Monday, May 04, 2009

Three Unusual Walls - from Norman Muller

While the majority of stone fences in the Northeast are constructed with larger stones on the bottom and smaller ones on top, there are some examples that break the mold. Larry Harrop in Rhode Island has recorded some that are quite unusual looking. One example, in Canonchet, a small town in the southwest corner of the state near the Connecticut border, consists of huge boulders supported by smaller stones underneath (Fig. 1),
not unlike the propped or pedestaled boulders we often find in the glaciated woods of New England. From a simple, practical standpoint, this type of construction doesn’t make sense. Why place a huge boulder on smaller stones when building a wall, when the opposite would require much less work? And as we know, colonial farmers were a practical lot.

A month ago, I saw and photographed an unusual stone wall in northwest Georgia that was integrated with an outcrop that looked like stone fins. I was with a small group of rock art enthusiasts, and among our group was Jack Steinbring, an international rock art expert from Wisconsin, who had no problem accepting that the wall was aboriginal. One piece of evidence in favor of the wall being Indian was that near the end of the wall was at least one Indian burial, if not three. The most prominent consisted of an exposed stone cist that had once been covered with small boulders. According to our guide, Tommy Hudson, the burial had been rifled through, and some diagnostic artifacts had been taken from it. But what I found fascinating about the wall, apart from the way it was built into the outcrop, were areas where some large boulders were supported by smaller stones (Fig. 2).
Here, apparently, was an Indian wall, and for some reason large boulders had been lifted up and placed on smaller stones.

Just the other day I received photographs of a wall in Pomfret, Vermont, a small town in the middle of the state (Fig. 3).
Again, in a low resolution image we find the same kind of construction that has been found in Rhode Island and Georgia. These three walls, similarly constructed and hundreds of miles apart, appear to represent a common idea among the builders: that for some reason it was important to show large boulders supported by much smaller ones. For what reason, I have no idea.

Could there be another explanation?


pwax said...

There are nice examples of large boulders on top of smaller rocks along the trail leading in from the north to the "Beaver Meadow" conservation land in Boxborough, MA. That is a conservation land full of interesting things.

Tim MacSweeney said...

Actually I can point out a retaining wall from 1850 that used to be the central chimney of the house I live in that was built just as it was taken apart, the uppermost part of the chimney and the smallest stones on tthe bottom, the largest stones on the top. Call it practicallity - you are moving the stones once - tho I think it's because the the owners of my house at the time were notorious cheapskates pinching pennies.
But I think the Indian Stone Rows focused on shapes of the stones, the smaller stones positioning the larger, sometimes perhaps suggesting feet of the various animals (or animal spirits) that they are meant to represent.