Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A lake shore rock pile site - Carlisle MA

FFC and I saw a genuinely unusual site last weekend (before all the rain) along the edges of a swamp in Carlisle, where we had never been. According to FFC: Tim Fohl, later, said he knew of the place. Unfortunately he never mentioned it.

The above sketch gives some sense of the site layout: a smear of rocks along the edge of an old lake shore - now the edge of a wetland or marsh. The trail follows the edge of the marsh between these piles and a more conventional stone wall that marks the edge of the modern housing (you would never guess there was a site in this narrow strip of land). On the left, at "A" are two dug out hollows in the earth. Then a series of long thin rock piles, one with an inner chamber at "B". These seemed to stretch and break into separate piles for several yards. Then at "C" another curious shaped pile with several internal hollows suggesting internal chambers. At "D" was a smaller chambered cairn built into the stone all and looking at a multiply-split and broken boulder. Behind these, at "E", a more conventional rock pile site with piles on boulders and other broken down heaps with little character. The site is about 100 yards or so long.

Entering the site at "A", there were what looked like some gravel quarries with a rock pile near one - suggesting to the skeptical that the rocks in the pile were just the part of gravel the quarry-ers did not want. But then, more and more rock piles showed up, convincing me this was an old run down rock pile site. So that means the initial dismissing of the gravel pits at "A" might have been wrong. Here is a view I took later:You see two hollows open away from the viewer, towards the water. A rock pile is visible through the twigs to the right rear. A bit further along we saw other rock piles, still looking like pushed up discarded rock:and a bit closer, starting to see come curious breaks between the piles.But when I took a closer look at the larger pile (at "B") I noticed it had one piece of quartz:
and it had a fallen in hollow at one end:It was sort of shaped like a tadpole; with a wider end including a fallen in hollow, tapering off to a long thin "tail". This may seem idiosyncratic but there were at least two other "tadpoles" at this site.).

A bit further along, more loose scatters of rock/rock pile/wall.I have never seen anything like this before.

At first I could not tell if the piles were part of a stone wall or just a pushed up pile of rubble dumped along the edge of the swamp. Only when I saw internal structure - remnants of inner chambers on some of the piles, did I start thinking this was a site. In fact chambered cairns are sort of a familiar thing at this point and so there is some connection to what I have been seeing elsewhere. But this lake shore context and the particulars of these piles are quite different and remind me, instead, of just a few places where the rock piles are like this along the eastern edge of a lake. One such place is a 1/4 mile away in Carlisle, another is in Acton at Grassy Pond (also facing northwest across the water); another place is in Westminster along the shores of Muddy Pond. So this is a kind of interesting context for me - something a bit like the "chambered cairns" of the Wachusett tradition but different and, rather than being on high and looking outward over a view, here the piles are down low and looking out over the opening above a body of water. A lake shore version of things that has different characteristics.

Further along was a really impressive rock pile, another "tadpole" but oriented towards the water rather than along its edge:In the near ground, what looks like a bit of stone wall starts abruptly, then curves to join one side of a rectangular pile. FFC is pointing to a hollow in the pile:That is a rectangular hole, what I have been calling an"inner chamber" and something which, in my view, could not possibly be related to random dumping of rocks. No, these are actually carefully built structures, beaten down by time. Anyone ever see anything like that "tadpole" shape? I have a video clip of this pile, I'll show later.

A bit further along, at "D", was something more like a stone wall.
FFC was intrigued by the opening in the wall, how it was diagonal, how it led to an interesting split rock. I was intrigued by what is just left of the opening - another longish pile with a hollow and a "tail" formed by the wall. Maybe calling this a pile with a hollow is too much of a stretch. Anyway, here is a closeup of that 'structure' with the split boulder behind:
And, finally, at "E", a more conventional looking site, coming down to the corner of this, more conventional, stone wall.And a few feet yards after that, the road and the modern housing development.

This site was quite a find for a rainy Saturday morning, in Carlisle where FFC lives and next town over from me. Kind of in our own backyards. So we were well pleased. Then FFC was talking to Tim Fohl about the place, who said he had been there and mentioned the ditches in the marsh. I took a look:This is probably not a good time to start a discussion of the ditches in the swamps around here. Tim Fohl has gotten curious about them and, for some time, I have wondered if they are all really just more "hard working Yankee farmer" products. Could they be pre-historic? If you look at aerial photos of the area, you'll see plenty of places where the ditches are regularly layed out in directions that are not the usual north/south/east/west. Tim Fohl says some run towards the solstices.

Anyway, so we are looking at this peculiar site, in the strip of land between the houses and the wetland with the ditches. Thinking about other sites where the rock piles are built along the water, thinking about the latest finds in South America where pre-historic Indians farmed the wetlands, and wondering about this place. If we believe some of these rock piles are pre-historic, their variety suggests several different cultures and I want to propose that one of those cultures lived along the lakes and left traces like these rock piles. If so, Carlisle was a central location both because of the number but also because of the large variety of rock piles found there.

Correction:After more thought and going back to look at pictures of the main pile on Apron Hill that was the definition of the term "Wachusett Tradition", I have to conclude that this lake shore site is in that tradition. Piles with tails are too specific a similarity to ignore. Later, Norman Muller told me he has seen piles with tails and some others are reported from the Sturbridge area. More on this later.


Chris Pittman said...

Thanks for this, very thought-provoking.

Norman said...

Those pits at point A remind me of the vision quest pits found in Ontario and Wisconsin.