Friday, February 24, 2006

Historic Rock Piles - the smoking gun

Tim MacSweeney got this started by sending me a quote which included a woodcut showing a Sachem's grave as a rock pile. This is the "smoking gun" I have been waiting for, showing that -yup- rock piles really were made by Indians. We did have all those quotes about burial cairns [see the Gage's reference list under the Stone Structure of Northeastern United States in the link list to the right [or at the bottom if you are using Internet Explorer as a browser]]. Somehow this picture carries more conviction for me.Here is Tim's quote:

“And Nonnewaug, too, at the appointed time, slept with his fathers, and the small remnant of his people buried him in the beautiful plain at the foot of the musical falls that are called by his name, where his fathers’ people had been buried before him, true to their instinct of selecting the most beautiful places by the river side, by the silvery cascade, or in the verdant plain. An apple tree was planted at the head of the grave, which still stands there, the faithful guardian of the ashes that repose beneath its grateful shade. It is a venerable tree, some 150 years old, but does not bear the marks of so great an age, though there are several decayed places in it, so perfectly shown in the accompanying woodcut of the tree and grave, taken by the artist on the spot during the last summer. When the writer first visited it, twenty years ago, there was a large hillock, or mound, raised over the grave, which remained, distinguishing the sachem’s, by its size, from the other graves around him, till a few years ago, when the present owner of the field committed the sacrilege of plowing it down, saying he was not going to have such an old “hummock in his field,” much to the regret of every true antiquarian, and lover of ancient things. The mound thus destroyed was some ten feet long, six feet wide, and four feet high, having been gradually formed, in the same way, as in the case of Pomperaug’s grave.”

Woodcut by H.L. Curtis, text by William Cothren in The History of Ancient Woodbury (1854)


Personally I am excited to see this quote and illustration, and forwarded it to Norman Muller who wrote back:

I was looking through C.C. Jones's Antiquities of the Southern Indians (1873) and came across a very fine engraving of a 15' high stone cairn that once existed in that state [Georgia]. It is described as Indian, and was "composed exclusively of fragments of rocks, carefully piled one above the other." I wonder if this counts toward the "smoking gun."

Yes that is a smoking gun for Georgia; but my understanding is that southern archeologists have no trouble recognizing rock piles as Native American artifacts. Unfortunately the ones up here in the Northeast have no interest in information and will not examine evidence - whether smoking or otherwise. I just wish they would die off faster so we can have a chance for a new generation of academic/public archeologists. Unfortuately ignoring the presence of Indians in Massachusetts (and probably the other early colonies as well) is deeply ingrained in the social consciousness of the Europeans who took over the land.


Norman sends a more extended quote:

Regarding the engraving image I sent you from Jones's book, here is what he wrote:"Located upon a high, rugged ridge, three miles from Sparta, and in a direction opposite to that which led us to the so-called 'Spanish Fort,' are the remains of a stone tumulus originally fifteen feet high, and twelve feet in diameter at its base, nearly resembling a sugar-loaf in form. It was composed exclusively of fragments of rocks, carefully piled one above the other. A few years since a planter, moved by curiosity, undertook the removal of the mound. The labor was but partially accomplished, and the only result attained was the almost total demolition of this unique little tumulus. (See Fig. 5, Plate II.)"

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