Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bronze Age Serpent Mound from Brittain

Not rock pile related but I found it interesting for a couple of reasons:

Nice Videos at "Waking up on Turtle Island"

Some nice presentations from Tim MacSweeney. Head over to his blog (linked to at the right) and check it out.

South Hill - Middlesex NY

Reader Madis writes in to point out this link to an earth-energy interpretation of rock piles.

I recommend some of the links to be found there. But also there is mention of adding stones to a stone circle to re-construct it - which I believe should not be done; or at least only done under special circumstances.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Some ideas from the NEARA conference

I wanted to revisit the picture of Linda McElroy who is both a long time member of the NEARA board but also the main force behind the Acton Land Stewards program, where she has done some exceptionally good things for rock piles and conservation land in general. Her current initiative is the "Trail Through Time" program, discussed at their new website
Here Linda is showing a portion of the interpretive signs that will be spotted along a trail that includes colonial stonework as well as rock piles:Go check it out. Acton, because of Linda's work, is at the forefront of both preserving and giving public interpretation to rock piles. Definately a "friend of the court".

Some other topics that caught my attention include
  • The state coordinators' reports. Vermont, and especially Nova Scotia, reported numerous new "cairn fields" and growing excitement about them at the local level. Terry Deveau from Nova Scotia mentioned: Clam Point, Oak Park. Other places are upbeat!
  • Norman's observation of soil deposited on some old cairns on top of Glastonbury Mountain in VT as compared with soil deposited on foundation stones of an adjacent fire tower whose age is known. This made it as clear as day that the old cairns were already old when the tower was built and, since the summit was pretty much inaccessible to white men before that, giving a reasonably good demonstration that the piles had to be old, and had to have pre-dated European presence. No farmers are implicated in the building of cairns on top of an in-accessible mountain top.
  • Peter Annick's [shown to the left of Norman in the earlier picture] articulation of the concept (he was describing pictographs from Brazil) of a physical representation of a myth, done so as to open a connection to the spirit of the ancestors. That is a fairly good way to describe some of these rock piles sites, especially the ones with effigies. It is not a new idea, since Black Elk talks about it, but it is good to be reminded of it occasionally.
  • Someone walked off with the notebook I was taking notes in. I suspect Fred Martin did it by mistake and, if so, maybe he will spot the Stow Grid which I mapped poorly on a couple of pages of that same notebook. That is the original and only hard copy - good thing I blogged it long since.
New faces at NEARA: There were very very few young people and only a couple of new 40 year olds present. There were a couple of talks about rock piles (Norman's and Fred Meli's discussion of Nipsachuck) a NEARA member's slide show and several talks that I missed, arriving mid morning. Bravo to the people who pull this together year after year.

I was also going to write about the Fred Meli presentation. He informs me by email that he got in a lot of trouble for having talked publicly as he did. I am of two minds about this: whether to report what I heard (about which there are numerous un-answered questions) or to just let it go. For now we'll let it go.

People I saw at the Spring 2008 NEARA conference

Arriving in the darkened conference room, my first interest was to see who was there. I saw James and Mary Gage at the book sales table:
I sat next to Norman Biggart (long time NEARA member and member of the Burlington Mass. Historical Society)
I recognized people like:
Norman Muller (to the right) with Peter Annick to the left.
Jim Eagan (who was the RI coordindator)
[no photo]

Malcolm Pearson - one of the original NEARA who, at 97 still seems to be functional. The man owned the Upton chamber and (perhaps at a separate time) the site at Mystery Hill in Salem NH.
Bruce McAleer and Tim Fohl (left to right)
Doug Schwartz (the CT coordinator) and Fred Meli (who introduced himself)
The grand dames of NEARA (picture taken later at dinner: Ros Strong, Linda McElroy, and Sue Carlson)Tom Paul (NEARA treasurer and author of the "Hammonasset Line" concept, L. McElroy again, and Ted Ballard ex director of research for NEARA, author of articles about stone "U" structures)George Krusen (protector of the Heron Pond, rock pile site, Half Moon Meadow, and pursuer of truth as it pertains to the "Hill of 500 cairns" [or was it 400?])
I hope he'll forgive me for saying it but: a boy in an old man's body.

I have no picture or no decent picture for several other people there: Terry Deveau the Nova Scotia coordinator, Lisa Gannon (the VT coordinator who did not want her picture taken), Polly Midgely (the Hudson Valley coordinator), Brenda Twoomey (MA coordinator) various NEARA officials who I do not know well: Dan Lorraine and Don Winkley.

I spoke with a few of these people and some of them gave presentations. I'll get to that content in a moment.

A grinding stone "central to the rock formations"

Reader Highland Boy writes in:
I thought I would update you on a topic we corresponded on several months ago. I've finally located the 'grinding stone' I've been searching for. I was never sure of it being a traditional grinding stone in the conventionally accepted sense and I'm even less convinced now. It's a perfect bowl, about one foot in diameter (I forgot to pack my tape measure for precise measurements) with a depth of perhaps four inches. It's also central to all the other rock formations I've posted about. Since I've taken my blog down for revamping, I'd like to share the video with you and your readers. It can be viewed on YouTube here:

Any comments and discussion would be most welcome.

It's aIso worth noting, I maintain a small database with GPS coordinates of other sites I am aware and this stone precisely aligns on the exact latitude of Burnt Hill's summit, which is not visible and actually many miles away.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Driving out to the NEARA meeting

I had about a 1.5 hour drive to get out to Northampton so I popped a CD in the player and drove along as fast as possible while trying to keep an eye out the side window for stone work next to the road. My son made me a CD with Philip Glass's music and I have to say (where my son cannot hear me) that, based on that CD, Glass takes the monotonous repitition of the same phrase over and over again to new heights. I kept listening even though it hurt my ears until I was well past Worcester, by which time I gave up on it and drove along in silence.
Driving along Rt 290 heading southwest, I saw an area with lots of stone walls and I looked as closely as possible (while going past at 70 mph) until I spotted a huge box shaped rock pile - maybe 5 feet high, six feet wide, ten feet long. And then I was past it, looking around feverishly for some kind of landmark I could use to remember the spot. Then there was another damaged pile on a rock, then a cross street, then exit #22 just before Lake Quinsigamond. When I got home later I looked up this spot on the map:
And the aerial view:
So I am planning to go back next weekend.
As I continued the drive I was thinking about what people assume as they look out the window of a moving car. Maybe, most typically, they do not see any passage of time and, to them, the landscape is the same as it has always been. But slightly more reflective people are going to see farms and fields and assume that this is perhaps a little overgrown but otherwise the same as before. Knowledgeable people will look at the trees and know they are new and that 80 years ago all of New England was logged off. So these people might believe, if you told them, that they are seeing the overlay of farming on top of a now vanished Indian landscape. What I think we are seeing is modern neglect on top of 1950's dairy farms on top of Indian modifications on top of 19th century farming, on top of 18th century Indian modificatons, on top of 17th century farming....and back it goes. The truth, the context for these rock piles and ceremonial structures that we see today is an almost ongoing use and re-use of the landscape that has continued from before the European arrival through to the present. At the rate at which oil prices are rising, who knows how long it is going to be like it is now?

"Many, cache, heap."

Forgive me for hogging up Rock Piles with two posts today, but I found a lost image that I meant to send (almost a year ago). I've forgotten the source but I'm sure someone will recognize it and remember for me.
I had sent these, with representation in stone rows in mind:

But I located the whole page:

And this is the one I really wanted to send:

More on the "Indian Look"

(More Questions than Answers)
I should really clarify my "Indian Look" post.
It's just one type of "look," and not the "one and only look" by any means.
And what should I call this particular "look?"
It greatly resembles the style I see often along the shore in eastern CT and into Rhode Island, even those "lace walls" on Martha's Vineyard.
Is it an old influence from someone who visited that area, someone who migrated to this area from there, and any number of similar guesses...
The look is "atypical" of what you might expect of a stone fence built as I find in one of the comments: "If you google "tips for building a stone wall" some things that come up are "flat side down", "fit stones closely together", "two over one, one over two", and, my personal favorite "gravity and friction alone hold a dry mortarless wall together". When I see a wall that defies some of these suggestions, I take a closer look," that 'theseventhgeneration' made.

(This just prompted me to go to the "Two Headwaters" site to look for the writers actual name, which I didn't find - but then saw all the posts about stone rows I had missed since the last time I looked. Reading through the most recent posts there just now I see a very different "look," along with familiar "atypicalities" that would also make me ponder the Native American origin of the rows. "Constructions on constructions" is a great insight I found there a feeling I often get puzzling about the older row or newer fence question.)

And Jim comments: "I think it's probably more accurate to say that there's a difference in style between pre-contact, contact, and post-contact period wall and fence constructions. Because remember that Indians made up a large portion of the slaves who built stone fences in New England in the European style. The stone masonry tradition continues among New England's Indians to this very day." I'd add in that besides "slaves," you also have that cheap labor source of Indian People and those stories of "bottle walls." The builder gets "paid," in the contents of the bottle when a certain point is reached.
The rows near where I live are the ones I can make the best guesses about. Who else but Native People would have built a serpentine row around a burial grounds? Why does the row turn into a zigzag after that? I don't know; it just does. Why are there rather large and wide linear rows connecting to them sometimes - and why do they heve, as they near the stream that flows over the Falls, a large end stone? I don't really know either; they just do. What about that mound swamp where zigzags abound, yet there's a linear row as well very close to the mounds? How about the double row of a lacey nature (intersected by another with a high "wave" in it that seen in other rows by other people in other places) that contains mounds that resemble turtles, that turns into a zigzag that runs over an outcrop and just ends there? It's also where a newer road runs over this row, where some of it remains, like a "construction over a construction" and has been sort of re-used as the retaining wall for the fill used to build the road?

It's so much easier when I see a linear row that looks like "turtles on turtles on turtles," like the one partially destroyed when they re-routed my road. It had a large end stone where the water flows, probably anciently a glacial lakeshore, and linked up to the zigzag row that was just bulldozed away without a second thought - the first being "It's a wall of no importance."
Zigzag rows, carefully constructed are easier to define as having the "Indian Look." They are the antithesis of "rocks thrown up against a snake fence during field clearing, that remain after the wood has rotted" theory.
Especially when they contain those testudinate stones, sometime identifiable as a box turtle or a spotted turtle, at the points of the zigzag.
So: please don't think I mean there's just one "Indian Look." I was just pointing out one that I see that resembles others that I see that other people see, remembering an old African wisdom that says,"What you see is an illusion of what you see until you learn to see what you see."
As the "long look," the perspective seen before the curtain of greenery obsures that view, maybe we should take note of what plants remain in these areas surrounded by stone rows, use our imaginations to think about what the Native Land use scheme might have been, search out the old names attached to these places that might indicate what was once there - the cranberry swamp or "the place where the _____ grows" - any sort of clue as to what was once maintained and kept clear by scheduled burning that maintained the Garden that this Turtle Island was.

Think about the great number of new and formerly unknown Indian sites uncovered by the massive forest fires of recent years out west; imagine the controlled ground fires of a thousand years ago around here. Look back at: or and think about that "burning" question about one of the many purpose functions of a stone row, whatever size or shape it may be...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Stone Sightings in the Stony Swamp, Ottawa

By Geophile, posting for Bruce from Ottawa

I received two emails from Bruce from Ottawa, containing some interesting photos and observations. It's not surprising that there are rock piles in the area, since it was Algonquin territory. The first email:

The Stony Swamp has several small escarpments and ancient shorelines,visible both on and off the public trails. Within a couple of the eroded cracks - so-called "joints" - in the escarpments, are quartz blocks. Small quartz blocks are seen in these splitting roles .. not just a stone, and not a dark stone. If there's a stone in the cleft, it is quartz. The implication that these stones are deliberately placed is strong. The other [third and fourth] pictures are of a large boulder that seems to have split off the bedrock at some distant time. I'd estimate this boulder to weigh a couple of tons. However, the oval eroded hole could only have appeared on the flat upward-facing surface of the block. But this side is now vertical. This considerable block of rock has been tilted on its side at some time after it left the bedrock. I suspect this was to expose the quartz vein and the hollowed face now on top.

I can't prove these are not natural. My feeling, though, is that they are not. /bruce/

Friday, April 25, 2008

Horned Creature and other possible effigies with quartz, other piles, near Parker Village

I walked some more in the woods near Parker Village, Westford, MA and thought I saw something burial like and a few broken down piles. The quartz in this one...
...caught my eye:
Then I crossed a wall into a large wall enclosed rectangle/parallelogram with perhaps 50 rock piles scattered around. This one was still pretty intact:
But the real gem was this "Horned Creature" that I showed a little video of before (here). I have to show what I can of this since it is the best example I have seen.
Here is the front view. The "head" is quite symmetric as is the pile.
Here is the back view with a detail of the neck:
Look how the pile thins down in the "neck". By the way this creature is facing roughly west.

Now let's take a look at the pile that is visible in the background three pictures ago. It also has some symmetry and a piece of quartz. It seems to be following the horned creature.
If that is another "head" facing us, then this creature has quartz at its belly area rather than its neck. Here is the detail:
There were certainly plenty of other piles here also worth studying more than I did. Here a scene looking west:
I have to run. This ends the marathon site reporting - I am caught up.

A site along a brook and wetland near Parker Village - Westford, MA

Up in the Carlisle/Westford area there is a nice little crossroads with open farms and open fields with horses and nicely maintained stone walls. It is a pretty spot. For several years I have been wanting to get into the woods behind those stone wall and I was prepared to sneak in but was stumped: where to hide my car? Finally I figured out a nearby legitimate parking area, parked there and did get into the woods. I followed the edge of a field, but in the woods, and a waterway started to develop parallel to the field's edge and almost immediately there was an oval rock pile, medium sized, down next to the developing brook (the water is to the left in the picture):A few paces further along and the wet had developed into standing water with another pile and a stone wall crossing the water (the pile is left of center next to the water).I crossed the water, stepping on stones of this wall, and continued on the far side where there was one more pile. Here are a couple of views:
In the first view the water is to the right and the pile seems vaguely trapezoidal with the longest side to the right.

All of these piles are built on the ground, well covered with forest duff, and medium sized. I noticed perhaps one more.I am walking north following a bit of a wetland which opened up as I proceeded. There were a few more inconspicuous things as I followed the edge, and then one more pile that seemed of the same basic dimensions as the ones above, perhaps a bit smaller. This is facing north into the swamp:Later I went back to where I had crossed the water and followed the swamp edge around the other direction. There was only one more possible pile, a bit different there, facing a bit more westward:All of these piles are no more than twenty feet or so from open water. The water was not flowing actively.

Stone wall "look"

On the topic Tim just mentioned, does this have the Indian "look"?

The "Indian Look"

Eric Sloane once wrote something to the effect that what people call "stone walls" are more properly called "stone fences." Walls are the things between the ceiling and the floor, while fences are the things that contain livestock or mark boundaries, as in property lines and agricultural fields etc.

(What about retaining walls, Eric? And what about that song that says, "One man's ceiling is another man's floor?")

I look at certain stone "walls" or "fences," and when they have the "Indian Look," think of them as possibly other things - like firebreaks around resource zones or ceremonial or (especially) Sacred Ground - like areas such as Burial Grounds or Tobacco Stones or the Mound Swamp I've written about.
Really I should say, "It's one kind of Indian Look. The type of stone, the individual or individuals building the individual row create other sorts of "Looks," also too."
So it's one of them, not the only one...
I can't help but notice the same "Look" to many of the stone rows I see near many Rock Pile pictures (like the previous post of Peter's, "Next to a swamp behind a school in Littleton, MA) and I always wonder if they surround the areas, thinking of that fire management scheme - small ground fires that kept the areas clear of brush, promoted the growth of certain plants, prevented the growth of others, that wouldn't spread out of control to other areas, burned over on a different schedule.

The Sacred and Cultural Landscape, the Garden created by a Native American Civilization that Turtle Island was before the epidemics and invasion of that "Virgin Wilderness" that "pagan savages" roamed about in...


(Take a listen to this, a link from the Algonquian Confederacy of the Quinnipiac Tribal Council (ACQTC) website if you haven't already: Download Part 2 — Dr. Jack Dempsey (35 minutes, 35 seconds) - there's alot about stones - and the trading routes from Wisconsin to New England.)
So these are a few photos of that "Indian Look" that I took yesterday, by a roadside in Torrington CT near an old mill site...

Arctic China State Forest, NY

by theseventhgeneration
This is a nice site I found above 1900 feet, on the Northeast side of a mountain in Arctic China State Forest, NY. The creek branch near this site flows down into the West Branch Delaware River.

Standing at something like the corner of the site, this is looking to the left:

Then to the right:

In the background of the first picture is this pile. It reminds me of some of the photos I've seen of piles from the PA area - a bit thinner than most of the piles in this area:

A few more piles on the hill:

Some are stones on boulders. Near the bottom of the site, by a trail, this photo shows two 'stones on boulders' giving a sense of pile-gap-pile.

I like this site because of the randomness of the piles. I've been finding a lot of 'piles in rows' lately and I've heard the argument that piles in rows are colonial fences. There is another site about a quarter of a mile to the east of this site, that is near an old foundation and is a 'piles in rows' site.

I also like this site because some piles have very nice stacking, while others are large, round and not stacked. Others were on boulders. The entire site seems to connect something I've seen somewhere else in a way that I can identify with.