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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

See America's Stonehenge and other earthen marvels

Jul 28, 2023 02:27PM ● By Victor Block

People ascending a high mountain ridge in Wyoming are greeted by a collection of rocks carefully laid out in a geometric design. Visitors to southwestern Ohio marvel at the sight of a mammoth earthwork shaped like an undulating snake. A maze of stone walls, chambers and other structures perched on a hill in New Hampshire lives up to its nickname of “America’s Stonehenge.”

If you’re under the impression that archaeology is a dull, mind-numbing subject, think again. Sites throughout the U.S. relate fascinating chapters of human history through artifacts and other remnants of people who once lived in the area. An Internet search is likely to reveal the location of one or more such places within a short commute from where you live. 


Take that mountain-top rock pile in the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. It’s one of many places around the country where Native American life is told through objects, inscriptions and other remains. 

The main feature of the Bighorn Medicine Wheel is a circular pattern of stones 82 feet in diameter. A pile of rocks called a cairn is in the center with 28 radial lines extending from it. Some of those spokes indicate the direction of the rise of the Earth’s sun and stars at various times. While the wheel was used by members of many different tribes, who built it remains a mystery. 

Another unanswered riddle is why an important earthen monument in northern Louisiana was abandoned around 1100 B.C. after so much effort went into building it. The Poverty Point World Heritage Site was made by Native Americans who sculpted nearly two million cubic yards of soil into a 72-foot high mound, concentric half-circles and other shapes.

Millions of artifacts have been found in the vicinity, including domestic tools, figures of humans and tons of stones that were transported from up to 800 miles away. Researchers speculate the structure was part of an ancient residential, trade and ceremonial center. 

Another unknown is who created the 1,300-foot long earthen snake in today’s Hillsboro, Ohio, or why it’s depicted swallowing an egg. Scientists theorize that the giant serpent marked a vast tomb, was a place for religious ceremonies or served as an oversized calendar. What’s known is that it was constructed between 381 and 44 B.C.

Religious rites of Native Americans provide the most popular theory for construction of the Mystery Hill archaeological site in New Hampshire, estimated to have taken place some 2,500 years ago. Despite its informal label, the structure doesn’t resemble England’s Stonehenge. Rather, it consists of a number of stone chambers, walls and many other features stretched out over 105 acres. 


Many of our country’s archaeological sites that are associated with Native Americans include petroglyphs as the main attraction.

For years, members of the Cherokee tribe in North Carolina used a soapstone boulder as a sort of billboard, etching images of human figures, animal tracks, suns and other objects. The large stone is notched by seven grooves which, according to Cherokee legend, were created by Judaculla, a powerful giant who could control the weather and leap from one mountaintop to another. So many petroglyphs decorate the Judaculla Rock that it’s virtually impossible to pinpoint the exact number.


How many images transform the sandstone cliffs of Sego Canyon in Utah into a fascinating outdoor art gallery is well known—over 80. The unanswered question is what or whom they represent. Research suggests that the petroglyphs were carved and painted by Native Americans over a period of 8,000 years by people of several distinct cultures.

Some of the ghostlike life-size figures have hollowed or missing eyes, others have no arms or legs, and many wear chunky ornaments and sport a headdress that resembles antennae. Speculation about whom or what these haunting forms represent ranges from shamanistic visions produced when the artists were in a trance-like state to extra-terrestrial visitors from space. 

The Hagood Creek Petroglyph Site in South Carolina provides a more down to earth experience. For one thing, the big boulder, which contains 32 images representing various aspects of Native American life, is protected in a museum. Adding to the enjoyment is a narrated light show that describes the carvings and tells the story of their discovery. 

The museum is part of a historic complex which includes an 1845 grist mill, restored log cabins, a blacksmith shop, cotton gin and moonshine still. 

Unlike the Hagood petroglyphs, most archaeological sites remain outdoors where they were created long ago. Their variety and locations around the country, provide intriguing destinations for day trips or longer expeditions wherever you happen to live. 

If you go…

Bighorn National Forest

Sheridan, WY | 307-674-2600

Poverty Point World Heritage Site 

Pioneer, LA| 318-926-5492

Serpent Mound Historical Site 

Hillsboro, OH | 800-752-2757

America’s Stonehenge

Salem, NH |

Judaculla Rock

Jackson County, NC | 828-293-3053

Hagood Creek Petroglyph Site

Pickens, SC | 864-898-2936

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