By Katherine Stone
The summer solstice – this year on June 21 -- is the day at which the sun reaches as far north as it will rise, making it the longest day of the year. This year’s summer solstice is special one America’s Stonehenge, which opened on this date 60 years ago.
America’s Stonehenge, off Route 111 in Salem, NH, is a 4,000-year-old archaeological site. In the woods you'll find a maze of rocks, stone chambers, and megaliths they may have left behind. Who were they? Native Americans? Or Old World voyagers who crossed the Atlantic well ahead of Columbus, people with knowledge of astronomy and stone construction? The questions have stymied scholars for generations.
Current hypotheses suggest that the site was built by European travelers because of the design of the structures and the alignment stones. The sun aligns with the standing monoliths on the summer and winter solstices, the spring and fall equinoxes, and the cross-quarter days, which are on February 1, March 1, August 1, and November 1.
America’s Stonehenge has been dated to approximately 2000 B.C. using the alignment stones on the site and with radiocarbon-14 dating methods. While the sun still aligns near-perfectly with the stones today, it is off by about two-third of a degree because the Earth’s obliquity changes over time.
As if all that weren’t enough, America’s Stonehenge is home to a family of friendly alpacas.
On Thursday, June 21, and America’s Stonehenge will be open from sunrise (5:07 a.m.) to sunset (8:25 pm). In addition to the alignments, three special events will be held that day: a talk on archaeology by Dennis Stone at 11 a.m.; a specialty oil tasting by a local Salem business, Cucina Aurora, at noon; and a solstice ritual hosted by Katja Esser at 2 p.m.