Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"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.

1 comment :

Norman said...

Hopkinton was one of the first sites I visited after purchasing my copy of Manitou, and I was disappointed by all the McMansions in the area and the fact that the map did not seem to reflect what I found on the ground.

As I've seen more sites, I have become more critical of the book. I really don't buy Mavor and Dix's idea that the Upton Chamber was used for astronomical sightings, and I really have serious doubts that on a dark night the stone mounds on Pratt Hill were visible from inside the chamber, as M&D claim. Why in fact build such a massive chamber just to sight a celestial object over the mounds? It makes little sense.

Nevertheless, Manitou is an important book, as it shifted attention away from Fell, and that was a good move.