Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Chatting with James Mavor - co-author of Manitou

I caught up with Mavor at the 4th of July parade in Woods Hole, MA. I wanted to ask him specifically about how the idea first got started that the Indians were the creators of the stone features we find in the woods. I am afraid Jim is not well and is going back in for more chemotherapy. Anyway he seemed pleased to chat and I hung on every word that I could hear over the sounds of the surrounding crowd. So here is what I can remember of the conversation:

I reminded him he had told me his interest began with Alexandre Thom and the desire to apply archeo-astronomy techniques to the stone walls in New England. Mavor confirmed that was so. I asked him how he met Byron Dix, the other co-author of Manitou, and he said it was all in the book. I asked if the idea of Indians came from Byron. He said that Byron had fallen under the influence of Barry Fell [author of hugely controversial books about European contact with America before Columbus] - who was urging Byron to come out and do some astronomic observing. Mavor said Fell was a very dynamic and aggressive individual and Byron "suffered" for it - I think this meant Byron's reputation suffered from being associated with Barry Fell. Mavor also said that Fell was a genius. Anyway, Mavor talked some more about Giovanna [Peebles] the Vermont State Archeologist and how she wrote a book "debunking" the whole stone chamber business. Mavor and Dix wrote two rebuttals to her book, published in Vermont Archeology, and apparently those rebuttals are not well known. I also asked: what about Mark Strohmeyer? He said Strohmeyer came a lot later.

Coming back to the question: When did the idea of Indian stonework first come up? Jim's first words were: "it came up when we excavated at Calendar I". I did not get him to elaborate but asked him: What about Ted Timreck? Ted claims he suggested Indians to Mavor and Dix. Now Mavor said: he did not remember Ted introducing the idea "as such" but Ted was at the dig in Calendar I. They did a number of excavations there. This leaves open the possibility that Ted was the one who first mentioned it. Mavor said about Ted: he has an amazing ability to get Scientists talking who usually would have nothing to do with each other. So there you have it: if anyone is responsible it is Timreck for suggesting the idea in a context provided by Mavor and Dix's excavation at Calendar I. Ted Timreck is a freelance film maker who does work for the Smithsonian. Mavor also credits Ted with first getting the scientist talking about the possibility of a Solutrean - Clovis connection.
Here is Jim with a piece of watermellon. He is sitting in the "Waterfront Park" which he helped to design to incorporate major skywatching directions over carefully placed small rocks.

Update: I did not mean to imply I thought Ted Timreck was soley responsible for the idea of Indians being the creators of the stone structures. Rather the idea seems to have come out of an interaction between several individuals at a certain point in the events described in Manitou.


Geophile said...

Wow, wow, wow! Thank you. Very interesting. It's good to get what history we can while primary sources are around. It would be interesting to talk with Timreck. I haven't seen his film yet, either. I didn't realize that he's been so influential.

Was just looking at Manitou this morning, and saw that in the second chapter, where they're talking about the Upton Chamber, it says: "We also began to suspect that the religion of the Indians and their interaction with colonial missionaries could provide clues to the origins and functions of the landscape architecture."

And in the same chapter there's the terrific quotation from a Nipmuck woman in 1948: "Our people were great stone builders. Sometimes those caves came in very handy. You could get in them away from cold and snow. They also helped to hide a lot of the Indians during King Philip's War in 1676. The Indians also helped the slaves by hiding them in caves when they escaped from the slave owners . . . "

Would love to read those rebuttals by Mavor and Dix. Interesting about Timreck and the Solutrean/Clovis thing, which I'd just been talking about this morning, too.

Food for thought. The whole thing could make an interesting story one day.

Anonymous said...

A finely written update. I'd been wondering about Mr. Mavor lately and certainly wish him many more years of pondering life's mysteries. Manitou offers a constant reminder to observe all that is around us. Re: Mr. Dix, anyone who takes on writing about Atlantis must have a very thick skin!

Geophile said...

A related picture--Betty Sincerbeaux, mentioned in Manitou, at Calendar II in Vermont. The photo was taken and posted on the Portal by Sig Lonegren, also mentioned early in Manitou as a founding member of the GARG, Goddard Archaeological Research Group. The website called Mid-Atlantic Geomancy is his. I'm sure some of you have stumbled on it while searching, as I have.

Geophile said...

Trying that link again: