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Elongated chamber - interior














(Click photos to enlarge)

Side  view: A fully above-ground chamber, entrance is to right.


Front view: note anchoring bedrock projection on right side of entrance


Interior view: note niche at base of left side of back wall.  A dark half of the year chamber: Winter solstice sunrise illuminates right rear corner, equinoxes illuminate niche.

Stone chambers: Native temples

A stone chamber is defined as a Native temple covered with a stone slab roof, in which the stones were quarried without the use of metal drills.  There are around 500 of these structures extant in the Northeast.  Their distribution is largely confined to southern New England and the southeastern portion of New York state.  To the north, chambers occur into central Vermont and New Hampshire.  There is perhaps one example in the state of Maine.   They extend into Westchester County in southeastern New York.  There are rumors of several examples west of the Hudson River and into eastern Pennsylvania, but with a few scattered exceptions, these are unconfirmed.  The densest concentration is found in Putnam County, NY, on the east bank of the Hudson, just north of Westchester, where around 200 examples occur within that county or immediately outside its borders.  The second-densest concentration occurs in New London County in southeastern Connecticut, with probably around 50 extant chambers.  Windsor County in central Vermont probably has somewhat less than New London County.  Together, these three counties account for the majority of stone chambers in America.  These are not designed as root cellars, which are found in the cellars of Colonial homes.  Some chambers are entirely or partially out of the ground, precluding their use for food storage.  These range from tiny examples of perhaps a foot or two of cubic volume on up to massive structures of over 300 square feet in floor plan.  There are many more Native foundations which were never roofed with stone slabs, and which apparently were covered with timber.  Both the chambers and foundations serve as entrances into the Earth Mother, and frequently are designed to be illuminated by the sun or moon on key calendrical events.  The example illustrated below is on the Eastern Pequot reservation in Ledyard, CT, land never owned by Whites.

Early references to stone chambers (called "stone houses" or "stone forts") are reproduced below:

Notes to Wawekas Hill, or Mohegan's Watchtower and Tombstone, c. 1769, apparently written by Mr. Hide of Norwich, as reproduced in Bulletin 34, Archaeological Society of Connecticut, 1966, p. 41-44:
"Aged people whose fathers remembered the days of Uncas, . . . uniformly called [Wawekas H]ill by the name of the Indian Watch Tower. . . . The Fort upon this Hill was a large square building erected in the Indian manner of unpolished stone, without mortar, embanked with earth. The remains of this structure have been visible until within a few years. It probably stood in good repair in the days of Uncas; and though more than one hundred thirty years have passed since that time, but for the depredations of those who wished to enclose their farms with stone fences, it might have stood firmly at the present day."

• F. M. Caulkins, History of Norwich, 1866; p. 23:
"Waweekus Hill . . . [the] ancient name of Fort Hill."   [Miss Caulkins provides the original name of what had by then become known as simply "Fort Hill."]

• Robert Boucher, unpublished MSS c.1990 on the earliest deeds of New London, CT:
". . . the land records show the existence of ‘Stone Houses' or ‘Indian Forts.'   . . . They seem to have all been built on a hill which invariably acquired the name of ‘Fort Hill.' . . . To date, the writer has isolated the location of three of these Indian forts."  

Boucher's footnotes list these as: 1) Laid out to Richard Douglas - 4/11/1733; 2) William Hough to Richard Blinman - 6/5/1656; 3) Samuel Rogers to James Rogers Sr. - 2/15/1669

Boucher's use of the word 'fort' echoes the term Pynchon used in 1654 (reproduced on our home page): "a stonewall and strong fort ."

A very minor percentage of stone chambers are clearly not ancient.  This is sometimes revealed by their architecture (which differs from the vast majority of chambers) and the presence of drill holes in the stones which comprise the walls and roof of a chamber.  The presence of drill holes in a chamber does not preclude the possibility of it being ancient.  Many chambers have been repaired since c. 1750, when drill marks first begin to appear in the stone record in New England.  Such repaired chambers -- which were recycled for uses including root cellars, housing and storage sheds -- often reveal their antiquity by an absence of drill marks on the lowest courses of stones.  These lower courses are generally the most stable and least subject to needing repair from tree uprootings or other events which conspire to dismantle chambers. 

Root Cellars?

Many have confused Native stone chambers with Colonial or later root cellars. While there are small numbers of detached root cellars, these are normally easy to distinguish from ancient chambers because their design is not typical of that displayed in chambers.  While it is understandable that a cursory examination of one or several chambers could lead to a root cellar conclusion, this does not bear up when the entire corpus of chambers is given careful scrutiny.  Such an examination reveals the following:

  • The early accounts reproduced above make clear that chambers were found by the first European settlers.

  • The size of some chambers precludes a food storage use.  Some are as small as about one cubic foot while others are as large as several hundred cubic feet.  Both make little sense in terms of storing crops. >>›››More›››

  • The distribution of chambers makes no sense agriculturally.  Putnam County, NY (home to around 40% of the extant chambers) is a region of miserable terrain.  For this reason it was the last portion of the lower Hudson Valley to be settled.   The first settlers did not arrive until c. 1750.  The county was never an agricultural district because it was too hilly and mountainous to produce many crops.  Most agriculture was confined to sheep and dairy farming.  The distribution of the chambers within the county is heavily weighted toward the three towns within its center and which possess the worst terrain within the county.  If chambers were designed to store agricultural produce, their distribution should be uniform across not only New England, but the rest of the Eastern states as well.  They should not be confined to areas where often the very least amount of produce was grown.

  • Root cellars require ventilation and insulation from temperature extremes.  A small number of chambers (consistent in design with the vast majority of chambers) are built fully or partially out of the ground.  Almost all the chambers lack transverse ventilation, without which produce will soon rot from molds and the buildup of ethylene gas produced by the fruits and vegetables to hasten their own ripening. >>›››More›››

  • External root cellars must be sealed by a door or a pair of doors to insulate the interior from temperature extremes.  Most chambers make no provision in their design for the attachment of a door.  Those which have been recycled and today possess a door have had door jambs inserted into their entrances.  In many cases, the entry into chambers is absurd it terms of both sealing the opening and facilitating the transportation of produce through the entrance.  A doorway 99 inches high in a large, formal chamber is far too high to easy seal.  On the other end of the height scale, some chambers require entrants to crawl into them.  >>›››More›››

  • Mavor and Dix were the first to examine the possibility that chambers are astronomically oriented.  Since then, it has become abundantly clear that many are.  One common design is a dark-half of the year chamber:  light from the rising sun will first penetrate to one corner of the base of the rear wall on the autumnal equinox, touch the opposite corner on the winter solstice, and then return to the original corner on the vernal equinox.

  • Many chambers (along with U-shaped constructions) will have an anchoring boulder on the right side (when facing in) of the front entrance.  It is not known if there are any left-side anchoring boulders.  This is further evidence of chambers being ritualized, sacred architecture. 

It would be an omission to not mention the close correspondence between chambers and U-shaped structures.  Both are different styles of the same thing: artificial, ritualized entrances into the Earth Mother.  Chambers differ from the U-shaped constructions in possessing a stone slab roof and are generally more formal constructions evidencing greater complexity and size.  But this does not always hold true.  A comparison of numerous chambers and U-shaped constructions reveals both to be separate aspects of the same basic design.


Foundations are identical to many chambers with one exception: a lack of a stone slab roof.  This allowed many foundations to be built to much greater dimensions than could be easily spanned by a stone slab roof, although very small foundations also occur.  . . . . (to be continued)





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