Friday, May 06, 2011

Stone Cairn & Managed Fires

stone cairn similar to many found in sites throughout Rhode Island as well as other sites in southeastern New England. Photo from the blog rockpiles.

"The discoveries of stone cairns, long described by elders and some historians as sites of Indian burial or sacredness, have come to be refuted by other historians, and more recently in court by lawyers representing land developers. Some historians have speculated that the cairns like those discovered in Smithfield, and long protected in Coventry, Rhode Island, are simply the result of a farmer’s toil, to rid the soil of rock, though in the standard form of English style husbandry, which these settlers would have practiced, some frugal use of the stone would have been found; for a stable, a well, any number of necessities on a New England farm."

"The Narragansett were long established as an agricultural people, and as part of the traditional method of renewing the land, used fire both for its nutritive benefits in the fields, and in removing the undergrowth in the woodlands. One astonished European traveler wrote that he could “gallop his horse” through the park-like forest.
Managed fires in the region routinely removed briars and brambles that would choke paths as well as slow the growth of Oak and Maple trees, the Birches and Chestnuts that were native to New England. As Roger Williams observed: "this burning of the Wood to them they count as a Benefit, both for destroying of vermin, and keeping downe the Weeds and thickets.”
This method of removing undergrowth may also have been an ingenious defensive measure, as any party of Native Americans or Europeans would be immediately exposed on entering their lands.
As William Cronon points out in “Changes In The Land”, these practices had as well, a renewable outcome for other sources of food, clothing, and religious rituals: “Indian burning promoted the increase of exactly those species whose abundance so impressed English colonists: elk, deer, beaver, hare, porcupine, turkey, quail, ruffed grouse, and so on. When these populations increased, so did the carnivorous eagles, hawks, lynxes, foxes, and wolves…”
The burning of fields before winter, or to drive game from the tall grasses during the autumn hunting were long traditions, as was a natural economizing of the use of their environment by frequently moving between established sites throughout tribal lands.
The Narragansett language reflects this awareness, as do many Indian place names. An acute respect for what the land gave and its fragility, has always been a fundamental characteristic of Native American beliefs."


pwax said...

Where did you get that first photo?

Tim MacSweeney said...

It was on the blog, the link below that first quote that follows. I assumed it was yours.

pwax said...

I guess you are right. Wish they linked so we could cross reference.

Larry said...

The image is of a cairn at Parker Woodland. The picture was taken (without permission)from one of my web sites and edited. This link will take you to my original.