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Summer Solstice sunrise. ( All photos on this page are Copyright America's Stonehenge. Used with permission)

Mystery Hill: America's Stonehenge?

About 40 miles north of the city of Boston, and about 25 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean, is what appears to be the greatest, and perhaps oldest, megalithic enigma of North America. Mystery Hill, also known as "America's Stonehenge", is a site that has puzzled archaeologists for almost a century.

Running across the 30 acres of hillside are a series of low walls, cave-like primitive buildings, and tunnels that are spread about with, according to one archaeologist, "gigantic confusion and childish disorder, deep cunning and rude naively."

While the hill is compared to the English Stonehenge circle, it is, at first glance, physically quite different. Stonehenge is located on a plain, not a hill, and is arranged neatly as a series of concentric circles, horseshoes and squares. Mystery Hill seems a jumble in comparison. The stones involved in Stonehenge are larger, up to 45 tons. The stones at Mystery Hill are smaller (the largest is about 11 tons) and the construction less intricate.

Both sites do have some common points, though. Firstly, they served as observatories. Each has been found to have astronomical alignments including summer solstice. Secondly, we know almost nothing about the builders of either location.

The "Sacrificial Stone." It has a gutter running around the edge.(Copyright America's Stonehenge. Used with permission)

While we don't know the type of ceremonies that may have gone on at Stonehenge, we do know something about the apparent activity on the hill. One of the main features of the site is an enormous flat stone, like a great table, resting above the ground on four legs. Around the edge of the table runs a groove that leads to a spout. This great slab has been named the "Sacrificial Stone" (left) and certainly may have served such a function. The gutter probably allowed the blood of the sacrifice to drain off the top.

Underneath the Sacrificial Stone is a shaft eight feet long leading to an underground chamber. It seems reasonable that this allowed a priest concealed in the chamber to speak as the voice of an oracle. To a crowd gathered around the altar the sound would appear to float up from the Sacrificial Stone like the voice of some disembodied spirit.

In addition to the oracle chamber and the Sacrificial Stone the site has a number of other artificial caves and passages. At least one was constructed with a drain to keep them from being flooded. The purpose of the rest of these structures, except one which appears to be a water well, are unknown.

The recent history of the hill starts with Jonathan Pattee. Pattee was a farmer who lived on the site from 1826 to 1848. There are many different and conflicting stories about Pattee, including that he was a robber, ran an illicit still, and operated a stop on the famous "underground" railroad that spirited escaped slaves from the south to safety. One thing for sure is that he used one of the structures as a cellar for his farmhouse.

Rumors abounded that Pattee had built the structures, with the help of his five sons, for no apparent reason. This seems unlikely as one of the site stones was found locked in the stump of a tree that started growing around 1769, long before Pattee came to the area.

In 1936 the site came into the hands of William B. Goodwin. Goodwin had a pet theory that Irish monks had crossed the Atlantic long before Columbus and were responsible for the structures on the hill. Goodwin conducted his own form of "archaeology" on the site by getting rid of whatever evidence that didn't fit his theory. The loss of these artifacts is one of the reasons the enigma of Mystery Hill is so deep.

Currently the site is administered by the "America's Stonehenge" foundation and is open to visitors. A fee, used to preserve and research the site, is charged.

How old is the site? Pottery fragments have been tested and found to go back as far as 1000 BC. Charcoal from one fire pit, measured by radiocarbon dating, was found to be 4000 years old.

Who built it? Unknown. The Native Americans living in the northeast before Europeans arrived didn't build in stone. The colonial farmers didn't arrive in the valley until 1730 and we know from the locked stone that construction must have been started before 1769. The 39 years in between seem a short time to build such a set of structures and the Sacrificial Stone/Oracle doesn't seem to fit with the colonist religious beliefs.

The oracle chamber. (Copyright America's Stonehenge. Used with permission)

Was the site constructed in ancient times by a people we know nothing about? That seems likely. Some theorize that site might be linked to the Greek or Phoenician cultures of the Mediterranean. Certainly there is a startling similarity between the construction of the oracle on Mystery Hill and those found in ancient temples in Malta and Greece.

The truth is we may never know who built this site. We may never know how they used the astronomical information contained in its alignments. We may never know what the voice of the oracle said. And we may never know what, or whom, was sacrificed on its hard, cold, great, stone altar.

Visitor Information for America's Stonehenge.

Copyright Lee Krystek 1997. All Rights Reserved.