Sunday, November 23, 2008

“On the Archaeology of Stone Piles and a Late Archaic Date from Site SK 155, RI" written by Alan Leveillee and Mark Lance - Review by James Gage

James Gage writes about an article that appeared in the Fall 2008 (vol. 69 no. 2) issue of Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society:

The site is located on the edge of the Great Swamp in South Kingston, RI, an area of cultural importance to the Narragansett Tribe.

The site was located during a standard archaeological survey along a corridor being used to lay a utility line. The survey used the standard test pit procedures and located various Native American artifacts and a hearth feature. 1x1 meter excavation units were opened up to further investigate the hearth which was designated “feature 1.” Charcoal from the hearth was AMS dated to 4340 +/- 40 years BP. The hearth feature was adjacent to a granite boulder. At the request of Narragansett Indian Historic Preservation Officer Doug Harris, the excavation team opened an additional unit on the opposite side of the boulder. The excavation unit exposed a “nearly complete ring of intentionally laid cobbles on the top of the boulder” (p. 60). This was designated “feature 2.” The authors stated that “The piled stones that constitute Feature 2 were near the surface, surrounded by and within a plowed soil stratum. It is an apparently intentional grouping of stones, all of which are too small to have been set aside during field clearing or plowing. Narragansett Tribal representatives in the field interpreted the stone cluster features as ceremonial …”

The authors go to great lengths to point out that the hearth and the rock pile are not chronologically related, they are in two distinctly different soil stratums. I agree completely with their assessment. The authors suggest that the rock pile dates from the historic period, an argument which is supported by the archaeological evidence. The authors are also extremely careful to establish the fact that the ceremonial interpretation of feature 2 is the interpretation provided by the Narragansett Tribe. However, it is equally clear that the authors have rejected the field clearing hypothesis for this feature.

PAL recommended that the features be preserved in-situ because they are part of “a location of interest and concern to the Narragansett Indian Tribe.” (p.63)

Alan Leveillee, Mark Lance, PAL, and the Massachusetts Archaeological Society should be commended for their willingness to explore the controversial subject of ceremonial stone piles.

No comments :