Thursday, August 14, 2008

Webster Woods - Woods Hole, MA

Down in Woods Hole MA for summer vacation, there were still two pieces of woods I had not explored - both had rock pile sites and there was a certain amount of similarity between the two sites. But the more I explore, the clearer it becomes that sites are essentially everywhere. That is not the picture you get from reading Mavor and Dix ("Manitou") and I feel there is still a residual if not dominant belief that sites are exceptional, unusual, etc. Like a newspaper article reporting someone finding an arrowhead. It would come as no surprise for an arrowhead hunter, knowing arrowheads are pretty common everywhere. So also with rock pile sites but it is always nice to find sites nearby just as it is always nice to find an arrowhead.

Of the two new sites I saw this summer, the first was a small site on the WHOI Quissett Campus, with piles in lines in a rather steep gully. I figured it for a "marker pile" site and, on re-visiting, confirmed that it was a somewhat unique location because the sides of the gully were so steep there but, perhaps more importantly, flat or even slightly concave - so the layout of piles was such that all were visible from one place. For example, from a large boulder at the top of the site. Here I try to give some sense of it, although I cannot make out exactly where most of the piles were, they are roughly in the layout I sketched on the photo, from across the valley:

Now the second site was more special to me because it is so close to home that I can get there on foot without a car. Also this woods contains a much larger complex of features, some of which I have seen before, stretching from Quissett Ave to the Woods Hole Rd behind the fire station. Because it is adjacent to the golf course this used to be called the "Caddy Camp Woods" but now, as it belonged to the Webster family (the "rose garden house") it is called the "Webster Woods". Apparently this woods now belongs to the town of Falmouth and, discussing it with friends who read the Falmouth "Enterprise", it was slated for affordable housing development. The latest on that is that the developer ran out of money and lost his option and made a deal with the town to develop a different property (the Nautilus Hotel and Dome restaurant), so perhaps these woods are safe for now. But I wanted to include all these details so that Internet searchers will be more likely to read this and learn that those Webster Woods contain perhaps the most extended and significant Native American ceremonial landscape I have seen on Cape Cod. In addition to that, there are vernal pools, unusual species (I saw a flowering Rattlesnake Orchid),
and such nice Beech trees, with minimal undergrowth, that walking around in there is pleasant even if you see nothing more than the ground and the trees. Mavor wrote about a little "dolmen" in one part of this woods and about the short stretches if stone wall leading down into the major kettle hole back in there (I cannot locate the reference). I thought I should go explore that woods more carefully. I have been there before, seen Mavor's dolmen, seen a rock pile or two, visited with FFC who noticed some open rectangle outlines made from cobbles placed on the ground. But I knew I had not explored it recently or carefully, so I went in there to look around. In one place I wanted to go down into the kettle hole but was following along a ridge and figuring I should just finish the job and keep going up to the head of a little valley before giving in to the downward pull of the kettle hole. And just as I was about to turn back I saw a rock pile. "Oh gee! at least one rock pile".
And looking around I saw a couple more at the head of this little valley.
And then looking around more I saw perhaps ten piles, most of them so deeply buried in leaves and dirt that only a faint bump was visible - and only if you were looking hard. I cleaned a few piles off
and tried to evaluate the type of site. These were not burial piles according to my theory (no water visible, no white rocks included) but what were they? So decrepit as to have almost no shape, still some of them seemed to have one vertical side - so there there is a reasonable chance these are "marker piles" like in the WHOI woods. That means the speculation is that they have an astronomical function. But these piles were not all visible from a single place - so if they are marker piles, they represent lines of sight from multiple locations: an ovelaying of different functional clusters. In the end I think there are maybe thirty piles in there in four or five clusters. The upper valley is to the right in this picture:Mostly in the first little valley, they are also clustered in the other little hollows and on the slopes leading down to the major kettle hole. Is this all there was or did this site extend from Quisset harbor all the way across to Vineyard sound? ( See the map above.)

The WHOI Quissett Campus is just across the Woods Hole Rd from this other woods. Meanwhile there are also rock piles on the west side of Quissett Ave, so this an extensive collection of related sites.
Here is the most beautiful little scene, a rock pile beneath a Beech tree:
closest:Note the structure of this pile and the prominence of the outer ring of rocks. This pile is pretty typical. You see an area of cobbles about 4 feet across but if you look at it you can see the mounding of the pile extending perhaps 8 feet overall under the leaves and dirt.

From the first upper valley, I descended into a smaller kettle hole. I should mention a curiosity: this lesser kettle holes had a large 40 foot square hole dug into its bottom. Was it an old foundation? Was it a borrow pit for sand and gravel? I had a hard time coming up with a reasonable scenario for someone going off the road, past ridges and slopes with plenty of opportunity for collecting sand and gravel, and digging at the bottom of this hole. I think it is worth exploring or excavating. Someone might try a metal detector down in there. I am told these woods were never farmed. They were used for sheep pastures and wood lots.

Continuing on, I saw one u-shaped outline:
(This picture captures the Beech woods feel of the place.)

Then came to a shoulder looking northwest down a steep slope towards the major kettle hole. Here there were several lines of rocks ("stone rows") running downhill into the hole.
There were rock piles down at the bottom between lobes of the kettle hole,and a few larger ones that might have been platforms, also just above the steep slope down into the hole (this looks vandalized to me):Exploring those upper valleys, one had a single rock pile:
Another had a open rectangle outline and a rock pile nearby:I cleaned off this last pile and noticed the structure: a curve of cobbles opening one way, containing another curved group of cobbles facing the other way - not exactly a campfire circle. This is a very similar shape to at least two other piles I saw in there, for example the one under the Beech tree shown above. Here is another outline or some such structured grouping of cobbles on the ground:
From there I went over to look at the "dolmen" and then out. I'll put those pictures in a separate post.

I showed this site to some friends and they showed it to their families. I tried to show it to another friend but we played phone tag instead. I hope I can show it to enough people that a general awareness of this place is born - so people will be more aware of what is at stake if the town decides to resume development plans for the area. There are plenty of boring flat woods off on the northeast side of this area that would be fine for a housing development, so maybe there is enough woods for everyone.

As for ceremonial structures, there is quite a lot of variety around this deep kettle hole.

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