Wednesday, September 29, 2010

California Hunter's Blind

Peter Anick writes:

Nice to see rockpiles getting some nationwide attention. I've attached a photo of a bighorn sheep hunting blind from California, similar to those reported by Muir (see here). It's just at the peak of a steep stone outcrop and comfortably fits one person.

Thomas Jefferson - on rock piles

Reader Cully fowarded this from Linda:

by Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia, 1787:

. . . Barrows, of which many are to be found all over this country. These are of different sizes, some of them constructed of earth, and some of loose stones. That they were repositories of the dead, has been obvious to all: but on what particular occasion constructed, was matter of doubt. Some have thought they covered the bones of those who have fallen in battles fought on the spot of interment. Some ascribed them to the custom, said to prevail among the Indians, of collecting, at certain periods, the bones of all their dead, wheresoever deposited at the time of death. Others again supposed them the general sepulchres for towns, conjectured to have been on or near these grounds;. . .

But on whatever occasion they may have been made, they are of considerable notoriety among the Indians: for a party passing, about thirty years ago, through the part of thecountry where this barrow is, went through the woods directly to it, without any instructions or enquiry, and having staid about it some time, with expressions which were construed to be those of sorrow, they returned to the high road, which they had left about half a dozen miles to pay this visit, and pursued their journey. There is another barrow, much resembling this in the low grounds of the South branch of Shenandoah, where it is crossed by the road leading from the Rock-fish gap to Staunton. Both of these have, within these dozen years, been cleared of their trees and put under cultivation, are much reduced in their height, and spread in width, by the plough, and will probably disappear in time. There is another on a hill in the Blue ridge of mountains, a few miles North of Wood’s gap, which is made up of small stones thrown together. This has been opened and found to contain human bones, as the others do. There are also many others in other parts of the country.

Tuttle Rd, Sterling MA

You know, I have been trying to figure out how to get into this wetland, at the upper right of this map fragment. A theoretical problem is that the topo lines look like sandy outwash. This is something the eye has to get used to, when plotting exploration tactics using a topo map. But a more practical problem is that, although marked as some kind of conservation land, this is actually fenced in cow pasture, and I cannot figure out how to get over to some of the interesting water that is visibly present, looking at the map. You see a stream, you see a swap, it looks perfect! Except that there are no obvious roads through there (I tend to find sites near roads, and only rarely far from them) and, it is not obvious what to use for access. These are my temporary frustrations. So when I drove out there on Saturday (a good 45 minutes from my house) I was disappointed that I had previously driven past here and found fresh barbed wire fencing along the road. This time I was determined to get in. But instead when I parked, I saw woods on the opposite side of the road (see purple outline in the map fragment), stepped into them, and saw a pretty nice pile
I want to make a big deal about the fact that this is wedge-shaped: a single vertical side, with the rest of the pile sloping off indifferently in other directions. I called those "ski-jumps" and now want to amend the vocabulary: "wedge-shaped" is more dignified. Regardless of the phrasing, this all is important to me because of where I just recently placed these specific types of piles in the imaginary chronology [click here].

I have been exploring in the region between Clinton MA and Mt Wachusett. I have been poking around there, wanting to deepen my understanding of the so-called "Wachusett Tradition" and figuring this is the right sort of area. A previous weekend I found triangular rock piles in there. This weekend I found wedge-shaped ones - which I regard as transitional from early Wachusett Tradition into more modern times and triangular rock piles. So I wanted to find wedges. I brag to a cousin of mine that he could look for rock piles for years and not see any. It is a real coup to be able to drive 50 minutes across the countryside, step into the woods, and find exactly what I am hoping to see.

So this all was good and I start looking around the vicinity of the wedge shaped pile. At first I did not see anything. Everything else was completely overgrown with hay-scented fern. The beauty of these woods comes at you from all directions. I realize there are a couple of other small things broken down in the ferns:
Here is a nice little detail:There was some lining-up and even spacing going on, not possible to illustrate easily with the ferns in the way:And there were some pretty big rock piles in there, as previewed the other day:
I don't know if this might be a rock pile with a hollow, or a big platform of some kind. It was not alone. Here is another, which I was trying represent "artistically" through the leaves (little good that does us now):What the heck was I photo'ing here?:Probably just trying to give a sense of the general appearance of the site. You could walk right by this without seeing anything. Lucky I started with that easily visible pile. I walked around some more taking pictures. There was a rectangular hole right in there, obviously part of the same collection of structures. [By the way I got lucky the next day and found some other wedged shaped piles, with a similar hole which should be considered as part of this "type" of site.]

After a while, I continued along the slope, then turned and came back a little uphill from what I found. Saw this in the weeds,figured there is probably more to see here. Perhaps I should go back after a few frosts have removed the ferns?

Anyway, after all this excitement, going back across the road, under the barbed wire and running into large ungulates (cows) and seeing fewer and fewer rocks as I approached what I believed to be a sandy area, instead I gave up, got in my car and drove off towards the mountain.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Getting closer to Mt Wachusett

I think this is the first time I can legitimately include Mt Wachusett in the map fragment. This goes along with my explorations honing in from the south. Well, on the topo map I had noticed this nice brook going up from the road (East Princeton Rd) leading to a little swamp, so I tried to get in there. These areas can be pretty impenetrable with the Mountain Laurel, so I found it easier to head up hill where there was less undergrowth. In the end I decided to finish climbing the little hill - you never know when you might find something up near the top, although most of my finds in this area have been down low near water. But I went up there anyway cuz the walking was easier and was rewarded:
I call this an "aperture" pile because of a deliberate (I guess) hole through the pile:This is looking out over the beginning of a gully, a few yards below the stone wall that runs across the hill but not quite over the highest point. I climbed up there too, but this seemed to be the location of interest. You would think this vantage point, with a clear shot at Wachusett only a few "feet" away would permit focusing on the mountain. But no, that aperture is pointing west-ish and not towards the mountain. So there is no obvious connection.

I was suspicious that this pile was in good shape and isolated. Never trust an isolated rock pile.
But if you look to the left in the above picture, there is tumbled second rock pile there. Facing back uphill:I am left with the impression that both piles are contemporary but that the well built aperture pile is a reconstruction. And a recent one at that.

Tuttle Rd Preview

Believe it or not this is a picture of a good sized stone mound:

Rock structures, interpreted as:

"Dummy hunters. These stacked rock features are located atop the north-facing ridge on the volcanic tablelands above Renegade Canyon."    Photo by Bill Wight.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Up, Up, and Away

In the foreground is a rock-on-rock with a large rock. In the background, notice the vertical space in the boulder that lines up with the rock-on-rock. We have seen this before. Oh, yeah, at a brook confluence in Sterling, south of Justice Hill Rd where the Orchis grow. Also in northern Westford.

Katahdin Rock Pile - 1948

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Detail from a Rob Buchanan photo

More on rock pile half-life and site classification and chronology

Speaking (here) of damaged rock piles and estimating site age by the amount of the damage, or the proportion of damaged piles at the site (something I called rock pile half-life in these articles [you need to scroll down]), it is not such a crazy idea when construed statistically over a wide number of similar sites in a restricted region like east central Massachusetts. Take, for example, marker pile sites with triangular rock piles of which we have many examples, enough to comprise a legitimate statistical sample. And suppose, reasonably, that these are manifestations of a culture that existed in a limited part of the past - a time frame whose limits we want to estimate - or at least place in chronological order with other types of sites. It is certainly true that individual sites will have experienced different amounts of damage depending on later land use. If they were in an open field (I am thinking Manana Island) they might not get too quickly damaged. If they were subject to falling branches and trees, they might be more damaged. But over a large sample of sites the local differences in land use would average out in a restricted region. If you had a reasonable sample size for a different type of site, these same local variabilities would apply to them. To make a long story short: If over a collection of sites of one type there is more damage (on average) than for a collection sites of another type; then it is perfectly reasonable to conclude the more damaged sites are older. In this regard, there is no question that rock piles with hollows are significantly older than triangular rock piles.

I can almost create chronology now for these different types of rock piles:
  • piles with hollows and tails
  • piles with hollows and no tails
  • piles with hollows, no tails, and in proximity to "ski-jump" shaped piles, evenly spaced and in lines.
  • Evenly spaced triangular rock piles in lines and grids - with viewing platform or high point.
I like visual representations:For what it is worth these are also sort of regional:
  • Rock piles with hollows and tails (A) are from Carlisle to northern Fitchburg.
  • Rock piles with hollows and no tails (B) are from Leominster to Boylston to Hopkinton
  • Rock piles with hollows and outlying ski jumps (C) are from Upton to Holliston
  • Triangular rock piles (D) are pretty much everywhere.
I wonder how much of this is actually correct?

Another week, another marker pile site with triangular rock piles

Coming up to a site, often I see rock-on-rocks like bastions at the gate.And a few steps later I start seeing rock piles.You can see the piles as hints of darker color in the ferns. And you can see the "grid-like" structure. This was a typical site of this type with water to north, and northwest. The site consisted of several clusters of piles. A stone wall separated these from a small peninsula sticking out into a brook, and there were a few larger more broken down piles on the peninsula, like an older site over in there.I walked around taking pictures of the rock piles and was particularly enamored of this one: Let's look at it from above:See? It is triangular. Some others:The presence of one larger rock on each of these piles may be significant. I have been finding rock pile sites with triangular rock piles this fall. It is funny how I seem to find the same kinds of rock piles over and over for a while and then I start finding some other kind of site and get into seeing those over and over. What would explain this impression? I do tend to keep exploring in the same places once I find good stuff there. But this is northern Westford, and I just saw the same things in Fitchburg along Falulah Brook, and in Foxboro at the state forest. So I don't get it. Last spring it was all about rock piles with hollows and, frankly I enjoyed them so much this is what I have been hunting for. But now I just keep finding triangular rock piles. Over by a stone wall, a different collection of piles. The layout of the piles, evenly spaced along an arc, is evident enough:Just to the right in this picture was one pile that was different from all the rest: a broken down platform? Or could it be my old friend: a rock piles with hollows? I don't know, it was too far gone. It would have been like a focal point to the arc of the other piles.

Here are some of the "older" piles, on the peninsula:
These are long gone.

Stone lined spring

Stepped into the woods in northern Westford and, as soon as I hit the cool shadows and ferns, there was a oval shallow hole lined with rocks. Tim MacSweeney was writing about these here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Driving down Mirick Rd: retaining wall and other...

Some major stonework along this road:The landowner was right there, so I played dumb and said: "gosh that is a pretty big rock pile". He said: that is what farmers did to clear their field. I said: "they must have had a lot of rock to get rid of". He chuckled and said: we have the glaciers to thank for that. Helpful, he seemed to have all the answers, but I was wondering about mills and dams. Anyway, a few yards down the road I spotted a pile that I would not expect this landowner to explain so easily:
Closer:Still in Wachusett's shadow. Shall I go back again next weekend?

More in Wachusett's Shadow - farm structures on Wilson Rd

Drive along Wilson Rd in Princeton, a quiet road on the southern flanks of Wachusett, and you'll see some substantial old foundations and walls, nicely maintained by the current landowners. In one place I had to stop and hop into the bushes for a photo. (I was badly parked but nobody drove by while I was there. ) I hopped into the bushes cuz I thought I saw a large rock pile.It was a two part structure. Here is a closer look at one part that was still in good shape. I figured this for some kind of loading bay.But then, 10 yards away in the woods, what is this for?

Revisiting the "pretty little marker pile site" in Princeton MA

I thought I would explore outward from the site I found the previous weekend. But it was a cloudy day and I kept going in circles. Luckily the circles brought me back to my car more than once, so by the time I knew I was lost I also knew where I was. But anyway this means I never did get very far from where I started and, I guess, I still have the exploring "outward" to do. My car was parked at the low point on Houghton Rd, where it crosses Wachusett Brook. I guess I can call this spot "in the shadow of Wachusett", as it is just south of the mountain. I have been exploring in there lately and this spot, north of the road, has some interesting stuff besides the first site I found.

So, I took another couple of photos of the marker pile site.The new fall colors are a pleasant change from the universally dark understory green of the summer woods.

I got as far as a hilltop, where I found possible fire circles and possible prayer seats, shown in previous post. Back at my car, I went a few yards east along the road and saw some other stuff in a wet spot just visible from the road to the north. Can you make this out?
It is a little bit of zig-zag stone line, ending in a messy pile under a tree. Other rocks in loose piles around the same low point suggest field clearing. But the zig-zag is carefully made. None of my pictures do much to show this feature.

Split wedged rock from Westford

A particularly nice example: