Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bear's Den in New Salem, MA - from a NEARA member

[Used with permission from the NEARA yahoo group] Kevin writes:
Has anyone else been to the Trustees of the Reservation site named Bear's Den in New Salem? I noticed several things when hiking there last weekend. There is a waterfall and pool below it in a somewhat steep ravine.Looking out over the waterfall is a constructed platform with two small retaining walls made with very angular stone (Very different than the mill foundation in the vicinity which has typical rectangular block construction). Additionally the cliff face west of the waterfall has two or three narrow excavations in it about as wide as a person. It looks like possibly a quartz vein that was dug out and I could actually climb nearly ten feet back into the excavated vein. What makes this site even more interesting is that about a half mile to mile to the southeast is several cairn sites located along Route 202 west of the Quabbin [see here - Ed.]. Then about a half mile upstream to the west is a chamber ( I believe it was visited during the Northampton, Ma conference). Would love to hear of anyone else's thoughts on this, especially if they have visited the site.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Standing Stones - early historic reference

Norman Muller sends:

Reading the endnotes to Giovanna Neudorfer's Vermont Stone Chambers, I came across a reference to standing stones in Samuel Farmer Jarvis's A discourse on the religion of the Indian tribes of North America (New York Historical Society, 1820). I believe this is note 16 in Neudorfer's book, but the date she gives for it is incorrect; she says 1920, but it is 1820.
On page 106, Jarvis has the following quote from Captain John Smith's book General Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Iles, with the names of the adventurers, planters, and governors, from their first beginning anno 1584 to this point 1625, London 1625 (Jarvis mentions that the quote comes from volume 4, chapter 3 of Smith's book; I'll have to check this):
"They have certaine altar stones, they call Pawcorances, but these stand from their temples, some by their houses, others in the woods and wildernesses, where they have had any extraordinary accident or encounter. As you travel by theam they will tell you the cause of their erection, wherein they instruct their children; so that they are in stead of records and memorialls of their antiquities. Upon this they offer Bloud, Dear Suet, and Tobacco. There they doe when they returne from warres, from hunting, and upon many other occasions."

Fernbank Journal - an active archeology blog

Archeology blogs that are about new finds and which are updated regularly are rare. Here is one.

Cape Cod Times Interview

I get interviewed here (at the end of the article) with only a couple of errors in transcription.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A gully on the north side of Nobscott Hill - Sudbury, MA

The videos I posted recently talk about my surprise and pleasure at finding myself in a rock pile site on the northwest part of Nobscott Hill, although the piles were badly smeared and nearly disappeared. The second video showed a large pile which is at the top of the gully at the lower right of the larger blue outline in the map fragment above. This larger pile was plunked down right about at the top of the gully, giving a clear impression that it was deliberately placed at the top of the water. And yet, like other piles along the lower edge of the orchard there, the pile included enough loose rubble to suggest it was just the result of dumping rocks pulled out of the agricultural area uphill.Note the rocks off to the left in the photo. But also you can see there is some decent construction present and that the rocks are sorted to about the same basic size.The same sort of confounding of the badly damaged ceremonial versus overly structured agricultural was true for most of what I saw here on Nobscott Hill. This hill has been crawled over repeatedly by all sorts of people - it is a major hill in conservation land right here in the busy suburbs. Anyway here are a couple more views of this large pile:
What struck me, in particular, about this pile was its placement at the head of a gully. Below it, perhaps 25 feet down the gully was this small circular structure:
Here it is in relation to the larger pile:Is this a fireplace? It looks like a little prayer seat, placed directly in the gully to derive the maximum benefit from the location.

We know from the history of Sudbury that Nobscott Hill was the residence of one of the local powwows/sachems named Tantamous (see quick summary here). I read that the word "Nobscott" is related to "place of falling rocks" - which may be a reference to "Tipping Rock", a perched erratic boulder on an more eastern summit of the hill. But the presence of Indians over here on the northern and northwestern side of the hill is evident. There were several clusters of rock piles. Including some further down this same gully, and some roughly where the smaller blue outline is on the map fragment above. Certainly a pleasant walk. I have been trying to find rock piles on Nobscott Hill over several years. Here they are.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Nipsachuck Update

A reader writes:

"The National Park Service has announced the award of $37,320 from the American Battlefield Protection Program to RIHPHC for a research and planning study of the Nipsachuck battlefields in the towns of North Smithfield and Smithfield. This project is an important initiative in the understanding and preservation of Rhode Island's 17th century past"

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Venus?

Nobscott Hill - Sudbury, MA: Rock Pile Videos

Burial Sniffing Dogs

We have seen this before, but here is a video, that may be new. From the footage it is pretty clear the dogs had no interest in the rock piles. I am in a whiney sort of mood. Does anyone else find the music to be a bit "cute"?

"Hopkinton Springs" - A Neara Field Trip to a Mavor & Dix site

In the chapter of Manitou by Mavor and Dix where they discuss the Upton chamber, they also discuss the vicinity of the chamber and some of the features found around the Whitehall Reservoir in Hopkinton, MA. In particular they talk about a place with mineral springs, used during the 19th century, and an adjacent site of earthworks and stone mounds (what I call rock piles). Here is the map they draw in the book on p.43:
So we went there last weekend on the NEARA field trip, and more than 1/2 the site is now gone to development. The earthworks, shown in the picture as a pentagon in one place and an upside down "T" in another - did not look very compelling when seen on the ground. The rock piles, were as decrepit and invisible as they get: smeared, low to the ground, hidden in a new grove of pine saplings:In retrospect, we could not have gotten to the sort of place shown as a cluster of rock piles on the upper right of the Manitou map. Either that has now been destroyed or we never actually found the location. Instead we saw was a minor rock pile site.

At the top of the slope with the cluster of piles was a solitary boulder with unusual geology and possible human manipulation - creating some curved marks on the boulder. Maybe it was where you sit in order to see the rock piles which would all have been visible from that point - spread out to the sides and below on the slope. They looked like marker piles but there are other possibilities. Hard to tell when you cannot see anything for the trees. - a bit of a disappointment. As I drove home I passed many places I know. We saw several fragments of chambers during the day, but I passed a more interesting one on the the way home, at a place we drove past to get to the mineral springs.

Riffing a bit more on this topic I want to offer a criticism of Manitou. We all know what a wonderful book it is, seminal in every way; but I think they made a few mistakes. First of all, they give a false sense that sites are rare. In fact, sites are all over the place - everywhere you look where they have not been destroyed. Secondly, the focus in Mavor and Dix is on astronomy. It is hard to doubt that what they call the "Earth, Sea, and Sky" were perceived by the Indians as interconnected, but I do doubt that the sky was as uniquely important as the authors make out in Manitou. For my money, water was more important.

Perhaps because they portrayed rock pile sites as rare, the sites they describe have a certain glamour. But sometimes, at least with the example above, when you see one of their sites on the ground it is less compelling than you would imagine from their description. For example, the mineral springs seem to consist of water coming out of the same glacial till ridge in three different places:
I think the water would be what you get by filtering through sand and gravel - and no sense that one spring was "sulfur" and the next "magnesium" and "iron". Maybe that was 19th century marketing hype. I am not sure what to make of the earthworks.

In spite of my bitching, I hope NEARA readers will forgive me. It was nice to be out with other folk.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Hopkinton Beehive - Neara Fieldtrip to Hopkinton, MA

Standing around before leaving:

This was somewhere near Whitehall Reservoir. Here we are shown a copy of a page from the book "The Ruins of Great Ireland in New England" by William B. Goodwin.Apparently this was a corbelled structure built against a boulder. All that remains today:From the side:Here is the photo Malcolm Pierson took before the book was written: Standing around at the "chamber":
Also in the neighborhood was what we were told was another stone chamber that had been reconstructed according to the owner's knowledge/belief of the structure that had been there before it had been damaged. But maybe the owner actually got the idea from Malcolm Pierson's photo? These are all historic structures (I mean they have all been written about). See Flavin's Corner on "Dolmen Doldrums".

Friday, June 19, 2009

Hopkinton Field Trips with Bruce McAleer (2) - gaps, gateways, and more gaps

Another site Bruce took me to is at the edge of a vast rock pile area in Hopkinton/Holliston. At first glance this was your typical southern New England site, with rock piles like little dumplings, evenly spaced over a flat area:
Here is a closer look and some of them:These are just great. There are not too many sites like this north of the Mass Pike but compare to the Acton Grid or the Stow Grid. But aside from these piles, I started noticing pile-gap-pile structures, and there were lots of them. Some with larger gaps:Some with smaller gaps:
This one is more like a funnel:
There were also some lovely individual piles. This one looked symmetric to either side of a little beakey head:
(Don't even say it Tim! There is no carapace.)

A lovely place, with lovely dappled sunlight and shade:If we had gone further we would have just seen more rock piles. This was a few hundred yards south of College Rock.

Commenting about pile-gap-pile structures: this is the third site I know with a predominance of these structures. They also occur one or two at a time in other places. The other sites with many such structures are in Westford and in Bolton - widely scattered across the countryside. Although I do not like to argue against the "field clearing" hypothesis for rock piles - (because it only keeps that absurd idea alive), still one of the strongest arguments against it is the appearance of deliberate identifiable structures like pile-gap-piles across the landscape in widely different places. That implies a common culture was producing these structures and since there are no such cultrual concepts from Europe, it must be some other culture that was all across our landscape. It must be that Indians made these - by a process of elimination. Somebody had to do it and it sure wasn't Europeans.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hopkinton Field Trips with Bruce McAleer

Bruce took me to a couple of sites last weekend. Here is the first one, a slope along the eastern shore of Whitehall Reservoir in Hopkinton. Bruce tells the story: he was canoeing with his wife on the lake and, caught by rain, they came to shore here. Bruce saw some nice quartz outcrops and thought: "there must be some rock piles around here" and started looking around. The site is on a slope facing westward over the water. At the top is an outcrop: Where Bruce is standing there was some quartz that looked like it had been manipulated:And there was a bit of wall starting at the outcrop and going off downhill (left in the picture above) towards the water. Look at the little bit of connecting wall near Bruce's feet - a compulsive joining together of parts of the outcrop:And here is a view of the slope:There are about five rock piles in this picture, low to the ground, and some of them having bits of quartz. This sometimes suggests burials but I was not confident of that at this site. For one thing, many of the piles were up on support boulders. Another common type of pile, that I started to notice here, was piles with a large rock at one end. Maybe these are headstones? Another:And one more:I show these because it only dawned on me belatedly that this was a repeated pattern at this site. So I want to give enough examples that you get the idea. To me, the most interesting feature of the site was another stone wall, also coming up from the water up towards the outcrop, but to the side. This wall curved towards the outcrop and stopped thirty yards or so from the outcrop. At first we were over by the wall looking at some rock piles near it:But then I noticed a curious bulge coming out from the wall, you can see it to the right side of this picture: Here is a closeup: You can see this was a structure. There were some large flat plates of rock in the tumble and it really looked like a collapsed chamber. Definitely worth looking at some more. Then, downhill closer to the lake, the wall went around a corner. See the nice quartz at the middle of the corner?I should also mention some piles built up with vertical sides - suggesting not graves but "marker" (i.e. calendrical) piles. I should also mention that there was another wall at the lower end of the site. Across this wall, on the lake side, were two fairly large piles made with large rocks.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A rare quartz wedged rock

This is the first example I have seen of quartz used as a wedge in a split rock. So this is pretty rare. Given that split rocks are suspected to represent doorways to the underworld, I always thought the absence of such quartz as a wedge was because you would not be leaving this kind of amplifier/ transmitter at an entrance. But, right or wrong, here is an example from east of Whitehall Reservoir.This leaves my theory scrambling for excuses to the effect that this must have been a particularly friendly spirit.