Woodstock cairns may contain links to the ancients

Curving stone wall that ends at the boulder in the background. Note the wall’s pyramid shape that adds stability to the structure. (Photo by Violet Snow)

On the side of Overlook Mountain is an 80-foot-long serpentine stone wall that ends at a boulder with a triangular shape that Woodstocker Glenn Kreisberg finds suggestive of a snake’s head. A few hundred feet away, an almost identical — but crumbling — stone wall ends at a similar boulder, forming a mirror image, the two “snakes” arranged tail to tail.

Kreisberg and archeological researcher David Johnson believe the walls were built by Native Americans for spiritual purposes. They regard the site as sacred land and want it preserved, although it’s located on private property that is currently for sale.


The land sloping down from the serpentine walls is dotted with small cairns of meticulously stacked rocks, as well as six long, large piles of rock with retaining walls on the downhill sides. Mapping the locations of the walls and the large piles, Kreisberg came up with a pattern resembling the constellation Draco, believed to be reflected in ancient structures around the world, from Angkor Wat to the Ohio serpent mound.

Kreisberg, a radio frequency engineer, first came across the structures when he was asked to join a committee to study the siting of a cell tower in nearby California Quarry. Neighbors pointed out the rock formations, and Kreisberg became so fascinated by them that he joined the New England Antiquities Research Association, of which he is now vice president.

On a sunny Saturday, he surveyed the site with Johnson, a Dutchess County educator, photographer, and water consultant who has researched rock formations in Peru, Chile, and the southwestern U.S.

“We’ve found the same pattern here that we found in South America and in Anasazi sites in Arizona and New Mexico,” said Johnson, who has mapped underground aquifers in all three regions and found that mysterious structures made by human hands appear to mark the boundaries of subterranean watercourses.

“These structures relate to the three worlds of the Native Americans,” he explained. “The solar system and the constellations and planets are the gods above. The stones are part of the world we walk in. And the ancestors are associated with the underworld — their spirits travel through the earth along the water pathways.”

In addition, he said, water provided a means of communication between the people of this world and the ancestors, and the cairns and walls were probably settings for conducting rituals and honoring the dead.

A Tribal Preservation Officer of the Stockbridge Munsee band of Mohicans visited Overlook and said she thought the six large, rectangular cairns were burial sites. Kreisberg hopes to interest the tribe in studying the large cairns with underground radar technology, which would not detect bones but would reveal space or disturbance of soil underground.

At one of the smaller cairns, Kreisberg pointed out two rocks, one of white quartzite and another of reddish hematite, that were unlike all the other rocks in the assemblage, neatly stacked on a small boulder. “These kinds of non-local stones were used as offerings by the Native Americans,” he said, demonstrating how the reddish rock can slide in and out of a niche built into the side of the cairn.

I asked about books that claim the rock stacks of the Catskills are not ancient structures but were simply piled up by farmers wanting to clear the stones out of their fields.

“As a farmer, would you take so much care to build such a perfect structure?” observed Kreisberg. “Also, when you look at the deeds of the original patents for the land, they mention ancient stone monuments that were referenced to as boundary markers at the corners of lots. They were already here before the farmers arrived.”


The lines of Nasca

There are 46 small cairns on the mountainside. Johnson believes they correspond to aquifer boundaries, as do the two serpentine walls. His methods of determining the location of underground water include studies of the area’s geology and hydrology, determination of the locations and rates of flow of wells and springs, and one technology that is controversial in the field of archeology: dowsing.

“A lot of the scientific community hollers at me for doing it,” he said, swinging the two L-shaped metal dowsing rods he uses for finding underground water. “They say it doesn’t work. But it works for me.”

His study of the Nasca geoglyphs, geometric shapes etched onto the desert in the Nasca Valley of Peru and Chile, began when he was involved in a project to locate water sources in the region. Wells were successfully tapped based on his dowsing for water using the rods, which swing in response to passage over boundaries of underground watercourses. He knew about the Nasca lines, which had puzzled archeologists for decades.

“While mapping the aquifers and areas of higher permeability materials under the desert,” Johnson said. “I realized they had already been mapped by the lines of Nasca.”

Donald A. Proulx, Professor of Anthropology Emeritus at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, describes, on his website, his participation in Johnson’s research in South America from 1996 to 2003. Johnson taught social studies at Arlington High School in Poughkeepsie for 27 years until he retired to devote himself to the Nasca project. His unorthodox methods have been questioned by scientists, but he has convinced archeologists and geologists, with funding from the National Geographic Society, to help him try to verify his theories through rigorous research.

Proulx says the results of the studies were mixed. Whereas some of the geometric figures were shown to correspond to water-conducting faults and alluvial gravels, others did not. Johnson argued that some of the methodology failed to consider all the relevant factors.

Proulx notes that Johnson has been hired as a consultant by agencies in Peru and Chile and has “successfully located water sources that are now being used by local communities.” He also gives Johnson credit for “his tenacious research on the geoglyphs, wells…and other water sources in the Nasca drainage. The hydrological data he collected and the many new geoglyphs he discovered in the Nasca drainage are of great importance to the archaeological and geological communities.”

There are 25 comments

  1. Bonnie

    For those interested, contact should be made with the Mamakating historian. There are similar structures found in at least two locations in the Town.

  2. Stephen Comer

    My name is Steve Comer and i am an enrolled member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, the only descendant community of the Original People of the upper Hudson Valley. I’ve been resident in the Valley for the last 36 years and have a masters degree in anthropology as well as most of the credits for a doctorate. I’m not an archeologist but i have a fairly good background in the discipline and many archeologist friends. Decades ago, before i studied archeology as a science, i was a member of NEARA but ultimately found it both unsatisfactory and unscientific.

    Rock structures in the Hudson River Valley are not rare; in fact they abound, and claims similar to the present one are also plentiful. However, there has never been a case that proved to be of Indian origin. The Original People of the HRV, the Mohican and the Munsee Delaware, are not known to have made stone constructions; in fact, the only such constructions i know of are from the Southwest, where there is little else to build with.

    I’ve had a chance to examine a number of stone sites in the Valley and find them fascinating but not persuasive as to Indian origin. Most of the sites i’ve seen are clearly of 19th (18th?) century agricultural origin, altho there are some ambiguous structures too. It seems that some people are not familiar with the fact that in early Euro-American times farmers cut down many trees and moved many rocks to wrest a living from landscapes that were not particularly suited for either agriculture or livestock. When the Erie Canal and then the railroads made emigration relatively easy, those people abandoned their property for better lands elsewhere. The abandoned lands then grew back to forest and created a sense of abiding mystery.

    A much more likely source to this issue is the very human need for transcendence from our everyday lives. Stone piles in the woods are mysterious-seeming and exciting enough to rouse thoughts of exotic unknown origins, but with a knowledge of background information such explanations never pan out.

    If one wants a really spectacular stone site, check out Mystery Hill in southern New Hampshire. It’s fascinating but archeology is pretty much the story of trash, and there is virtually no trash there. For a different kind of experience go to the large boulder in the town of Salem, Westchester County, NY. It’s suspended on five smaller boulders, each one planted so its longer side is vertical. Did glacial retreat cause this unlikely formation?

    1. Peter Zielenski

      I have seen two sites where there are cairns on a hill surrounding or marking out natural springs that leads down hill to known Native American sites with archaic artifacts. One site is overgrown but I have seen cairns and interesting stone features that are most likely natural but would have been intriguing to the natives as well. The other site is very clear cut. The cairns seem to span in age. Some are very well preserved. Others are what we are used to seeing. There are snake walls and two large unmistakable burial mounds. At least in this case, I am convince that these are native burials and monuments to the dead or the stars. I fully expect to find burial mounds at the first site upon further investigation. As for the stone chambers: I used to think more of them, but because they were never mentioned anywhere by early surveyors I now believe they are colonial structures. At least the majority. What could be confusing us now is that there were multiple types of people North American over thousands of years and they built similar structures because they were faced with similar problems. There’s no doubt in my mind that people crossed from Europe to Iceland, Greenland, and down the East Coast. If they could make the 200 mile hop to Iceland, why wouldn’t they. We’re talking about a couple thousand years. There’s no way it couldn’t have happened even if by chance. Maybe the answer is that America has been a melting pot since the time of Christ. Or, at least since the beginning of the Woodland Period when the Natives began farming and using bows.

  3. Terry B

    I think Stephen Comer’s OPINION is just that an OPINION. His theory has a lot of holes, not to mention it is unsatisfactory and unscientific. An MS in Anthropology does not make someone an expert in Archeology or lithic sites.

    For Stephen to put down NEARA, who has been studying lithic sites for over 40 years, is something I expect from someone who has an ulterior motive or just can’t think “Out of the Box”.

    This is something I find often in mainstream archeology. But that is just my OPINION…….

    1. Peter Waksman

      There have been numerous proofs of Indian construction for rock piles in Georgia and, I believe, other places in the south. The structure there are identical with ones in NY, so the burden of proof is on you to prove their agricultural connection. Good luck with that.

  4. Glenn Kreisberg

    I’m surprised Mr. Comer, with his background, would venture to speculate and draw conclusions based on a site he has never investigated or visited. Yet he is quick to lump the site in with every other one that’s been explained; If one is explained then they all are explained doesn’t sound too scientific to me.
    Mr. Comer should investigate the work of Professor Harry Holstein of Jacksonville State University, who has documented Native American lithic sites on the east coast and was the keynote speaker at a recent NEARA Conference. Or he could speak with Sherry White, the Tribal Preservation Officer for the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, who visited the stone constructions on Overlook Mountain and claimed the large cairns resembled ancient burial mounds of her people, who according to Mr. Comer, didn’t build in stone. Or he could read Manitou – The Sacred Landscape of New England’s Native Civilization, a book by James Mavor and Byron Dix, (both scientists and NEARA members) which should have put to rest the notion northeast tribes didn’t construct with stone. The fact is they did as documented at calendar sites in NH, VT and elsewhere. Also, Mr. Comer should speak with Doug Harris, Tribal Ceremonial Landscape Preservation Officer for the Narragansett Tribe, who has identified and preserved stone cairn and stone wall sites in Turners Falls Ma, as having been built be his ancestors. Lastly, Mr Comer should consult the Dept. of Agriculture and National Forest Service who are in the process of drafting the first Scared Sites Policy http://www.fs.fed.us/spf/tribalrelations/sacredsites.shtml the first policy of its kind, creating a standard for identification and documentation of Native American Sacred site, including those in the northeast made of stone
    To claim the native population of the northeast didn’t carry out such activities, when indigenous populations across the Americas have been documented to have done so for thousands of years, does a tremendous disservice to the intelligence and ingenuity of the people who lived here before us. Documenting such sites in our region may require more open minded academics and allowing site, such as what’s found on Overlook, to be destroyed and developed with no regard for the stone constructions present there, is incredibly unwise and short sighted.

  5. Geo Dowser

    To Researchers , whom it may concern,

    I am former Woodstock Resident and explorer of ancient sites in North East USA . I have explored and located hundreds of sites in NY, NJ, CT, VT, MA and other states for over twenty years.

    I will not enter an opinion in this discussion, however, I did want to commend WT for running this story, and hope that the research and understanding will not go by the wayside of open thought and discussion.

    I would like to pass on my knowledge and research of unknown sites and inscriptions in the NY Area. Using a known system, unknown sites were located in a predetermined fashion.

    There are cairns and extensive inscription sites in Minewaska State Park by the old Ski Area and surrounding areas. They are not known nor acknowledged by the State Park – New Paltz NY

    For my purposes, I had been wanting to draw a relationship with these stone sites and the mound builders further west and mineral deposits and mining in general.

    To wit a Surveyor Thomas Brennan of Middletown NY noted the straight line nature, surveyed, and equidistant relationship of all the sites and cairns he surveyed and wrote a paper regarding such.

    If anyone can locate a copy of his work for me it would be appreciated.
    One paper would be titled [ Hilltop] Fire Signal Systems of NY.
    This may be on file with NEARA

    I am now studying a 4 ac site I finally found in Missouri, with similar attributes, and also a Serpentine Wall exists in a park in IL, called City of Giants. As a dowser I am intuitively led to these sites.

    What is needed is to keep an open mind, and understand that ancient inscriptions of Mediteranean [Phonecian] [Other] origin are found carved in the lintels of some of these slab roofed chambers, especially in Putnam Cty NY and Woodstock VT [ cooincidence ?]

    With this in light, one may want to have a look at this bit of forgotten history involving early trans atlantic voyages.

    A Forgotten History of Pre Columbian Travelers to Southern IL – Lost Library of Alexandria, Ptolmey,
    Cleopatra, Alexander Helios , The Sun King [ of Happy Land] aka Burrows Cave – Gold Artifacts

    I invite any researchers who are interested to contact me @ geodowser[at]gmail.com
    In the end the facts speak for themselves and history is not always what it appears.

    Steven, your conclusion that these sites are not Native American would ring true based on the inscriptions of old world script found at some sites.
    NEARA regardless of individual members conclusions has provided a great repository of information for us to work with and are to be commended for their hard work.

    Geo Dowser – Stone Site Researcher
    Written from a Wilderness Rock Pile Mountain somewhere in MO

  6. Bob Rountree

    My first thought when seeing the photo and reading the story was that these stone walls, like so many partial stone walls in the Catskills, were built by early European settlers. You can find them in the woods everywhere in Ulster County, especially near the bluestone quarries of West Saugerties and Blue Mountain (below Overlook). For the most part, these walls were used to mark claims and property lines. The pointed rock indicates the direction of the property line. I’m no archaeologist, and I wouldn’t rule out native American origins, and it does make a good story, but I am skeptical.

  7. Norman Muller

    I find it curious that there are documented (and in some cases dated) stone constructions in the Midwest and the South, verified by archaeologists, but somehow many archaeologists in the Northeast seem to think that that nothing similar occurred there. I beg to differ.

  8. Stephen Comer

    There are far too many statements in the responses to my recent post to refute one by one, and i doubt any of the naysayers would be convinced anyway. A few thoughts: Because something has been written in a book doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily true. (I have already read ‘Manitou’.) Self-proclaimed authority is not necessarily real authority. Because a Native American official has made a proclamation doesn’t mean that that person can vouch for the truth of her/his statement. The Nasca lines are not the same as HV rock piles. Dowsing is a science? Archeology is largely about trash: where is the trash? When i bite into a steak i don’t need to eat the whole steak to know it’s bad.

    Lastly,the fact that i have decades of experience, have collected literature on the subject, am empirical, have an extensive background in archeology, and have visited many stone piles with great interest does not mean i am necessarily going to be believed. As i stated in my previous post, this issue is essentially not about archeology but human psychology, another subject i’ve studied closely for decades. In cases where the emotional commitment is strong many people will simply believe what they want to believe, rather than the facts. That’s called faith, not rationality. Formal reasoning only goes back to the 6th century BC; emotion began with the first creature who felt afraid when another creature was about to devour it. I say again transcendence from our ordinary, everyday lives is essential. The issue lies in the things we have faith in. Yours truly, Cassandra.

    PS My wife has just reminded me that there is at least one mention in the Mohican historical literature of a stone pile. In that case it referred to a Native custom of throwing a stone on a pile at the ridge of a trail just before coming home. Such a pile has yet to be found but there is at least a reference to it.

  9. Peter Waksman

    The fact that you neither know about donation piles nor are able to name any (“see Monument Mountain, Stockbridge”), illustrates that you are not very knowledgable. Why are you still talking?

  10. Terry Bierce

    As far as Stephen Comer is concerned I think we just need to ignore his obvious ignorance. His “decades of experience” apparently did not teach him much; he is NOT an archeologist, only a want to be….

    His “dime store” human psychology course is laughable. He seems to be projecting when he mentions his “emotional commitment” theory and if he thinks most people believe everything they read he, should just speak for himself.

    I hope that “real” archeologists are not as closed minded as Mr. Comer and, I would hope, a lot more intelligent! Not to mention a few good manners would help…..

    He seems to put people down in order to feel smart, I pity this trait…

    1. Pindabanwait

      My first thought when senieg the photo and reading the story was that these stone walls, like so many partial stone walls in the Catskills, were built by early European settlers. You can find them in the woods everywhere in Ulster County, especially near the bluestone quarries of West Saugerties and Blue Mountain (below Overlook). For the most part, these walls were used to mark claims and property lines. The pointed rock indicates the direction of the property line. I’m no archaeologist, and I wouldn’t rule out native American origins, and it does make a good story, but I am skeptical.

  11. Craig

    There are literally thousands of old colonial farmer’s fields in New England that are lined by stone walls that look just like these. They are often as neatly stacked as in the photo, and often not. My Connecticut property is lined by such walls, and I have seen countless such walls in the woods.

  12. Geo Dowser

    Mr Comer is just calling it as he is seeing it.

    What about all the ancient inscriptions on the wall by the spring
    and the fire pit and the overhang shelter ?

    Everyone is “protecting” their opinion.

    This will not get us to the truth.

    Although i have great appreciation for native american sacred sites, based on the evidence i do not feel this is their work.

  13. mike

    i have 3 behind my house in woodstock ny and i do know that i will leave them alone and accept that they were created for a purpouse from a different civilization as we know it today..i wonder what they will think about all the methane gas and mercury in the water we will be leaving the next folks..

  14. steve

    peter, there is a beautiful example of rock pile exhibiting the female form near my house in bar harbor, maine. i have photos and would love to forward them if given an address.

  15. Lee Cone

    Southern NY is an a ancient area teaming with civilizations lost. The proof lies all your feet & in plain sight. Only thoses with ability to see will recognize them

  16. Rick Tarantelli

    I am a farmer in Tioga County New York just south of Ithaca. I am a former Woodstock We have on our land a section of Stone wall in the shape of a large square with some Cairns there also . They have never been looked at by anyone. And I wanted to just throw it out there in case somebody wants to come check them out their welcome

  17. Anastasia

    Stephen is correct. I in fact have three structures (round tent like) here in Ulster county on my property

  18. Joseph

    Like other commenters to this article, I have seen numerous “stacked rock” structures in my treks in the central Catskill Mountains. I am 70 years old and I have hike most peaks and explored most valleys and hollows, I also owned mountain property (which I recently sold to NYC DEP) that had similar structures built on that land.

    While Mr. Comer may be right I don’t think there is enough explicit detailed information and corroboration of these remnants being ancient.

    Viewing the photo I see that the area is third growth forest and if you want to know a walls age you should note how trees and other vegetation have infringed on the wall over time, with roots and vines disrupting the balance of the structure. Add the action of frost heaves, snow loads, water drainage, and occasional earth quakes, the walls in the photo appear to be far to neat to be of age. I have built many stone walls and these are not ancient in my opinion.

    “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, and spills the upper boulders in the sun; and makes gaps even two can pass abreast” Robert Frost. Sorry I could not resist this quote.

  19. Harry Matthews

    For all those interested in this exact subject Matt Bua and I will be hosting a “Stone Symposium” at Opus 40 on October 22 from 1-6pm. Featured speakers include Glenn Kreisberg, Evan Pritchard, Linda Zimmerman, Teresa Bierce, and Matt Bua. We will be discussing ancient cultures and lithic sites of the northeast, with particular focus on the Catskills and Hudson Valley. Please join us to continue this conversation.

  20. Brian Troy

    Has there been any consideration given to the possibility that some of these walls were constructed by populations that were here prior to the more recent native american populations? I have been exploring a rock shelter on private property along a tributary of the Delaware river. The artifacts resemble those that are categorized as Pre-Clovis. Miller points and other artifacts that resemble those found at Meadowcroft which has been dated at 16,000 years BP. A stone wall in a semi-circular shape protects the south side of the shelter and a wall runs for a considerable distance on the other side of the creek. Much of the wall is buried under sediment and it is completely subsurface at one point.. However, at one point where it makes a 90 degree turn the wall is at least four feet high which seems like a bit of overkill to mark a boundary. Its a hunting and fishing club now but was private farmland before consolidation in 1925. I’m not sure how many farm hands they had but I would guess that with 10 able bodied people working full time such a structure would still take years to construct.

  21. Chris Zaloom

    I’ve been dousing and studying earth mysteries for decades and I have a lot of respect for those that I’ve studied with who have continually open minds. Sal Trento, an early researcher and author (who studied a lovely cairn on my property)has disavowed some of his early views as new research has been done. Also, when I first started studying these subjects, conventional archeologists dismissed any theories of early peoples arrival in boats to the Americas; now it is a scientific fact. By the way, dousing empirically works. I always avoid those whose opinions seem angry, dismissive of other’s research and reductionist. There is a good reason we call these studies Earth Mysteries.

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