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Sunday, 24 January 2010





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Signs “n” wonders

Megaliths that baffle man

Last week we enlightened you about some interesting sites containing mysterious stone formations in the world. Perhaps, some of you were fascinated by these

A huge menhir found at Carnac

strangely shaped and aligned megaliths (great stones) found in various parts of the world.

One area we highlighted was the Stonehenge of south-west England which is a stone circle believed to have been constructed thousands of years ago.

Did you know that there is an equally fascinating stone site in the USA which is in fact referred to as the Stonehenge of America? Known as Mystery Hill,until 1982, and now called America’s Stonehenge, this spectacular lithic site sits on top of a hill about 40 miles north of Boston to Salem, in southern New Hampshire in New England.

This prehistoric archaeological enigma(mistery), comprises 30 acres of cave-like dwellings, astronomically aligned rock formations, a sacrificial stone, and other mysterious structures left behind by an unknown people. Even though it looks very different from Stonhenge of England it is believed that this stone site too was built around the same time as the former one, The stone chambers, dry-stone walls, underground passageways, standing stones, alignments and inscriptions one can see here are really fascinating. There is said to be a large flat stone resembling a large stone table and many are of the view this was a sacrificial table used by the ancient people who built the place.

The top of Mystery Hill, USA.

The rocks of Carnac.

However, it is not very clear as to what this site really was. A number of theories exist as to the origin and purpose of the stone structures. It is usually attributed to a mixture of land-use practices of local farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as construction of structures by one of the land owners William Goodwinan, an insurance executive who purchased the area in 1937.

Some are of the view that these astronomically aligned megaliths were positioned by migrant Europeans, maybe the descendants of the original builders of Stonehenge, who arrived in America long before Columbus while many others claim that the secret passages and chambers at Mystery Hill were constructed by Native Americans.

In 1826, the wooded rise was owned by a farmer named Jonathan Pattee, who built his house amidst the stone ruins as they stood then.

The home got burned some thirty years later, and the family moved elsewhere, leaving the site to the weather for decades. Locally the area of stone structures and walls became known as Pattee’s Caves, and many people believed that farmer Pattee himself spent his time building all these wondrous chambers, for purposes unknown. Is this truly one of the oldest megalithic sites in North America, as radio-carbon dating would suggest? No one knows the truth, but this site which is now a privately owned tourist site, continues to be studied even today.

Another fascinating stone site is found in California, USA. There are many dried up lake beds which have now turned into just flat stretches of clay and are called playas an area called Death Valley. Boulders that weigh over 300 kilograms are found here. What is fascinating about these stone are not the shape or alignment, but the fact that they mysteriously move. These sailing stones (sliding rocks, moving rocks) are a geological phenomenon.

Sliding rocks of Race track Playa, Death Valley.

The rocks move in long tracks along a smooth valley floor without any human or animal intervention. They have been recorded and studied in a number of places around Racetrack Playa, Death Valley is where the number and length of travel grooves are most notable.Who is moving these huge stones? The force behind their movement is not understood and is the subject of research. As there are no slippery slopes on this desert plain, perhaps the wind is responsible for moving these stones gradually or the rain makes the mud slippery or perhaps the stones move on the slippery ice, say some scientists.

Racetrack stones only move every two or three years and most tracks develop over three or four years. Stones with rough bottoms leave straight tracks while those with smooth bottoms wander. Stones sometimes turn over, exposing another edge to the ground and leaving a different track in the stone’s wake.

Sliding rock trails fluctuate in direction and length. Some rocks which start next to each other start out travelling parallel, but one may abruptly change direction to the left, right, or even back the direction it came from. Length also varies because two similarly sized and shaped rocks could travel uniformly, then one could burst ahead or stop dead in its track.

A stone cave (above) and a section of slabs (below) at Mystery Hill

Speed is an unknown area. Since these stones are rarely transported and nobody has witnessed the movement, the speeds at which the rocks travel are not known.

Most of the so-called gliding stones are believed to have originated from an 850 foot (260 m) high hillside made of dark dolomite on the south end of the playa, but some are rock from adjacent(near by) slopes Tracks are often tens to hundreds of feet (low to high tens of meters) long, a few to 12 inches (8 to 30 cm) wide, and typically much less than an inch (2.5 cm) deep.

As we explained last week, it is not only in the USA and in England that such mysterious stones are found. Some very unusual huge megaliths are also found in France.

There are mysterious stones in France too. They are found in a small village called Carnac in the Brittany region. Believed to have been erected by the pre-Celtic of Brittany during the Neolithic Period these megaliths are a great attraction. Several of these stones are said to be over six metres high and are placed in two alignments called menec and kermario. In the menec alignment there are about 12 rows of stones, spreading over an area of more than a kilometre.

The largest of these stones is said to be about four metres in height. There are both single standing stones and multistones. The single standing stones are known as menhirs while the multistones are called dolmens. Remember the famous comic strip character Obetix or Sura Pappa as he’s popularly known in our country? He loves these menhirs and is always seen carrying them around.

What purpose these stones served no one knows for certain. But many say that these stones which are definitely at least 6,000 years old may have served as signposts or used for magic or astronomy.

Fact file

* William Goodwin, who became convinced that his Mystery Hill was proof that Irish monks (the Culdees) had lived there long before the time of Christopher Columbus. He is said to have even moved many of the stones from their former positions to better support his idea.

* Artifacts found on the Mystery Hill site lead archaeologists to the conclusion that the stones were actually assembled for a variety of reasons by local farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, a much-discussed “sacrificial stone” which contains grooves that some say channelled blood closely resembles “lye-leaching stones” found on many old farms that were used to extract lye from wood ashes, the first step in the manufacture of soap.

* Carbon dating of charcoal pits at the site provided dates from 2000 BC to 173 BC, when the area was populated by ancestors of current Native Americans.

* Excavations done at the Mystery Hill quarry site, had revealed chips and flakes from the stone giving evidence that this site was a place of indigenous tool manufacture, consistent with Native American lithic techniques, although no date could be ascertained.

* Death Valley National Park is a National Park located east of the Sierra Nevada in the arid Great Basin of the United States. The park covers 5,262 square miles. It is the hottest and driest of the national parks in the United States.

* Several teams of scientists have tried to explain the movement, of rocks in the racetrack Playa in Death Valley, but the actual migration of the rocks has never been witnessed by anyone as far as we know.

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