The eighth episode in the 2012-2013 season of the History Channel’s “America Unearthed” traveled to locations in western Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Ireland, where there are stone-walled subterranean chambers. Host Scott Wolter first attempted to visit a remarkable underground structure in a remote location near Tionesta (western) Pennsylvania. As happened in the premier of the show, the corporate owner specifically refused to give Wolter access to the chamber. However, the owner continued to allow hunters on the wooded tract. Wolter gave some of his geologist tools of the trade to two hunters. This enabled them to measure the structure and analyze of its architectural details.
Although the spring and font within the chamber appeared “strange” to the two hunters, who discovered the chamber, the features were quite typical of 18th and 19th century spring houses in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern part of the United States. The stone basin had been symmetrically milled. The stone masonry had been quarried to create ashlar masonry. The stones appeared to have been bonded with a hydrated lime mortar. This last architectural detail was not mentioned in the program, but is a dead giveaway that the chamber was not built by local Native Americans or Bronze Age Celts.
The underground structure could have been interpreted as an “over built” spring house except for one peculiar detail. Construction of a beautifully detailed scale model of the Pennsylvania chamber enabled Wolter to determine that a beam of light from a porthole in the roof of the chamber struck the font exactly on the Summer Solstice.
Although oddly remote from any known habitation site, the Tionesta chamber is remarkably similar to a limestone ashlar subterranean, structure that the author encountered while guiding the restoration of a colonial home near Strasburg, VA. The house was about three decades younger than this underground chamber. It was determined, for certain, that the Strasburg structure was built in the 1730s by members of an mysterious religious sect based in Ephrata, PA, known as the Mystic Order of the Solitary. The sect practiced many rituals that may have possibly involved water and the Summer Solstice. At the end of the program, Wolter interpreted the Tionesta chamber as probably being built in the 1700s by members of Freemasonry or an unknown religious sect.
Wolter then traveled to Groton, Connecticut to inspect a complex of arranged boulders, cairns, stone circles, stone bridges and stone chambers known as the Gungywamp Complex. The owner of this archaeological zone graciously gave the film crew a full tour of the complex. Like the Pennsylvania chamber, the interior is oriented to the azimuth of the sun, but to the equinoxes rather than the Summer Solstice. However, the Gungywamp chamber does not contain lime mortar or milled stonework. All of the structures in the Gungywamp complex are obviously very, very old.
Will the real Irishman please stand up
The owner of the Gungywamp complex interpreted his archaeological site as being built by “the Irish.” He correctly stated that megalithic, subterranean chambers were built in Ireland as far back as 5000 years ago. He then began discussing structures built by the Irish Celts and a legend of Saint Brendan, who supposedly crossed the Atlantic in the Sixth century. Neolithic Irish, Bronze Age Irish, Early Christian Period Irish and Medieval Irish were equated as being participants in the same continuing culture. “America Unearthed” continued with this theme for the remainder of the show.
The evidence for a cultural connection between Ireland and eastern North America are compelling, but not proven. There are petroglyphs on boulders in the northern part of the state of Georgia which are identical to those inscribed by Bronze Age Irishmen on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry (southwestern Ireland.) Hundreds of megalithic shrines in the northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states strongly resemble Neolithic shrines in Ireland and Scotland. Some beehive shaped stone structures have been identified that are similar in appearance to Early Iron Age structures in Ireland and Scotland. There are dozens of sites in the Eastern United States containing what appears to be ogham script, a writing system used in the British Isles from about 100 BC AD to 600 AD.
The first Spanish explorers on the coast of South Carolina encountered a province occupied by tall, red-and-brown-haired Caucasians, who spoke Early Medieval Irish. They were called the Duhare. Duhare was the Early Medieval Irish word for “Irish.” The South Carolina Duhare milked domesticated deer to make cheese. According to the Cultural Attache' at the Consul General of the Republic of Ireland in New York City, the Osraighe (Deer People) of south-central Ireland raised domesticated deer and made deer milk cheese until the Early Medieval Period, when Norman invaders introduced cattle.
The similarities between the structures of ancient northeastern North America and ancient Ireland are typically explained as either coincidences by “non-believers” or by “believers” as the results of the Irish intermittently sailing to North America over a period of several thousand years. The doubters, in particular, question the technological capability of Neolithic Irishmen to sail across the Atlantic. The believers counter that the Irish always knew about the existence of North America and therefore, the knowledge of how to sail across the Atlantic was passed from one generation to the next.
The Irish are not a “pure” ethnic group and never were completely isolated from Europe. In fact the Irish who built the Neolithic Age megaliths and subterranean chambers that are similar to their counterparts in New England, were not the same people who lived in Ireland when Saint Brendan was around. Phoenicians made contact with the occupants of Ireland during the Bronze Age (2000 BC – 500 BC) when sailing to Cornwall to obtain tin. There were few Celts in Ireland until major migrations began occurring around 6-400 BC. Celtic tribes gradually pushed their way westward, either driving out or absorbing the indigenous peoples.
The western migration of Celtic tribes across Ireland leads to an important piece of evidence. County Kerry, in the extreme southwest corner of Ireland, gets its Anglicized name from the Irish Gaelic words, conti Ciarraighe. The Ciarraighe were the aboriginal people of Ireland. Some were absorbed into the Celtic population to become the probable origin of the so-called, “Black Irish.” Descendants of mixed Ciarraighe-Celtic heritage occupied several provinces during the Middle Ages. According to Irish lore, the last “pure” Ciarraighe lived in County Kerry. They were skilled seamen. One day, they supposedly got into their boats and sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean, never to return.
Ciarraighe means “dark or black people” in Gaelic. They were described as having black hair, bronze skin, plus gracile bodies and facial features very different than the Celts. Because those living on the Atlantic Coast of Ireland obtained much of their food from the sea, they had no fear of the ocean. This description sounds very much like the appearance of some Native American populations.
After two decades of studying “sun circles” and megalithic sites in Canada, Dr. Gordon Freeman of the University of Alberta became convinced that an advanced Neolithic people in Canada developed a profound understanding of astronomy about 4,000 BC, built the first “Stonehenges” on the Alberta prairie. This culture then spread to New England, the periphery of the North Atlantic Ocean and finally the British Isles.
In Dr. Freeman's theory, the stone circles and chambers in New England and eastern Canada were built BEFORE they appeared in northwestern Europe. In other words, it was American Indians who built the first phase of Stonehenge and other similar sites in the British Isles. He thinks that Ireland was discovered by American Indians in a period when the Atlantic Ocean was lower and narrower. They would have later intermarried with small bands of pre-Celtic peoples, who later entered the region from Europe. If his theory is ever proven, it puts early European history in a very different perspective.