Native American Theory
The first comprehensive discussion of the Native American theory of origins for the America’s Stonehenge site was published in Mary Gage’s book America’s Stonehenge Deciphered (2006). Previous researchers have mentioned the theory and a few have ventured to argue the Native American origins for specific structures but not the whole site. David Stewart-Smith’s booklet Ancient and Modern Quarry Techniques (1989) being one of the more important contributions to the theory. Exactly who was the first to proposed this theory and when is unclear.
The Native American theory as proposed by author and researcher Mary Gage is as follows: America’s Stonehenge was built as a sacred ceremonial center by Native Americans over a 2500 year period in five cultural phases, each with its own distinct architecture. The archaeological and physical evidence at the site attests to the fact that the Native Americans possessed the technical skills to quarry the surfaced bedrock, shape the stones, move multi-ton slabs, and to construct stone structures using dry masonry techniques. The symbolism, architecture, complex stone structures, and carefully designed layout of the site speak of a culture which had developed a set of sophisticated cultural, religious, and spiritual traditions.
The case for the Native American origins of America’s Stonehenge is complex. It relies on multiple lines of evidence much of which is inter-related to each other. The evidence comes from traditional sources like archaeological excavations, cultural artifacts, C-14 dates, and petroglyphs (i.e. carved rock art). This evidence attests to a Native American presence on Mystery Hill from circa 7,000 years ago to as late as the early 1700’s. This evidence alone does not demonstrate that the Native Americans were the builders of the stone structures. Therefore one must turn to other lines of evidence like studying the architecture of the buildings, analyzing the repeated use of symbolism, evaluating the quarrying methods for the stone slabs, investigating the drain and basin features, and so forth. (These various lines of evidence are discussed throughout this website.) As these different layers of evidence are compiled together a compelling argument emerges in support of the Native Americans origins of the site.
Native American Pottery
In 1969, James Whittall Jr. excavated a Native American clay pit and pottery manufacturing area found between the wetlands pool and the well located along the lower processional. Whittall reported “Next to the bog an excavation was conducted into a small mound … This lead to the discovery of a large fire pit and numberous [numerous] stone tools directly related to the making of pottery. One perforate sherd was found.” Whittall found that, “Quartz spallings, heavily fire-burned, were found in conjunction with quartz grit, as well as a small hand hammer for reducing the fired quartz to a grit filler. Numberous hand scrapers as well as stone tools for shaping pots were uncovered. … The sherd that was found was of a coarse grit with a perforated hole near the rim.” (Whittall 1969, 80)
Excavations at the large cave (i.e. rockshelter) recovered “… one broken [stone] blade and hundreds of pieces of two types of pottery of Early Woodland vintage …” (Stone 1975, 97) One of the ceramic vessels was partially pieced back together and is on display at the Visitor’s Center. The pottery is dated to circa 2500-1800 B.P. (550 B.C. - 150 A.D.)
Native American Artifacts
Stone Tools – A number of prehistoric Native American stone tools including hammer stones, scrapers, projectile points, and retouched blades have been found during excavations at the site. A small sampling of these artifacts are on display at the visitor’s center.
Excavations on the north side of collapsed chamber by James Whittall Jr. found charcoal, fire-burnt stone spalls, hammer stone, broken pick, and scraper in the same archaeological strata. The charcoal was C-14 dated to 2995 +/- 180 B.P. (1045 B.C.) Fire-burnt stone spalls are small flakes of stone created during the process of quarrying and shaping blocks of stone by heating them. This evidence links the Native Americans directly to stone quarrying activity on the site and construction of stone structures some 3,000 years ago. (Whittall 1991, 64)
Examples of some of Native American stone tools
Small Scraper Rhyolite Flake Tool
Hammer Stone Argalite Point
Quartzite Hammer Stone Chert Point
3/4 Groove Stone Ax (Early to Late Archaic)
Quarry Tools – James Whittall Jr. described these ten artifacts found at the site as quarrying tools. Artifact #9 is 12 inches high and provides a sense of scale for the others. Artifacts #1-#4, #6, #7 all have pointed ends and are similar to documented quarrying tools found during excavations of Native American soapstone quarrying sites. #5 is a Native American hammer stone. Whittall lists #7 through #9 as either spades or hoes. This interpretation is questionable (see next paragraph). (Whittall 1970, 84)
Worked Flat Stone with Protrusion – A thin rectangular slate stone with two corners removed was found at the site by William Goodwin. The edges of the stone are flaked. The flaking around edge is crisp not worn which indicates it was not used for any type of work. This would suggest it was a ceremonial object. Its shape is similar to a class of Native American ceremonial stones known as Manitou stones. [Other researchers have speculated that it was a mace, shovel, or hoe] (Photograph by O. Stone, printed in Feldman 1977, 35)
Small Stone Block – This is a rectangular shaped block with holes drilled into two or four of it’s sides. (Goodwin 1946, 87; Photograph by M. Pearson)
Thick Green Glass Shard with flaked edges – A thick shard of green bell jar dating from 17th or 18th century was found at the site. The shard had edges which were flaked in the same manner used for Native American stone tools. This is one a number of glass shards recovered from a cache. This artifact attests to a Native American presence at the site as late as the 1700’s.
Paint Cup – A small Native American stone mortar classified by archaeologists as a paint cup was found at the site. It was used to grind pigments for paint. Paint cups are usually associated ceremonial activities. Native Americans have a long tradition of using body paint as part of religious rituals.
Mortar and Pestle – Stone mortar is approximately four inches high by three to four inches diameter. Stone pestle is approximately four inches long. The two artifacts are shown in a Malcolm Pearson photograph where “James Whittall examines artifacts on the site, 1974”, the photograph is in America’s Stonehenge: The Mystery Hill Story, From Ice Age to Stone Age by David Goudsward with Robert Stone (2003) Photograph by M. Pearson. This is an another example of clearly Native American artifact.
Pendants – Two pendants with a single drilled hole in each of them were found in the Watch House Chamber (personal communication Dennis Stone 2/16/2010). The hole would allow the pendant to be hung on a cord around the neck. Pendants are well documented as items of personal adornment amongst the Native Americans. Many Native American pendants are believed to have had spiritual meaning to their owners. It should be noted that the slate pendant has a similar profile as the north stone indicating a connecting specifically to this site.
Pecked Grooves (Drains) & Basins
A total of 25 carved grooves, basins, or combination groove & basin features are documented at the site. Five of the pecked drains and basins were carved into stone slabs. Of these one is the Large Grooved Stone. All others were either pecked or abraded into the bedrock. The pecking was accomplished using hammer stones. There is no evidence of iron tool marks with any of these features. The technique of carving by pecking away at the rock with a hammer stone is a distinctly Native American method. This technique was never used by settlers or farmers. Many of these pecked grooves and basins are directly associated with structures on the site. For photographs and other pertinent details please see the Drains & Basins webpage.
A number of petroglyphs (carved rock art) have been found at site. Previous researchers have hypothesized that some of the carvings represent various ancient European inscriptions. This hypothesis has failed to hold up to independent scholarly review. Some of the petroglyphs have carvings similar to known Native American rock art. The technique used to carve them is consistent with Native American rock art carvings. The simplest and most logical explanation for these petroglyphs is they are Native American creations.
This petroglyph is found in the Oracle Chamber. It was carved with stone tools. For many years it has been interpreted as a “running deer.” However, the carving is actually a map of the section of the Merrimack River in Haverhill, MA. For more details see the Merrimack River Petroglyph webpage.
Photograph by J. Gage
This carving depicts a spear point and a possible bird or spirit bird image. This petroglyph is stylistically similar to other well documented Native American rock art. Native American rock art is almost always related Native American spiritual beliefs whether it be a depiction of a dream or vision, a scene from a tribal story or myth, or related to ritual activities.
(Photograph by O. Stone, printed in Feldman 1977, 35)
This is an abstract petroglyph is composed of vertical and angled lines. Similar examples of abstract linear designs are found on Native American pottery and carved stone objects found at Native American sites. This topic is covered in greater detail in the Manana Island Petroglyph article on the www.StoneStructures.org website.
(Photograph by O. Stone, printed in Feldman 1977, 81)
See #3 write-up
(Photograph by O. Stone, printed in Feldman 1977, 81)
These trapezoid shaped petroglyphs are found n the north-south room of the Oracle chamber. They were carved by a method called pecking, a Native American technique. These carvings are recessed into the surfaces and have a clearly defined upper edge as shown in the photo on the right.
(photos by J. Gage)
This carved boulder is found on the western slopes of Mystery Hill. It has been referred to as the “G” stone for many years. The image on the boulder is created by pecked grooves, natural fractures, and natural fractures which have been modified. The meaning and purpose of the carving is unknown but it consistent with other examples of abstract linear rock art found at the site. (Photos by J. Gage)
This is a small sampling of the evidence for a Native American presence at Mystery Hill and evidence for them having constructed the stone structures for ritual purposes.
For Further Reading
The article Native American Historical Beliefs and Cultural Concepts Applicable to Stone Structures (at the authors’ other website www.stonestructures.org) has information on interpreting the ceremonial structures at America’s Stonehenge and other stone structure sites in northeastern United States.
NOTE: Some of these images come from published works which may still be copyrighted. These images are reproduced on this webpage for educational purposes only. If the copyright holder has any objection please contact us at the email address in copyright banner below.
The references for all the articles on this website are consolidated on the Bibliography page.