Connecticut’s Gungywamp: Old Stone Chambers That Are Still A Mystery
Gungywamp is an archaeological site located in Groton, Connecticut, USA. The site is best known for its various stone structures. There is no consensus about the age and function of these structures. A number of hypotheses have been put forward regarding the function of the structures. These hypotheses, which are based on the available historical and archaeological evidence, however, are often overshadowed by more sensational claims, most notably the one stating that the Gungywamp structures were built by 6th-8th century Irish monks.
A few of the stone tools and ceramic sherds found at the Gungywamp site. (Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center)
Gungywamp Can Be Divided Into Two Separate Areas
The site of Gungywamp can be divided into two separate areas – the Northern and Southern Complexes. Each of these areas contain a high cliff, a swamp, a brook, and stone structures. Artifacts recovered from the site suggest that human presence at Gungywamp can be traced as far back as 4000 years ago. These artifacts include stone tools and pottery sherds.
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The most notable archaeological features at Gungywamp, however, are its stone structures. These structures can be divided into several types: standing stone rows, stone bridges, stone chambers, and the double stone circle. These structures have puzzled scholars for a long time. There is, for instance, disagreement about the age of the structures, and the identity of their builders. While some argue that the structures were constructed by European settlers during the colonial period, others are of the opinion that they were built by Native Americans before the 17th century.
Yet others have claimed that the stone structures were built by Irish monks who arrived in North America between the 6th and 8th centuries AD. It is alleged that the monks made the voyage across the Atlantic to escape the Vikings. This sensational claim seems to be quite popular, and is often repeated, though without much solid evidence to back it up.
One of the Gungywamp stone chambers. (Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center)
Gungywamp Hypotheses Based On Historical Evidence
On the other hand, several hypotheses have been formulated based on the available historical and archaeological evidence. These argue either for a colonial or Native American origin of the structures.
For instance, regarding the double stone circle, one hypothesis is that this is the remains of a crushing or pulverizing mill, a type sometimes referred to as an “edge-runner mill.” This hypothesis is based on illustrations of such mills, physical mills that have survived till this day, as well as wear-and-tear patterns on the trough’s interior. These mills are known to have been used in Europe from the Middle Ages until the 19th century. Therefore, the mill hypothesis suggests that Gungywamp’s double stone circle was constructed during the colonial period by European settlers.
An alternative hypothesis states that the double stone circle was built by Native Americans prior to the arrival of the European settlers. Since Native American artifacts have been found at Gungywamp, it has been suggested that this structure may have been built by them as well. This hypothesis is supported by the observation that the stones were not dressed using metal tools.
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Instead, the stones were heated with fire, after which hammer stones were used to chip away their surface until the desired shape was attained. This technique was used by Native Americans for the mining of copper, and for the quarrying of quartz. If the double stone circle was built by Native Americans, it is argued that it would have served as ceremonial function, since the structure does not seem to have an obvious utilitarian function in Native American societies.
A stone structure ruin at the Gungywamp site. (Ray Bendici / Damned Connecticut)
The Other Stone Structures at Gungywamp
The other stone structures at Gungywamp have divided opinion as well. Regarding the stone rows, for instances, suggestions for their function can be divided according to the structures’ presumed origin, i.e., colonial European or Native American. For the former, the function of the stone rows is hypothesized to be functional. These functions include them being multiple upright stones in a stone wall, feed or supply boxes, stretchers for tanning hide, and enclosures for herding cattle. On the other hand, those supporting a Native American origin of the stone rows have hypothesized that the structures served a ceremonial purpose, which was connected either with the moon, or with birds.
Considering that the arguments for the colonial European origin of Gungywamp’s stone structures are equally strong as those for a Native American origin, it would be necessary for more research to be conducted on these mysterious structures. It is only when more evidence becomes available that more certainty may be ascribed to either the colonial European or Native American hypotheses for the structures’ origin and function.
A closeup of the entrance to one of the Gungywamp stone chambers. (Ray Bendici / Damned Connecticut)
Gungywamp Tours, Trespassing and Caretakers
At present, half of Gungywamp belongs to the state of Connecticut, whilst the other half is in private hands. Although there are signs at Gungywamp warning against trespassing, access to the site is possible via tours. These are conducted by the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center.
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As the caretakers of the site, the center has been granted permission by the state and private owners to conduct tours of the site. The tours are not free. The proceeds are used to support the center. As the site is surrounded by swamps on two sides, there are lots of mosquitoes, and the use of insect repellent is advised. Additionally, the use of sturdy shoes is also recommended, due to the uneven terrain.
Top image: Al Brown of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center talks about the stone ring that makes up one of the different sites in the Gungywamp property in the woods of Groton, Connecticut. Photo source: Tim Cook / The Day
By Wu Mingren
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