Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Miller Hill - Holliston, MA (Preamble and Overview)

A couple of weeks ago I reported on a mega rock pile on a golf course in Holliston, which reminded me of something I read. James Gage pointed me to the article by James Mavor in the NEARA "Across Before Columbus?" entitled: Earth Stones and Sky: Universality and Continuity in American Cosmology. Re-reading, I found this reference to a nearby hilltop:

"...About a mile away there is a traprock quarry on a hilltop which fills with water in the spring. It overflows through a massive earthwork funnel to pour down the hillside and collect in a dammed up pond. It then seeps underground to emerge around the great mound on the golf course. All about the quarry there are stone platforms, mounds, and stone rows that seemed related to the quarry...." (from p64)

When I posted earlier, I commented that there were about 5 hilltops about a mile from this mega pile (the red dot on the map above shows the mega pile, the blue outline is a rock pile site). Then Bruce McAleer emailed me that I should consider Miller Hill (one of the 5) because he had seen rock piles up there. So I looked more carefully at the topo map. Mavor actually provides more than one clue and, significantly, implies that the mega pile and the quarry are in the same watershed. On the topo map you can see that three of the five nearby hilltops are actually separated from the golf course by a brook. So there were only two possibilities and Mill hill was the better of the two.

So, with Bruce's endorsement, I went to have a look last weekend. Not seeing much at first, I came across the quarry and then, poking around, came to a wonderful collection of large stone mounds, to either side of a very large platform mound which I showed yesterday (here) as an appetizer. But before finding the rock piles, I was starting to worry that Mavor was exaggerating. The whole area is massively damaged with earth moving and signs of more recent activity. I saw a number of piles of rock that seemed like discards rather than deliberate structure. Then later in the walk (after seeing the mounds) I found an old 'cellar hole' of a house foundation. In general, I saw every expected sign that this area was harshly, even industrially, used in an earlier time period. And yet, in the valley before seeing the mounds, I did see one obviously ceremonial rock pile right next to an old road, with lots of little rocks spilling off the sides of a boulder - what I think of as a donation pile.Later I found a second similar pile with small rocks spilling off the edge of a boulder. So I started thinking about this juxtaposition of recent harsh land use with a possible donation pile that maybe acknowledged something ceremonial in the vicinity. And I am trying to figure this out. Later after seeing the platform and nearby mounds, I was wondering why Mavor did not make more of a big deal about them and decided: maybe this ambiguity between the modern and the ancient put him off from a simple endorsement of the site.

Then, as I read a bit more in the Mavor article, I see that it was just this same topic that was puzzling him - at least with respect to the large pile at the golf course:

"...We came across some reasonable answers to the enigma posed by the mound rather quickly, to our surprise, that is, in a couple of years. We believe we now know how the mound was built, when it was built, and the names of some of the people involved. But most important of all, as it turned out, the investigation opened the door to 'invisible Indians', descendants of Native Americans, living among the general population, who prefer not to be recognized, but who carry on many of the old traditions...."

So being puzzled by this is natural. There are however, two things I want to postulate, that Mavor might have been more cautious about: first that large platform mound on Miller Hill looks old, and reminiscent of 'Mound Builder' structures. It is like mounds from the Oley Hills site (see here) and others with similar large well-surfaced mounds. Old, as I believe they are, these mounds on Miller Hill would have sat there throughout the time frame of the harsh land use of recent centuries. I would also postulate that the donation piles were in reference to the mounds. In other words - there were lots of people in and about there, and they have been and continue to be well aware of those mounds. They have always been regarded as ceremonial and worth revering. Another view of the platform:After this, I exchanged emails with Bruce, who pointed me to photos he had taken at Miller Hill. He found things I missed. Then re-reading the Mavor article, I noticed the phrase: "All about the quarry there are stone platforms, mounds, ..." and I start thinking I should have explored much more carefully around the quarry. In any case, it seems I missed quite a lot and that more exploration of the hill would be worthwhile. Of course there are still those other 5 summits nearby and it is easy to believe there is more material to be seen on those hilltops as well.

I'll post more details of the mounds later.


Unknown said...


Send me some topo thumbnails of the hills you want to visit because I've visited a few of the hilltops near the golf course and they were either developed with new houses or turned up nothing. I did expore around that rock quarry and found nothing. I don't know what other large mounds and platforms M&D were talking about but the only one I ever found was the one you also found.

Norman said...

This kind of reminds me of the odd line of large boulders that M&D found in Franklin, MA, that looks less and less like an ancient wall.

Then there is the Lochmere site in NH, that also appears in Manitou. Having visited the site and done considerable research on it, I am convinced that M&D never visited it, yet wrote about it in such a way that one is left with the impression that the structure still exists.

Erika Perone-Bailey said...

Is this the huge pile if rocks seen from the road ? I have often wondered about that...

Anonymous said...

If you go around the Beatrice Ln. way to get into these woods (behind the golf course) there are probably hundreds of "cairns" and other rock structures in this area- also behind "Chamberlain Pines" and "Outpost Farm", and going all the way over by the end of Ridge Rd. where I grew up. The cairns and other stone features are there, including a propped boulder, and I saw evidence of a Native quartz quarrying site (as is usually the case, the modern quarrying took place in areas Native people long knew about and used.)

The other side of the Golf Course on Prentice St. doesn't have much of anything, but there is a nice brook that runs through that area where one can sneak into the back of the apple orchard on Highland St.

-Matt Howes.