Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Curiousity about the number of rock pile sites

I have a reasonably good idea of how many rock pile sites (sites per square mile and piles per site) can be found around here in Middlesex County Mass. There are lots and lots of sites but I find myself wondering: how come there are not more? Were rock pile sites made by a small number of people over a longer period of time or a large number of people over a short period of time? Based on what I see, it appears more like what would be the result of a small number of people over a small period of time. I would say every site I have seen could be accounted for by about 100 people building a rock pile once a year for one lifetime, or a smaller number of people making more, or a larger number of people making fewer. But it does not really add up to as much activity as I would expect from pre-history. Add to this that in the only documented information about this (at Bannock Point in Ontario) the modern day Native Americans deny having built the rock piles.

It also is part of my thinking that rock piles are ephemeral - they last for a few years and then are destroyed by natural random processes. You can see this happening at almost every site: piles bashed by falling trees, rocks around the base of a boulder which still has a few rock on top, etc. Also, as evidenced by the second excavation discussed in Manitou (the one about the "Dairy Hill Monolith"), there are other rock piles buried under ground where you cannot see them. So maybe there are lots more piles there than we realize.

Another possibility is that a rock pile ceremony might have required destroying an old rock pile before building a new one. In that case the numbers are consistent with a small group of people (perhaps the "shamans") making the piles. Or perhaps youths seeking visions would build a number of piles but these would then get destroyed, intentionally or randomly, at a rate that matched the rate at which new ones were built.

Actually the data is kind of different down in Holliston and Hopkinton at the sites Bruce McAleer located. Those sites go on for miles with thousands of rock piles. So it almost seems like a different story. There, I suspect the piles are being renewed by local Indians or were until recently. Maybe that is the explanation: so much development and destruction up here leaves a very patchy record that it is mis-leading.

All these things are confusing and worth thinking about occasionally.

1 comment :

Tim MacSweeney said...


There were probably many, many more,
Heaps and mounds, weirs and rows,
Big stones on hilltops and outcrops…

You and I (and the others who read these pages) see a great mystery
In the wounded forests, along the scars on a landscape,
Where a people once lived, interconnected with the Great Mystery (another way to translate Manitou).
And the piles of stones, the outcrops – everything
Meant something, recalled a memory,
Was perhaps an eternal prayer.
Stones on a turtle’s back,
You and I and everyone and everything
Are just stones on the turtle’s back…

To some people they don’t mean a thing,
Those monuments, those collections;
French soldiers firing at the Great Sphinx
Conquistadors destroying temples
Priests burning pagan books

Just a few years ago
During the looting of an ancient city
In the Cradle of Civilization
A man came on TV and made this plea:
“Don’t destroy oil wells.”
And sent soldiers to guard the oil fields
As antiquities disappeared…

So those woodcuts of burial mounds we posted
Were robbed for grave goods
That went into somebody’s curio-cabinet,
And the stones went into a fence or a foundation.
For every story like that there’s a thousand that quietly went away:
Somebody rolled the big stone down the hill
Somebody bulldozed them for a highway or a driveway
Somebody was building something
My Great Grandfather worked building stone walls,
Probably took apart hundreds of mounds,
In a different part of town
Walling in a rich man’s property
For next to nothing in pay…

Just stones to some;
To others, stones on the turtle’s back…
August 17, 2006