Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Acton's Trail Through Time: Information, dis-information, and missing information

I went back to Acton's Nashoba Brook Conservation Land. I did a lot of poking around there in the past, slowly forming an opinion. How many bad ideas did I have to try out and discard? Nashoba Brook was the great "teaching" experience. But that was 20 years ago. I expected to see new rock piles this time and was not disappointed. I found several new clusters but trying to compare them to locations on my topo maps, I can't tell whether I saw these places in the past. Here is a self portrait:
I could describe the sites but you have heard this before. I take away two things from this walk. One was the way I sub-consciously hunted down the rock piles. I cannot really describe this other than to say: I found the hilltop and headed west, downhill, knowing that I would have to cross several wetlands and knowing that I could pin down the rock piles between the hill and water.

The other thing I come away with is an emotional reaction to the "Trail Through Time" interpretive panels I encountered at the bottom of the hill when I got back to the trails. Frankly they are a bit lame, presumably because they are based on information from Indians who learned about these things from people who, themselves, had spent little time understanding the overall phenomena. It is sadly generic. In fact Mark Strohmeyer and the Mavor and Dix team had spent a lot of time at Nashoba Brook. I spent many days walking there and showing it to locals, and I spent several walks there showing the place to the Indians. Today's interpretive signs tell nothing of the history of the place, how those panels came to be. Nor do the signs contain anything that is accurate or specific to this place. I wrote down some reactions when I got home:

Revisiting Nashoba Brook and being gratified to see the interpretive panels and the little 3-dot indicators of rock piles that I recommended. But being disappointed at the incorrect information (saying marker piles in a row are “unusual”) the disinformation (the newly coined Algonquian representing non-existent categories). And saddened at the missing information: no real acknowledgement of the role of water and the key role of Nashoba Brook with many springs flowing out of the hill from the south.
I took a hike there recently heading uphill and left after the bridge, then swinging around more to the west until I got to the highest place on the hill, where I turned west and headed down past a series of valleys, each with a spring, two out of three with rock piles. This all happens between the green trail and the yellow trail, near the hilltop. These were new sites to me and not all are on the Acton trail map. After seeing three different sites with rows of evenly spaced “marker” piles, I came to an interpretive panel for the “Trail Through Time”, which informed me that piles in a row were “unusual”. Later on the trail, a cluster of three marker piles, forming a ‘L’ rather than in a row, was given a freshly minted Algonquian name and interpreted as something different. Well, I suppose I should not be picky. We have replaced the agrarian myth with an archeological myth. But what is most saddening is the missing information and the failure to explain how this site is connected to water “from head to toe” – meaning: water sources on that most porous of hills to the south, Spring Hill, drain down into Nashoba Brook and then down from the rocky hills of Acton into the rich alluvial flatlands of Concord, around the Assabet River. Most of the springs have sites and, of course, these woods are the first place suitable for rock piles , uphill from Assabet River. So this failure to connect the Nashoba Brook Conservation Land to the brook itself is a disappointment.

Let me end by saying that marker pile sites, which are thought to be calendrical, are the most common type of rock pile site (and represent ~90% of the piles at Nashoba Brook). The piles may be on the ground or up on a boulder - whichever is needed to locate the pile where it needs to function. The standard characteristic is even spacing of the piles. This arrangement tends to form a grid when the piles are clustered, or form a set of 'tic marks' when the piles are in a row. Almost invariably, marker piles are found in associated with a burial, which is usually represented by a larger and less conspicuous mound, to the side of the marker piles. 

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