Wilkinson, a neurosurgeon and retired University of Massachusetts professor, discovered the structure while picking berries on his property in 1998. His discovery includes a nearly nine-foot-high structure of carefully laid stone, surrounded by a densely-packed wide earth and stone berm. The berm, which is in a rectangle around the central stone structure, creates two deep, stone-lined pits on one side of the central structure, with an entrance on the opposite side.
One of the most unusual features is a stone-lined water well extending down through the side of one of the berms, extending nearly 20 feet into the ground. A foot or two below surface level, a stone is laid across the well, creating a “shelf” that would block access to the water by anything larger than a small dipper.
When Wilkinson first saw the structure he thought it was an old powder magazine, but soon learned that there wasn’t any military activity recorded in the area.
One group that Wilkinson contacted suggested that the structure may have been Native American in origin. Even if the structure itself had signs of colonial occupation, then certainly some of the surrounding stone structures indicated that the area had significance to Native Americans. Two stone structures, they said, were aligned with the August 13 sunset, an important event to some Native Americans, and an alignment that was common to other Native American ceremonial sites.
When Wilkinson’s story first appeared in The Deerfield Valley News, local historian Wayne Rowell looked at the site and, in a letter to the editor, declared it was a house foundation – like hundreds of others to be seen scattered throughout the Vermont countryside.
Rowell’s conclusion is bolstered by the findings of Victor Rolando, an industrial archaeologist in Bennington. Rolando attended a presentation on the site sponsored by the Whitingham Historical Society at the behest of Vermont State Archaeologist Giovanna Peebles. Later, he visited the site and sent a report with his evaluation to Peebles. “I believe the so-called mystery site in Whitingham is no more than the remains of an early center-chimney farmhouse,” he wrote.
Rolando says he’s still confident that the structure is a house foundation. “It’s not an industrial site,” he says. “There’s no industrial remains, no slag, no burned materials like there would be at a lime kiln site, for instance.”
Rolando agrees that the well built into the berm wall is unusual, but he says it’s not unprecedented. “It’s outside the wall, but surprisingly close to it,” he says. “But in those days, water was where it was. People threw their trash out one door and got their drinking water out of the other. Basic sanitation concepts weren’t understood. There was a lot of sickness.”
Although the hard-packed stone-lined berm walls are also unusual, Rolando says sometimes early American builders found it easier to build a stone foundation and plow dirt around it rather than dig down, where they might hit water or ledge.
Both Wilkinson and Dr. Tim Fohl, who has investigated a number of mysterious New England structures, have noted that the surrounding berm seems to be too far out of proportion to the center structure to indicate a house and center chimney. “It would be an odd looking house, perched on top of those walls,” Fohl said. “If there was a house there, it would have been a tiny thing, and to have that chimney in the middle, there wouldn’t be much room left for the people living there.”
But Rolando says it wouldn’t be unusual to find a small house and a large chimney. “When people first settled, they tended to build their first structure very small, just living space. As they prospered, they’d add on to the building and the original house would become just one of the rooms.”
There have been other explanations, as well. One group that heard about the structure and conducted a more spiritual investigation of the site offered unconventional explanations. One woman wrote that, gazing at the site, she was “transported” back in time to the site, where she saw a man named “Tohrtul,” an ancient Celt, whose boat was buried on the property. She also suggested that there had been a large labyrinth on the property that was used for interdimensional travel, teleportation, healing, and rites. The woman also identified the stone structure as Tohrtul’s burial site.
Another observer also called the structure a barrow, a type of stone burial structure, containing the remains of five people. This observer suggested the builders came from the Iberian Peninsula 5,000 years ago.
Other observers suggested a Sumerian or Phoenician connection, that the builders came to the area 12,000 years ago, and that they may have communicated with extraterrestrials. Energy, they said flows throughout the site, around the structure, and in line with nearby rock formations.
Wilkinson began excavating the site in 2010. While working in the central stone structure, he did find a cavity, but he says it was too small for a chimney, and there was no sign of fire on the stones. He also notes that the central structure appears to have been purposely laid to form a sort of pyramid shape.
Rolando says the old chimney simply collapsed to one side, creating the pyramidal appearance.
During his excavation Wilkinson also found an iron pot containing what appear to be wood ashes in a recessed area in the cobbled floor of one of the pits in front of the center structure. In another area, he found several old bricks. The site also yielded an old china plate as well as a broken glass bottle and several tin cans that appear to be from a more modern era.
Wilkinson says he no longer believes the structure is connected to Native Americans, but he’s not convinced it was a dwelling. He suggests the possibility of a brick kiln at the site, or some other kind of commercial activity. He’s still looking for a definitive answer – if it was a house, whose house was it? When was it built? If it was something else, then what? Town land records haven’t yielded any answers. Wilkinson says he’d just like to know if the site has any historical significance.
“It has been a fascination to me,” says Wilkinson of the site and the theories it has generated. “It has been 14 years since I found the structure, and I still have no idea what it really is.”