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Culture-Type and Mystery Hill


Now let us temporarily set aside the problem of chronology and once again evaluate the candidate cultures; this time, the discussion will center on cultural parameters -- the behavioral requirements of designated social types that have been studied the world over. Anthropologists have generally agreed upon certain designations and definitions of human societies. The simplest form is band, or 'hunter-gatherer', society (see Lee and Devore:1976, Steward:1969, Bettinger:1980 for discussion of this social type). The second type is 'tribal' culture (see Sanders and Webster:1978, Fried:1967, Sahlins:1968). The third is 'ranked' culture, also called 'chiefdoms' (see Renfrew: 1984:203ff, Fried:1967, Sanders and Webster:1978 for general discussion). The last, most complex society, one sub-type of which we belong, is 'state' society (see Flannery:1972:403 for discussion of states -- also, Flannery supplies a summary definition of these social types and talks about general traits of their hierarchical organization. Beginning with band society, each social type is generally characterized by increasing sedentism, population density, production, socio-political complexity, and technological development.


Band Society (pre-1000 A.D. Indians in New England)


Bands of hunter-gatherer consist of small groups of 10 to 25 individuals who usually stay no longer than a week at any base camp before local depletion of edible wild plants and animals forces them to move to new territories -- they grow little or no food and are not able to remain sedentary for he long periods required for architectural pursuits. In addition, the low population density of band society generates lower levels of social stress relative to more complex societies, with the result that hunter-gatherers need fewer, less complex rituals of stress reduction. That is, ritual architecture may not have been requirements for such people.

The high degree of nomadism inherent in hunter gatherer life would not allow them to remain in any one location long enough for extended architectural endeavors. And if we acknowledge the recent work of archaeologists like Renfrew (1984, 1984b), which suggests that megalithic monuments functioned to support land-holding groups, then we must reject a hunter gatherer basis for MH once again -- for hunter gatherers are little concerned with land rights or ownership.

If we are to believe the oldest held date for MH, then Indians would not have built the site. Once Indian populations grew large enough for them to require sedentism and agriculture -- and evolve into a tribal social-system -- the date is around 1000 AD. If AmerIndians built MH, it must have origins after this date; yet, this goes against the popularly acknowledged dates of the site.


Tribal Society (certain spans of Bronze and Neolithic Age Societies)


Tribal societies, or largely those that may have cyclically occurred throughout the Neolithic and Bronze Age of Europe (see Kristiansen:1982 for a discussion of social fluctuation during the Neolithic and Bronze Age) are not ranked in the sense that clear-cut offices for leadership exist. These societies are egalitarian in nature -- leadership is constrained to a person's ability to offer wise advice to the community, and no office exists to compete for, to hand over, or to inherit (Flannery:1972:402). Also, the egalitarian nature of tribal society does not allow too much accretion of wealth or differential access to wealth (such as land, water rights, status symbols) that an individual could use to create subordinate relationships and rise to power. Subsequently, many conflicts in the society can not be regulated through powerful leaders or enforceable laws.

Instead, egalitarian cultures use community rituals which redistribute goods and information to ensure everyone receives equal portions (Rappaport:1971:8-9). These communal rituals also supply the social unity -- supplied in more complex societies by a powerful, permanent leadership -- by allowing tribal members to participate in group ritual. In effect, the community is exalted in a tribal society, which may be evidenced in monuments that allow group burials. By contrast, ranked societies exalt powerful individuals who may most often rest in single graves (Renfrew:1984:181).

Among the socialization rituals of Neolithic Europe may have been the megalithic monuments. Some of the larger monuments, such as Silbury Hill, Stonehenge, and perhaps the passage grave complex in the Valley of the Boyne are large enough to have probably required a higher level of social organization in construction (Renfrew:1984:182). Other monuments, such as the smaller cairns and other megaliths, were, however, most likely the products of "segmentary" or unranked tribal groups (Ibid). If we are to fit MH into the European framework for the sake of argument, its size and complexity falls into the class of monuments made by the simpler, egalitarian cultures.

The construction of monumental architecture requires group cooperation -- which affirms group identity. After construction, rituals could be continually held at the sites, which would serve as the focal point for a thinly scattered group of people (Ibid:181ff). Structures such as those scattered about Rousay and the Arrans may have allowed communal rituals as well as the opportunity to bury people of the community as a group. Perhaps the use of grave complexes for group burials may have served to legitimate a tribe's claim to the territory. Perhaps megalithic monuments were the material proof for a tribe's strength, unity, and ancient heritage -- proof of the right to inhabit the territory. The psychology of megalithic monuments can be exemplified like this: "we have buried our dead in the grave for many years and occupied the land for many ages -- the monuments built by our fore-fathers, which we still hold in sacred trust, are symbols of our rightful inheritance." The architecture also serves to continually transmit such information in the absence of the builders, for symbolic artifacts emit information in the absence of receivers or emitters (Wobst:1977:322).


Ranked Society (Celtic and Germanic People)


Ranked societies are agriculturally-based with populations large enough to require regulation by a permanent leadership (Flannery:1972:403) -- the chiefs and their small retinues of warrior/administrators, religious specialists (druids), poets, and craftsmen. The need for a retinue and a permanent leader may reflect the need for more powerful ways for decision making in complex societies (see Johnson:1982:412). The maintenance of a retinue is allowed through the production and distribution of surplus agricultural goods that can also be used to assuage famine, or finance a warband (Sanders and Webster:1978:270-1). In a ranked society individuals are allowed to create client/subordinate relationships, such as those well discussed by O'Corrain (1972) in ancient Irish culture. For example one who has accrued extra foodstuffs through luck or wise husbandry can offer it to one who is not so wealthy, and he in turn owes the client loyalty (for a discussion of how these "Big Man" systems may function and evolve, see Binford: 1983: 218ff). Somewhat luckier or wiser people can offer several people such favors -- this system of financed loyalty is the basis for a chiefdom. Such societies regulate social conflicts through their rigid system of rank. In other words, an individual's actions can be limited by his economic and political standing.

Evidence indicates that many megalithic monuments found in Europe are not the products of ranked society (Renfrew:1984:180ff). They may instead be products of tribal society. Massive structures ascribed to ranked cultures -- Stonehenge, perhaps the Boyne complex, and Silbury Hill -- are certainly not comparable to MH. The candidate Celtic and Germanic societies were "ranked" societies. We must eliminate them as the site builders. Similarly, ranked society may have arisen at some points of the Neolithic and Bronze Age, so we must eliminate these people as well.

On the basis of these cultural parameters and their relation with material technology, it becomes increasingly clear that, if Mystery Hill is a ritual complex of some kind, it is highly probable that it was not built by Vikings, Celts, or Phoenicians, which were not egalitarian societies (Phoenician society was a highly complex state-type society with well attested technological development -- any theory that postulates a Phoenician basis for the crude chambers of MH is unrealistic and not of primary importance). For diehard skeptics, further evidence for this probability exists apart from archaeology. The evidence is based on the records left behind by some of these cultures.


Textual Records of Europe


Manuscripts from the early middle ages preserve both Celtic and Germanic folklore and provide some instructive insights into their conception of megalithic structures. The epic Beowulf (7th century Anglo Saxon) depicts a passage grave as a mystical place where a dragon guards its hoarded treasure. What follows is the Old English poet's description of a passage grave (letters in parentheses are where the manuscript has been damaged and the transliteration is weak; words in square brackets are supplied in my translation where clarification may be required or where inflected endings in the Old English require a preposition in English translation):


deorcum nihtum draca ricsian

[in the] dark nights [a] dragon [came] to rule

se the on hea(um) h(aeth)e hord beweotode,

that which on the high heath watched a hoard

stanbeorh steapne; stig under laeg

[a] high stone-barrow; [a] path lay under [it]

eldum uncuth...

[to] men unknown... (Klaeber:1950, Beowulf, l. 2211A--2214A).


Later in the epic, the poet tells how the treasure hoard got in the grave; the last survivor of a destroyed tribe vows to give the treasure of his kinfolk to the earth. He has prepared a barrow for it:


Beorh eallgeara

[the] Barrow, all-prepared,

wunode on wonge waeterythum neah,

dwelled on [the] shore nigh [the] water-waves,

niwe be naesse, nearocraeftum faest;

new by [the] headland, fast [with] hiding-craft,

thaer on innan baer eorlgestreona

there inside [he] bore [the] earl-treasure,

hringa hyrde hordwyrthne dael...

[the] ring's guardian, [the] hoard-worthy portion...

(Klaeber:84, l. 2241B--2245B, see Raffel:1963, for translation.)


The Old Norse epic of Sigurth reflects a similar tradition, in that the barrow/passage grave is mystical, holds treasure, and a guarding dragon (see Terry:1969 translation, or Vigfusson and Powell:1963 for transliteration). In general the later people of the 6th or 7th century A.D. did not build passage graves and certainly had no idea what they had been used for -- thus imagination filled in an otherwise missing function (see Tarzia:1986a in press, and Creed:1986 in press, for a detailed discussion of these texts and their archaeological context).

Tales from Old Ireland's Ulster cycle remember dolmens and standing stones as several interesting things. The eroded remains of barrows and passage graves, called variously "dolmens," and "cromlechs," often appear to be suspiciously large "beds" -- of course, for a hero. This hero is always Diarmaid, and he traveled Ireland with his mate Grainne, fleeing the jealous chief, Fion Mac Cumhail (see The Pursuit of Diarmaid and Grainne, Cross and Slover:1936). Dolmens all around Ireland, and some in Scotland, are called "Diarmaid and Grainne's Bed" in folk traditions, where the couple was said to have spent a night -- a context quite different from archaeological interpretations of their original use. In addition standing stones are often used quite humorously in the Ulster Cycle of Old Ireland. In the following examples we see how irreverently the Irish Celts worked standing stones into their epics. In the first example, the enemies of an Ulster hero, Cuchulainn, try to distract him from battle by disguising a camp fool like a king, and sending a woman out with him as a peace offering. The hero sees through the ruse:


...He (Cuchulainn) shot a sling stone from his hand and pierced the fool's head and knocked out his brains. Cuchulainn went up to the girl and cut off her two long tresses and thrust a pillar stone up through the fool's middle. Their two standing stones are there still, Finnabair's Pillar Stone and the Fool's Pillar Stone (Kinsella: 1969:141)


In the second example, the poet explains how a local standing stone was named. Here the army from Connacht hear that a dread Ulster warrior is coming for them, and they plan accordingly:


In their dread, they put Ailill's crown on top of a pillar-stone, and Cethern attacked the pillar-stone and drove his sword through it, and his fist after the sword. This is the origin of the name Lia Toll, the Pierced Stone, in Crich Rois (Kinsella:212-3).


It is unlikely that people still using standing stones religiously would speak of them in such mystical -- or irreverent -- ways. This is especially certain when other practices mentioned in ancient folklore -- such as the burial rites depicted in Beowulf -- find close parallels with archaeological recoveries of the periods represented by the lore (see Klaeber:1950:229ff). In summary the traditional epic oral/manuscript traditions of these peoples reflects both mystery and irreverence attached to some megalith monuments. In the context of this essay we must note the examples from the Old Irish texts; the stones and mounds were as 'enigmatic' to them as they are to some 20th century people. Accordingly, a Celtic theory for MH is weakened.

We do find some monumental structures in the above mentioned societies. The Celts and Germans raised burial mounds, and sometimes lone standing stones with either ogam or runic inscriptions (see Campbell and Kidd:1980:pl. 96, and Moody and Martin:1967:pl. 21) -- although there is evidence that the Irish inscribed runes over the standing stones of previous peoples. The Viking boat-shaped graves are formed with standing stones, but are aligned according to cardinal direction and not to astronomical event. And of course, both societies sometimes constructed extensive fortifications. These monuments are all quite different from astronomical complexes.


Chronology of the Site and Candidate Originators


The 1200 BC Date


One of the cornerstones of the 'trans-Atlantic' schools is the ca 1200 BC radiocarbon date from a piece of charcoal claimed to have been deposited over one of the structures; it is claimed that the structure should be dated prior to 1200 BC The charcoal appears to have been subjected to the proper analysis by the laboratory; I do not question the age of the charcoal. However, the relationship between the charcoal and the structure it supposedly dates should be questioned. The existence of ancient charcoal on the site comes as no surprise. As mentioned previously, AmerIndians have inhabited New England for millennia. No doubt MH was as good as other hills for occasional cooking. Or the charcoal could be a remnant of natural burn-off.

As for the dating of the structure with this small charcoal sample, we should exercise restraint. The topsoil of the hill is very thin and the bedrock is exposed in many places. It is quite possible that this sample of charcoal -- which was discovered apart from further concentrations or even a recognizable hearth feature -- is an unrelated remnant of an Indian camp fire or a natural burn-off that had simply washed along the impermeable bedrock until it came to rest against the structure (Hinton: personal communication 1983). This argument does not provide an air-tight case against the site's supposedly ancient date, but it does show that logical and probable alternatives to popularly held hypotheses do exist.

For the sake of further discussion, let us now assume that the charcoal sample has been dated correctly, and that it does indeed date the structure it was found against. This 1200 BC date excludes several of the candidate cultures claimed to have built MH. Of course, it excludes post-Columbian colonials. Further, 1200 BC is rather too early to include the Phoenicians as the builders, and too late to include Neolithic people (unless we suppose a Neolithic settlement lasted at MH for 3000 years or so -- a rather heavy theory to maintain). Likewise, this date excludes the Celtic culture, with its diffusion to western Europe around 600 BC, and the Viking culture (and sea-worthy Norse ships) with its roots in the fifth century A.D. (thus we must call into question all alignments claimed to indicate the Celtic holidays Lugnasad, Samain, Imbolc, etc.). This leaves Bronze and Neolithic age cultures and Amerindian culture as possible candidates. Of course, Bronze and Neolithic Age seafaring technology has not been demonstrated as sophisticated enough for trans-Atlantic crossings. Let us assume that the technology was available so that this paper may proceed to other discussions.

We have eliminated four candidate cultures by reason of a radiocarbon date -- one whose applicability to the chronology of MH is in question but has been assumed for the sake of argument. The remaining cultures are within the date range specified by the site, assuming for Bronze and Neolithic Age Europeans a well developed, sea-faring technology. What is left to decide is whether these cultures were of a nature that could build and would benefit from an astronomically-aligned, megalithic construction.


The 1200 BC Date not Considered


If we reject the 1200 BC date as undiagnostic of the structure it was found against, then we are left with the post-Columbian colonial chronology first expounded by Hencken, since we are left with mostly colonial artifacts to date the site, as well as a few late, woodland period Indian potsherds found away from the main site.

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