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We may not have pyramids, but stone structures do exist here

By Staff | Oct 27, 2014

When it comes to ancient archaeology – the study of sites or structures pre-dating Europeans – there’s one thing in New Hampshire I know: The field doesn’t really exist because there’s nothing much to study.

Or, maybe not.

“Your belief is testimony to the effectiveness of attempts to keep the location of archeological sites hidden,” said Richard Boisvert, the state archaeologist. “There are plenty of sites out there, but there are a great number of people who would happily tear the locations apart to get a few artifacts, so their location isn’t released. … We have excavated quite a bit in your area.”

Archaeology, it seems, practices what computer folks call “security through obscurity.” The idea is that if nobody knows that something desirable even exists, they won’t try to swipe it.

Donna Thompson of Derry, who is New Hampshire chapter head for a group called NEARA that studies stone structures, agreed: “These places are generally protected.”

She said New Hampshire even has some petroglyphs, or ancient rock drawings. I didn’t think they existed anywhere east of Arizona.

“Where are they?” I shouted in excitement when told this, but Thompson declined to elaborate. Drat.

There’s a drawback to this obscurity, however. If the public never sees or hears of archaeological work, it’s hard for us to support it with money or by helping to preserve sites.

“As a group, archaeologists are not very good at communicating with the general public,” admitted Boisvert.

NEARA, the New England Antiquities Research Association, want to overcome at least part of that problem with its 50th anniversary celebration, taking place Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 at the Holiday Inn in Nashua.

NEARA studies lithic, or stone, structures in the Northeast. That includes some natural formations like balancing rocks, but mostly they analyze man-made stuff, some as modern as stone walls or chambers built to store vegetables and other food, but some as ancient as rock piles that may have been built by Native Americans millennia ago.

The association, composed most of interested amateurs, does no digging or excavation, leaving that up to professional archaeological teams. It does mapping and preservation and research, which is vital, and it’s careful to preserve private-property rights.

Its celebration will include programs ranging from the technical (“Malta megaliths and exploring archaeoacoustics”) to the more down-to-earth, including “How to interact with your town officials to save sacred sites.”

You can find out more at NEARA’s website, neara.org.

It’s impossible to discuss ancient stone structures in New Hampshire without mentioning America’s Stonehenge in Salem, the charming tourist spot that has fascinating stone chambers and mysterious-looking rocks. It’s the best-known ancient lithic site in the state and maybe in all of New England – assuming it really is ancient.

“No matter where I go, when I mention NEARA, people bring up America’s Stonehenge,” Thompson said.

Some people think that the at least part of the site was built by pre-Columbian peoples with some mysterious practices in mind. This makes it a magnet for the New Age crowd, especially around the solstices.

Others, however, think the stone are typical 19th-century farm fare – for example, a much-discussed “sacrificial stone” looks like stones used elsewhere for making lye soap – and that the pre-Columbia ideas are so much hoo-hah.

It’s hard to say for sure, however, because a previous owner moved many of the stones around to bolster his belief that the place was once the home of Irish monks. That’s back when it was known as Mystery Hill.

“It’s interesting, but the history is very muddled on it. It’s open to interpretation,” is how Thompson describes it when I prodded her for a comment.

About the only thing that’s certain is that it has no connection to the Stonehenge in England. (Incidentally, “henge” is a term for a roughly circular earthwork built by a number of pre-technical civilizations.)

NEARA was partly established by the owners of America’s Stonehenge, who still support the association’s research and outreach. The place is worth a visit, no matter your opinion about its archaeological underpinnings; it’s a delightful spot. Adult admission is $11 and it hosts some nice events, with snowshoeing coming up before too long.

GraniteGeek appears Mondays in The Telegraph. David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com. Follow Brooks on Twitter (@granitegeek).


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