Monday, April 17, 2017

Comments on Rolf Cachat-Schilling Lecture

It was kind of a "scene" at the Zion Lutheran Church in northern Worcester - a small group of Mass archaeological society ("MAS") members and a small group of people who heard about it from this blog. From the looks of it, MAS is not a large organization. There were technical difficulties until someone plugged the VGA cable into the correct port on the projector and then the lecture began - an hour late. The speaker derived his credibility from a Nipmuc background (his great aunts), from his contact with the Lenape, and from over 60 rock pile sites he has explored in Shutesbury. He proposed an empirical recording of features - so as to compare correlation to expected European agricultural features versus expected Native American ceremonial features - an approach promoted here and also by Curt Hoffman. Needless to say the numbers told a clear story: poor correlation to expected agrarian features, strong correlation to expected ceremonial features. But the talk was not really about numbers. It was about types of pile and types of site and typical site layout.

I enjoyed the talk thoroughly. It contained content beyond the generic message of connecting to "energies and...the Creator....", In fact, the content was largely the same as what I have been observing. Specifically:
  • a small variety of common structures and a very small variety of types of site
  • a number of uncommon structure types
  • most sites contain a combination of marker pile grids (my words) and burials 
The speaker also talked about two other common types: "turtle piles" and "concentric circle" ground piles. He showed a number of examples where the marker piles were on the west side, and the turtle piles on the east side. However, this is one place where I am confident that no such correlation exists. Marker piles are usually facing west  - on a flat slope that takes the morning sunrise. But they also appear east facing, presumably for the afternoon sun, and I know grids that face north and perhaps etc. 

Generally, I thought the speaker was on the right track but wrong in some of the particulars. He showed a pile with a beautifully built carpet of same-sized stones, and called it a "donation pile".  I would argue about that. He also made more out of ground piles than I would - I am not sure that concentric circles are anything other than the way you construct a pile. He mentioned counting the rocks in a pile and mentioned marker piles all being the same size - which I know is not true.

But those are minor quibbles. What really pleases me is to know that there are people out there who are observing carefully. They see much the same as what I see, and I do not need to worry the subject will be limited to spiritual, ethnographic, and anthropological approaches. As you know, I believe in letting the sites speak for themselves as much as possible.

He left me wondering:
  • How do you know it is a burial?
  • What was that about the right moment for passage of loved ones to the "beyond"?
  • Are they going to the sky or the underworld?


Curt Hoffman said...

Peter -
I think you should consider the possibility that some of the differences between what Rolf is looking and what you've observed may represent regional variation. I suspect there is probably more of this than we are currently aware of, except at an anecdotal level.

pwax said...

Yes indeed. Given a consensus about what is common to the region (grids associated to burial mounds), it will be easier to see regional variations.

He showed two "burial mounds". One was a bump of a style that is rare in Middlesex. I know one from northern Fitchburg, and two or three from Upton/Grafton. The other mound he called a "burial" was a broken down berm of cobbles. These are also familiar from northern Fitchburg (but not to the south). So both styles are only found in the fringes of Middlesex. In Middlesex "rectangles with hollows" are common and diverse. He did not show pictures of them.

There is more than one essay in this topic.