Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A small propped up "table" on a boulder

This is a small example, from the same location as the two previous posts. This is on the western side, facing the southwest sky. It is a nice example but not as large as ones we saw earlier this week from Foxborough.

Trailside vignettes from Another Undisclosed Location

(See previous post for introduction). Here are some little scenes, things visible from the trail. The original rock-on-rock that a companion spotted and which took us off the trail to find a small site beyond. I am struck at how solid this structure was although it appears fragile. I was also struck by the size of the upper rock, note the relative size of my foot. Here is another little pile directing attention to the left (west of the trail): And what about this one. It was lower on the trail by maybe 30 yards than the rest. Isolated. Was it intended to be split in half like this or is it just damaged? And how about this little scene. Very minimal but still suggestive: a standing stone in relation to a small rock-on-rock:

Another un-disclosed location

Revisiting a site I saw last year, I thought I would look around the fringes to see if there was anything more. Going along a trail through wet flat woods and then starting up a ridge and on towards a larger hill:Last time I was here I don't know what I was looking at. My companion spotted the first signs of rock piles and we went off to the left of the trail. I also remember seeing one or two things on the right of the trail (and thinking "I probably would have seen the piles myself in a moment"). But I have no idea how I missed some of the nice piles that are over on the right of the trail which I spotted last Sunday. Maybe there were more leaves on the trees the last time and the piles were not visible through the trees from the trail - and I never went enough off the trail at that point. Anyway, last Sunday when I looked around there were all kinds of piles to be seen. It was my impression that the piles on the left (at A on the sketch) were a typical hillside "marker pile" site, referenced to a visible major hill to the west - but done minimally with simple rock-on-rock rather than with larger more monumental piles. But this time I realized more explicitly that this part of the site was accompanied by another part (at B on the sketch) consisting of low ground piles; and that, finally, there was yet another part (at C on the sketch) where there were larger piles built on support boulders, at the edge of a wetland.

How, I wonder, could I have walked right by this one, ,which is ten feet from the trail (C on the map)?
And these, that were further off to the side behind this first one.
Here is the same group from further away. You can see the mountain laurel wetland beyond.
These were just the nicest and most notable examples over on this side of the trail. There were a handful of others, not all on support boulders, but also made from large constituent rocks.
The piles get smaller and with smaller contituent rocks as you go uphill, back towards the trail towards area B. This one, for example, is much more like a traditional marker pile but I don't know.The piles at B were mostly on the ground and well covered with dead leaves, providing slight excuse for walking past them without seeing them. I'll use another post to show pictures from A, and another trail-side pile that should have been noticed the first time.

There is a bit of organizational structure to this site. It is no more than 70 yards from one cluster of piles to the next (from A to C) and there is a distinct change in the style of piles from one place to another. I believe the western facing pile are more closely related to the view and that the eastern ones, at the edge of the wetland, and shown above, face the wetland for a different reason than the western ones face the sky.

An Unusual Crescent-Shaped Cairn and the Significance of Quartz

Norman Muller writes in:

Larry Harrop posted on his blog a short article that I put together on the Smith farm. You can find it at

Update from Norman:

Jim would like to see some references to the statements I made in my web article on an unusual crescent-shaped cairn in Vermont. I'm listing them below.
Manitou Stones
My main source for maintou stones is James Mavor, Jr. and Byron Dix's Manitou (Rochester, Vermont, 1989, 332-342). While their focus is on the 'head and shoulders' type, I believe the kind that I have found in Vermont is also typical. Another discussion of manitou stones, this time in Wisconsin, is Herman Bender's article "Manitou Stones in Wisconsin." NEARA Journal 33 (1999), 80-83.
One of the best and most recent discussions of quartz is found in David S. Whitley,, "Sally's Rockshelter and the Archaeology of the Vision Quest," Cambridge Archaeological Journal 9:2 (1999), 221-247. Quartz is duscussed on pages 225-235.
Another source is David Whitley's The Art of the Shaman: Rock Art of California, Salt Lake City, 2000.
Paul Devereux, whose books often are very New Agey, has written a fascinating and sober book about sacred places, titled The Scared Place, London 2000. A discussion of quartz is found on pages 128-132.
I have a lot of other references too, most in hard to find journals. The term "frozen light" comes from Mircea Eliade, the prolific Roumanian historian of religion, in his book Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Princeton 1964.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dead Swamp

I walked along the eastern edge of Dead Swamp. With a name like that, I hoped to see something interesting. I wanted to walk clear around it but I was pressed for time and figured to at least get up to those ridges and valleys visible to the north of the swamp.

I saw one isolated newly formed pile. Sitting by itself with no context, I cannot imagine why someone, recently, would want to build such a pile. It looks like a sort of boundary marker.
(You can see the dead trees of the swamp in the background.)
I continued along and saw a smear of cobbles on a slope facing westward towards the swamp. I had been hoping to see something facing westward over the swamp - you know the kind of pile which is built directly on the ground, rounded, and perhaps with a white rock or two? Anyway this was all I saw as I passed:
I have little doubt that this once was a rock pile - but no clues in terms of little white rocks. Someone sure took care of it. I walked to the top of the little knoll and glanced around. Then I continued on my walk towards the north.

Later, I ran out of time and had to skip exploring much of the northern side of the swamp, and headed back the way I came in. When I got back to the smeared out pile, I looked more carefully. And there was a small bump on the slope I had not looked at the first time. When I examined it closely, here is what I saw:
Let's take a closer look.
So there is the white quartz "blaze" in the pile, as hoped. And this lonely pair of piles is all I could find. At least one of them survived the vandalisms of time. I wish I had been able to explore more there, around Dead Swamp.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wandering around the edges of South Manoosnoc the rain. Here is a pile right next to the "blue dot" trail which is a forest road starting up from Elm Str. and crossing under the power lines just before where the main hill rears up on the right. This pile was right after the power lines on the left of the trail. Obviously it is a favorite place for dumping things. The only thing that stops me from dismissing it is that the rocks are well weathered - they have been in this position for a while.Unfortunately, the pile was isolated and it is hard to credit a pile out of context with other piles. Here is a magnificent bit of rock splitting. I was trying to figure out where they removed rock. It seems like all the pieces are still there. Also I thought I saw a burnt rock nearby. Did good rock splitting technique utilize fire? The Gages would know. And here we are with a couple of (also isolated) piles on the southern slope of the southern sub-hill of the South Manoosnoc "massif".Nice to be up there in the rain but my shoes and pants got sopped. As I mentioned: without context, an isolated rock pile is not very informative. So it is not clear if there was ever anything significant over here south of South Manoosnoc. There are some huge quarry scars:
What you see in the background of this picture extends for several hundred yards up and over the hillside. I think there is at least one other such scar. You can see the scars from Google Maps. As it stands, I have found interesting structures on several of the hills around South Manoosnoc but nothing significant on the main hill; which seems peculiar since it is tallest hill around and would provide good views. However it is not certain if I ever got to the actual summit - maybe I was just up to the top of the southern sub-summit? Sometime I'll have to go back although I have spent a lot of time there already. Speaking of spending time there - in turns out you can actually go through very dense mountain laurel if you want. It is when you are trying to go up a steep bank of it, mixed with rose bushes or rasberries that it gets impossible.

More on Red Stones and Prayer Seats in Foxborough State Forest

Reader Keith writes in:
When I saw that brick red stone in Normans photos of Foxborough I remembered that there was also one in a 'prayer seat' here. I knew this rock was odd, it stood out, I have not found another one around here. I knew it had some kind of connection to this seat here. Also, the shape of the Foxborough 'prayer seat' area is exactly like the one I have here. (A large enclosed area with the seat at the far end) I am unable to take a complete photo of the whole seat because much of it is under heavy debris and leaf mould but I can distinctly see the same shaped outline!
I was very excited to have seen that link to one of my local piles!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Some more Larry Harrop Pictures

Wanna see some really nice rock piles? Worth visiting again [Click here]

Foxboro State Forest - From Norman Mulller

I went to Foxboro State Forest early in September to see and photograph that unusual probable 'turtle' construction that Larry Harrop had photographed and posted on his website. Curious that when that website on the Foxboro State Forest lithic sites appeared online, the author did not point this out. Anyway, that was my main point of interest, but I did stop by the pedestaled boulder on my way and took a few shots (Images 0012, 0015)
before trying to find this other site, which is not that easy when one does not have a GPS unit along. It requires some bushwhacking.

The 'turtle' effigy site is on rocky knoll, largely free of trees (Images 0016, 0017, 0018).
Image 0018 is an overall image of the site, showing the 'turtle' effigy in the foreground, a large boulder in the rear to the left, and the curious 'prayer seat' in back and to the right. The 'turtle' is certainly very impressive and convincing. Larry had taken some shots of the site about two or three years ago, one of which was of the large boulder erratic (Image 0023),
which in one frame seemed to be supported by a smaller stone. I then headed for that, and underneath, at the far end was a bright, brick colored rounded support stone (Image 0028A).
It had some light spots on it that I interpreted as inclusions in the rock.

I didn't know quite what to make of the supposed 'prayer seat' (Image 0021)
It certainly looks old, and its location quite a distance from any trail, plus with the other features on the knoll, makes it likely that this is not Colonial in date. But what is it? Perhaps a petroform is the best designation, although the seat-like structure at one end is curious and would allow one to sit facing the boulder).

When I got back home, I wrote to Larry and told him about the red stone underneath the boulder. I believe he had seen and photographed this a year or two before, but he kindly went back to the site and took some good detail photos of the red stone (Image -529).
(photo by Larry Harrop)
The spots that I interpreted as inclusions turn out to be small spots of lichen. Larry also found a similar red stone in the very center of the back part of the 'prayer seat' (Image 528; 527 is a close-up of the stone),

(photo by Larry Harrop)

(photo by Larry Harrop)
which he said aligned perfectly with the one supporting the boulder. While it would be interesting to determine what kind of red stone this is, Herman Bender concluded that it is the red color which is significant and not the lithology.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Caral Video

From NormanMuller:

Rock piles in the brook

At first I thought these were ceremonial but the presence of extensive damming and manipulations along all the brooks in this area (the headwaters of Fall Brook in Leominster/Sterling) convinced me that these rock piles are remnants of millworks. They were just older than some of the other more obvious structures.It is faintly possible that these piles were built afterwards. Nearby is a rock pile site that I do believe is ceremonial/non-practical. But to be fair there is no reason to think these are anything other than mill-work remnants. I didn't know what I was looking at while making this video clip:

Heading west on Rt 2 - to the hills of Leominster

This was the view from the car last Sunday. You can see the Manoosnocs in the background.

Two distinct types of rock piles at a marker pile site

In the course of exploring last weekend, I crossed a site I knew near the headwaters of Fall Brook in Leominster/Sterling. This is what I call a typical "marker pile site"- with piles tending to line up, more or less evenly spaced, with piles having one good vertical side (but not necessarily good structure overall). Using the term "marker pile" is no doubt confusing as it incorporated my idea that these piles mark lines of site to a horizon. I should just call these piles "line-of-sight" piles - it would be a better term. Here is what I mean, and readers will prehaps recognize the structure here although the piles have seen better days.
Anyway I was crossing this site and noticed one example of a second type of rock pile. Here the rock pile is low, the constituent rocks are smaller (~6 inches across versus ~12). A couple of views:
I looked to see a white rock somewhere in this pile, as that shows up frequently for low ground piles. The central rock was lighter but not much. I could be wrong and this might be just a more broken down example of the same type as the others. But I don't think so. I think that this is actually a typical feature of "marker pile" sites: that there be mixed in a certain number of these low piles as well. One example of a site like this in Stow, MA has the low ground pile at the end of a line of marker piles - connected to the line-of-sight but not marking it in the same was as the other piles.

I walked around a bit and explored the fringes of this site. Saw a nice wedged rock:
Last time I descibed this site, Tim MacSweeney asked about the nearby stone walls. I payed a bit more attention to them in passing this time, noticing that the walls did not enclose the space so much as enlose other areas - with the site outside the walls. But check out the way the stonework is done in this wall:
That is, I believe the way a stone looks that has been split with a flat chisel - the earliest metal tool used for rock splitting around here.

I should mention that here, at the headwaters of Fall Brook I think every little tributary brook had a dam and a small mill - way back when. I'll try to show some pictures of what is left today, little rock piles in the middle of the stream-bed. But this marker pile site was off to the side between brooks and I am sure these piles were deliberate and ceremonial.