Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Vertical Sided Piles in the Snow

I picked a good looking bit of un-developed hills and wetlands, about 40 minutes south of here, and went out Saturday to explore. Drove to the end of an access road (red dot on the map fragment) behind an industrial park, got out, stepped into the woods (directly southwest of red dot) and saw a snow covered bump. Turned out it was a nice rock pile:
You can see a bit of a valley on the right side of the picture. This is one of the feeder valleys to the wetland at the center of the map fragment and surrounded by low hills.

I went across this little bit of a valley to get up the hill on that side and did not see much - just one stone wall going around an obtuse angle.
Mavor and Dix, in Manitou, comment on how acute or obtuse angles in walls are always of interest as they suggest the astronomical rather than the agrarian.

After that I went back to where I found the first rock pile to look more carefully in the area.
Let's take another look at that first pile:
Here we are looking along the pile's one vertical face, towards a large boulder on top of the slight rise or knoll. The line of sight along the vertical side does not go through the boulder but, rather, to the side of it. Lines of sight passing just to one side of a high point is something I was noticing the other day in Wamesit/Tewksbury. (I know I wrote about it in the last two weeks but this is the only link I can find quickly [click here]. Oh yeah, here it is "In the Circle by the Line" [click here]. Also of interest is this recent discussion of vertical faces [click here]).

Over on the other side of the knoll there were about 8-10 other rock piles. Here we are looking back towards the boulder on top of the rise but it is only faintly visible between the trees. In the foreground is a pile and behind it a slightly smaller boulder. The large boulder is visible through the trees as a white thing just to the right of the smaller boulder. Can you see it? I mention this because a number of things would have been visible from the top of the rise or, perhaps, from the top of the large boulder.

Most of the rock piles were on this southwestern side of the knoll where the view would be west and southwest. Here are some of the nicer piles from that side of the knoll.
Nice eh?

I was noticing the vertical sides but not paying as much attention as I should have. As soon as I got home I was wondering: were all the vertical faces of different piles parallel with each other, i.e. pointing in the same direction? But I think I can almost re-construct it, although I should have payed more attention in the first place.

So let's talk layout.
In this picture you see what appears to be a line from the left-most pile, through a smaller pile, a rock, and then a larger pile. Please note the vertical face on the left-most pile. Gasp! It is roughly perpendicular to the direction of the line. In fact I get a sense that each of the structures along the line might have a similar bit of vertical side, also oriented roughly perpendicular with the line. So at least these piles have their vertical faces parallel with each other. Here is another "layout" shot:
The pile on the right (also shown in the fifth picture below the map fragment above) seems to have two vertical side, just to make sure we remain confused about this topic. Anyway, I am getting a picture something like this:

Here there are four "piles" in a line, with vertical sides oriented roughly perpendicular to the line of the piles. Let me recommend, that the next time you are out surveying something like this where the piles have one good "vertical" side: pay attention to the direction and the relation between different piles. I am going to. One more picture may illustrate this a bit better.
This is another look down one of the lines of piles (the first of the two shown earlier). This shows that the line is actually only three (not four) structures long. The smaller pile behind this first large one has a hint of vertical facing and it is parallel with the vertical face of the first pile.

Off a bit by itself on the eastern side of the rise was one larger rock pile. Right on the brow of the knoll. This was the one I showed the other day as an "Appetizer".You can see a smidgen of a trail goes by there. A few yards further along to the east there were a couple of substantial 17-18th century foundations. There is also a larger road down there and obviously there was a lot of post-colonial activity here. Before or after the rock piles were built?

There were also smaller piles, harder to see in the snow;
but still pretty, and also hinting at some organized layout.
I have called this kind of site a "marker pile" site. Which doesn't say much other than that some of the piles seem to have vertical faces and occasionally the piles are layed out along lines. But I believe there are different layouts and different types of marker pile sites. Some, like this, have a few lines of piles. Other sites seem to have a "grid" of piles. Still others seem to have lines of piles radiating from a high point. There is a bit of a high point here but no radiating lines that I could see. So there seem to be different layouts used and, if I could just pay close enough attention, it might turn out that some regions favor one type of layout, other regions favor others. There is a lot more observing to do.

Of course, I never got past that first knoll. There is plenty more hill and swamp down in there and I'll go back and look for more things at the next opportunity.


Tim MacSweeney said...

Of course I'm wondering about the stone row. And old Indian names or other clues that might be obtained from those old maps linked to on the neara site. I was tempted to say you are lucky when it comes to finding these rock piles, but I guess it's more of a skill with you...

pwax said...

I would love to believe it is a skill and probably there is a bit of that. But, around here, un-disturbed woods seem to always have rock piles in them. Maybe finding rock pile sites is a no-brainer.

There are very few people out looking for rock piles. I hope more people will get bitten by the bug.

Norman said...

I became intrigued by this idea of vertical sides of cairns when I began to explore Parker Woodland in Coventry, RI, in earnest about four years ago and noticed that quite a number of the large cairns at this location had their vertical faces oriented to the east. I've found other similar examples elsewhere, but then I've also found a few that faced north, which obviously complicates matters.

theseventhgeneration said...

Great site, beautiful photos!

pwax said...

For everyone's info, that is the woods owned by EMC in Southborough just southeast of the Rt 9 Rt 495 junction.