10 Archaeological Mysteries of the United
States. These ancient American relics remain unexplained.
A centuries-old stone wall, stretching for miles; enormous pictures scratched into the
ground of a desert; rocks arranged in a circle. You know what these landmarks are, right?
Guess again. Instead of the Great Wall of China or Stonehenge, these are all ancient
American ruins and landmarks. The United States is a relative newcomer to the world stage,
but there have been people long living on this continent, and they’ve left traces
of their presence just as mysterious as those found in other countries.
1. Mystery Hill: America’s Stonehenge. SALEM, NEW HAMPSHIRE.
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.
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. 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. 2. Casa Grande Ruins.
COOLIDGE, ARIZONA. This is an artist’s depiction of the Casa
Grande (“Great House”), and its surrounding compound as it may have appeared around 1350
C.E. One of the largest prehistoric structures ever built in North America, its purpose remains
a mystery. Archeologists have discovered evidence that
the ancient Sonoran Desert people, who built the Casa Grande also developed wide scale
irrigation farming, and extensive trade connections which lasted over a thousand years, until
about 1450 C.E. Archeologists call a site where there are earthen buildings, red on
buff pottery, and extensive canals “Hohokam” but this is not the name of a tribe or a people.
Years of misunderstanding have confused the ancestors of the O’Odham, Hopi, and Zuni people
with the name Hohokam, which is not a word in any of their languages nor the name of
a separate people. The Casa Grande was abandoned around 1450
C.E. Since the ancient Sonoran Desert people who built it left no written language behind,
written historic accounts of the Casa Grande begin with the journal entries, of Padre Eusebio
Francisco Kino when he visited the ruins in 1694. In his description of the large ancient
structure before him, he wrote the words “casa grande” (or “great house”), which are still
used today. More became known about the ruins with the later visits of Lt. Col. Juan Bautista
de Anza’s expedition in 1775 and Brig. Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny’s military detachment
in 1846. Subsequent articles written about the Casa Grande increased public interest.
During the 1860’s through the 1880’s more people, began to visit the ruins with the
arrival of a railroad line twenty miles to the west, and a connecting stagecoach route
that ran right by the Casa Grande. The resulting damage from souvenir hunting, graffiti and
outright vandalism raised serious concerns, about the preservation of the Casa Grande. Anthropologist and historian Adolph Bandelier,
visited the Casa Grande ruins in 1883 – 1884, and reported on its condition and probable
significance. The Hemenway Southwestern Archaeological Expedition of 1887-1888, sponsored by Massachusetts
philanthropist Mary Hemenway, and led by anthropologist Frank H. Cushing, produced further information
on the deterioration of the Casa Grande. As a result, several influential Bostonians urged
Massachusetts Senator George F. Hoar, to present a petition before the U. S. Senate in 1889
requesting that the government take steps to repair, and protect the ruins. Repair work
began the following year, and in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison set aside one square mile
of Arizona Territory, surrounding the Casa Grande Ruins as the first prehistoric, and
cultural reserve established in the United States.
The General Land Office took over management of the ruins, and hired a young man named
Frank Pinkley in 1901, to be the first on-site custodian. In 1903 a shelter roof of corrugated
iron supported by redwood timbers was built over the Casa Grande, and between 1906 and
1908 major excavations, and repairs of the ruins were conducted under the direction of
Jesse Fewkes of the Bureau of Ethnology. Most of the lower walls visible today were uncovered
at that time. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Casa Grande Ruins to be a National Monument
on August 3, 1918 and management of the Ruins was transferred to the National Park Service.
Frank Pinkley stayed on as custodian and eventually became the superintendent of all southwest
monuments. Part of his promotion effort was to produce a wide range of literature about
Casa Grande Ruins, and to host the annual Arizona Pageant from 1926 to 1930.
Several important construction projects were undertaken during the 1930’s. The main part
of the visitor center building with adjacent parking lot and entrance road, and a new steel
shelter roof over the Casa Grande, were completed in 1932. Between 1937 and 1940, the Civilian
Conservation Corps constructed a number of adobe buildings to support park operations.
All of these structures remain in use today, and are now listed on the National Register
of Historic Places. As a result, the general physical appearance of Casa Grande Ruins has
changed, very little since the 1940’s. Continuing research, ruins repairs, interpretive
programs, and visitor center remodeling are all part of the continuing effort, to provide
the best visitor experience possible, and to fulfill the National Park Service’s mission
to protect, preserve and make available for present and future generations the many wonders
of Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. 3. The Blythe Intaglios.
BLYTHE, CALIFORNIA. The Blythe Intaglios, often called America’s
Nazca Lines, are a series of gigantic geoglyphs found fifteen miles north of Blythe California
in the Colorado Desert. In the Southwestern United States alone, there are over 600 intaglios
(anthropomorphic geoglyphs), but what separates the ones near Blythe is their size and intricacy.
In total, there are six figures in three different locations, all within 1,000 feet from one
another, situated on two mesas. The geoglyphs depict drawings of humans, animals, objects,
and geometric shapes, all of which can be seen from the air.
The Blythe geoglyphs were first discovered on November 12th, 1931 by army air corps pilot
George Palmer while flying from the Hoover Damn to Los Angeles. His discovery led to
a survey of the area, which resulted in the huge figures becoming classified as historical
landmarks and referred to as “Giant Desert Figures.” Lacking funds due to the Depression,
it would take until the 1950s to investigate the site further.
In 1952, the National Geographic Society and Smithsonian Institution sent a team of archaeologists
to explore the intaglios, and an article appeared in the September issue, of National Geographic
with aerial photos. It would take another five years for the geoglyphs to be restored,
and fences erected in order to protect them from vandalism and damage. It should be noted
that there is visible tire damage on some, of the geoglyphs due to the area being used
for desert training, during WWII by General George S. Patton. Today the Blythe Intaglios
are protected by two lines of fences, and open to the public at all times as State Historic
Monument No 101. The creators of the Blythe Intaglios are believed,
to be Native Americans that lived along the Colorado River, but there is no agreement
as to which tribes made them or why. One possibility put forward is that they were constructed
by the Patayan, who occupied the region from ca. 700 to 1550 AD.
While the meaning behind the glyphs remains unknown, according to Native Mohave and Quechan
tribes of the area, the human figures represent Mastamho, the Creator of Earth and all life,
while the animal figures represent Hatakulya, one of two mountain lions/persons who played
a role in the Creation story. In ancient times, ceremonial dances were held by natives in
the area to honor the Creator of Life. Since geoglyphs are difficult to date, it
is impossible to know the age of when they were made, but they are estimated to be between
450 to 2,000 years old. In support of the latter, some of the giant figures are archaeologically
associated with 2,000-year-old cliff dwellings. However, newer research by the University
of California, Berkeley has dated them to around 900 AD.
The largest of the intaglios depicts a male figure or giant, measuring 171 feet. A secondary
figure, measuring 102 feet from head to toe, is of a male with a distinct phallus. The
last human figure is oriented north-south, its arms are outstretched, its feet pointing
outward and has visible knees and elbows. It measures 105.6 feet from head to toe. The
Fisherman intaglio depicts a man with a spear, two fish below him, and a sun and serpent
above. It is the most controversial of the glyphs as some believe it was actually carved
in the 1930’s although the prevailing view still is that it is much older.
The animal figures are believed to be either horses or mountain lions. A snake intaglio
depicts a rattlesnake whose eyes are captured in the form of two rocks. It measure 150 feet
in length and has been damaged by vehicles over time.
If nothing else, the Blythe Glyphs are an expression of Native American art form, and
provide a window into the artistic abilities of the era. Whatever artist(s) made the Blythe
geoglyphs did so by scraping away dark desert stones, to reveal a lighter colored soil underneath.
They outlined the symbols by heaping rocks pulled away, from the center around the outside
edges, creating sunken designs. 4. Judaculla Rock.
SYLVA, NORTH CAROLINA. Buried in the mountains of Jackson County,
just outside of Sylva, there exists a very, very strange rock. The rock is rather large
and adorned with mysterious and indistinguishable carvings and writings. The ancient petroglyphs
are said to date back almost 3000 years. The story of the rock and how it came to be is
unknown, but deeply rooted in Cherokee folklore. Judaculla Rock has no definitive origin, and
is said to date back to before the Cherokee Indians inhabited the land. The drawings,
carvings, writings all seem to be some sort of ‘map’ or maybe a story? Archaeologists
believe the rock might be 2,000 – 3,000 years old.
The name Judaculla is a corruption of the Cherokee word Tsul`kälû´, the name of a
giant who was said to live in the area. Tsul`kälû´ literally translates as “he has them slanting.”
In this case, what’s slanting is the giant’s eyes, so the name Tsul`kälû´ is usually
translated as “Slant-Eyed Giant.” Someone must have been being polite to this towering
figure when they gave him that name, because that’s not the most distinguishing physical
feature of the giant. Tsul`kälû´ was over seven feet tall, with seven fingers on each
hand, and seven fingers on each foot. Tsul`kälû´ is also reportedly tremendously ugly, with
an exceptionally hairy body and claw-like fingernails and toenails. An important and
powerful figure in the Cherokee cosmos, Tsul`kälû´ had control of the winds, the rain, thunder,
and lightning. Tsul`kälû´ also owned all of the game in the mountains, and it was only
with his blessing that the Cherokee were allowed to hunt. Tsul`kälû´ was actively involved
in he lives of the Cherokee, even at one point taking a human wife.
There are several different explanations for how Tsul`kälû´ came to make the carvings
on the rock. One explanation is that the carvings are the hunting laws that Tsul`kälû´ lay
down for the Cherokee to obey. Another says that the markings were caused by Tsul`kälû´
using the rock to catch himself as he jumped down from his farm, which was located in a
nearby clearing known as Judaculla Old Fields. One more story focuses on a carving in the
lower right hand side, of the rock that resembles a seven toed foot. It’s said that Tsul`kälû´
was angered by a Cherokee hunting party that had trespassed on his land. In his rage, he
jumped down from his farm to run the hunters off of his land, and hit the rock with such
strength that he forced his footprint into it.
Early European settlers viewed both Judaculla Rock, and the nearby Judaculla Old Fields
with a degree of superstition, and insisted that the area was the home of the “Indian
Satan.” Rumors circulated of a giant snake that ives in the area that would swallow people
by the dozen. The rock seems to have been an important focal
point of Cherokee life in the area, and it’s said that it was the site of Cherokee religious
rituals up until the forced expulsion in the 19th Century. Archaeological evidence has
shown that the soapstone in the area, around the rock was quarried and shaped on the site
over the course of several centuries. The meaning of the carvings on the rock itself
remain mysterious, although archaeologists think that some of the more recent carvings
may be a map of the area noting the availability of resources and game.
Judaculla Rock is unique among rock carving, or petroglyph, sites east of the Mississippi.
There are 1,548 individual carvings that have been identified on the rock, more than three
times the number of the next-nearest petroglyph boulder in this part of the country at Track
Rock Gap in Northern Georgia. Recent excavations at the site have revealed
that Judaculla Rock was once part of a larger site, arranged with other boulders that have
since been removed or destroyed. The rock is also part of a large number of petroglyphs,
that are found carved on rocks and cliffs across the entire Southern Appalachians, and
which are only now being rediscovered and extensively catalogued.
How to get there. Judaculla Rock is a historic site owned, and
operated by Jackson County and is open every day until dusk.
The Rock is located near Cullowhee, North Carolina. From US 74, take Exit 85 to Business
Route 23 through Sylva. Stay on 23 for a little over a mile, then turn left onto 107. Drive
8 miles south on 107 and take a left onto Caney Fork Road. Go two and a half miles,
then turn left onto a gravel road and drive for another mile.
There’s a parking lot for visitors and a recently constructed viewing platform around the rock.
5. Bighorn Medicine Wheel. LOVELL, WYOMING.
Located high in the Bighorn Mountains of Northern Wyoming, the centuries old Medicine Wheel,
as it is known today, seems to be a testament to astronomical applications used by people,
who lived in the Northern Plains long before white men came on the scene, or even the Crow
Indians, but the structure remains as mysterious as Britain’s Stonehenge.
The Bighorn Medicine Wheel sits at nearly 10,000 feet, above sea level near the summit
of Medicine Mountain, on a ridge offering incredible vistas. The Wheel can typically
only be reached by human visitors during the warm summer months. Constructed of stones
gathered in the vicinity of the landmark, the Medicine Wheel has a diameter of 80 feet
(245 feet in circumference), with stones piled inside to form a central, donut shaped cairn
about 12 feet in diameter and two feet high. Twenty eight stone “spokes” connect the
central cairn to the outside circle, and around the circle lie six other stone cairns, some
large enough for a person to sit in. The 28 spokes probably correspond to the 28
days lunar cycle, but the number 28 seems to also fit into another part of the astronomical
puzzle. The six cairns arranged around the Wheel are definitely related to the night
skies. Two of the cairns, when lined up with the center cairn, mark the rising and setting
Summer Solstice sun. Cairn pairs also line up to show the once yearly heliacal, or dawn
risings, of certain stars in the summer. The heliacal rising of a star is the day a star
can first be seen just before dawn, after being behind the sun for a whole season, thus
pinpointing the corresponding date. Four stars figure in these observations: Fomalhaut, 28
days before the Summer Solstice, Aldebaran, rising the two mornings just before Solstice,
Rigel, 28 days after Solstice, and Sirius, rising 28 days after Rigel’s pre-dawn appearance. Estimates regarding the age of the Bighorn
Medicine Wheel vary, with 1200 A.D. being the time period when the star alignments with
the cairns were most accurate, according to Jack Robinson, the last archaeoastronomer
to publish on the wheel. Slight changes in the earth’s orbit, since then have resulted
in a not so perfect, astronomical fit star wise, but the solstice alignments are still
accurate today. With certainty, it is known that the wheel dates to before 1600 AD, because
it was at the wheel where the Crow first arrived, and a vision quest at the site caused a Crow
leader, to realize they had found their homeland. The central cairn of the Wheel, which may
have supported a large wooden pole, is thought to be the oldest part of the structure; it
extends below the wheel and wind-blown dust and debris have buried much of it. A bison
skull has often been placed on the center cairn during Native American ceremonies.
Different groups of Native Americans have utilized the Bighorn Medicine Wheel, and other
areas of Medicine Mountain for ritualistic purposes, over the centuries and continue
to do so today. An anonymous Cheyenne elder of the modern era said that, “The tribes
traditionally went and still go to the sacred mountain. The people sought the high mountain
for prayer. They sought spiritual harmony with the powerful spirits there. Many offerings
have been left on this mountain…prayers of thanks were offered for all of creation.
All of this is done so that spiritual harmony will be our constant companion throughout
the year.” While some Crow people believe the Wheel was
built “before the light came,” other Crow legends have the Sun God dropping the Wheel
from the sky. And some Crow people believe the arrangement of stones was laid down by
a Shoshone band known as the “Sheepeaters.” But whoever built the Medicine Wheel left
no clue to modern investigators as to its exact use. Today practitioners of New Age
religion as well as, Native Americans are drawn to the site of the Medicine Wheel for
ceremonial purposes. The Bighorn Medicine Wheel was added to the
National Register, of Historic Places in 1969, and last year the site was expanded, and renamed
the Medicine Wheel/Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark. The additional 4,000 acres
also contain significant Native American sacred areas, some of which are intact.
Medicine Mountain also has geological significance. There are 10 places on earth known as “nuclei
of continents,” where relatively small patches of some of the oldest rocks on earth are found.
These sections of ancient earth were first cooled on the surface, of the planet’s crust
2 to 3 billion years ago, and overlaying younger rock has worn away. Also known as continental
roots, these rocks were part of the super continent Gondwanaland, which began to break
apart some 300,000,000 years ago, and separated into the continents we know today between
65,000,000 to 1,000,000 years ago. The continents continue to drift today, but laid bare for
the open eye to see are the layers of time exposed at Medicine Mountain, with the Medicine
Wheel essentially floating on some of the oldest surface stone in existence on the planet.
A nearly 360-degree view reveals a steady geological march, downward from the summit
of Medicine Mountain to the new earth, and stone along the valley floors below, a look
at the earth’s timeline that is unequaled, by the other nine continental roots on the
earth’s surface. The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is the best example
among, several medicine wheels scattered across the American West and Canada. To reach the
Wheel, take U.S. Highway 14A west out of Lovell, Wyoming. A journey up the extremely steep
western slope of the Bighorn Range is made via an incredible set of switchbacks that
snake their way up the mountain. Turn off Highway 14 onto Forest Road, where parking
is available at a visitor center located near the Wheel. A walk of a mile or so is required
from the visitor center to the site, but handicapped visitors can drive directly to the Wheel.
The roads are usually closed from October until May, so plan your visit accordingly,
and get in touch with your spiritual self at Wyoming’s Medicine Wheel.
Note: The wheel’s cairns were once much larger and taller. Forty years ago, recognition
of this American “Stonehenge” caused a world-wide stir in the media. In 2012, evidence
suggests the wheel continues to track and predict astronomical changes through time. 6. Dighton Rock.
BERKELEY, MASSACHUSETTS. In the fall of 1680, John Danforth – with
his freshly minted degree from Harvard College – visited the South Shore of Massachusetts
in Taunton and took a side trip to see one of the curiosities of the age: The Dighton
Writing Rock. The rock, probably carved by American Indians, recorded a time when a hostile
ship arrived and fought with the local people, he recorded, and thus began the mystery of
Dighton Rock. There is no solution to the mystery of Dighton
Rock, but it has fascinated scholars, amateur archaeologists, students of New England Native
American tribes and tourists for centuries. The rock itself weighs 40 tons and is about
five feet high and 11 feet long. It bears markings and inscription across one of its
sides, that have been interpreted more than 25 times, and generated more than 35 theories
as to what they mean. It rested in the Taunton River in Dighton,
for more than 300 years, where it was partially submerged at high tide.
Danforth, who would later become a minister in Dorchester, helped popularize the rock
with his brief description, which was forwarded to the Royal Society of London for its consideration,
and his drawing of the rock remains in the collections of the British Museum today.
The prolific Cotton Mather highlighted the rock in a sermon in 1689, which he later published
as the wonderful works, of God commemorated praises bespoke for the God, of heaven in
a thanksgiving sermon delivered on December 19, 1689: containing reflections upon the
excellent things done by the great God. Mather didn’t speculate about the specifics
of the writings on the rock, but rather mentioned them as writings from a previous era carved
on the large rock, “no man alive knows how or when.” However, among his other theories,
Mather postulated that before the noble Puritans arrived in New England, a group of explorers
inspired by Satan had crossed from Europe and settled in America, only to die miserably.
Perhaps this was a remnant of that earlier group.
In 1767, Ezra Stiles, then president of Yale, declared that the figures on the rock were
Phoenician, theorizing that the Phoenicians, mainly known for their sea faring trade in
the Mediterranean, had managed a visit to North America and left the writing as a calling
card. That idea gained traction in Europe, as well,
where Danforth’s drawing was receiving fresh attention among British, and French historians.
Others concluded the markings were from Armenians, who made their way to America via Siberia.
And another camp, which had been trying to connect the origins of Native American tribes
with Asia, proposed that the characters were from explorers from Japan, China or other
parts of Asia. Later, in 1789, George Washington opined,
while touring New England that the Dighton markings were left by American Indians. They
were similar, he concluded, to Native American drawings he was familiar with in Virginia.
Thus, the founding father cast his lot with Danforth’s original reporting, that the
American Indians had left the message. In 1837, the controversy was reignited when
Danish writer Charles Christian Rafn published his Antiquities Americanae, which contained
more than 40 pages of analysis of the Dighton Rock. Rafn concluded the markings on the rock
were Norse, and found in the writing the inscription: “Thorfinn and his 151 companions took possession
of this land.” Almost no one else has been able to see the
same thing, despite countless hours of study devoted to searching.
In 1912, Edmund Burke Delabarre laid a new claim on the rock, arguing it was evidence
of Portuguese discovery of America. The Brown University scholar summered near the rock
for many years, and had spent countless hours trying to interpret the writing. He concluded
that the inscription was written by Portuguese explorer Miguel Corte Real, who had left Portugal
in 1502, on an exploratory voyage and was never heard from again.
Delabarre proposed that he had been heard from, in the inscription on the rock that
read: “I, Miguel Cortereal, 1511. In this place, by the will of God, I became a chief
of the Indians.” In 1963, a group of preservationists finally
wrested the rock from the riverbed, and placed it in its own museum in Berkley, Massachusetts,
where it continues to inspire controversy. In 2002, a scholar claimed that the inscriptions
were Chinese, and evidence of the Chinese discovery of America, a claim that was as
controversial as any. 7. The Great Serpent Mound.
HILLSBORO, OHIO. The Great Serpent Mound is a 1,300 foots long,
and 3 foots high prehistoric effigy mound located on a plateau of a crater along Ohio
Brush Creek in Adams County, Ohio, and is the largest surviving prehistoric effigy mound
in the world. Resembling an uncoiling serpent, the mound is steeped in mystery and controversy.
Despite over a century of research, there is no conclusive evidence about what it represents,
when it was built, and what its true purpose was, though various astronomical alignments
suggest it may have functioned as a type of calendar.
The Serpent Mound conforms to the curve of the land on which it rests, with its head
approaching a cliff above a stream. It winds back and forth for more than eight hundred
feet and has seven distinct coils, ending in a triple-coiled tail. The serpent head
has an open mouth extending around the east end, of a 120-foot-long hollow oval feature,
which is generally viewed as an egg, although other interpretations suggest it is the sun,
the body of a frog, or merely the remnant of a platform. To the west of the effigy,
is a triangular mound measuring approximately 32 feet at its base and long axis. The Serpent
Mound is believed to have been laid out all at once, with a layer of clay and ash, and
reinforced with stones. Thousands of years ago, Native American peoples
populated the Ohioan landscape, with mounds and massive earthworks. Initial research attributed
the effigy to the Adena culture, which flourished from 1000 BC to 100 AD. The Adena culture
are well-known for building burial and effigy mounds, many of which are located near the
Great Serpent Mound. However, radiocarbon dating on pieces of charcoal found within
the Serpent Mound established that people worked on the mound around 1070 AD. Thus,
the mound may have been built by the Fort Ancient peoples, who lived in the Ohio Valley
from 1000 CE to 1550 CE. Nevertheless, the testing is not conclusive as it only reveals
that 1000-year-old charcoal was found within the mound. This could have ended up there
long after the effigy was originally built. Interpretations of the Serpent Mound.
The most predominant theory is that the Serpent Mound represents a giant snake, which is slowly
uncoiling itself and about to seize a huge egg within its extended jaws. However many
theories abound suggesting various interpretations. For instance, some think it may represent
an eclipse, or the phases of the moon. Others have speculated that it represents the myth,
of the horned serpent found in many Native American cultures. In 1909, local German Baptist
minister Landon West proposed another unusual theory: the serpent was writhing in its death
throes as punishment for tempting Adam, and Eve in what West believed was the original
Garden of Eden. There are serious suggestions that the serpent
is intimately connected with the heavens. Several writers have suggested that the serpent
is a model of the constellation we call the Little Dipper, its tail coiled about the North
Star. Various alignments of the serpent correspond
to astronomical features, such as alignments of the sun and moon. In 1987, Clark and Marjorie
Hardman published their finding, that the oval to head area of the serpent is aligned
to the summer solstice sunset, suggesting that one of the effigy’s purposes was to
mark the turning, of the year so that planting and gathering and hunting could be planned.
William F. Romain has suggested an array of six lunar alignments corresponding to the
curves in the effigy’s body. If the Serpent Mound were designed to sight both solar and
lunar arrays, it would be reflect the consolidation of astronomical knowledge into a single symbol.
Generations of researchers agree with the theory that the Serpent Mound holds astronomical
significance, but the intent of those who built the serpent, and how it was used still
remains a mystery. Many scholars believe the Serpent Mound was
used in religious ceremonies. When settlers first discovered the mound, there was a fire
scorched stone monument in the egg-shaped head, which has led some to suggest it was
used as an altar of some sort, possibly sacrificial, based on the ceremonial knives unearthed among
the blackened stones, and a number of headless skeletons discovered in gravesites nearby.
Whatever its true purpose, the Serpent Mound attests to the ingenuity of its creators.
As the Ancient Ohio Trail website so aptly states: “The genius of its designers remains
apparent: this blend of beauty, familiarity, abstraction, power, precision, and mystery,
make Ohio’s Serpent Mound one of the great, iconic images for all of human antiquity.”
8. Berkeley Mystery Walls. SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA.
The ancient Berkeley walls remain an ancient unsolved enigma. Often referred to as the
“Great Wall of California”, it still remains unknown who constructed the stone walls and
for what reason. Could they be evidence that an ancient unknown advanced civilization once
settled in the East Bay? Ancient walls leading to a mysterious stone
circle. Stretching for over 50 miles, the East Bay
“Mystery Walls” are found up and down the hills, of the East Bay from Berkeley to
San Jose, USA. A 50 mile long wall is odd enough, but what if the wall was not alone?
What if there were other walls? A chain of walls all along Northern California because
as it turns out, there are other mysterious walls in North California but not just in
the San Francisco Bay Area. Instead these series of walls may stretch as far as the
Oregon border. After meandering throughout the Oakland hills, the walls head inland towards
Mt. Diablo where we encounter mysterious stone circles, up to 30 feet in diameter. In one
place the walls form a spiral 200 feet wide that circles a large boulder.
Who were the mysterious builders of the Great Wall of California?
Some scholars who examined the ancient ruins proposed, the stone walls are the work of
settlers from Mongolia, as the Chinese tended to wall in their cities. Perhaps the mystery
walls were reminiscent of the Great Wall of China. Did the Zheng Hue fleet which set out
to circumnavigate the world reach California? Anchors found in Baja California, mysterious
writings from a Buddhist monk in Meso America, even a sunken 17th century Junk found near
Chico, all suggest the Chinese explorer was present in this part of the world.
Other scholars have theorized that they were built by the early Missionaries, and yet another
group still wonders if Sir Frances Drake did not leave colonists behind at the site, where
he completed the circumnavigation of the globe. There are also those who say the Ohlone people
(also know as the Costanoan), a Native American Indian tribe raised the wall, but like the
other theories there is too little evidence to confirm the hypothesis.
The identity of the builders of the Great Wall of California remains shrouded in mystery.
Many of the stones are quite heavy, and the entire site appears to be very old. The wall
is up to five feet tall in some places, and it was constructed from boulders of varying
sizes, some are basketball sized rocks, while others are large sandstone boulders weighing
a ton or more. Many of the formations have sunk far into the earth, and are often completely
overgrown with different plants. The purpose of the walls is unknown. At first
sight one might think it was defense construction of some kind, but there are certain problems
with this theory. The wall is not continuous and it is composed of multiple sections. In
addition, the wall is not high enough to have been used as defense mechanisms.
It is therefore highly unlikely it was used as a fence. So, why was it built?
Unfortunately, the walls haven’t been subjected to a serious scientific examination. Archaeologists
and scientists have not investigates this curious and interesting ancient site in more
detail. For now, the ancient Berkeley walls remain an ancient unsolved North American
mystery. 9. Miami Circle.
MIAMI, FLORIDA. The worst place in Florida to discover an
ancient mystery is on prime real estate in downtown Miami. Not only is this story about
an ancient mystery, it’s also a about a struggle to save history from the developer’s
bulldozer. The Sunshine State has lost more historical sites to development than to any
other cause, which is why local historians say “when money talks, history walks.”
In 1998, while demolishing an old building in downtown Miami to make way for a new high
rise condominium, a 38 foots diameter circular pattern, of holes was uncovered cut in the
limestone bedrock. It was one of the greatest discoveries in Florida archeology, but there
was a great big problem, it was sitting on a ten million dollar piece of property, that
was estimated to be worth twenty times, that amount if the two-acre site was developed
into a condominium complex. The location is in the center of the city on the south side
of the Miami River. Archaeologists from the Miami Dade County’s Historic Preservation
Division examined, the weird circle and determined that the holes were used to support posts,
for a large round council house. The circle was estimated to have been built between 1000,
and 2000 years ago by the Tequesta Indians which had died out centuries, before the Seminoles
migrated to the Florida peninsula. Not everyone agreed with the findings, and
argued that the circle was nothing more than the remains of an old septic tank, and that
the holes were overflow drain holes cut in the limestone. One man postulated that the
Pre Columbian circle was part of a worldwide system of ancient circles, that were somehow
connected with Stonehenge. This theory caused some to dub the circle “Limestonehenge.”
Others claimed it was a sacred Mayan astronomical observatory for marking the passage of time.
Opinions ranged from the circle having a connection, to Atlantis to being a corner marker for the
Bermuda Triangle. Media reports soon attracted New Age-types, historians, Seminole Indians,
shamans, spiritualists, and school kids, all wanting a glimpse of the ancient discovery
or to experience its “supernatural qualities.” The Miami Circle was designated the Brickell
Point archaeological site. It sits on land once owned by William Brickell, a pioneer
who ran an early trading post. William Brickell’s weird mausoleum is nearby; I say weird because
it is empty. When Miami began getting too crowded, Brickell’s remains were removed
by his descendants and re-interred in a Dade County cemetery.
Excavating the ancient circle was not an easy task. Previously six two-story apartment buildings
and a swimming pool had occupied the property, and the ground was filled with rusty plumbing
pipes, reinforcement steel, concrete, and other debris. After a tremendous amount of
labor, the site was eventually cleared exposing at least two hundred other postholes, cut
in the limestone in addition to the ones forming the weird circle. Other features uncovered
included a carving in the stone of a large eye motif, 24 rectangular basins, a complete
carapace of a sea turtle, a shark skeleton, and teeth from an extinct monk seal and a
human. The most curious items were fragments of copper, and galena along with two small
ax heads crafted from basalt. Since none of this material is indigenous to Florida it
indicated, that these early people had an extensive trade network 2000 years ago.
Several of the exotic artifacts uncovered at the circle led archaeologists to believe,
that the site was used for ritualistic or elite ceremonial purposes. This was supported
by the shark and turtle remains, that were found in what appeared to be an east-west
orientation, perhaps deliberately placed for ceremonial reasons. A surveyor carefully calculated
that solitary holes found 41 feet, on each side of the circle’s center could predict
the autumnal equinox, and the summer and winter solstices. It added fuel to the theory, that
the circle was Mayan-built as a giant astronomical calendar, or some kind of ancient almanac.
And that eye motif carved in the limestone, that’s the Maya symbol for “zero.” The
idea that the circle was a Mayan project is not so far-fetched, when you consider how
close the Yucatan Peninsula is to the tip of Florida, and the Maya did in fact, build
sea-going canoes. It would have been easy for Mayan mariners to ride the Gulf Stream
over to Florida, although returning home may have been a problem.
The Miami Circle was indeed a great archaeological find, that needed serious study, but it was
standing in the way of a multimillion-dollar development. The press played up the events,
which attracted so many people that the place had to be fenced off. For those who could
not make it to Miami, a camera was fixed to the roof of a nearby high rise to beam pictures
to the Internet. Soon there were two hundred websites carrying news about the Miami Circle
and an online petition for saving the site. The 2000 year old Circle had evolved into
a kind of shrine that was magnetically drawing attention from around the world. Maybe there
really was something magic about this circle. Save the Circle groups held candlelight vigils,
while protestors made daily marches with signs demanding, the site be protected against development.
Thousands of letters poured into government offices requesting action from local, and
state representatives. Experts, in an attempt to save the circle, even studied the possibilities
of making a gigantic plaster cast of the site, or sawing it up in sections and moving it
to a safer location. At one point, due to legal proceedings, permission was needed from
the presiding circuit court judge just to see the circle. In October 2003, Senator Bob
Graham introduced legislation, that would authorize a feasibility study for incorporating
the prehistoric site into the Biscayne National Park.
When I visited the circle people were kept back by a security fence, and the entire site
was covered by sheets of black plastic. Ultimately Miami Dade County, using the law of eminent
domain, claimed the 2.2-acre site and it was subsequently purchased, for $26.7 million
dollars with a combination of funding coming, from the State’s Conservation and Recreational
Lands Program, local contributions, and a loan from the Trust for Public Land. To preserve
the site until more study can be made, the circle has been covered with gravel. The ancient
people who once occupied, this site could have never dreamed of the commotion their
weird, circle would stir-up 2000 years later in downtown Miami, or that images their work
would flash around the world on the internet. Perhaps the weirdest part of the Miami Circle’s
case, is how the ancient past has collided head-on with the present. Maybe the ancients
have sent us a message in this circle. If so, we just have to figure out what it is. 10. Hemet Maze Stone.
HEMET, CALIFORNIA. Near the town of Hemet in the Reinhardt canyon,
of southern California there is a curious petroglyph known as the Hemet maze stone.
It is a figure made of interconnected rectilinear shapes, that form a cyclic pattern of mazes
inside a square or rectangle. The overall shape vaguely resembles a swastika, a symbol
used in Native American, and Asian art for millennia before it became associated with
the Third Reich. Archaeologists do not know exactly who made
the drawing, or how old it is. Various identities have been suggested for the petroglyph’s
creator. Suggestions range from an unknown indigenous Californian culture to Chinese
Buddhist monks. This article will examine two of the popular theories, and evaluate
them in light of what archaeologists, historians, and other scholars know for certain about
the artist behind the maze. A Chinese Connection.
The first theory, which is also the most controversial and outside the mainstream, is that the petroglyph
was made by Chinese Buddhist monks or shipwrecked sailors. Proponents of this view argue that
parts of the maze look like interconnected swastikas forming, into a giant swastika like
symbol. The swastika is a common symbol in Buddhist art and symbolizes eternity in that
context. The similarity in the shape of the figure
to a swastika was recognized quite early, and even led to vandalism in the 1930s, when
someone etched a Nazi swastika onto the petroglyph. This theory is influenced by suggestions that
the Chinese reached, the Americas before Columbus arrived to the island of Hispaniola.
If any culture could have reached and established settlements in the Americas before the Europeans,
it would have been the Chinese. In the early 15th century, the Chinese admiral Zheng He
made expeditions to Malaysia, Sumatra, India, and East Africa. This has led some enthusiasts
to wonder, if the Chinese could have reached the Americas. Gavin Mensies, a former naval
officer, has even written a book titled 1421: the year China discovered America suggesting
that Admiral Zheng He made a voyage in which he reached America before the Emperor shut
down his program of exploration and destroyed all records of the voyage.
There are a few problems with this theory, however. First, many historians reject Mensies’
theory since it lacks hard evidence, and he does not cite original sources. Another problem
is that there is no evidence of an ancient Chinese presence in California at that time.
There are no iron tools used in Imperial China, no Chinese settlements, no remains of monasteries,
nothing that would suggest settlement by the Chinese or Buddhist monks. Furthermore, although
Chinese Buddhist art does contain swastikas, the Buddhist swastika bears little resemblance
to the swastika-like symbol on the Hemet Maze Stone.
Indigenous Californian Artists. The second major theory, one which fits in
with a conventional understanding, of the history of southern California, is that the
petroglyphs were made by indigenous Californians. The main support for this view is the similarity
between the maze petroglyph, and other examples of rock art in southern California. The petroglyph
of the Hemet Maze Stone is like rock art found in the Riverside, and San Diego counties known
as the Rancho Bernardo style. This style is noted for numerous rectilinear shapes made
of parallel lines, that come together at right angles.
The Rancho Bernardo style also lacks figures such as plants, and animals and contains only
abstract geometric shapes. The art is composed mostly of lines and boxes, quite like the
Hemet Maze Stone. This form of rock art is found in places in the Riverside, and San
Diego counties including the Salton Sea, Palm Canyon, Travertine Point, Sunshine Summit,
and Rancho Bernardo (from which it gets its name.)
One problem with this theory is that archaeologists still haven’t been able, to connect the
art style to a specific indigenous culture. However, one culture that archaeologists have
suggested as the source, of the Rancho Bernardo style are the Kumeyaay people. Many of the
examples of Rancho Bernardo rock art occur within the traditional territory of the Kumeyaay,
however it is also found in territories of the Luiseno, Juaneno, Cupeno, and Cahuilla
cultures to the north and east.