tableIt was known as "Mystery Hill" for countless years until it was renamed "America's Stonehenge" in the 1980's. Mystery Hill is a more correct moniker, but the mystery is why people are so reticent to accept a mundane explanation for observed phenomena.

On a rocky hill in Salem, NH, giant stones have been placed in a circle by someone. Inevitably, many of these stones line up with astronomical events... it's rather hard to put stones in a circle and NOT have this happen, but for all I know they may have been placed that way on purpose.

This is part of the much larger story, but I'm going to focus on one specific element of America's Stonehenge: the "sacrificial stone."

Located next to a cave partially constructed of large slabs of granite, this stone table is large enough for a man to lie on. Around its edges are carved grooves which encircle the stone and lead off the edge into a spout that could pour into a bucket or other container. Should you wish to cut a man's throat on this stone, his blood would be collected very conveniently.

To add to the intrigue, there is a stone tube under the stone table that leads to the cave, known as the "oracle chamber." If someone in the oracle chamber speaks, a disembodied voice can be heard emanating from the stone, as though ancient spirits were accepting the dead man's soul as an offering.

Pretty convincing evidence that this site was used for arcane rituals, yes? Some say the site was built by Culdee monks from thousands of years ago. Others say a lost race constructed the site, and some... the "boring" ones... point out that 18th and 19th century famers used the stones for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons involved soap.

The process of making soap involves the use of lye, which is made by soaking wood ash. The water is evaporated and the end result is potassium hydroxide which has similar properties to the sodium hydroxide we use as lye today. When mixed with animal fat, lye starts a chemical reaction the end result of which is soap.

The people of New England knew this, and many communities had "lye leaching stones" available just for this purpose. A quick look at the pictures on this site might make one question the actual use of the "sacrificial stone."

But what of the oracle tube? What role does that play in the "lye" theory? I have not seen this suggested, but it seems to me that a tube under a stone table would be an excellent conductor of air, which may have been a form of natural bellows to make the fire hotter. It would have taken quite a while to heat that stone, and wind collecting in the partially man-made cave could have sped the process considerably.

If you visit the America's Stonehenge site, you won't find any mention of lye leaching. This is a shame, because I find it just as interesting to learn how 19th century farmers survived in this hardscrabble landscape as I do speculating about the mystical ramifications of such a site. Here we have a genuine "mystery solved," or at least one that has an extremely plausible explanation. I understand the current owners make money from tourism, and that more tourists are intested in "mystery" than "history," but there's a golden opportunity here to show how easy it is for our lust for lore to overshadow our curiosity.