James Gage writes as follows:
I have been working on a detailed classification of stone cairns and other stone structures (expected to be completed this year). In the ten years I have worked on the project, a relevant distinction has emerged between the terms "cairn" and "pile". Cairn is an intentionally made structure, generally for a specific purpose. In contrast, a pile is byproduct of other human activities like field clearing, stone wall building, etc. Piles are created by the unceremonious dumping of stone from a wagon, stone sled, rock picking machinery, etc. This results in a loose, and poorly constructed mounds of stone. Generally, the process of dumping results in the scattering of stone around the edges of the pile. Cairns are generally compact, tight, and carefully constructed mounds of stone (some cairns no longer retain these characteristics due the natural process of deterioration, or from vandalism). The terms cairn and pile can further be defined or characterized by their context. For example, cairns come concentrated groups with a variety of different styles of cairns within the group. Field clearing piles occur along the edges of fields (or occassionally one large pile in the center), dumped down steep embanks or hillsides, or dumped over the stone wall. The terms "stone heap" and "stone mound" are from the 18th and 19th centuries. These two terms are used occasionally, but, are largely antiquated. The term "mound" has in modern times tended toward being a reference to earthworks rather than stone construction. The alterative term "ditch & embankment features" used by a few archaeologists to denote an earthwork has never gain wide spread acceptance.
Not withstanding what terminology is used, there is a growing need to make a scientific distinction between stone features created as the result of agricultural activities since 1600 A.D. those stone features created for other purposes and by other cultures.
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