the result of shaping techniques associated with Native American stonework.

She also says that architectural motifs such as long walls with chambers at the bottom and the use of drains and basins testify to the site’s Native American origins.

Stonemason Peter Wiggin worked with stone for over 30 years, including at Stonehenge in the United States for about 15 years.

He worked on numerous projects there and elsewhere with Stewart-Smith.

Wiggin read Mary’s book, spoke with her, and visited sites with her. He says he is not qualified to comment on the architecture of the Salem site, but thinks Mary’s interpretation of stone construction appears to be supported by site surveys.

He mentions in particular chipping, a stone-working technique which shaped the scalloped edges of roof slabs and standing stones, and pecking and abrasion which formed the grooves of canals, drains and basins. .

These labor-intensive techniques and the multitude of structures indicate work done over a long period of time, he says.

Wiggin, who holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental design from the University of Colorado at Boulder and owner of Design 1 Landscaping in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, says – setting aside the origin debate – that Mary’s book catalogs the site considerably.

“It is first and foremost the most comprehensive account of the multitude of known stone structures and features at the site,” he says.

Sherry Gould, the tribal genealogist for the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation, says she believes the stone construction at the site is from Native Americans. She has visited the site and is familiar with Stewart-Smith’s work. She also knew him and said he had Native American ancestry.

Gould believes the site was created by Native Americans and added and modified by early white settlers and later generations.

Casting theories

Ryan Wheeler, director of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archeology at Phillips Academy in Andover, explains that the American Stonehenge and other stone structures in New England “have created many divisions among professional archaeologists. , amateur archaeologists and indigenous peoples, with advice.”

Massachusetts has taken a tough stance on stone walls, stakes, and landscape chambers, saying they are not ancient.

“When historians and archaeologists have researched stone walls, piles, and chambers, they have consistently demonstrated that these features are associated with the activities of European settlers and have no Native American (or other) origin,” said the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. .

Wheeler also says that two highly respected professional archaeologists, the late Gary Vescelius of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and Ken Feder, professor of archeology at Central Connecticut State University, studied and wrote about the Stonehenge site. . and concluded that it was built in recent times. Vescelius thought the site was built in the first half of the 19th century, Wheeler says.

For his part, Wheeler, who has not visited the site, remains skeptical but open to considering possibilities based on solid evidence.

“I have personally tried to keep an open mind as to the possibility that some of the stone structures were made by ancient indigenous people, but it seems hard to say as there have been alterations over the years” , says Wheeler.

For her part, Mary Gage compares the changes in stone structures over time to the changing building styles of houses in later architectural periods.

Mary, originally from Lexington, has been captivated by Native American history and culture since childhood.

His interest in New England stone structures began to take shape in the 1970s during walks with James as a small child.

Her interest was heightened when she discovered rock piles at the Martin H. Burns Wildlife Management Area in Newbury.

James, 48, a graduate of Amesbury High and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a major in history, worked for 25 years in the library at the New England School of Law.

He contributed a chapter to his mother’s book Stonehenge on Jonathan Pattee which includes a detailed genealogy.

Pattee owned and lived on the land in the 19th century. James refers to a section about him in a Salem story from 1907:

“Jonathan Pattee’s Cave. He had a house in these woods 70 years ago; took the city poor before the purchase of the city farm. It is a wild but beautiful place, among rough rocks and soft pines, about which the strangest and most fantastical story could be woven. There are several caves still intact, which the owner used for storage purposes.

The site was later owned by William Goodwin, of Hartford, Connecticut, who was convinced the site was created by Irish monks.

Mary says Goodwin made only modest alterations and repairs to the structures, respecting and retaining their original location.

Photographs of the site prior to her edits back up her claim, she says.

More to explore

This afternoon, Mary Gage leads a tour on the labyrinthine paths among the structures.

The course unfolds like a Pac-Man course.

Nearby, the owner, Stone, throws branches, leaves and pine needles into a trailer.

He says he’s sprucing up the grounds for an expected visitor the next day.

It doesn’t say who it is but leaves the impression that it might be someone interested in a production linked to the site.

The owner speaks quickly and enthusiastically about the site.

Television and film personalities including Rod Serling, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner have hosted articles on the site in shows such as “In Search of…” and “History’s Mysteries” and “Weird or What? “

The site also attracted at least one unwanted visitor.

In March 2021, Salem police charged a New Jersey man with criminal mischief for defacing a stone tablet at the site by carving an acronym for a QAnon slogan into it.

The story made national news.

The site and its astrological alignments attract crowds around the summer and winter solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes.

Mary leans over a shaft opening that drops 12 feet.

In the early 1960s, the owner excavated a cluster of crystals at the bottom, she says.

This is the spot, she says, where 3,000 years ago rainwater falling from a sloping ledge uncovered a crystal geode in the ground.

Mary believes that a harmonious meeting of two opposing spiritual forces, from the upper world and the underworld, revealed the site as sacred to the local people and inspired them to build the stone structures that stand today at Stonehenge in America.

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