NEWSLETTER of the GUNGYWAMP SOCIETY
Written & Edited by the Board Members of the Gungywamp Society
Vol. 20, No. 1 ISSN 0892-1741 Winter 2003
THE CHI RHO CONTROVERSY
Two Different Viewpoints Offered
by Vance R. Tiede
and P. Buchanan
View I: Vance R. Tiede
I was surprised to learn in a recent Stonewatch article (Buchanan 2002) of a new research finding that discards an unconventional interpretation of certain Gungywamp inscriptions as being an Early Christian nomen sacrum (Barron and Mason 1990, and Whittall 1986). The Stonewatch article claims that the Gungywamp style of chi-rho (i.e., Greek initials XP for CRistos, or Latin CHRistus) is unknown to Christendom. The Stonewatch article makes a provocative claim, for if true, it would vitiate consideration of the Gungywamp's features as meriting extraordinary archaeological or public attention.
However, the scientific method is a self-correcting process and only the last of contending hypotheses left standing in the light of physical evidence may be accepted as theory. In that spirit, let us reconsider two contending hypotheses regarding the stylistic provenience of the Gungywamp chi-rhos with respect to Romano-British iconography.
Philosophy teaches that one cannot logically prove a negative proposition, but one may disprove a negative proposition with only a single counter-example. Consequently, scientists formulate a negative proposition (or null hypothesis) to test against a positive proposition. For our purposes, let us define two contending hypotheses, and determine which one must be rejected based on available physical evidence, rather than opinion or speculation.
Null Hypothesis (H0): "The Gungywamp chi-rhos... are not authentic representations of Chi-rho styles from any era... the R carvings are most likely someone's initials left behind during the colonial or post-colonial period" (Buchanan 2002).
Fell determined the style of the alleged Chi Rho symbol in the Gungywamp as being consistent with those of the fourth to seventh centuries found throughout Christendom.... Over the past year and a half, thorough research was also conducted by Buchanan on Chi Rho styles used throughout most of the Christian Church’s history, particularly of the time periods Fell indicated. None of the styles found in the research match the style of the alleged Chi Rho carvings found in the Gungywamp. (Buchanan 2002)
Positive Hypothesis 1 (H1): The Gungywamp chi-rho style (Figure 1) is represented in Early Christian art history of the fourth to seventh centuries.
Analysis: Ho may be accepted so long as no physical evidence supporting H1 can be cited. However, such evidence may be found in the scholarly literature of Romano-British Early Christian iconography. Figure 2 shows a simplified chi-rho style (i.e., "P" with a diagonal "\" overstrike) that is incised into a ceramic chard reported from the archaeological excavations of the Roman Fort (4th century) at Richborough, Kent, England (Hamlin 1992, Greene 1974, and Thomas 1985). It matches the style of the Gungywamp chi-rho. Moreover, 14 additional monogram chi-rhos (i.e., "P" with a "-" overstrike) carved into stone are reported from coastal Britain and Ireland (Hamlin 1972).
Conclusion: The available physical evidence leads us to reject the null hypothesis that the "Gungywamp Chi-rhos are not authentic representations of Chi-rho styles from any era." Rather, logic forces us to accept the proposition that the Gungywamp chi-rhos do match a known style from Romano-Britain. Therefore, the Early Christian provenience hypothesis for the Gungywamp chi-rhos passes a critical test on the path to a viable theory. Q.E.D.
Barron, David P. and Sharon Mason. 1990 "Vogt Chamber One: The Ruins," The Greater Gungywamp: A Guidebook (Noank, CT: The Gungywamp Society) 32-33.
Buchanan, Paulette J. 2002 "New Research Findings," Stonewatch, 19:1 (Winter 2001-2002), 1-2.
Greene, K. 1974 "A Christian Monogram from Richborough, Kent," Britannia, 5, 393-5.
Hamlin, Ann E. 1992 Personal correspondence to author.
1972 "Chi-Rho-Carved Stone at Drumaqueran, Co. Antrim." Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 35, 33-27.
Thomas, Charles. 1985 Christianity in Roman Britain to AD 500, (London: B.T. Batsford, Ltd.), Figure 5.1, 89.
Whittall, II, James P. 1986 "Chi-Rho Symbols, North Gungywamp Complex," Bulletin of the Early Sites Research Society,13:1 (December), 12-16.
Response to Vance R. Tiede's Viewpoint -- View II:
What is most remarkable about Chi Rho styles prevalent in early and medieval Christendom is that they are fairly consistent. There are variations of the same theme of Chi Rhos found throughout Eastern, Western and African Christendom, but they all follow accepted patterns. Note the following Chi Rho styles:
Due to the controversy over the possibility of Chi Rho inscriptions on ledges in the Gungywamp, I consulted with archaeologists in Great Britain and described the Gungywamp inscriptions to them. The archaeological staff at Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England, provided me with descriptions of Chi Rhos that had been found at Shepton Mallet, Kent, Dorset, Sussex, and at Kirkmadrine, Galloway, Ireland. The dates of all samples ranged from the fourth to sixth centuries. None of the below styles match the Gungywamp R inscriptions.
1. Basic Constantinian Chi-Rho, from a wall painting at Lullingstone Roman Villa, Kent (4th century).
2. Constantinian Chi-Rho with Alpha and Omega Greek letters, from same site.
3. Constantinian Chi-Rho with superimposed head, possibly of Christ, from a mosaic at Hinton St. Mary Villa, Dorset (4th century).
4. Chi-Rho design punched into silver-alloy amulet found in East-West burial from Shepton Mallet, Somerset (4th-5th century).
5. Germanic-style brooch with Chi-Rho style similar to Shepton Mallet sample, from Sussex (5th century).
6. Chi-Rho on a memorial stone at Kirkmadrine, Galloway (5th-6th century).
In October of 2002, I contacted via e-mail Dr. Kevin Greene (the same Dr. Greene cited in Vance Tiede's article), Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Newcastle in England. Dr. Greene's comments were not favorable toward the Gungywamp's R inscriptions being genuine Chi Rhos, and he gave this explanation:
Like the Viking settlement on Newfoundland, I would expect Irish monks to leave substantial traces, since monasteries normally had earthworks or stone banks around them, and buildings made of stone when available. They also produced many stone crosses, altar slabs, and decorative metalwork whose production leaves moulds, scraps of metal slag, etc. While absence of evidence is not necessary evidence of absence, I do not think that undated chi rho carvings are much to go on!
Dr. Greene's mention of iron slag gives reason for pause because the Gungywamp area does have evidence of iron slag. But before some folks start putting two and two together and coming up with anything but four, there is a less-than-dramatic explanation for the iron slag. The iron slag in the Gungywamp has already been dated to early colonial times, and document evidence uncovered by Jack Rajotte confirms that Gov. Winthrop's sons mined for iron in the Gungywamp during the seventeenth century. Nowhere does evidence exist in the Gungywamp of major earthworks, stone banks, stone crosses, stone buildings (larger than the chambers present in the Gungywamp), altar slabs or decorative metalwork.
Aside from the above explanations, there are a few serious flaws in Tiede's argument that the R inscriptions are authentic Chi Rhos. First, I take issue with his stone-rubbing depiction that he made of one of the R inscriptions. In 2001, C. Hallas, J. Rajotte and I took our own rubbings of these inscriptions and we painstakingly examined each inscription at every angle and with different light sources. We each noted that on every R inscription, the single diagonal line that forms the R's right stem does NOT continue upward past and to the left of the vertical back of the R, with the exception of one of the R's which does have a very slight upward extension past the back. But this small extension does certainly not qualify this one R inscription as a Chi Rho. The bottom line with rubbings, especially when made on the rough surface of ledge on which the R inscriptions are found, is that they can be made to depict things which simply are not there.
The second major problem in Tiede's argument is his use of a Chi Rho inscribed pottery shard found in Kent, England to prove his idea that a single diagonal line Chi Rho was used in early Christianity. The Kent shard does indeed depict an authentic Chi Rho. But the fact that it is a shard does not give any indication of how it was positioned on the whole pottery piece! Only in relatively modern times has the Chi Rho been simplified to a single diagonal line on a vertical P. Certainly, at no time during early and medieval Christianity was the single diagonal line used. A simple clockwise turn of the shard depiction provided in Tiede's article demonstrates that the Chi Rho does indeed conform to other existing Chi Rho styles of early Christendom (a vertical X with a diagonal P).
When viewed accurately from this position the shard's Chi Rho is a perfect match to other similar Chi Rhos found in mosaics and on church walls and whole vessel pieces. The proper positioning of the Kent shard’s Chi Rho also demonstrates the evenness of the X, rather than the lopsided X of the incorrectly positioned Chi Rho shown in Tiede's article.
So what can be logically and reasonably concluded about not only the R inscriptions but also the JC III inscription found in the Gungywamp? As put forth in the Winter 2002 Stonewatch, it is most likely that both the JC III and R inscriptions are survey markings, since both are near or part of stone walling.
It would be wonderful to find some "smoking gun" artifact in the Gungywamp that would indicate the strong likelihood of early Celtic Christian involvement in the area. But the reality is that none such evidence has ever been found! Nonetheless, the controversy over the interpretation of the sites in the Gungywamp is now an irreversible part of the Gungywamp's history, and for that reason I believe it is important to include the various viewpoints in presentations of the Gungywamp sites. The "traditional" controversial side -- that there were definitely Celtic Christian monks in the Gungywamp -- has been told for many years and at the exclusion of factual details from investigations that have yielded far better explanations of the sites. Balance is long overdue! But regardless of the viewpoint, what is important is that we continue to preserve all of the sites of the Gungywamp because they are part of the history of New England, however they are interpreted. This is especially important now that housing and commercial development has at times been allowed to run roughshod over areas of historical significance. We are thankful for those folks and organizations that are helping us keep the Gungywamp preserved for future generations.
Latest Updates on Gungywamp Sites
The Double Circle of Stones
by Former Gungywamp Society Researcher C. Hallas
Edited by P. Buchanan
Below is a summary some of the double circle of stones at the southern end of the Gungywamp.
Photos by Charles Clough
This entire area appears to be part of a colonial era homestead. A foundation near the stone circle has been attributed for years to a family named Adams. While my own research shows that an Adams family did move to the vicinity in the mid-eighteenth century from Rhode Island, the Gungywamp Society does not have any documentation in its archives which shows that this particular foundation was owned by the Adams family. Three earlier researchers, Eva Butler and George and Nancy Jackson, concluded that the Adams family did live in the Gungywamp site near the stone circle, but we have not been able to locate any of their documentation.
The double of circle of stones near the traditional location of the Adams site has been examined and excavated regularly over the past 70 years. The first documented reference that I have found to the stone circle is that of John Dodge. The following are his 1965 drawings of the stone circle and his interpretation of the stone circle as an intact millsite:
Dodge is the first researcher/explorer of the Gungywamp area (his site review, written in 1965, is in our files). On page 3 of his site description he refers to "the root cellar, stone circle, etc." (notice he uses the singular when he describes the root cellar because the second chamber was not discovered until 1975). Dodge contacted Mrs. Eva Butler of Ledyard, a noted local area researcher and ethnohistorian of the mid-twentieth century. She told him that the first investigation of the site that she knew of was done in the early 1930s. We have no information about any possible research done at that time.
Over the next few years, Dodge researched the history of mills constructed in this manner. He found many diagrams and references. These can be seen in the mss he eventually produced. He also researched mills and millers in the southeastern part of Connecticut, but could not attribute the Gungywamp's double stone circle to any miller, tanner, etc. from the region. My own modest research shows that mills of this size and shape were used for many things: as cider mills; for crushing seashells for mortar, and mixing mortar; for crushing bark for leather tanning; for producing gunpowder; for crushing quartz in pottery making.
In the 1940s and '50s the double circle of stones was explored by Andrew Kowalski of Glastonbury. He was a very ambitious collector/digger of Indian artifacts in the mid-twentieth century. He amassed a large collection, but only vaguely documented his finds. A large part of his collection was given to the State Museum of Natural History. We have been inventorying and cataloguing this collection at the Office of the State Archaeologist, but I have not seen any references to the Gungywamp area.
In the mid 1960s the center of the stone circle was supposedly excavated by Frank Glynn. Glynn was a very thorough and capable avocational archaeologist who was a Wesleyan graduate, and a longtime member and president of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut. He had done considerable site work in southeastern Connecticut. Glynn seemed to enjoy a good mystery, as his areas of research indicate. Besides his work at standared archaeological sites, he was instrumental in researching the Westford Knight and involving T.C. Lethbridge in his investigation. His work is the basis upon which most current speculations on the Knight stand. Our files do not have any of his research.
In 1966, Glynn joined NEARA, probably through his association with John Dodge, and he was appointed "chief archaeologist." Unfortunately, Glynn passed away in 1968 at the age of 63. Perhaps NEARA retains his files or copies of his work, as a subsequent NEARA investigator refers to Glynn's work at the Gungywamp's millsite/double circle of stones. The following statement was later made by the late James Whittall of the Early Sites Research Society (ESRS) concerning Glynn's excavation:
Frank Glynn, a Connecticut archaeologist, going on the theory that the double ring was a tan bark mill, excavated the center area of the rings, looking for any sign of a cutout for a centerpost to support an axle arm for a pivoting crushing wheel. There was nothing.
Since we have no documentation, we don't know if this true.
The Gungywamp guidebook written by the late Dave Barron mentions a "husband and wife team of archaeologists from Yale around 1960" as having excavated at the stone circle, and also that "no report of their excavation findings has been discovered." I am not sure who this team was, or even if this team actually existed. I recently spoke to Nancy Jackson, half of the husband and wife team who did the first minimal excavation of the "Adams" foundation. She told me that while she and her late husband had examined the stone circle site, they did not excavate there.
The last documented excavation conducted at the stone circle took place in the summer of 1990. This was directed by ESRS's Jim Whittall. ESRS was/is a group of avocational archaeologists and history enthusiasts interested in stone chambers, inscriptions and other related antiquities. ESRS was founded in the 1970s and was headed by Mr. Whittall until his death in the late 1990s. Whittall designed and carried out most of the archaeological work done in the Gungywamp along with the Gungywamp Society. During the excavation of the summer of 1990 this combined group excavated fifty-four square meters, nearly the entire flat ledge upon which the stone circle lies. An earlier excavation was conducted by Whittall in 1988 at the stone circle in which Paulette Buchanan was a participant. We have not found an artifact inventory or field notes for either of Whittall's excavations in the Gungywamp, so we must rely solely on an article written by Whittall for his ESRS newsletter.
Whittall claimed in his article that a quarried quartz vein was found in the uncovered ledge, possibly the origin of the quartz flakes and two broken bifaces and a scraper found during the dig. He also found several tiny pieces of glazed redware and, on the north side of the feature, numerous hammerstones. He mentioned that the northwest area was "highly disturbed," but we don't know how or by whom.
Because Whittall thought the center of the circle had been "highly disturbed" in the past, he stated "no work was undertaken" there. Yet strangely enough, he observed in the very next sentence, "The lack of a stone wheel and a center posthole or pivot stone noted in other mills of this type puzzled us." I don't know why he came to this conclusion when he never excavated the center of the circle.
Whittall also found some charcoal scatter adjacent to the outside rim of the stone circle. He had this carbon dated and was given a date of approximately 455 A.D. Unfortunately, he was vague about where precisely those "small amounts of charcoal" material were located. He did not state that it was found withing the actual stonework of the circle structure.
The Rows of Standing Stones
With Carved Bird Effigy
by P. Buchanan
Everyone loves a good mystery, and the rows of standing stones in the southeastern Gungywamp definitely provides plenty of fodder for fertile imaginations! Especially when it comes to trying to explain the "Bird Effigy" carved on one of the standing stones.
Drawing by the late Art Hayward, Sr.
Depiction of Bird Effigy. Photo by Charles Clough.
There is an array of stone walls coursing throughout the Gungywamp complex, and many of them zigzag all over the place with no apparent rhyme or reason. Other stone walls are quite straight and uniform.
The two rows of standing stones may have been connected at one time. Both rows run roughly north and south with a slight bow in both rows. If the rows were connected at one time then the northern row would have snaked at a southeast direction to join with the southern row.
Before an attempted explanation is given of the rows of standing stones, another stone wall structure must be described. One of the walls within the south-central section of the Gungywamp has some similarities to the rows of standing stones. This similar wall also runs in a north-south direction and is on the part of the trail system that runs roughly parallel to a swamp and North Gungywamp Road. This similar rock wall is about 100 feet away from the row of standing stones and has periodic standing stones between traditional rock walling, two stone bridges between boulders in the rock wall, and small "cursing stones" on top of the boulders. The "cursing stones" were explained by the late Dave Barron as indicative of an old Celtic tradition dealing with grudges held by one member of the community over another. The offended party would find a stone as big as his grudge against his neighbor, the priest would put the curse on the stone, and the stone would be placed in a certain area. But does this quaint Irish tradition have any place in the Gungywamp?
Throughout Great Britain and Ireland, some stone walls were built using the intermittent standing stone method. The standing stones simply provided more strength and stability to the rough field stone walls. So it wouldn’t be at all unusual for colonial settlers from Great Britain to have built similar-styled rock walls in southeastern New England. What is unusual about this particular stone wall, which has similarities to the rows of standing stones, is that it has stone bridges and various-sized rounded stones on top of the boulders that are a part of the stone walling.
Opposite this stone wall and adjacent trail is a hillside with steep ledge. The trail that exists now was the same trail system that existed during colonial times (called the "main highway" according to contributing researcher Jack Rajotte) since many of our most important colonial sites are alongside this trail. Given the hillside and steep slope of ledge opposite the trail and rock wall, and also given the location of the swamp system located about 30-50 feet down a slight decline on the other side of the wall, it seems very likely that colonial folks built the two stone bridges to provide an opening for water run-off to keep the trail from becoming too muddy and impassible. The rounded stones ("cursing stones") on top of the boulders were most likely cleared from the trail or used to cobble the trail when the path became too muddy, even with water diverted under the stone bridges. These seem to be far more reasonable and practical explanations to this particular rock wall and stone bridge structure than the explanation given that the boulders are "altars" upon which "cursing stones" were placed.
In 1980, D. Barron led a team to discover more about the rows of standing stones that begins about 50 feet from the rock wall with the stone bridges Barron and his team dug down approximately 12-18 inches around selected standing stones in the south row and found that the stones were set into sockets formed of "small rocks, cobbles and debris" to help keep them standing erect.
Aside from the Bird Effigy, another puzzling feature with the rows of standing stones is the cobbled area on the trail (east) side in front of the southern row. In the early 1990s, Dave Barron and I unearthed some of the cobbles and we found a flat stone covering a post hole that was about 38 meters (15 inches) deep. There was little sediment in the hole and the soil around the hole was very clay-like and compact.
During every tour I've conducted, I ask folks for their opinions on the matter, and I get a variety of explanations. Those who believe that early Celtic Christian monks settled in the Gungywamp in the fifth to eighth centuries explain that these rows were built by the monks (why?), and that the Bird Effigy represents the symbol for the Apostle John, the writer of the fourth Gospel. (In Christian tradition, Matthew is represented as the Man, Mark as the Lion, Luke as the Ox, and John as the Eagle.) Others believe that native Americans erected these rows of standing stones as perhaps memorial markers or as a calendar of the moon or other heavenly body. Indian cultures likewise used images of birds and other animals, so it wouldn’t be too unusual for them to carve a bird effigy onto one of the stones, if they were the builders. Others have indicated that perhaps the rows could have been used to herd and corral lifestock.