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Technological Level of the Site and Candidate Originators
The discussions above support the idea that only Neolithic or bronze age Europeans could have built the Mystery Hill structures if we are looking only for a European origin. This presupposes that these people had the technical means to cross the Atlantic and build a megalithic site. Tim Severin has proven the sea worthiness of leather curraghs built on the medieval Irish design (see Severin:1978). However, his voyage was hazardous enough with many of the modern conveniences of ocean travel, including food/water storage technology, a safe, reliable stove (important for efficient digestion as well as morale), navigation equipment, and modern foul weather clothing, including full-emersion survival suits sometimes worn by the sailors to keep warm. They also decked-over the boat with leather skins and modern tarps for sea-worthiness -- a modern convention for which we have no medieval evidence. Even with these advantages, the voyage of the Brendan was interrupted by stormy winter weather; the boat was housed in Iceland, while the sailors flew home in jets to live comfortably until the fair season came around.
I do not question the courage and ingenuity of the Brendan crew, who certainly showed how Irish Celts might have made trans-Atlantic crossings -- but what about consistent travel across the Atlantic? The ability of the Vikings is unquestioned as well. Rather, I question the probability that Bronze and Neolithic Age people -- whose sea faring technology is undemonstrated -- could have made the consistent crossings that some authors ascribe to them, or even a single crossing. We must also think of subsistence technology for an unknown land. Assuming our Neolithic, etc., Lief Ericsons make a crossing, they then arrive, probably wasted and diseased, on a foreign shore whose edible flora and fauna are unfamiliar, whose native inhabitants are strange and possibly hostile; then they hike inland several miles, somehow subsist in the wilds long enough to build a megalithic site. Assuming this is all possible, we are left with a question -- if colonization have roots ultimately in a need for new territory for either economic or ideological purposes, why would our ancient Europeans have crossed the ocean? For example, Ireland in the second millennium BC was yet heavily forested (Evans:1957:14), and therefore uninhabited by large settlements. Why was not territory like this first exploited, rather than in investing time in costly, high-risk, trans-Atlantic migration? Proponents of the trans-Atlantic schools have not dealt seriously with this question.
Conformity of Alleged Model Sites and Mystery Hill
I have been plagued by a difficult question concerning 'appearance.' Why would trans-Atlantic colonizers, who have participated in a long-standing cultural tradition (including megalith construction), build a megalithic site that really has no precedent in European tradition? I speak, of course, about the layout of the MH site.
Visitors to the site sometimes remark on the chambers -- they 'look' like megalithic chambers and therefore must be related to European megalithic chambers. It should not be surprising that the chambers at MH resemble in construction the chambers of many European sites -- there are only so many ways in which to build a stone chamber from slabs (Dincauze:1983:10). The chambers are built of large slabs, true, but when one finds a hill where natural slabs peel from the bedrock, the best choice is to use them as the efficient building blocks that they are. This concern of 'architectural familiarity' is not a practical approach to the site. I think the interesting thing about Mystery Hill is that it does not look like a European or American astronomical site.
Astronomically aligned sites in Europe, such as Stonehenge and Callanish, are laid out in geometric patterns. Stonehenge and Callanish exhibit circles and straight lines defined by well placed standing stones. Mystery Hill shows no such arrangement; it is a jumble of stones where the 'diagnostic' standing stones are not arranged around a symmetrical circumference or perimeter. Instead, stone walls crisscross and outline the site, and the proposed astro markers seem to be recruited whenever their position satisfies a researcher's need for a marker near that position. In addition, if one is to align stones with astronomical events at MH, such as solstice sun risings and settings, one must continually shift position around the site, and stand, squat, or stretch on the toes to somehow align the sun with the stone (assuming you are standing on the backsight line (see Figure 1 as an example). Finally, to locate some site center from which the very alignments must find their existence, the site operators had to propose an unusual double-center arrangement -- one site center ten feet north of the other, with the alignments divided asymmetrically between the two. It is difficult to understand why our colonizers, who have the skill to make a great sea voyage and survive a new land with close to no possessions or applicable subsistence technology, would then cap the voyage off with a structure that bore little similarity to their traditional ritual architecture -- and one that did not follow a logical design. Finally, Spicket Hill, only a few miles from Mystery Hill, offers a better vantage point from which to view an unobstructed horizon were our travelers concerned with making an astronomical observation site. By 1985 the top of this hill was still wooded; no one has discovered a “temple” site there I know of; I have wandered the hill top myself and found nothing unusual.
A close examination of the MH site and its context in the European megalithic tradition does not support the 'trans-Atlantic' school of thought. There is a small circle of people who recognize this and favor the 'Aboriginal' hypothesis. This hypothesis states that Northeastern American Indians constructed the MH site for ritual purposes, and that this practice may be either an extension of general Amerindian ritualistic, astronomically aligned constructions or an independent, northeastern Amerindian development.
The layout of MH should also be considered in the 'Aboriginal' hypothesis. Though North American Indians did not build astronomically aligned sites in the form of European sites, archaeologists have identified some regularly laid out sites, such as the 'medicine wheels' of the south west Cornell:1981:168ff). Even these simple structures evidence a symmetry and design that has no relation to MH. It may be that MH is as poorly planned for Indian rituals as it is for those of the ancient Europeans.
The Material Evidence of the Originators
Once again, let us set aside the above discussions and evaluate our candidate cultures against the point of 'material evidence.' As archaeological investigators we must ask our selves this question: what are the consequences, in terms of artifactual remains, of claiming Celtic, Viking, Phoenician, etc., origins for MH? No doubt, if the builders stayed long enough to build and use the site, certain kinds and quantities of remains should be evident.
Take, for example, pottery sherds. Pre-industrial cultures produce large quantities of pottery for storage, cooking, and display. A ceramic pot is a fragile object, and even when it is not broken, absorption of cooking oils necessitates its frequent replacement. But if a pot is a fragile artifact, once it has been broken its fragments are relatively indestructible and tend to accumulate rapidly near a site.
Secondly, we should expect to find broken or lost tools, personal ornaments, and perhaps ritual ornaments at a site that has taken time to build. What of funerary remains? Most societies generate corpses, and in complex societies (Phoenician, Celtic, Viking, for instance), these corpses are ritually interred and marked off.
All arguments contrary to a transatlantic or ritual basis for MH would be easily falsified if sound material evidence existed. But no matter how hard we look, there are no bronze axes, Celtic torcs, or even shreds of ancient pottery that surely would have accompanied any lengthy occupation of Indians or ancient Europeans. If such have been found at the site, the evidence has not been described and analyzed professionally.
Of course, we may say that these people did not live at the site, just carried out ritual there, and they may not have buried their dead there. These are valid claims, although megalithic monuments in Europe are often associated with some form of ritual interment -- for those who compare MH with European monuments. And I am surprised that, if a sizable settlement once existed near the site, a few artifacts have not surfaced over the years, or references to them. Certainly Indian artifacts find their way into private collections; often they find their way to flea markets like the beautifully chipped, obsidian lance heads I once saw at a Pennsylvania market. If New England was host to a thriving, pre-Columbian, trans-Atlantic population, which some authors appear to claim, then private and public collections of their diagnostic artifacts are interestingly absent.
Alleged Textual Artifacts at the Site
Textual artifacts are related to material artifacts. Perhaps the most sensationalized aspects of New England's 'enigmatic' ruins are claims that Celtic 'ogam' inscriptions have been found. Former marine biologist and self-proclaimed ‘epigraphic’ expert Barry Fell has ‘translated’ some of these inscriptions and claims they refer to personal names and gods. Let us examine the 1) media, 2) graphemes, and 3) content of the texts and compare them against European inscriptions.
[Note: June 2001 -- the late Celticist, Professor Brendan O’Hehir, has extensively critiqued Fell’s work in an unpublished manuscript (possibly dated between 1989 and 1991), “Barry Fell’s West Virginia Fraud.” Hopefully this valuable study will become publicly accessible. but after the author’s death in 1991, the manuscript has ‘fallen between the cracks’. In 1995 I contacted the author’s close colleagues to make them aware of the ms. (I sent them a copy), but I am unaware of any effort to publish the work. By chance I found his son’s address in June 2001 and also mailed him a copy of the study with the hope he might see the ms. to print. ]
As shown in Figure 2, the ogam consonant graphemes were generally formed of linear components, probably for ease of chiseling. The vowels were represented by either pecked out 'dots' or short bars carved along a centerline. Ogam was normally carved on the edges of squared stone pillars, with the sharp edges serving as the centerline along which the alphabet was carved. Because erosion first affects such sharp, exposed surfaces, and because the ogam vowels are carved on the centerline -- the corner of the pillar stone -- vowels are often blurred in surviving ogam stones (Lehman:1975:116). One will note that the ogam letters were named after various trees, perhaps as a way of mneumonicizing the alphabet.
Ogam Inscription Contents
Ogam inscriptions in Europe are mostly inscriptions of ownership. Most of them read like the following example: “Dofeti Maqqi Cattini,” or "(the stone of) Dofet the son of Cattin" (Lehman:1975:17). As such they may serve as territorial markers since graves are unassociated with them.
The oral/literary tradition of Ireland supplies some information as well. The heroes in the sagas often carve ogam on a hobbling device (a hoop of wood) or on a stick and leave them at boundary demarcators like fords (Kinsella: 1969: 263). The animal hobble is used as a symbolic restriction of human movement. An example follows; Queen Medb of Connacht has just come upon her warriors, who are waiting at a ford in the river -- one of the borders of the tribe she is attacking:
"Why are you waiting here?" [says Medb]
"We are waiting here because of this spancel-hoop," Fergus said. "There is an ogam message on the peg. It says: 'Come no further unless you have a man who can make a hoop like this with one hand out of one piece. I exclude my friend Fergus.' It is clear Cuchulainn did this," said Fergus...If you ignore this challenge and pass by, the fury of the man who cut that ogam will reach you even if you are under protection, or locked in your homes" (Kinsella: 1969: 70-1).
And later in the epic, the hero performs a similar ritual:
Cuchulainn went around the armies until he reached Ath Gabla. There he cut out a tree-fork with a single stroke of his sword and stuck it in the middle of the stream, so that a chariot would have no room to pass it on either side...[the attacking army comes to the ford and]...One of their men read out the ogam on the side of the fork: that it was single man who had thrown the fork, using one hand, and that they mustn't go past until one of them -- not Fergus -- did the same, single-handed (Kinsella: 1969: 73).
We also see the ogam being used in the familiar way that it exists in the archaeological record. A warrior has just been killed by Cuchulainn:
Cladair a fert iarum; satir a liae; scribthair a ainm n-oguim; agair a gubae (Strachan:1944:33).
His grave is dug afterward; his stone is fixed; his name is written in ogam; his lamentation is celebrated. (My translation).
Thus we can see how folklore depicts the use of ogam, both practically and fancifully. However, both depictions of the use ogam are shown in their border-demarcation function (see Tarzia:1984 [now 1987], for a more complete discussion of boundary definition in Celtic society). This leads to an interesting point undiscussed, as far as I know, by scholars. Recall that ogam script was named after species of trees. Consider also that tradition and translation assigns a territorial/ownership function to ogam. The historical tracts mention the use of "trees/shrubs of various species" as being used to mark tribal borders (O'Rian:1972). Perhaps we can tenuously relate this fact to the tree-names of the script and to its evident function in Celtic society.
New England Ogam
The ogam carvings claimed to be of New World origin show a very vague resemblance to traditional ogam: usually we must stretch the imagination to “see” this ogam. Also, most cases of claimed New World ‘ogam’ is not constrained along an upright stone pillar but rather is carved on a flat surface of a stone. For example, Figure 3 is a reproduction of rock striations that Barry Fell claims to be ogam*, Fell translates them as "alas--guy, son of h". Presumably, the dash represents some missing component of the proper name 'Alas--guy'? A transcription of this might roughly be "Alas--guy Maqq H." The word 'maqq' might be alternatively spelled 'macc, maqq' according to the spelling system used by the scribe, or 'mapp/mabb,' according to the form of Celtic used: P or Q-Celtic. P-Celtic was predominantly a continental dialect or British dialect (Lehman:1975:98). See Lehman's text for a transliteration of this example into the original ogam. Variants are supplied since vowels are spelled differently in old Celtic languages according to the date and other linguistic circumstances.
[ June 2001 note to replace the pasted-in hand-drawing-- from memory, the stone is flat and oblong, looks to be naturally eroded into a smooth rounded shape, is about an inch thick, 6 to 8 inches wide, and 9 to 12 inches long. The ‘ogam’ appears as dull, shallow scratches or abrasions in the flat surface, difficult to see without the white chalk or paint outlining them ].
Now let us observe Barry Fell's carving. Of course, it is difficult to know from which end the carving is meant to read since it does not come from an upright stone. If the carving was very regular, we might divine the bottom of the carving by noting the form of the characters (much like we would know how to position words carved in modern English characters). However, the rough form of the characters makes this difficult. Moreover, the graphemes themselves do not differentiate very well between what might be shorter vowel symbols and the longer consonant symbols. Using the ogam guide provided above, and assuming the 'bottom' of the carving is at the two longest components, we can transliterate to the following phonemes -- and to be fair to the possibilities, I will provide several possible permutations that the roughness of the graphemes necessitates (see Figure 4 for ogam transliteration):
Perspective 1: long notches assumed to be bottom
1) g h a b h --- 2) g h m b h --- 3) g h h a b h --- 4) m m h m b h
Perspective 2: long notches assumed to be top:
1) b h a b d --- 2) b h m b h h --- 3) b h a b g --- 4) b h a b h h --- 5) b h m b g
As shown, the attempt to translate Fell's ogam text results in a confusing conglomeration of phonemes. Perspective 1:2, g h m b h, or grouping them, gh mb h, does result in a butchered, near unintelligible rendition of perhaps "Guy son of H" -- if we attempt to transliterate without vowels and if we group the graphemes together conveniently. We must also ignore the two scratches off to the side of the carving, since they are not constrained to a centerline. Note that Celtic ogam does not usually omit vowels except where weathering has eroded the corner of the pillar stone. Even this version results only if we stretch to the breaking point our transliteration of the striations.
In this case I think we have glacial striations or other natural features of erosion or fracturing. We might search through the forest and translate many boulders, all the time stretching our definition of what ogam might look like until we have discovered a Celtic Declaration of Independence strewn across New England. More seriously, if the above ogam carving is similar to its fellows in other collections and publications, then we need not make the possibility of New England ogam a primary concern.
Aside from artifacts of Europe, we might expect to find aboriginal evidence at MH. The few Indian artifacts found at the site -- a woodland style pot, a possible few fragments of stone tools (nothing diagnostic) -- cannot argue for a strong Indian occupation. The existence of Indian artifacts on the site comes as no surprise, since Indians have lived in the Eastern Hemisphere for possibly as long as 20,000 years (see Adovasio and Carlisle:1984, and Adovasio, et al:1983).
It is also not surprising to find a profusion of colonial-era artifacts at MH that attest to the origins of at least the chambers and walls of the site. And oddly enough, the most obvious explanation for these components of MH is the least expounded. Gary Vecelius's archaeological report on MH (1955) is not often quoted by those who support a trans-Atlantic theory of the site -- though the fact that he once did good, detailed work at the site is a fact often brought up by these same people. This is understandable, since the attention invested in the site by this professional archaeologist tends to legitimize its importance. However, much argument would be saved if close attention was invested into his site report. I speak in particular of Vecelius's important findings in conjunction with the odd "Y" cavern:
...as we took up the rocks, one by one, a considerable number of artifacts were found in situ (Fig. 7; Plate IV, C [author's note: not supplied in this report]). In our opinion, these artifacts, by virtue of their position within the wall, constitute incontrovertible evidence of its age, and, in view of the fact that the wall itself seems to form an integral part of the Cavern as a whole, we feel that they date the entire structure. These objects -- brick fragments, potsherds, nails, and chunks of a plaster-like substance -- can in every case be matched with other specimens from Pattee's cellar. There can be no question but that they date from the early nineteenth or very late eighteenth century (Vecelius:30).
More recently, I was present during the summer of 1984 when some minor restorative work was being done to one of the chambers. Since several large stones had to be put back into place, it was agreed that the work allowed a rare chance to sift the fill behind the careening wall for artifacts that might have fallen there during the construction of the site. This proceeded with open expectations -- and produced a small array of colonial-period sherds and a more modern bottlecap! This minor work only confirms Vecelius's findings. So too do the large number of colonial-to-recent artifacts that were surface-scatters and still remain largely unstudied in the site’s storage boxes and on the ground.
Material and Historical Evidence from Other Sites
John R. Cole, of the 1980 University of Massachusetts Archaeological field school, conducted a survey of stone chambers in Massachusetts. He reports:
No evidence was found to suggest that [Massachusetts megalithic] structures preceded historic settlement. The popular assertion that they are stylistically similar to pre-Columbian Old World structures may be true, but they are also stylistically and technologically similar to unquestioned 19th century constructions which employed mortarless masonry, slab and cobble raw materials, and corbelled vaults in foundations, mill works, pounds, drains, canals, and bridges (Cole:1982:53).
Giovanna Neudorfer of Vermont's State Historical Society conducted a detailed, three-year study of similar sites in Vermont. In her book, Vermont Stone Chambers, she states "[The] stone chambers in Vermont are a local response to local environmental conditions (Neudorfer:1979:61)." This conclusion is in keeping with Cole's findings, which see the Massachusetts chambers as "artifacts of a short-lived adaptational experiment...their technology did not persist, and one must conclude that these stone chambers represent a truncated adaptive style, technology and lifeway" (Cole:54). This lifeway may have been the "regional expression of the root crop revolution of the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries" (Dincauze:1983:5). The chambers could well serve as temperature regulated storage cells for such vegetables (Ibid).
Clearly, the material evidence from these sites suggests nothing to support a sensational origin. Yet "every archaeologist who has worked on American 'Megalith' claims has probably been accused of perfidy at one time or another, when results turned out not to support exotic claims" (Cole:38). Such an approach to science would not benefit Mystery Hill.
Summary of the Chronological and Artifactual Evidence
All of the cultures can be eliminated as candidates if we make use of the 1200 BC date and if we insist MH is a ritual site. For the purposes of argument I included the 1200 BC radiocarbon date as a factor -- mainly to show that this date, upon which many enthusiasts hang their arguments, invalidates some of the cultures they like to claim as MH builders. Without this factor -- and I think we may safely eliminate the charcoal sample as being important -- we are left with aboriginal culture and post-Columbian culture (post-Columbian colonial culture must be eliminated if we still insist MH is ritualistic). These are the only cultures that cannot be entirely eliminated on the basis of social structure or artifactual remains. And the Indian connection is itself tenuous.
In closing, the work of Vecelius and of others working within a modern anthropological framework do not support the idea that the main site (the chambers) are of an unusual origin or explainable through sensational hypotheses such as Druidic or Phoenician involvement. True, they are anomalous in regard to the run-of-the-mill colonial and post-colonial architecture of New England -- and the chambers continue to remain as potent reminders of the range of individual behavior in the archaeological record and its affect on broad archaeological interpretations. Thus the owners are correct -- even obliged -- to continue to present the site to the public as a noteworthy feature of New England's historical culture-scape.
However, I have not discussed the most talked-about feature of the site -- the so-called 'standing stones.' The parameters of this analysis still apply to them; in other words a European, Old World, or 'ancient astronaut' basis for the standing stones is not supportable at this time. But we are still left with colonials and Indians as the likely builders for these seemingly odd features. The remainder of this paper will focus on these two possibilities. I begin by asking whether the standing stones mean anything at all.
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