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Summary and Conclusion
I have examined Mystery Hill and falsified several of the more sensational of the hypotheses that have been applied toward its origin. The slab and corbelled chambers, although peculiar, probably represent 1) the sharing of a general 18th agricultural/architectural innovation of New England, 2) the more localized manifestation of the latter phenomenon through the local building materials that occur naturally at MH, and 3) finally, the individual 'flavor' of the person or family who built the site. Secondly, recent and not so recent investigators collected a variety of colonial-era artifacts in direct relation to the chambers -- these results serve to date the chambers most probably to the postColumbian colonial period even without analogies to other sites.
For those theories that rely on direct analogy to European megalithic sites, I have reviewed the consequences of rituals in ranked and egalitarian societies; I found that a site of Mystery Hill's configuration simply does not fit what European societies were accustomed to producing. Thus I falsified the European basis for MH according to cultural parameters. Furthermore, the more specific we get in our analogies, the more we can falsify -- if we review what the Celts, Vikings, Phoenicians, etc., had built throughout their individual histories, the picture of MH as a temple for any of these people becomes evermore unlikely.
I left the chambers of MH as colonial artifacts -- interesting in their own right -- and considered the as yet undated 'standing stones.' I found that they do not appear to have been shaped by humans -- only moved by humans. Furthermore, the roughness of their form and distribution argues for a nonritual use for them. More importantly, a random-point analysis produces a simulated site-map from which -- if we did not know better -- we could 'discover' an astronomically aligned site and justify it in a way similar to the process that has been occurring at MH. More than anything else, this analysis sheds doubt on alignment claims for the standing stones. This doubt demands that further evaluations of this nature be made.
In the end we are left with a site with very little sensational basis. Even if the standing stones remain 'enigmatic,' we are still left with a far simpler hypotheses -- such as the aboriginal hypothesis. So far the popular literature has stressed that only ancient Europeans -- read that as ancient whitefolk -- could have produced MH. Yet such a view ignores entirely the culturally rich, native Indian inhabitants of this continent; thus the transatlantic views have a faint odor of racism about them.
I suggest that the following options remain: 1) that MH is a peculiar colonial farmstead (highly likely), or 2) the site is colonial farmstead with an aboriginal component -- the standing stones (not too likely). And either way, a basic research strategy should apply:
1) Research at the site should be coordinated and focused: realistic scientific goals must be formulated, a strategy for reaching them defined, and all efforts focused on completing and professionally publishing the results. (See Dincauze 1984 on the problems of inadequate hypothesis testing methods in archaeology [note to self; work in this article don’t just mention it!]).
2) Further research should continue without the aid of excavation for the present time. Until a professionally trained archaeologist with realistic time and/or funding studies the site, amateur excavation can only lose evidence and continue to earn MH a poor scientific reputation. This is not to say that all research must cease. But research may be nondestructive and still provide valuable insights.
Focusing the Goals
During my own experience at the site I have observed a fundamental inefficiency: 1) the lack of well-thought hypothesis testing and 2) a lack of focused cooperation for reaching research goals.
1) As for the importance of hypothesis testing, I shall quote Hole and Heizer (1971:17):
The central idea behind "new" archeology was that one should establish and test hypotheses and that to do so requires the explicit statement of relationships between theory and archaeological data; that is, the setting up of an appropriate research design so that the results, like those from any good experiment, give definitive answers.
2) As for a lack of cooperation toward research goals, this is a guilt that I have shared in -- and so I am well qualified to identify it and its effects. For example, in my zeal to demonstrate a surface-scatter survey method on a portion of the site, I defined an unrealistic time-frame in which to complete the work, and considered myself able to complete the work alone. The only thing I demonstrated was that even a scatter survey demands a considerable effort. Furthermore, I required help in the project, which was unavailable, partially because I did not ask in time, and partially because other researchers were off doing their own projects -- for the most part single-handed like I was.
Time spent in formulating research goals and a research design to meet them will in the long run be extremely beneficial for the site. So far the strategy of "we're sure this is a Bronze Age site and we must dig up a bronze axe to show it" is too shallow to be useful -- and it alienates the scientific community. A basic goal should be the formulation and testing of reasonable hypotheses. When a theory requires more imagination, fact interpretation, and emotion than another theory, it is too complex, i.e., transatlantic theories. So far the most reasonable hypothesis is the 'colonial' one, and it is the logical starting point. With the burden of evidence on the colonial side, it makes far better sense to define in great detail the colonial-era presence at the site before doing other work.
Testing the colonial hypothesis first need not exclude the evaluation of other possibilities. Indeed, if results of research turn up material evidence or deductions that do not support a colonial basis for the site, then the hypothesis is at least partially falsifiable, which should lead to the next most plausible hypothesis, such as the aboriginal one. The most important point here is that reasonable research does not exclude any possibilities for MH -- it just approaches the question of origins from the most reasonable standpoint.
A focused effort might logically begin with studying the surface-scatters that have accumulated over the years and are yet to be found. Reconstructing formally where these artifacts were found, what they are, and publishing the results can go a long way to defining the cultural presence. And performing a surface scatter survey (as that defined in Moir:1983:15ff) does not destroy the site, does not require a huge work force, and requires minimal financial investment. Yet the results of a nondestructive survey can help answer many questions.
And even nondestructive tests must be reasonable to save time and money. In 1986 I heard of plans to perform aerial infrared photography to survey the site features nondestructively. However, I also heard mentioned the possibility of "finding new chambers" with the infra-red photographs. Therefore it is possible to use otherwise fine research methods along with an old 'research' philosophy.
I would like to thank the employees and part-owners of Mystery Hill (now called 'America's Stonehenge') for allowing me free rein in investigating the site -- even when many of my ideas went against their own. Thanks also goes to Professors Dena Dincauze and John W. Cole (not to be confused with John R. Cole) for supplying information about modern surface-scatter survey techniques and for answering my questions about recent work in historical archaeology. However, let me stress that formulations in this paper are solely my responsibility. [ June 2001 note -- thanks to John R. Cole (not to be confused with John W. Cole!) who from 1988 onward has taught me much about pseudoscience movements and useful ways to think about them. ]
(Note: A few of the reference below were not cited in the discussion above; I inserted some over the years in anticipation of continuing this project.)
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Figure 1 -- Awkward sighting lines at Mystery Hill throw doubt on its astronomical purpose.
Figure 2 -- The Ogam alphabet (after Lehman:1975).
Figure 3 -- Purported New England ogam carvings translated by Barry Fell
Figure 4 -- Suggested ogam transliteration of Barry Fell's ogam text.
Figure 5 -- Downhill erosion is an ideal mechanism for making slabs.
Figure 6 -- Typical natural slabs found at Mystery Hill (off main site).
Figure 7 -- Demonstration of a random point analysis.
Figure 8 -- Typical kinds of backsights for astronomical complexes.
Figure 9 -- First Experiment: random scatter of 100 points, unconstrained.
Figure 10 -- Random 100 point scatter of 'standing stones' with sample 'azimuth' lines shows 28 paired alignments of stones.
Figure 11 -- Computer generated grid segment for random point book-keeping and the 'generic' site layout around which they were placed.
Figure 12 -- Results of the 65 point, linearly-constrained, scatter experiment shows areas of multiple alignment centers.
APPENDIX A -- Tables of Random Numbers
APPENDIX B -- PLOTS
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