Architectural shape and design featured strongly in the prehistoric design of ancient sites. We are all familiar with the pyramid structures of Egypt and South America and the distinctive megalithic stone circles of Europe. Yet what monumental design featured in North America? During my research into ancient American sites, I noted several extraordinary monuments once adorned the state of Wisconsin in the U.S.A. Furthermore, they were regarded as the holiest type of structure of Native tradition, although not claimed to be built by them. Remarkably, their characteristic pentagon shape appears to have inspired the modern-day military Pentagon. The Pentagon is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, located in Arlington County, Virginia. It has five sides, five floors above ground, two basement levels and five ring corridors per floor.
The central plaza contains a five-acre area which is shaped like a pentagon and informally known as ‘ground zero’, a nickname originating during the Cold War and based on the presumption that the Soviet Union would target one or more nuclear missiles at this central location in the outbreak of a nuclear war. Considering the Pentagon’s unusual shape, it was designed in just five days by the American architect George Bergstrom (1876–1955) between July 17th and July 22nd 1941. The number ‘5’ features repeatedly in its design. Fuelling conspiracy theories, ground was broken for construction on September 11, 1941. However, many researchers have wondered how the controversial design was so quickly conceived. I suggest the design was based on a prehistoric monument unique to North America that, according to tradition, represented the power and dominance of the Nation. Antiquarians surveyed five unusual pentagon earthworks in Wisconsin, which incidentally was the birthplace of George Bergstrom, the Pentagon’s designer. Without question, the pentagon monuments were intact and visible whilst he was growing up. Nowhere else in the world do we see this type of monumental shape, which was constructed thousands of years ago.
As we shall soon see, the macabre latter-day use of the pentagon earthwork symbolically parallels the modern Pentagon’s function and possible agenda. Around two hundred years ago when the pentagon monument was intact, it was recorded for prosperity by an antiquarian who traveled across America with a Native American. Thus, the information we have regarding the shape, layout and use of the monument comes from Native American tradition. We are indebted to the early archaeological records and Native narratives to understand and piece together our historical and monumental past. Pentagon earthworks One of the outstanding pentagon earthworks was located by the Kickapoo River, about 30 miles (48 kilometres) northeast of Prairie du Chien and consisted of an outer circle enclosing a pentagon, or five-angled walls, with seven earthen mounds of various dimensions, and a small inner circle.
It was reported that the earthwork had been ‘defaced by the ravages of time’; however, certain areas within the monument remained ‘perfectly intact’. The outer circle was more than 1,200 feet (365.76 metres) in circumference and the earthen wall 5 feet (1.52 metres) high with a general base diameter of 12–16 feet (3.65–4.87 metres). However, the small inner circle had diminished to only 12 inches (30.48 centimetres). In contrast, the pentagon walls had retained ‘a more perfect form’. The five small mounds within the pentagon were the same size as the wall giving the design stunning symmetry.
The mound that stood by the entrance of the outer circle was far larger than those within, its form was perfectly preserved, and it did not seem to have suffered from any form of erosion. The summit was both flat and perfectly ‘smooth’. The shape and lack of erosion mirrors the design and engineering precision of Silbury Hill which stands close to the Avebury Henge stone circles in Wiltshire, England. Silbury Hill is the largest man-made mound in Europe standing 131 feet (40 metres) high and covering 2 hectares. Its flat top is around 98 feet (30 metres) in diameter. In 1968-1970, Professor Richard Atkinson excavated the mound and discovered that it was built in several continuous phases. One remarkable find from within the mound was a piece of turf some 4500 years old (orthodox dating), yet intriguingly it was still green. Silbury has no erosion disturbance; despite thousands of years of torrential English rain! This is because it was designed to drain off rainwater, and undoubtedly, the pentagon mound reflects this ingenious construction.
Usage According to Native American tradition, the pentagon earthwork was traditionally used as a ‘sacred national altar’ being the highest and most supreme monument for prophecy and human sacrifice. Traces of fire from within the depression of the central mound and the remains of burned clay, charcoal, and ashes, and also bone remains were found near the surface of all five flat mounds adjacent to the main work. However, the deposits were far more abundant in the central mound than in any other. Sadly, several mounds that were situated outside of the monument were not shown in the original illustration and so we must visualise and speculate as to what the monument looked like in its entirety.
The central mound was the most holy sacrificial altar known in America; and the pentagon form shows it to have been of the highest order of monuments. Although the latter use of the site was macabre, it should be noted that the primary builders and the original use of the monument may have been vastly different. One Native American tradition states that the great earthworks that were raised throughout Ohio were constructed by ‘a long line of kings or rulers’. Who these elusive builders were remains uncertain; although archaeologists assert that the Hopewell and the Adena cultures were the original builders. However, no firm conclusion should be taken before the monumental landscape of Ohio has been thoroughly re-evaluated.
Nonetheless, during the era of Native tradition the fact that the pentagon monument was dedicated to the offering of human sacrifice is certain, the head being the only part offered in the grisly rite. The pentagonal work was symbolic, representing the ‘head of the nation’ – the five angles of the work are connected with the five senses of seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling. The head, being the recipient of, and fountain whence flowed the manifestations of all those senses, was recognised as the representative of them all, and was consequently set apart as the highest and holiest offering, known to the ancient sacrificial world. Pentagon sacrifice was offered at this altar twice a year, at the spring and autumn equinoxes when the days and nights are of equal length. The sun, being the great fountain of light and life, was supposed to hold the supreme power of the universe, and, as supreme ruler, to be worthy of the highest and holiest adoration. Thus, says tradition, the sun in its diurnal course was supposed to be engaged in gathering together the spirits of men and especially the warrior. Warrior status was seen as a high-ranking virtue at this pentagon site. Prophecy and the inner mounds The inner sanctuary was considered so sacred that no foot save ‘that of a prophet might pass within the sacred walls of the pentagon’.
The prophets had supreme control of the sanctuary and resided on large mounds in the near vicinity and immediately adjacent to the monument. The five small mounds within the pentagon were denominated oracular mounds; and one being set apart for each prophet, they retired there to receive oracular instruction. The Great Oracle was received from the summit of the mound at the entrance to the great circle, and subsequently delivered to the people. Spectators would stand on the outer wall and throw evergreens into the inner circle watching the sacred procession which had to pass five times in a circular fashion around the pentagon.
The five passes represented supreme power, authority and strength. To foretell the future, the prophets had to walk in a circular manner around the inside of the monument five times. Intriguingly, the modern Pentagon has five ring corridors per floor as if mirroring or re-enacting this ancient use of prophesies. But, that may be pure chance. Although I suspect that these rites are far removed from the original intent, which is still an unsolved mystery, the symbolism of the pentagon abides. Fifty years after the monument’s destruction, it was resurrected as the Pentagon. Prophets have been replaced by remote viewers, and the latter-day use of the pentagon earthwork and the modern military version are undeniably both associated with the spilling of blood.
The earthen pentagon represented the head of state, strength and power, as does the modern day Pentagon. The oracular prophecies foretold future events creating an advantageous position when used by the seer and foretold to the warrior. Perhaps it is just one of those strange coincidences that the designer of the Pentagon lived in the state that housed five sacred pentagon monuments and designed a pentagon building. Or did Bergstrom draw upon the powerful symbolism of ancient tradition and design a building thought to be exceptionally modern for its time, yet born of the ancestral past?
Article is an extract from Maria Wheatley’s latest book ‘Divining Ancient Sites – Insights into their creation’
Available from: www.theaveburyexperience.co.uk