Celts in New England before 1600's

I have read somewhere that ancient Celts were in New Hampshire and Vermont for hundreds of years before the pilgrims ever came across the ocean. There are unexplained stone structures, and supposedly the celts came to New England to mine copper. Is any of this true? Also, What is the real story on America’s Stonehenge in Salem, NH? Was that built by ancient celts?

A number of old stone structures are found in New England that are similar in style to those found in the British Isles. The area was settled by people from the British Isles, do the math. America’s Stonehenge has unclear origins but is likely made by Native Americans.

It seems that the American one is older than ours, so maybe the American Indians came over here and built ours?

We know Vikings made it to the New World ca. 1000 AD because we found the remains of their dwellings. Have we found Celtic dwellings here as well?

No, only stone structures that people claim are of Celtic origin. Nothing at all like the authentic archeological site of L’Ans aux Meadows.

That is not to say it would have been impossible for them to have made it to N. America, just that that the alleged sites don’t stand up to close scrutiny.


For one thing, Ancient Celts are people from the ancient world. There were no Ancient Celts by the medieval period (maybe ancient Celts, but their old age prevents them from the more rigorous transatlantic ventures).

Also, Ockham’s razor—which is least likely:

  1. The structures are naturally occurring, and only coincidentally resemble human-built structures fallen into ruin.
  2. The people we know were in the place at that time (Native Americans) built the stone structures.
  3. A colonized population from across an ocean thousands of miles away somehow managed to establish a colony without leaving records on either continent, leaving behind some stone stuctures.

The Celts to have medieval traditions of voyages of discovery out into the Atlantic, and probably did discover Iceland. I don’t think you can entirely rule out that the odd individual vessel made it to America, but if so, they either died or were absorbed into the Native American population, and would thus no longer be Celtic culturally or linguistically.

Since Celts didn’t build the English Stonehenge, there’s no real reason to suppose they built the American one.

“Mystery Hill” is very interesting…nothing like it has ever been seen in N. America. it appears to have several celestial alignments, like Stonehenge. As for the “beehive” stone structures-they do resemble the shelters built by the Irish monks, in the west of Ireland. Skeptics think they are colonial era root cellars-despite being far away from houses/settlements.

Meh, lightweights. There are some people who seriously argue that the Celts colonised New Zealand sometime in the distant past.

(links to crackpot sites omitted)

Oh piffle. There are even some people who seriously argue that ten of the Tribes of Israel colonized North America, or New Zealand, or Easter Island, or Jupiter, or something.

New Hampshire and VT? Everyone knows the Celtics are in Boston. :smiley:

IIRC—and it’s been many years since I’ve done reading on the subject, to any depth—according to the Vinland sagas, at least one Norse expedition to the New World brought along a couple of Scottish slaves, used as scouts. That would have been about 1000 years ago.

Aha! The Saga of Eric the Red. 'Knew my old brain still worked.

Ah, yes, “America’s Stonehenge”, AKA “Mystery Hill”. I love it – a short ride north into New Hampshire, and a nice walk in the woods. They even have a small llama farm (true!)
A lot of people believe that Celtic monks came over and constructed the stone structure in North Salem. Arguably the starting point was William Godwin’s nook The Ruins of Great Ireland in New England:

Godwin bought up the site of “Pattee’s Caves” in NH and claimed that they were the work of the Celi Dei, Irish monks who had escaped the ravages of the Vikings by sailing, like Brendan the Bold, across the Atlantic to found their own colony. All of this is based on not very much evidence and, I suspect, a lot of imagination.

It’s true that early settler Pattee and his sons lived on the site, and built a house (with cellar and root cellar) on the site – as is still pointed out. But the series of stone constructions (which involved a few very large stones, but the bulk of which is constructed of a LOT of little ones stacked neatly into structures) appears to predate Pattee. The problem is, Godwin himself “excavated” the site and saw fit to reconstructed what he saw as fallen-down structures. It’s not clear how much of the present site is his work. (There are rumors of pre-Godwin phgtos of the site, but I haven’t seen them. Proponents also claim that a lot of stone was hauled away from the site and used for construction of surrounding houses)

There’s a possible carving of a deer in one of the larger underground structures, and one of the stones in the Outer Ring is held to depict an eye, but otherwise there are no carvings or marks. (There IS a Celtic glyph in one structure near the start of the trail – but that structure is a modern reconstruction of a Celtic “beehive” structure, and was put there by the guy who made it.)

There are supposed astronomical alignments, in which midsummer sunrise, midwinter moonset, etc. are supposed to line up with stones, as with the real Stonehenge (hence the title “America’s Stonehenge”) They feel so certain of this that they have gone to the trouble of cutting long “avenues” through the surrounding trees so that you can see the events, for which the site is open. (Unlike England’s Stonehenge, which sits out in the open on Salisbury Plain, America’s Stonehenge is on a VERY wooded hilltop. I talked to the guy who did a lot of the cutting, and I admire his dedication. It was a LOT of work.)
However, this is all undercut by the facts that a.) There is nothing to mark the supposed center of the structure. They’ve put a viewing platform there, and there are certainly stones underneath, but no clear, big marker for The Center. b.) The surrounding “ring” of stones – while certainly present, is meandering and not really a circle, and the stones are pretty small compared to those at the real Stonehenge. You can easily step over them. While I wouldn’t want to carry them, in many cases, I could. They ain’t the enormous trilithons of Stonehenge.
Although other authors (like Charles Michael Boland, who touts the site in his They All Discovered America have supported many of Godwin’s ideas, archaeologists don’t, and it’s not hard to see why. Like Tripolar, I believe that any stonework here was probably the work of the local Indians. The idea that the locals were incapable to such structures has in it a portion, I think , of that racism that thought the Americans were incabale of building Cahokia and “the Mounds”, or that black Africans couldn’t have erected the structures of Great Zimbabwe. But we don’t need to postulate monks to do the work – there were Native Americans here already.
One of the more intriguing possibilities is that these structures inspired H. P. Lovecraft in many of his stories, especially The Dunwich Horror. There was even a booklet put together by someone claiming to identify local features with those in the story. Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi says that Lovecraft did visit the site, but not until after he wrote the story (based on dates of composition and on HPL’s correspondence). He says that it was stories of other NE stone sites that inspired the story. But it seems to me that stories of Mystery Hill might have been just as influential, even if he never saw the site (There are, indeed, other “mysterious” stone constructions around New England. But the fact that America’s Stonehence is not unique is, to me, more evidence that it was likely the result of the locals). In any event, it’s interesting to watch the Hammer film The Dunwich Horror and compare its vision of “The Devil’s Hopyard” with Mystery Hill.

Probably the biggest argument against is that any group or small colony that made it to New Hampshire is going to be so busy just scraping by that they’re not likely to spend a lot of time building structures of astronomical significance out of large rocks. New Hampshire is a lovely state, but it’s not what you’d call hospitable, especially to a people who came from a milder climate. The thing about large rocks is that they’re heavy, and you don’t start shoving them around on a whim.

I suspect that to support any druidical structures or whatever those things are, you’d need a thriving colony of some hundreds of people, which would probably leave some kind of archeological record.

Well, as mentioned, the vast majority of the rocks weren’t all that large. Some were – the larger rocks making up the “underground chamber”, or the “sacrificial stone” (which arachaeologiusts say isn’t a stone for sacrificing large animals/people, but a colonial lye-making stone for leaching lye from fire ashes – but most of the rocks were small, and simply set in large structures, or arrayed in that irregular “circle”

Still, having seen the site, I gotta agree that it doesn’t strike one as hospitable ground for farming – It’s incredibly rocky ground on the side and top of a hill. I’m surprised that Pattee tried to make a go of it. Godwin (and Boland) postulate a thriving colony of dedicated, hard-working monks. Which is possible, I suppose, but the lack of archaeological record for this community – metal tools, crockery, writing tools, and the like – are notoriously absent.

By the way, I don’t want to give the impression that Mystery Hill/America’s Stonehenge is the only such site. As I mentioned above, Lovecraft knew of others. The title of Godwin’s book shows that he felt there were lots of such sites (which writes about, at length). Boland’s book lists several of the supposed “Celi Dei” sites (as well as other pre-Columbian European sites)

Gunywamp, in Groton Connecticut, is another such site:


Here’s a place giving a few others:


The local native Americans never built stone structures of any kind. Charcoal excavated from the base of the rocks (at the center) was dated to 1000 BC. There are also “standing stones” simple columns throughout New England-who raised them is anybodie’s guess.

And you know this how? When you follow it up with:

…well, then why can’t I guess “the local natives”?

1.) It wasn’t excavated from “the base of the rocks (at the center)” There’s a marker at the site that show you where it came from, and it’s not under that raised platform they built at the supposed “center” of the “circle”
2.) Charcoal from 1000 BC, huh? I wonder who was living there in New Hampshire in 1000BC who might have been burning wood?

The medieval accounts of St Brendan’s voyage are vague enough that they might or might not refer to an actual trip across the Atlantic. They were interesting enough that an adventurer by the name of Tim Severin set out to replicate the journey, in as faithful a copy of a sixth century curragh as modern ingenuity could construct.

His account of the boat’s building and sailing (the building itself was quite an epic task) is fascinating, and I recommend it to anyone who’s into that kind of thing. They made it to Newfoundland, taking over a year on the journey.

So the trip is at least possible using the kind of technology the Celts had. That does not, of course, prove that it was made. It seems very unlikely that enough people for a whole viable Celtic colony would have been able or motivated to travel that distance. But a small group who influenced the local culture … maybe?

Have you read it? I strongly and vehemently disagree. (edit: with the “might” part. I agree with “might not.”) They pretty clearly refer to a voyage out into the Atlantic, but it’s all metaphor and Christian allegory from there.

If you have a culture that believes in the Otherworld, a mysterious parallel universe where the supernatural beings lives that is not bound by regular geography, and which sometimes lies on an island to the west, it’s not all that hard to imagine sailing to that land.

Using Brendan’s journey as evidence for Irish presence in the Americas is like using sci-fi for evidence of American presence on Mars.