Thursday, December 31, 2009

Silver lining behind the "Oxford Mound"

Norman Muller writes:

I just heard from Harry Holstein, who was interviewed several times in the Anniston Star newspaper concerning the Oxford, AL, stone mound. He says the mound itself was all but destroyed, but most of the earthen hill it sat on survives. Trees that were growing out of the stone mound were toppled, and they pushed the stones in the mound apart and some fell down the hill. The area is now fenced off and no one can get to the top of the hill.
But some good came from all of this. The city of Anniston called Holstein to have him survey an Indian mound near their airport, and apparently a bill will be introduced to the Montgomery (AL) State Legislature to protect prehistoric sites by State law.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Starting to snow

A scene near Oak Hill Rd in Harvard, MA:

Monday, December 28, 2009

An Outlook in Berlin MA (2)

(I meant "southeast")

An outlook in Berlin MA

Went out hunting rock piles on December 27th, 2009.
I climbed a hill, back of the road, and came to a spot with what would have been a magnificent view to the southeast. Climbing the last few steps up to the top I was thinking: this has got to be a site, whether or not there are rock piles up here, just look how the rocks are scattered around - they must mean something. But there were rock piles. As I approached a boulder near the top, I could see some scattered rocks to its side:Then cresting the rise, a couple of larger rock piles through the ground fog:A closeup:Increasingly, I am noticing when a large rock pile like this also has some kind of hollow at the center. Increasingly, I believe this is an architectural feature of certain piles. Possibly it is what remains of an inner chamber. Other people have said they think hollows were built into the surface of a pile as a place to sit. Whatever the explanation, it is clearly a feature worth noticing. I am starting to get a sense of the distribution of this particular "chambered" feature - it is western Middlesex county and over west of the Nashua River at least into Leominster and Westminster. I think these large "chambered cairns" represent at least one distinct culture. Some of these mounds [eg examples in northern Harvard] are elongated ovals, about 5 feet high. Others, like these from Berlin, are more rectangular and not so tall. So it could be a couple of different cultures.

A closeup of a smaller pile:
[That big pile in the background is a pile of dirt tossed up by a bulldozer. They are that close to destroying this place.]

This gives a good sense of the layout of the piles and boulder along the edge of the outlook:
In this picture we are looking south, back towards the way I came up the hill, with the boulder at the far rear of the picture. The outlook is to the left. To the right are the standalone piles. Behind them is a flat area, pretty much torn to shreds by bulldozers. But there was one smaller pile still there in the flat area, built on a split rock:From there back to the ridge and view west:
In the background, the boulder is to the right.

Taking one last look at the view,I proceeded north along the edge. There was another tumbled structure:and I came to a short berm blocking the highest part of the gully:The road was built over it, so this might have been simply part of road building. But it also fits into a pattern of large rock piles.
The component cobbles are of like size between this pile and the ones earlier on the ridge.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Oxford Stone Mound "makes it to the big time"

This is the first time I remember seeing an official publication like Archeology Magazine noting a rock pile related story. The following is from their end-of-year list of most most endangered archaeological sites [click here for the complete list] (Recall also that the Indians in Alabama used the USET resolution as part of the basis for their argument to protect the mound.)

Signal Hill Mound
During construction of a Sam's Club Walmart megastore in Oxford, Alabama, contractors stripped earth from a nearby hill, destroying a stone mound that was built in the Late Woodland Period, around A.D. 1000. Archaeologists have only recently begun to realize the significance of stone-mound networks in the eastern United States so few have protected status. After public outcry over the site's destruction, Walmart halted the project.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Moneyhole Mountain - Fahnenstock NY

Robert Buchanan writes in:

A couple of weeks ago I was back in the Moneyhole Mountain area of Fahnestock.

There's an interesting mound/cairn that I had been to a few times in the summer but revisiting it in the winter I can guess why it is situated where it is.With the leaves down one gets a spectacular view westward to the mountains on the other side of the Hudson River.

There is a nearby cairn cluster site that also sits by a high point with a wide western view.

In another interesting twist of history, this mound was used as a control site for the first major international orienteering event (World Cup, May 1986) to be held in the US. A permanent sign which is visible in the summer pictures shows it was used as a control site.

So along with the ancients, the site was visited by the world's elite orienteers back in the last century.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mosier Mounds - Oregon

[Here is something interesting] I read about his at Science Frontiers Online [click here] a website always worth exploring.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Last pile of the season - Doeskin Hill Framingham, MA

Supposed to snow this afternoon, probably enough to keep me inside past New Year's.
Found this today on a hill in Framingham.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Two Stones

The Stone Turtle in front of the
Cherokee County Historical Museum, Inc. in Murphy, Cherokee County
A large soapstone turtle (approx. 3' x 5' x 8') welcomes you to The Cherokee County Historical Museum in North Carolina (

The Oneida Stone and Things Worth Knowing About Oneida County
November 29, 2009 by Mrs. Mecomber

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sitting Bull

Norman Muller writes:

The link below may interest many of you.

Nipmuc's built two kinds of rock piles

One of several interesting posts on Larry Harrop's blog [click here]

Snow melting on Stone Rows

Snow melting on Stone Rows

The influence of the Iroquois : on the history and archaeology of the Wyoming Valley ... / Arthur C. Parker, 1911.

Link via theseventhgeneration [Click here] from the New York State Digital Collection.

Lochmere NH Fort

Norman Muller cc's me this email:

In going though my notes on the Lochmere "fort" in New Hampshire, I came across this old account of structures on an island in Silver Lake, just off Lochmere.
The first account is by Jacob Moore, in a letter/report he submitted to Isaiah Thomas, president of the American Antiquarian Society of Worcester, dated 1822:
"On the island in the bay, similar implements (at the "fort" Moore described "rock crystals cut in the shape of diamonds, hearts, squares, trines; also ornamented pipes of stone and of clay; coarse pottery, ornamented with figures, arrow heads, hatchets, chisels") have been found, and skeletons disinterred. This seems to have been a place of resort in cases of emergency, and within the recollection of many persons, before the island was cultivated, there were several large cellars within it, in which it is probable the natives preserved their maize, or deposited their weapons and utensils." Lochmere was settled in the 1760s, and so this account probably refers to a period in the late 1700s.
In 1850, E.G. Squier published an account of the Lochmere "fort" in the Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, (Vol II, 1850, 87-89), along with an engraving of the "fort." On page 88, Squire presented an updated account from Moore (compiled in 1847), in which the latter wrote: "Before the island was cultivated, there were several large excavations, resembling cellars or walls discovered, for what purpose constructed or used, can of course only be conjectured" (emphasis mine). To me, "cellars or walls" imply structures of stone.
While we know that the Indians constructed pits to preserve their maze, "cellars" of stone could also be viewed as underground stone chambers.

A note from JimP (promoted from comments):

"It was his [Major Hanse Robinson's) lot, near McCobb's Narrows, we believe, that, when first taken possession of, there was found what has always been called the 'Old Cellar,' but which, from recent examination, made by Mr. I. S. Burton, appears to have claims to much greater interest than is usually attached to that class of ruins. The first huts of the settlers here, were usually without cellars, or, at most, with only a slight, unwalled, excavation, entered by a trap door in the middle of the room. But this was a deep and capacious structure, 40 feet in length, and at this day not less than 9 feet in depth; well walled, when first discovered, with hewn timber, since crumbled to dust; and situated on a point projecting into the river, with a cove on one side, to which a subterranean passage, with similar walls and depth, led from the main structure." (Eaton 1865:376)

EATON, Cyrus. 1865. History of Thomaston, Rockland, and South Thomaston, Maine, Vol. II. Hallowell: Masters, Smith & Co.

Also, from Ros Strong email:
The site referred to as Thomaston, really refers to one in Cushing (Thomaston is the larger town at the head of the peninsulas in midcoast Maine.) I have been aware of this for many years, some older NEARA people have looked for it unsuccessfully since the 70s at least. To my knowledge no one has found anything verifiable. I was taken there in 2000 by a local historian who has since died. There is only large pit filled with brush behind a house with a friendly owner (at that time). What is more interesting is some distance to the north on a; high bluff overlooking the narrows of the St. George River, there are remnants of what was most likely a fort, just a part of a stone wall and inland a bit is a substantial mound. I have copies of old historical references by Eaton and others beginning in 1865 in local town histories. I have a site report ending with a note that I need to contact the local historical society that as is usual around here, meets only in the spring and summer. I intend to pursue it next year. There are many stories along the Maine coast of tunnels running to the sea but none of them have been tracked down.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Little Bear Hill - Westford, MA

This is a little hill I visited a few years ago in southern Westford near Carlisle, with a site on the northeastern side. It is unusual to find a site on the northeastern slope (Nobscott Hill in Sudbury comes to mind as another example) and I tried hard to come up with some reason for it. I could not see a view through the trees and had to look at what was there on the ground. A beautiful day with the sun coming from the south, through the gray glare. And the site was bigger than I remembered. I remembered it as one small cluster of piles but this time I saw things over the entire slope. Including the aperture pile I was discussing with theseventhgeneration (here) and a scattering of piles and boulders across the hillside.There were several varieties of split-wedged rock which I showed here and here. And there were several constructs that might have been "gateways".Certainly splits of one sort or another were very much in evidence, here in the snow.
Maybe other details were suppressed. Climbing up towards the top.I'll just post this picture again, since it is so examplifies the idea of rock piles right up against suburbia (a house is visible in the background):Here is some more suburbia (I showed this before):Going back down the hill towards the east, there was a least one pile with some quartz in it: closer: And also some piles build on supports with quartz:At the bottom, some piles along the developing gully:And in the wetland at the bottom of the hill, more structures respecting split rocks:

Atlantis Found?

Not rock pile related but I think you'll enjoy this. [Click here]

I am wondering if this is the place near Bimini that has been reported on sporadically for years.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A familiar location for split-wedged rocks

Here is a familiar pattern: you are at the bottom of a narrow valley and see a stone wall climbing up the side. You see a large rock next to the wall, maybe 30 yards up the side, and you think: if that rock is split, I'll expect a wedge. For example pictures #3 and #4 here. Out for walk with FFC at the Wheeler Lane end of the Nashoba Brook Conservation Land in Acton, just across the foot bridge. When he started uphill saying he wanted to show me something, I could guess we were about to see a split-wedged rock. Yup it is split:Yup it is wedged: (We noted, in passing, that significant effort would be needed to pry up this rock and get that wedge in there.) This seems like a very familiar location. Maybe I remembered it from a previous visit?

By the way, here is a picture of FFC.

Roadside Attractions - summary

For fun, these are the sites that are along the road or within a hundred (or maybe two hundred) yards from the road - following the path of my daily 40 mile commute. Since I drive along looking at the woods to either side of the road, I have had plenty of opportunity, in the last 4 years, to spot likely patches of woods - which I would then explore.

Not counting sites that are split in two by the highway I get roughly 14 sites (I forgot a few in my previous post). Let's be generous and assume the distance I am considering to either side of the road is ~1/4 mile, so this summary comprises (1/2)x40 = 20 square miles. According to Wikipedia, Massachusetts is about 10,000 square miles. So if this roadside site density is representative, then there should be roughly 7,000 rock pile sites in the state. I suspect this is an over-estimate.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ice Crystals - Nashoba Brook Acton, MA

Roadside (almost) attractions

The area north of Ames Pond on the Andover/Tewksbury line has a number of minor rock pile sites. I wrote about the area to the east of the Rt495/Rt133 intersection (marked "B" on the map fragment) here and about other sites along Rt 495 near Rt 133 here and here. I know I blogged about "A" somewhere but cannot lay my hands on the post. I guess I was trying to be secretive but, actually, these are not burials, are on public land, and are already in pretty bad shape, so they meet the criteria for being made public. At another point I blogged about the few features left on Ames Hill (at "C" and in the gully between lobes of the hill) but apparently there was more secrecy involved there as well.

Anyway, I have been driving by this intersection twice a day for the last 4.5 years and finally noticed, that there are stone walls and a bit of gully within the cloverleaf and thought it might be worth exploring. Actually I have been thinking I wanted to check it out for some time. It was worth exploring: I went there at lunchtime with a colleague from work and there is another small site in there at "D" with about 10 piles. You can go check it out. It seems this might have been a slope and brook leading down to the pond. The site included some split rocks and a few small piles on rocks. I did not have my camera.

Now that I have found rock piles in three of the four quadrants of land separated by the highway intersection, it is tempting to go look inside that other clover leaf.

I was thinking, during today's commute, that my drive up Concord Rd to Rt3, to Rt 495 takes me within 100 yards of four rock pile sites. The drive along Rt 495 and onto Rt 93 takes me past seven more. That is 11 sites in forty miles of highway. If it were not that sites may cluster along these highways, this number could be used to estimate the total number of sites in Massachusetts. But I do not think highways are random cross sections.

Update: I guess I should point out the math: if a swath of land 40 miles long and 200 yards wide crosses 11 sites then: how many such swaths are there in all of Massachusetts? Multiplying that number by 11 (and probably divide by two for sites shared by two swaths) gives you a heck of a lot of sites. But, as I said, highways are not typical places. Also, quite possibly, this part of Middlesex County in Mass. is probably not typical of the whole state.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What are the snow conditions south of the Mass Pike?

Should I plan on walking down there this weekend? We have about 3 inches of partially melted snow on the ground up here in Concord, MA. It is not much but hides stuff low to the ground.

Could someone who lives down that way please leave a comment?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Rock-on-rock in the early snow - Little Bear Hill, Westford, MA

The variety of split rocks

At the risk of starting another fight, I want to say that a number of visually different phenomena are associated to what I would call a "split rock". For example, here is a solitary "wedge" inside a wide split:And here is a slab of rock, propped up:I showed several other visually different examples recently here. (The first example there is pretty visually similar with this last example here.) Because of these differences, I find the "explanation" offered by past historic literature unsatisfying. The literature does not tell me what these visually different features mean and sweeps all variety under a common rug of "random donations by passers-by". As I have said, hypotheses which suppress details are certainly not the first choice. And how wide does the split need to be before it no longer counts as a split? I think most would agree that split rocks probably connected to spirits that lived inside the rock. That is consistent with the literature and with the observations. (Personally, I think a gap like the one in the last picture is something different - something a person could walk through.) But the idea that the only relation possible is to donate to that spirit is, I feel, simplistic. I think welcoming the spirit would be different from repudiating and protecting oneself from the spirit. I think the relation between a person and a rock spirit could be quite complex and that this would manifest itself in observables today.

I think there is a difference between this and that:
Isn't it obvious that some of the spirits would be "good guys" and some would be "bad guys" and that the ceremony would differ, depending on which was present?

Here is a fact: split wedged rocks are most common at the water's edge. Why would this be?

Aperture Pile - Little Bear Hill Westford, MA

Sometimes a rock pile has an obvious hole or "aperture" that is built into it. I was asking theseventhgeneration recently if you could see anything through the hole on a pile she posted. So here is one I saw in Westford and, no, you cannot see anything through the hole.Even when I got down low to the ground, I still could not see through it.
Of course with light coming in sideways, some might get through the hole - I forgot to look through it in the other direction.