Monday, 17 May 2010

Websites for Writers: New England Antiquities Research Association

Welcome to today's installment of Websites for Writers, where we look at sites that can inspire and inform your writing. If you want straightforward writing advice, I suggest Writing-World. Here you'll get something a little different.

Today we're looking at the New England Antiquities Research Association, a collection of amateur archaeologists, historians, and linguists with some very different ideas about New England's past. In fact, they have a whole range of ideas, united only by the belief that traditional archaeology doesn't have all the answers. The group focuses on unusual stone sites in New England. Some look like European dolmens, others are strange meandering piles of stone, others are small stone enclosures.

Some believe these sites prove that ancient Old World civilizations visited New England. Others say they're traces of a previously unrecorded advanced civilization. Some see them as Native American or evidence of a lingering paganism among Colonial settlers.

Professional archaeologists dismiss these claims and say the structures date to Colonial times, with some simply being natural formations. I have a Master's degree in archaeology, worked in the field for ten years, and have examined several of these sites, and I tend to agree. Much New Age archaeology is rooted in racism and sites such as America's Stonehenge are almost certainly early modern.

But we're writers, and we shouldn't let facts get in the way of inspiration. A look through NEARA's collection of photos and articles can inspire a whole library of story ideas. These unexplained monuments can provide a mysterious setting for your story, or even the central focus. Imagine a Dan Brown-style thriller where a fearless researcher uncovers the "truth" about New England's past, or a Lovecraftian horror where the old gods worshiped at these sites rise from their slumber, or historical fiction where a settler becomes curious about these sites and gets accused of witchcraft. Beyond story ideas, what this website teaches us is that there's always more than one way to look at a body of evidence, that the past is owned and used by the present for its own purposes. And all of our characters have a past.

For a good primer, check out Daniel V. Boudillion's Picture Glossary of New England Lithic Constructions. I like this website because Boudillion takes a more pragmatic view, seeing the sites as a mixture of Native American, Colonial, Neopagan, and just plain inspiring.

Image of the Oley Hills site southwest of Allentown, Pennsylvania, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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