Stone secrets: Catskills cairns had deep spiritual significance for Native Americans, says Hudson Valley writer

(Photo by Glenn Kreisberg)

For a good part of his early professional life, Woodstock’s Glenn Kreisberg dreamed of recording the stars – rock stars. He was making his bones as a recording engineer and reporter at WDST-FM, but something wasn’t right. The prospect of being locked up in a tiny windowless cubicle, working endless hours editing and mixing studio sounds while the natural world – the world that he loved – sang a siren’s song no tape recorder could ever capture, and one Kreisberg couldn’t resist.

It took a while, but he listened. And by leaving the boxed-in life and heading out the door, he began discovering his life’s calling – one that, ironically enough, entailed real rock and real stars and the all-but-forgotten songs they’ve made for thousands of years, for those with ears to hear and eyes to see. He has written a book about what he has heard and seen in the rocks on Overlook Mountain, which he will discuss later this month at Rhinebeck’s Starr Library.

Kreisberg loved to camp and hike and just hang out in the woods as a kid. He got into rock climbing at an early age and took it up as a sport. But a post-high-school stint working at Three Geese in Flight, a venerable Woodstock bookstore, triggered an interest in ancient history, culture and mythology that has only grown with time. He consumed books on such esoteric subjects as the Knights Templar, the Vikings’ transoceanic travels – books that he now says contained “a lot more than what you’ll find in the textbooks.”


He worked at WDST for about seven years in the mid-’80s, aiming to become an audio engineer in a recording studio. But the claustrophobic probabilities of that path sent him back to the vertical world of the Shawangunks, where he became a rock-climbing guide and a partner in a climbing school. It was a time – seven years’ worth – that Kreisberg cherishes to this day. “I had a very intimate, kind of personal relationship with rock, as a climber: touching it, feeling it, moving over it, trying to become one with it. In some ways, that led to my interest to studying the stones in the woods.”

But what really got Kreisberg thinking about those stones were a couple of experts who dismissed the idea that rock fences and cairns on Overlook Mountain were the creation of early European settlers in the area. These experts, he came to believe, were off in their estimation by untold thousands of years.

“I was asked to sit on a siting committee for a cell tower in Woodstock,” he recalls. “Some of the people who’d come to testify talked about these cairns in the woods near where the cell tower was planned…basically, the archaeologists and state experts dismissed these stone structures as being Native American because they said in the Northeast, the ancient population was not recognized as having done anything with stone, other than tools and arrowheads.”

That struck Kreisberg as strange, since native cultures across the country and deep into Central and South America all built monumentally with stone. “In many cases, they aligned those constructions with events in the sky and the horizon, which meant they were practicing astronomy.” So why, Kreisberg wondered, was the native population of the Northeast so dramatically different from everywhere else in the hemisphere?

The belief that the native cultures in the region had little or nothing to do with ancient cultures that surrounded them Kreisberg calls a “convenient untruth.” Dismay colors his voice as he recounts his feelings about the expert opinions that say there was no civilization, no sophisticated belief system in the region from a culture that had been in the Northeast for at least 10,000 years.

The key to Kreisberg’s understanding of that ancient history, and the subject of his presentation in Rhinebeck, is the link between archaeoastronomy and landscape archaeology, as they manifest around the world in such well-known places as Stonehenge, but more particularly as they can be found in the all-but-unknown sites that can be seen on Overlook Mountain. “When we talk about archaeoastronomy, we’re speaking about how ancient cultures looked at the sky, kept track of the Moon and stars, sunrises and sunsets on the longest and shortest days of the year and how they incorporated that into their belief systems and spiritual practices.”

What Kreisberg sees is a pattern very similar to patterns that can be seen across the globe. It speaks, he says, to a very sophisticated worldview he calls three-dimensional – one where an underworld and a celestial world brimming with supernatural powers exist that are tied together in the material world. The ancient worldview was deeply rooted in spirituality: that they had a profound connection to the natural world that the Europeans didn’t have or recognize. “To say that each one of these sites was potentially a church was very inconvenient for anyone intent on developing and harnessing the resources of the Northeast.”

Kreisberg’s latest book, Spirits in Stone, published last year by Inner Traditions, reflects his effort to set the record straight of long-lost cultures whose language was at once sophisticated and mysterious, a story whose telling would seem ideally suited to someone who has spent so much of his life exploring and recording the ineffable vestiges of those cultures.

The Starr Library in Rhinebeck will present Glenn Kreisberg speaking on “The Ancient Skies in the Hudson Valley” on Saturday, June 22 at 4 p.m. The library is located at 68 West Market Street. Call (845) 876-4030 or visit for further information.