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Native American Split Stones: An Interpretation

By Mary Gage

Introduction

Split-stone occurs naturally and on occasion is created by people. Not all openings in form of splits and cracks are features. For a split to be a feature there must be accompanying features. Splits appear as openings in stone without stone fill and as openings with stone fill.

Definition

Split-Stone: an opening in stone

Fissure in bedrock and ledge (single or multiple splits)
Split boulders (single split & multiple splits)
Split-off bars separated from exposed ground level bedrock (multiple bars)
Crack(s) in stone slab or boulder (single or multiple cracks)

Unfilled split boulder at a cairn site in Sandown, NH

Split boulder with stone fill in Hampstead, NH

Crack in stone slab, America’s Stonehenge, North Salem, NH

Fissure in ledge, America’s Stonehenge, North Salem, NH

Split-off bars separated from exposed ground level bedrock (multiple bars). America’s Stonehenge, North Salem, NH

Interpretation

Split-stone without stone fill that has other features associated with it is always a spirit portal to the Underworld (see examples). Portal is an exit and entrance. Split stone is not the only type of portal used to access the Underworld see Gungywamp article on web page and America’s Stonehenge Deciphered book. The earliest known use is at America’s Stonehenge site with the winter sunset ceremony. In this ceremony Sun Spirit enters the Underworld on the winter solstice. In the same ceremony Underworld Spirit accompanied Sun Spirit and used the same spirit portal. Sunset ceremony was established circa 2500 B.P. The first known C14 date is 1900 B.P. associated with the creation of the spring equinox ceremony. The latest date is circa 1850-90 A.D. at the St. Martin site in E. Kingston, NH where a boulder was deliberately split by the plug and feather method for use in a ceremony.


Split-stone with stone fill is classified as a cairn. The cairn is connected to the Underworld. The cairn has several variations of design but what is common to all is the split(s) is filled with stones. The base stone can be a boulder with one or more full splits, a boulder with one or more cracks, an outcrop – bedrock that protrudes above ground in a boulder like way, and raised bedrock with an exposed ledge face. In one case, two boulders were used with fill in between that appear to be equal to a split boulder. Splits in bedrock are sometimes called fissures.

Examples of Usage

Example #1 – E. Kingston, NH

St. Martin site in E. Kingston is a cairn site built on the backside of a farm. The farm was on property that starts out on level ground at the road and then goes up a steep hill. It was on top of hill that the site was built circa mid to late 1800. The site has several areas, of interest is the enclosed field with a split boulder. The boulder was split by the plug and feather method and left in tact with a narrow open-space in the middle. Directly south of boulder a few feet away a cairn is attached to a stone wall. On the west end of enclosed field is another split boulder that is natural. It has a narrow split that has stone fill and stone piled up against its base around part of the boulder. This is a split boulder cairn with stone leaning against it. The other areas at this site contain cairns, a spring, and enclosures. They are separated by stone walls.

The intact split boulder is a man-made spirit portal to the Underworld. It is an exit portal for Underworld Spirit. The cairn across from the split boulder without fill was used to place a stone offering to call forth Underworld Spirit. The cairn being attached to the stone wall brought the spirit over to the wall where it could travel. The Underworld Spirit traveled along the wall to the area near the split boulder cairn. A leader placed a stone offering at base of split boulder cairn to call the spirit over to the feature. The stone filled split allowed the spirit to enter the boulder but prevented it from entering the Underworld. The split boulder cairn became a containment feature where Underworld Spirit stayed during the ceremony.
 

St. Martin Site in E. Kingston, NH

Example #2 – Sandown, NH

Sandown site is a large cairn site built on the backside of a farm. A farm road path leads down to site. On the path there is a large split boulder with two splits both filled with stone. The cairn site has a central main area with a perfectly split (natural) boulder approximately four feet high with a one foot wide open space in the middle. There is no stone fill in the split of this boulder. It is in center of the site. A short distance on one side of split boulder is a stone wall with a protrusion. The protrusion is a rectangle with straight walls and squared corners. It may be a formed of cairn. On the opposite side of split boulder and also a short distance away is a steep thirty-five long hillside. Hillside is covered with a very large stone cairn. Cairn definition was determined by the remains of a five foot high retaining wall at base of hillside. The ground area around the split boulder was left as open space without other cairns. In the vicinity of the split boulder without fill and large hillside cairn is another large boulder with cracks filled with stone. It is outside the open space beyond a stone wall which places the boulder with filled cracks close by but in another section of the site.

The filled split boulder has access to the Underworld. It location on the entrance path suggests a stone offering was made to the Underworld Spirit before entering the ceremonial site. The split boulder without fill was a spirit portal with exit and entrance to Underworld. The hillside cairn in association with split boulder without fill was used to make a stone offering by the ordinary people present at the ceremony to call forth Underworld Spirit. The cairn jutting out from the stone wall may have been used likewise by the leaders to place a stone offering to call forth the spirit to the ceremony. This scenario is similar to the East Kingston site which has a cairn used by the leaders across from an empty split boulder and short sections of wide walls used in lieu of a cairn by the ordinary people. The spirit had access to the open-space next to the boulder where people gathered thus the spirit was present among the people at the ceremony. The boulder with cracks was another spirit portal to the Underworld and was in vicinity of open-space gathering area. The cracks were filled with stone to prevent the Underworld Spirit from entering this incorrect portal within the site.

East Kingston and Sandown have similar features a split boulder without fill and a cairn in association with the boulder. The two sites are within a geographical range of twenty or so miles of America’s Stonehenge in North Salem. The core idea of calling forth the Underworld Spirit from split stone is well documented at America’s Stonehenge. These two sites are post settlement sites on the backside of farms out of sight of people on main roads. They show Native American ceremonies that were shut down at America’s Stonehenge circa 1700 were relocated, reconfigured and continued well into the 1800’s and possibly as late as the early 1900’s.

Sandown, NH Site

Example #3 – Lunenburg, MA

At Lunenburg, MA an ex-large triangular slab was raised up on two support stones next to a fissure. On opposite end (pointed end) the slab rests on bedrock. The fissure is an Underworld spirit portal. The partially raised triangular stone slab is a niche, only its end next to fissure is raised. A perishable offering was placed in the niche to call forth the Underworld Spirit. The spirit was called forth to be at a ceremony held at this location. There are other features that go with the site. (For a write up of the features see Mavor & Dix, 1989: pp. 115)

Example #4 – America’s Stonehenge Winter Sunset Ceremonial Area

As the name implies this was a sunset ceremony involving Sun Spirit. On the winter solstice the Sun Spirit leaves the Upperworld and enters the Underworld. At America’s Stonehenge the sunset alignment stone was erected on edge of hilltop in line with split-off bars of stone part ways down the hillside. The split-off bars of stone were a natural Underworld spirit portal. Above them three triangular standing stones were erected. The protective triangular standing stones did not have anything to do with the sunset ceremony they were placed there to prevent three spirits that entered the site with the people for ceremonies from entering the spirit portal. However, these triangular stones helped identify the natural feature.

At sunset on the winter solstice when the sun’s sphere sinks on the horizon it appears to set over the split-off bars which are in line with the alignment stone. During the sunset ceremony the Native Americans assisted Sun Spirit in entering the Underworld spirit portal by erecting a triangular alignment stone with shoulders. The shoulder kept the sun’s sphere and spirit from sliding off back into the site. It also guided the spirit down to the Underworld spirit portal.

Winter Solstice Sunset at America’s Stonehenge

Example #5 – America’s Stonehenge Spring Equinox Ceremonial Area

(a) On the spring equinox each year the Sun Spirit leaves Underworld and returns to Upperworld. It is the reverse of the winter solstice. This ceremonial area has a somewhat different arrangement of features. There is an alignment stone with specialized attributes (see book America’s Stonehenge Deciphered), next to it is a split boulder with a niche on its eastside, and beyond the niche a few feet eastward is a standing stone spirit portal with a half-window opening oriented eastward.

In the early pre-dawn hours a perishable offering was placed inside the niche to call forth Sun Spirit from the Underworld. Once Sun Spirit had left the Underworld it was directed eastward via the half-window spirit portal to a lodge at base of hill. At lodge there was a fire ceremony to return the Sun Spirit to the sun’s sphere in Middleworld. When the sun’s sphere with Sun Spirit reached the alignment stone it was guided to Upperworld.

(b) The Underworld spirit portal also served another ceremony on the spring equinox. There is a stone wall that links with a sump pit and with the wall in which the spring equinox alignment and split boulder are within. In that wall there is an across-wall standing stone with a v-notch on top. The v notch lines up with length of wall. In the ceremony that took place involving the sump pit (see book America’s Stonehenge Deciphered) the Underworld Spirit was involved. When the spirit reached the sump pit it needed a way to return to the Underworld but could not do so at the pit feature. So the Native Americans built a wall with a small spirit portal the v notch to guide Underworld Spirit down to the split boulder spirit portal where it could safely re-enter the Underworld.

The same Underworld spirit portal served two different ceremonies on the same day. In one ceremony it was used by Sun Spirit to exit. In the second ceremony it was used by Underworld Spirit to enter. This dual usage by two different spirits was common at America’s Stonehenge.

Example #5a

Example #5b -->

America’s Stonehenge Spring Equinox Ceremonial Area

Example #6 – America’s Stonehenge Small Underworld Ceremonial Area

In this ceremony Underworld Spirit is returned to its natural place in the ravine where it stayed between seasonal ceremonies. The ceremonial area consists of two sections. One section is on the hillside level with the cliff but a little southward. Second section is down slope at base of hill on east side of ravine.

The section on the hillside has a line up of features. The features are a triangular standing stone, a rectangular slab with a crack [split] in the middle that is flat on the ground, and a niche. The crack is oriented to 28 degrees. Down slope in second section the features are a split boulder and sixty-seven feet north of split boulder is a triangular standing stone. The naturally split boulder has its split oriented to 28 degrees. The crack/split in the stone slab matches the orientation of the split in the split boulder. The two triangular standing stones each have a tall, slender look, with a pyramid shape. They too match each other.

To return Underworld Spirit to the ravine the spirit was first called forth at the section on the hillside level with the cliff. The niche was used to place an offering to call forth spirit while the triangular standing stone prevented the spirit from wandering over to the cliff. The crack/split in the stone slab lined up with the split in the split boulder to guide the spirit. The split boulder in ravine  lacks a niche as it was not needed once the spirit was given a specific direction to follow. The second triangular standing stone in the ravine area was needed to prevent the spirit from wandering off towards the cliff.

America’s Stonehenge Small Underworld Ceremonial Area

Example #7 – America’s Stonehenge Quartz Quarry

An outcrop of pure quartz was found north of the North Stone outside the main complex. It was designated a sacred area to procure quartz for use on the site. Quartz comes from the Underworld. Within the area was a split boulder, a natural portal to the Underworld. In turn, the Native Americans built a niche using quartz with a triangular top. The niche was used to call forth Underworld Spirit. The area around the quartz quarry is not enclosed so it could not contain the spirit. The niche appears to have also served as a feature where the spirit stayed and was present, when quarrying took place.

America’s Stonehenge Quartz Quarry

Example #8 – America’s Stonehenge Large Niche

A large niche was built into the perimeter wall on the west side of the hilltop. It lines up with long parallel stone bars split-off from exposed bedrock next to the cliff. The stone bars are a split-stone Underworld spirit portal. The two features functioned in unison with each other.

The niche was located half-ways between the cliff and hilltop complex. In addition to the niche there is a pure quartz open-L spirit portal. When there was a need to call the Underworld Spirit up to the hilltop from the cliff the large niche was used. An offering was placed in the niche to call forth the spirit from the split-stone spirit portal at cliff up to edge of hilltop. To access the large niche the spirit was guided through the open-L spirit portal and into the niche. From there the spirit was called on to the hilltop complex where needed.

America’s Stonehenge Large Niche

Example #9 – America’s Stonehenge Fissure in Ravine with Symbolic Stone

For many centuries the Native Americans used the ravine as their main entrance into the site. The site actually began at the ravine. In the ravine area there are several natural features, a spring, a fissure in a ledge lining the ravine and a wetlands area. Each of these features was embodied with a spirit. Each spirit was called forth to enter the site with the people. Of interest to this article is the fissure, a natural split-like opening in the ledge.

The fissure opens at top of ledge and down the face. To protect this Underworld spirit portal and keep out uninvited spirits such as the Spring Water Spirit protective symbolism was placed inside it. At bottom of fissure a short triangular stone was wedged in. Above the short triangular stone is a vertical rectangular stone with a triangular top. This is another form of the triangle symbol. Abutting the vertical triangle is a second rectangular stone with an irregular top. This is a form of the rectangle symbol. The standing stones jut out the top of the fissure and protect from above at the ridge line while the short triangle protects on the lower section on the ravine side.

The fissure was identified as a feature by the symbolic stones placed inside. The three spirits were identified by the natural features and the three triangular standing stones at the split-off bars of stone, the Underworld spirit portal in line and down slope of the winter sunset alignment stone (see Example #4). In addition to the three triangular standing stones there is a spirit portal, a rectangular stone with a triangular top with shoulders in route half-ways up the hill between the ravine and Underworld spirit portal (see America’s Stonehenge Deciphered). To read features at stone structure sites it is necessary to look for connecting links such as the spirit portal in route that forms a link between the ravine and three triangles and the hilltop complex to which the portal directs the spirits.

America’s Stonehenge Fissure in Ravine with Symbolic Stone

Example #10 – America’s Stonehenge Underworld Spirit Features at Cairn Field

On the northwest part of America’s Stonehenge site there is an enclosed area with cairns and a summer solstice sunset alignment. The features in this ceremonial area associated with split stone are a split boulder cairn that is an Underworld spirit portal, a standing stone with an open-L spirit portal and a cairn between two boulders. The ceremonial area is divided into two sections a small cairn field and a large cairn field. The split boulder cairn is in the small cairn field and has two splits one is filled with stone and second has a triangular stone placed at one end, the second split is otherwise open. The open split is the portal. The filled split prevents Underworld Spirit from entering the split after it is called forth. The triangle on end of open split prevents Sun Spirit from entering the Underworld spirit portal (see America’s Stonehenge Deciphered for reason why). The standing stone open-L portal is in a wall between the two cairn fields. In the large cairn field is the cairn between two boulders. It is in line with the open-L spirit portal and the split boulder cairn spirit portal.

Underworld Spirit was called forth from the split boulder cairn spirit portal in the small cairn field and guided up to the large cairn field by the open-L spirit portal. In the large cairn field Underworld Spirit was guided over to the cairn between two boulders. This cairn contained the spirit during the sunset ceremony (see America’s Stonehenge Deciphered for details about the ceremony). The cairn between two boulders is similar to a split boulder cairn with a single split with stone fill. It is thought the two types of cairns function in the same manner as a containment feature to hold a spirit during a ceremony.

America’s Stonehenge Underworld Spirit Features at Cairn Field

Example #11 – Gloucester, MA

In Gloucester, MA there is a historic site called Dogtown that also contains cairns. The area with cairns is slightly beyond the area of historic house foundations. The cairn area has one main feature a single split boulder with stone fill on flat ground that was once open land. Nearby are cairns on the ground. At this site the split boulder cairn with its association with the Underworld is the central feature. The flat open land suggests a gathering place. The cairn suggests the Underworld Spirit was given stone offerings inside the split boulder to call it into the feature to be present at the ceremony held there.

In addition to the ceremonial area with the split boulder cairn and other cairns there are two pedestal boulders and two perched boulders on a high outcrop of exposed granite about a quarter of a mile away. Three of the boulders form an enclosure. It is made up of two perched boulders (these boulders are on the bedrock) and one pedestal boulder raised off the ground by support stones. The other pedestal boulder is a short distance away by it self. The pedestal boulder in the enclosure has three support stones in a triangle. The enclosure is also in the shape of triangle. Triangles are protective symbolism. The pedestal boulder is a niche and spirit portal combined feature for the Underworld Spirit. The enclosure which has a triangle shape suggests the Underworld Spirit was called forth into the enclosure to interact with the leader of the ceremony. The second pedestal boulder may have been used for the spirit to return to the Underworld.

The fact, there are two ceremonial areas in close proximity to each other and both have Underworld features suggests this was a ceremonial site with a main ceremony centered on the Underworld Spirit.

Gloucester, MA

Example #12 – Newbury, MA

On South Street in Newbury, MA there is public wildlife management land with cairns. One of the cairns is a vertical outcrop with multiple splits. It is on the edge of the cairn site. The multiple splits are filled with stone and more stone is across top of outcrop. The feature is a bedrock cairn. The stone fill is a large amount. The location on edge of site suggests an entrance cairn like at the Sandown, NH site. The amount of stone fill fits the scenario. The cairn whatever its purpose is associated with the Underworld. It is the only feature with evidence of an Underworld presence at the site. This is a small site with a few specialty cairns and some ordinary ground cairns plus some stone walls of unknown origin. The walls may be Native American or farmer.

Newbury, MA

Conclusion

There are many split stones not all are features. To be a feature the split stone must have been altered as in the fissure with protective symbolism placed inside, be associated with other features such as a niche, a cairn, protective symbolism nearby, other portals, etc. or in the case of split boulder cairns have stone fill. Usage varies as seen in the examples. The feature can be an exit or entrance or both. It was used as a central feature to a ceremony or as a secondary feature. It was used as a spirit portal (without stone fill) and when filled with stone it was used as a containment feature. Each split stone used in a stone structure site must be evaluated on an individual basis to determine it usage. The examples give a wide range of usage and show how other features worked with the split stone feature.

Underworld Spirit was the main spirit who used the Underworld spirit portal.
Underworld Spirit [its Native American name is unknown to author] is the dominant benevolent spirit of the Underworld. This spirit was placed in several roles:

 1) Main spirit 
 2) Supporting spirit
 3) A spirit with free-movement to interact with the people
 4) A spirit contained within a feature to be present at a ceremony but without free-movement and no interacting with the people
 5) Host spirit present at sunset ceremony as host to Sun Spirit
 6) Called forth to be present at the quartz quarry where quartz (a stone with special properties) was removed for use on the ceremonial site
 7) Given a stone offering at entrance at different cairn sites with an Underworld presence and without an Underworld presence
Another spirit who also used the Underworld spirit portal was Upperworld’s Sun Spirit. At sunrise Sun Spirit used the portal to leave the Underworld and at sunset the reverse, to enter the Underworld. 

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