A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Discovery, once suppressed by Puritans, overturns our understanding of human history.
It seems almost too incredible to believe, but for centuries clear evidence of a super-advanced early civilization in southern Vermont has been overlooked. Especially incredible since that evidence includes what may be the world's largest pyramid, a massive obelisk that is still standing, and a megalithic structure reminiscent of Stonehenge.
Homer Mather, an amateur historian, is credited with the discovery according to an article appearing in the latest Journal of Antediluvian Studies. Clues from a diary kept by his Puritan forebear Increase Mather, best known for his role in the Salem witchcraft trials, led Homer to the vicinity of Bennington in southwestern Vermont. "The diary covers his travels in late 1692," says Mather. "But there's a gap of two days and it looks like the pages covering that period, during which Increase passed through the Bennington area, were torn out a long time ago, likely by Increase himself or maybe his son Cotton."
Intrigued, Homer retraced the route of his ancestor. What he found in Bennington will not only rewrite his family history, but world history as well. "Right out the motel room window, I saw it. A gigantic, tree-covered pyramid," he recalls. "And then it clicked--on the last page of the diary were some doodles and the word 'pyramid.'"
Did Increase Mather actually discover the pyramid, and then suppress the evidence? "That seems likely," says Josiah Coe, who heads the history-sociology-anthropology department at the North Bennington Institute of Technology. "I suspect that upon reflection Increase saw the pyramid as contradicting the biblical account of world history, and that was unacceptable. He couldn't erase the pyramid, but he could rip out his own description of it, perhaps hastily penned in the excitement of the moment. But he forgot his sketches on the diary's last page." Alternatively, Coe notes that if Cotton Mather came across the diary entry intact and realized its implications, he might have "edited" it out of Increase's journal. That, he says, would explain a reference in a letter written by Cotton in 1718 to the founder of Yale, who was childless, in which he wrote, "if what is forming at New Haven might wear the name of Yale College, it would be better than a name of sons and daughters. And your munificence might easily obtain for you such a commemoration and perpetuation of your valuable name, which would indeed be much better than an Egyptian pyramid." The attempt by Mather, whether Increase or his son Cotton, succeeded in keeping the find from the public for more some 300 years until, ironically, a descendant revealed it.
The alignment of the Bennington Obelisk and Henge is apparent in this photograph. (Homer Mather)
Once the pyramid was identified, archaeologists looked for the other monuments that Increase had sketched. In fact, the doodles proved to be a rough map and led the researchers to a 200-foot-tall obelisk, the mini-Stonehenge, and what may have been a large, semicircular viewing platform or observatory aligned with the obelisk and pyramid. "What we have here is a sacred landscape, with evidence for multi-period and multi-culture use," says Coe. The henge monument, he explains, indicates a Neolithic-Early Bronze Age tradition from northwestern Europe dating to the third or fourth millennium B.C. (although a Neo-Celtic Druid Revival date of first millennium can't be ruled out), while the obelisk points to New Kingdom Egypt connections during the second millennium B.C.
"The real kicker is the pyramid," says Coe, adjusting his fedora. "We know how long it takes pyramids to decay, so we can date them fairly precisely based on how much remains. Using that method, it's apparent that this is a pre-Clovis pyramid, from before the final retreat of glaciers in this area. Conservatively, I'd say it's 19,000-23,000 years old, so about the same time as the Solutrean culture of Ice Age Europe."
As unlikely as it seemed before this discovery, it now appears that southwestern Vermont has been a place of pilgrimage for millennia and possibly ground zero for the advent of human beings in the Americas. Not surprisingly, local residents are basking in the media spotlight and increased tourism brought about by the discovery. "We always knew this was a special place," says Bennington's mayor and its biggest booster, Marty Frankowitz. "We just didn't know why." The entrepreneurial spirit of the citizenry is apparent in the tourist shops, where one can now buy Increase Mather t-shirts, Bennington Pyramid paperweights, and Bennington Obelisk pens.
Excavations planned for this summer will focus on establishing an exact chronological sequence for the Bennington Triangle, as the monument complex has been dubbed by the local press. "With luck, we'll find definitive proof that Solutrean peoples came over from Europe, built the pyramid, and colonized the New World," says Coe. "That would solve a lot of mysteries."
James Burnett is an occasional contributor to ARCHAEOLOGY online.