“The History we were taught growing up is wrong.” That’s how America Unearthed, and host Scott Wolter, use an appeal to ignorance to start every episode. Before the show presents any information they have planted the seed that what the audience knows already, is wrong. Suggestion is a powerful tool. This essay will discuss how the America Unearthed team uses the power of suggestion and logical fallacies to prove the origins of Mystery Hill.
Mystery Hill is a site in Salem, New Hampshire that has large vertical rocks, manmade-in-appearance caves, stone foundations, and other stone structures that were first known to be documented in 1907. Mystery Hill is known by other names as well. It is commonly called America’s Stonehenge, but originally was known as “Paddy’s Caves.” After the man that made his home on the site in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Paddy built his home on the site using its stone structures as his house’s foundation, and using some structures as animal pens. The family that currently owns it believes that the site is evidence of the ancient Phoenician culture coming to America over 4,000 years ago, and that the Phoenician Culture is responsible for building both this site and England’s Stonehenge.
Their evidence is largely built on Archaeoastronomy alignment. Archaeoastronomy dictates that ancient cultures used physical structures to track the movement of the sun, moon, and stars in order to track the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days. Mystery Hill does have large vertical stones that align with the sun on those important days. The site, when traced on Google Earth, aligns with Stonehenge, in England, and Beirut, Lebanon. This is used by America Unearthed to further support Archaeoastronomy because Stonehenge also has large vertical standing stones that align with the sun on important days in the solar calendar. America Unearthed host, Scott Wolter, informs viewers that an ancient culture, the Phoenicians, were based out of modern day Beirut, Lebanon. He then suggests that because all three places align that a Phoenician Subculture, The Carthaginians must be responsible for both Stonehenge sites. To further support this claim, Mr. Wolter visits a man who has a Carthaginian Coin which, they surmise, depicts Sardinia, Sicily, and the Iberian Peninsula in Italy, along with Africa, America and the Gulf of Mexico. This they say, is proof that the Carthaginians travelled to America. This coin further proves the fallacy of this argument and uses a logical fallacy called relationship implies causation. Which means that just because the coin looks like it depicts land masses that we know today doesn’t meant that the Carthaginians traveled the world building stone structures. They also say that the Carthaginians mentioned a “large island with navigable rivers” which is OBVIOUSLY America because once you pass Spain the U.S. is the only land mass with navigable rivers.
With a circular argument in tow, in order to further support his Phoenician/Carthaginian theory, Scott Wolter goes back to Mystery Hill and views two additional structures at the site. The first is a large rectangular stone block that has a deep, wide groove around its border. The stone is slightly tilted and the groove has an opening at the stones lowest end in order to allow for draining. This structure they say is proof of human/animal sacrifice. Scott, a forensic geologist, says that the stone has extensive, exfoliation weathering which proves extreme age. They also view a cave structure which has a built in bullhorn. They call it the oracle chamber and deduce that it was used to mimic, or imply, to observers that a god was speaking when in reality it is a earthly human. This chamber, they say, would have been used to awe observers and reinforce religious beliefs. The video goes back to the owner of the Carthaginian Coin, who says that the Carthaginians did practice sacrifices and did have large ships capable of navigating the Atlantic so “obviously” Mystery Hill was built by the Carthaginians.
While, all of the evidence presented is arranged so that it aligns with their theories they make some rather large leaps. The one that sticks out in my mind the most is when they make a gargantuan leap from Phoenician to Carthaginian. They mention that the Carthaginian’s are a Phoenician subculture and that the Phoenicians spawned several subcultures but they never really indicate how or why they deduced the Carthaginians. What is the evidence that indicates it was the Carthaginians and not one of the other subcultures? It is a large hole in the story that needs to be filled in order for it to have some validity. I can say Vlad the Impaler did it, but if I can’t say how I deduced Vlad then did Vlad really do it? Probably not.
The other big leap was the supposed alignment of Mystery Hill, England’s Stonehenge, and Beirut, Lebanon. On Google Earth the three sites do in fact align. That is a verifiable fact. However, the sun rises and sets in the same way, every single day, every single year. It is not unrealistic for ancient societies/cultures to have built structures that align with the sun and have those structures align with other structures in other places that were also built to measure the sun’s movements. It is not enough to prove that these cultures came in contact. Im pretty sure that line from Mystery Hill to Beirut went over other important sites that they conveniently overlooked to benefit their theory. My favorite, and perhaps the silliest, evidence to support their claim is Paddy the original (1907) owner of Mystery Hill. They say that because his home is built over a large stone structure/foundation and he used large stone pens for his livestock that those stone structures must have been built before he got there. Their reasoning is: why would he carry such large stones when there are so many trees to use. The illogical conclusion is evident. Just because there are trees doesn’t mean that the stones pre-existed 1900s America.
In conclusion, while the show America Unearthed is entertaining and it’s host Scott Wolter, a forensic geologist, is evidently highly educated the show lacks any scientific method and reaches it’s conclusion using leaps and bounds that leave gaping holes in its evidentiary support. Scott is even told at the end that Stonehenge in England is a newer site than Mystery Hill, and therefore is unlikely to have been built by the same two cultures. However, he still continues to try to connect the two. This is intriguing because as a forensic geologist he should be able to tell the age of the stone. The argument presented in the show is weak, at best. It could be true, but they presented no concrete data to support their theories; only circumstantial evidence.
This essay was written for a college class titled, “ANTH 1020 – Fads, Fallacies, and Human Origins”. It is taught by Dr. Ryan Gray at the University of New Orleans.