The Review has agreed to not reveal the exact location of Bear Spirit Mountain.
The raven greeted Matthew Howard like it knew he would be coming.
“The raven is my spirit animal, you know,” explained Howard. “It greets me every time I come to the mountain.”
The mountain itself also greeted Howard as if it was happy to see him, with the sun shining through the few leaves that were still hanging on the trees and casting a warm glow on the weathered stones scattered across the 5-miles that make up Bear Spirit Mountain.
Two years ago, Howard and his wife Ingrid, who live in Martinsburg, bought land in Hampshire County with the goal of building a log home. However, in the time since then, they have changed their course after making incredible discoveries on their land that would alter their lives forever.
On the land that he now calls Bear Spirit Mountain, Howard began finding fascinating rock formations and, after doing a little bit of research, he realized that he was standing on sacred land, right in Hampshire County’s backyard.
On the piece of land that the Howards bought, as well as the rest of the properties that make up the sacred site, there are hundreds of ancient burial sites and rock art.
“I’ve spent the last almost 3 years studying these mountains and finding all of these hundreds of burial sites, rock are and ceremonial artifacts,” said Howard. “As I started researching the rock structures, I learned that these are actually Indian structures, and that they date back thousands of years.”
With the help of a dedicated team of volunteers including an archeologist, a geologist and a geophysicist, the Howards have found and documented many of these discoveries. Howard even wrote a book about the site titled “Adonvdo Yona (Bear Spirit) Mountain: An Ancestral Awakening.”
“We don’t dig,” Howard explained about how the team makes their discoveries. “We don’t dig, but we do incorporate science.”
Howard is not an archeologist by trade, but he said that he has learned an incredible amount since 2 years ago when he first started making discoveries on Bear Spirit Mountain.
“We have a professional site archeologist, Jack Hranicky, RPA, and Jack has mentored me and trained me and guided me,” said Howard. “But everything I’ve done, most of it is self-taught. When I present my findings to actual archeologists, they’re blown away.”
It isn’t hard to be blown away by the profound history and spiritual power that can be felt on the mountain. Howard, who is part Cherokee, says that every time he enters the sacred site, he burns sage while greeting and thanking his Ancestors that guard the land.
Howard calls the stretch of mountain where he’s found the most rock art and carvings “Billboard Alley,” because he said that the structures existed to guide them through the spiritual site in a way similar to that of billboards that guide modern travelers along their routes today.
One of the most impressive findings on Bear Spirit Mountain, sitting at 75 feet wide and 35 feet tall, is the outline glyph titled The Lioness. The glyph, which also has a red ochre painting of a charging mastodon, sits up on the face of a cliff, lording over the terrain.
“This is the oldest of the largest of the glyphs in the Americas,” detailed Howard. “This is about 9,000 years older than Stonehenge, to give you some perspective. She’s about 8,000 years older than the pyramids of Egypt.”
In the Lioness’ prime, she would have been visible to the inhabitants of the land as far as 12 miles away because there weren’t trees on the landscape like there are now.
“You’d have been able to see her easily,” Howard said with a tone of admiration. “She was designed to be the grand billboard.”
Past the Lioness is where the burial sites actually begin. On her side of the mountain, according to Howard’s findings, are the burial sites for royalty, while on the other side of the mountain lay the burials for the common people. The impressive carvings and art are concentrated on the side of the mountain where the royalty are buried.
“I believe that if you were walking by her as a tribal person, she’s judging you,” said Howard. “She’s looking at you and she’s deeming if you’re worthy to go to the ceremonial site. She’s the guardian.”
While the Lioness is certainly formidable, there are countless other spots on Bear Spirit Mountain that are awe-inspiring. Howard has found carvings on large stones showing the faces of humans, apes, horses, bears and sabre-tooth tigers, as well as paintings of buffalo, mastodons and more.
Scattered around the mountain in seemingly random spots (though Howard explains that nothing that these ancient people did was random, it was all for a purpose) are also altars where the ancient people performed sacrificial rituals.
There are even stones that, while they appear unassuming and haphazard, were regarded by these ancient people as portals used by spirits.
“These split stones allowed the spirits to pass in and out of this world,” noted Howard.
On Bear Spirit Mountain there are also 8 structures that Howard calls “Serpent Walls.” These walls are long manmade rock formations that snake around the landscape like serpents, with stones piled up to 3 feet from the ground.
“We can only see 3 feet of the rock now,” Howard explained, “but there is about 5 feet of rock under the ground that we can’t see, based on geophysical testing using ground-penetrating radar.”
As with many of the ancient formations on Bear Spirit Mountain, there is more than meets the eye.
Even though Howard was the catalyst for these historical discoveries, he said that he could in no way take all of the credit.
“I believe that these are revealed to me. That may sound kooky or whatever, but what other explanation is there?” asked Howard. “I truly believe that my ancestors show me what they want me to see at the time that they want me to see it, and that’s how I learn. But I can’t take all of the credit.”
Howard also said that he isn’t the only person who owns land that is home to these sacred spots, and his discoveries span many other properties.
“Without the local landowners I could have never, ever made these discoveries,” said Howard. “They’ve all been so wonderful, truly.”
Stepping onto Bear Spirit Mountain is like stepping into another era, and it’s almost like the stones themselves are telling their stories. In order for these stories to be heard, Bear Spirit Mountain can always use donations and volunteers that make it possible to uncover the many mysteries of the mountain and keep the sacred land safe.
“Research always comes second,” said Howard. “My legacy is to protect this land.”