Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Field Cairns: A Study of 18th and 19th Century Field Clearing Techniques -- A Homogeneous Study and Analysis." by Dan Leary

Reprinted, with permission, from the NEARA Journal, Vol XXII, No. 3&4 (around 1980 or 1981). Thanks to Norman for finding the article and scanning it. Clicking on individual images should make them readable.


pwax said...
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pwax said...

I do not find this article to be very convincing. 5 sites selected within a restricted area in NH, known to have been settled by Scotts-Irish, does not really cover the actuality. The author talks about how "all major cairn fields" are associated to agriculture. Maybe in a sample of 5.

I have looked at many more sites than this (~400) in Middlesex county. Yes there were some Scotts Irish here and yes there were some pastures and some field clearing. But that only covers about 10% of the sites. The rest are in swamps, on rocky hilltops, in in-accessible places that were never plowed. These remain to be understood.

The author finds the placement of rock piles to be "random" and therefore meaningless. I see piles in lines and evenly spaced in one part of the "Atkinson" map and a curve of piles around a central structure with steadily decreasing spacing between the piles in one part of the "Windham" map. Which is not at all random.

Some of the illustrated types of "Field Cairns" are, I agree, standard ways to dispose of rock. In particular his "Double Wall" is what I was seeing in Carlisle recently.

Finally, I wish the author could see some of the "gap pile" sites in Bolton and Westford. There, one can see huge cairns built in pairs around the boulders and smaller examples down next to the water. There is no doubt that we are looking at something deliberate and, at the same time, something not understood.

The archeo-astronomy is not an odd-ball distraction from the mundane, it is actually a first step towards trying to understand these sites. They often do intermingle with the agricultural and this needs to be put into the context.

Norman said...

Leary was studying field clearing techniques of Scotch-Irish settlers, and chose five fields to study. Obviously his study is limited, with so few sites studied, but given the restricted nature of the study, I think he did a pretty good job (and rather unique for the NEARA Journal). Had he undertaken the study in 2010rather than in the 1980s, and with what is now known about cairn sites, he may have taken a different approach and sought to understand those piles and cairns that do not appear to be colonial or agriculturally related.

pwax said...

Yes I agree.