2022 is the year of Stonehenge. A new exhibit at the British Museum collects artifacts from Neolithic and early-Bronze Age Europe, giving context to “The World of Stonehenge.” I recently took a camera through the gallery, as part of a larger video project about the monument. This culminated in Wiltshire where I spent the morning filming within Stonehenge itself.
Balanced Rock in North Salem, New York was the subject of a post I made in July, one of two experiments with video so far. I filmed the footage during a visit to the site in April. You can watch it here at the blog or on YouTube.Below is a transcription of my field notes which formed the basis for the narration of that video.
Balanced Rock is a stone structure consisting of an enormous boulder supported above ground by five smaller stones.
The boulder is an erratic, weighing between sixty and ninety tons: pink granite from the Hudson Highlands. It was deposited at the site by a receding glacier at the end of the last ice age.
But did the glacier balance it, or did men?
Barry Fell believed that Balanced Rock is a megalith of the distinctive dolmen type found in Europe. This would be evidence that European mariners crossed the Atlantic and made inroads in the New World thousands of years before the first Viking expeditions. The megalithic tradition dates to the Neolithic period with dolmen-building activity heavily concentrated between 4000 and 2500 B.C.
From the plaque erected by North Salem Historical Society: “It has been suggested in recent years that this may be a dolmen—a Celtic ceremonial stone used to memorialize the dead.”
A dolmen is the inner framework of a portal tomb, consisting of a base standing stones arranged vertically, with capstone laid horizontally across the top, forming a chamber. Within this chamber human remains would be placed and the whole thing covered over with cairn stones and earth, forming a mound or tumulus or barrow.
It is possible that burial was a secondary feature of these structures, much as it is at a parish church, and they were built for other mysterious purposes. We see them in the British Isles, in Germany, Scandinavia, and France. Where the earthworks have eroded over time only the standing stones are visible.
In his book, America B.C., Dr Fell wrote “… the largest Celtiberian dolmen yet discovered in North America, located at North Salem, New York. The 90-ton capstone is supported on the apexes of five erect peg-stones. Probably the memorial of a Celtiberian king, the North Salem dolmen most closely parallels a similar monument near Dublin.” This is presumably a reference to the Glendruid Dolmen in Ireland.
Of course Dr Fell received a chilly reception for his theory in academia but it is not at all implausible. Researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Exeter established similarities between the earliest man-made tools in North America and the tools of the Solutrean culture that inhabited what is now France and the Iberian Peninsula during the Upper Paleolithic suggesting that the Solutreans brought their technology with them across the Atlantic. (See: Across Atlantic Ice by Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley.)
The megalith builders would have come much later but we can imagine successive waves of European exploration in the Atlantic preceding the historical record.