Tuesday, October 17, 2017

THE CONTINUING "STONE MOUND PROBLEM": IDENTIFYING AND INTERPRETING THE AMBIGUOUS ROCK PILES OF THE UPPER OHIO VALLEY

 Charity M. Moore and Matthew Victor Weiss
Journal of Ohio Archaeology 4:39-72, 2016
An electronic publication of the Ohio Archaeological Council

Abstract: Rock piles are some of the most ambiguous features encountered in the Upper Ohio Valley, encompassing diverse origins and functions. A single pile can appear to be consistent with multiple interpretations and each interpretation carries implications for how the rock pile is then recorded (or not recorded) and evaluated against the National Register of Historic Places criteria. Building on recent fieldwork at the Bear Knob Rock Piles (46UP342), this article explores historical sources, regional case studies, and archaeological methods that can be used to examine rock features, and calls for the adoption of similar best practices and guidelines at the federal and state levels. Only through a comprehensive, programmatic approach, informed by indigenous knowledge, can archaeologists overcome the ambiguity of rock piles and expand their understanding of the ways people augment and interact with the landscape through the construction of rock features and the material affordances of stone.

Some excerpts:
    “Most other SHPOs across the country also reported dealing with rock features on a relatively regular basis (Table 2), and a small number of archaeologists are actively researching the topic through the compilation of data on known rock features and new excavations (e.g., Holstein 2010; Holstein, Hill, and Little 2004; Loubser and Hudson 2005; Loubser and Frink 2010; Murphy 2004, 2010; Rennie and Lahren 2004). Despite this, our understanding of rock features as a whole has not significantly progressed beyond Kellar's 1960 publication...”

   “... The issues described above have had another unfortunate side effect. In our experience, members of the public who are confronted with the apparent antiquity and visually impressive nature of rock features often become frustrated with their dismissal by professional archaeologists, or by archaeology's failure to explain their origins. As a result they often turn to pseudoarchaeological or mystical explanations. These features' ambiguity creates an ideal situation for theories about extraterrestrials, lost civilizations, and supernatural entities to flourish, as people try to make sense of these landscapes. However, this ambiguity has not stopped many avocational and amateur archaeologists, historians, and other researchers from conducting insightful and thorough research on cairnfields, rock effigy sites, and other stone landscapes. Although some interpretations may not be based on conventional science, history, or archaeology, the many websites, blogs, and articles resulting from this public interest contain a wealth of primary data that are invaluable to the archaeological researcher (e.g., NativeStones.com 2006; Waksman 2005, 2015; and see Muller 2009:17). Rather than belittling or alienating non-archaeologists, we should encourage public interest in archaeology and coordinate our efforts to understand the past. In fact, our literature review demonstrates that the most comprehensive, ongoing rock feature research in the northeastern United States is not being conducted by professional archaeologists. The websites and publications of the New England Antiquities Research Association (NEARA 2015; see Ballard and Mavor 2006; Holstein 2012; Muller 2009), a group of primarily "amateur" rock feature researchers, and of historian mother-and-son team Mary and James Gage (J. Gage 2014; M. Gage 2015; M. Gage and J. Gage 2009a, 2009b, 2015; J. Gage and M. Gage 2015b) are far more comprehensive than the vast majority of modern archaeological publications. The Gages alone have filed more than 50 rock feature site forms in Rhode Island and Connecticut. The results of such long-term research should not be discounted simply because individuals do not hold academic degrees in archaeology or work in CRM, particularly when these individuals are the ones who try to reach out to professional archaeologists (see Muller 2009). As Mary Gage (personal communication 2016) pointed out, historians are often better qualified to conduct certain aspects of rock pile research, such as analyzing primary documents...”


2 comments :

pwax said...

I appreciate the shout out.

pwax said...

And...Good Lord!...do you see that pile with a hollow? That is the money.