Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Wachusett Tradition

I have given it some thought and have looked at quite a large number of rock pile sites and it has crystallized into an idea that one kind of rock pile site is related specifically to Mount Wachusett. Several years ago I heard Curtis Hoffman say something like that all ceremonialism in eastern Massachusetts was directed towards that mountain. At the time this seemed an oversimplification and, now, I think it only covers a part of the variety of rock pile phenomena.

But I saw a site last weekend that really exemplified one common combination of things:
  • a view of Mt Wachusett
  • a rectangular pile 10-20 feet long by more than 8 feet wide
  • built up, occasionally more than four feet high
  • singly or doubly chambered (with a hollow)
  • mostly in westernmost suburbs of Boston
I'll show pictures in a moment.

But seeing these features together, as I say, crystallized the idea that this combination represents a particular ceremony or ceremonies from a particular culture which I want to call the Wachusett Tradition. I don't know what ceremony but it looks like burial. I don't know what culture but sense that these piles are pre-colonial. I see them in Berlin, I see them in Framingham, in Harvard, and as far east as Lincoln. I see them mostly in the western suburbs.

But I have to fudge with the ideas. For example, the pile in Lincoln [first pile here] is low, and has no view of anything; it is simply a pile that fits the physical description. Or the piles in Berlin [here] have a good view and fit the physical description but the view does not actually face Wachusett. Or the piles in Harvard [here] with a view not towards Wachusett and oval rather than rectangular. So let me take the site from last weekend as the classic example, this is on Apron Hill in Boylston MA, on conservation land. I approached the site along a nice looking stone wall:Approaching from the south, I stayed to the left following the wall as I got near the hilltop, wanting to see if there were any large piles with a view towards Wachusett. Here is a first glimpse. There is a large stone mound right of center and something smaller to the left over by the wall: Here is a closeup of the pile:It is rectangular but has a small pile appended to it.

Here is a closeup of what I am calling a hollow in the pile [with suburbia's intrepid encroachment in the background.]
Here is the Wachusett view, masked by trees, but you can make it out:And here is a smaller pile over closer to the wall, sized a bit like the appendage to the first pile.
Another view:
And here is the view back towards the first pile.Further back, in the direction away from Wachusett there was at least one more squarish pile, pretty damaged and unclear under the snow.

I was thinking about exactly this kind of site when I went looking at Apron Hill. Those small hills in northern Boylston looked perfect for viewing the mountain, so I was hoping to find more of the big piles I seem to keep coming across this winter. I was getting close to the idea a few weeks ago when I wrote about Rock Piles at Overlooks [here].

Having finally noticed these identifiable features of a particular kind of rock pile site, having made this identification as something somehow related to Wachusett, the question becomes whether any particular new or old site should be considered as part of this "Wachusett Tradition" or not. So for example, the site in Holliston on Miller Hill [here] might be part of the same tradition or not. I think those big sites in Leominster [eg here] are probably part of this tradition, or at least include this; and the same goes for those sites in Westminster around Muddy Pond [here]. So this is a unifying idea that I believe relates to one culture. It is far enough west of Boston that it seems to be "Central Massachusetts" the ancestral home of the Nipmuck.


Anonymous said...

these 'appendages' adjacent to the larger pile make the pile LOOK like Watchusetts. Now I'm thinking that all these piles that look similar to your fist one posted here,definetely have some type of connection. I know a lot of piles i see that have this feature.

pwax said...

Please send some photos! I want to see what you are talking about and also, add to my current list of locations - I am hoping to create a distribution map [hmm..I forgot I was going to add this to the article.]

pwax said...

Well, the distribution map is not all that revealing... the sites are too far apart and the "western" presence is not clear. Boston, lying to the east, kind of spoils discussion about what might have existed in that direction.

Anonymous said...

I do see/find that style, but mostly i see that 'appendage' in your and other blogs through the years. I cannot put my finger on a pile to take a picture of now, but when I see one I will now know it represents the mountain, I will photo it for you and label it a mini Wachusetts.

pwax said...

I do not think it represent the mountain. It is style often associated to the mountain.