Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Early Wachusett Tradition in Southern NH

I have been using the phrase "Wachusett Tradition" for sites with large rectangular stone mounds having one or more collapsed inner chambers (or "hollows"). These mounds range in size from 10 to 20 feet on a side. As far as I can tell there are two slightly different manifestations: In one case the piles are found down near water and tend toward double chambers and the appearance of piles with a hollow and a tail. In the second case the piles are found on prominences with a good view and tend towards the single chamber, appearing as a simple rectangle with a hollow in the middle. The way I see it, the important difference in these manifestations is not in the number and placement of the hollows so much as whether the mounds are down near the water or up high with a good view. Having had a chance to look at numerous examples, I want to point out that:
  • The mounds found near water are, on average, more damaged than the ones found high up
  • The mounds found near water are distributed slightly differently, being more prevalent in northern Middlesex County - along tributaries of the Nashua River. By contrast the "high up" mounds occur from Leominster southeast to Upton and Hopkinton and along tributaries of other river systems.
  • The "high up" mounds frequently occur with outlying wedge-shaped or "ski-jump" shaped marker piles. These are not found near the water.
[Update: That last is not correct. They are found near water. ]

Because of the first point above, it is tempting to call the mounds near water early- and the ones that occur on prominences as late-Wachusett Traditions.

With due respect to the fact that I cannot date these rock piles and can only observe their construction, site layout, and site distribution, I nonetheless think it is plausible that these mounds with hollows represent variations from a single culture. I associate it to Mount Wachusett since the largest and best preserved of these sites are found in an around that mountain. But not all views face the mountain and, as I am saying, not all the sites have views.

Having exhausted all the obvious places to look within 30 miles west and south of here, I started looking north, across the border into New Hampsire to see if there were any nice tracts of conservation land up there. I spotted a place that seemed promising in Pelham NH called "Spaulding Hill" (and later learned much of the area is within the "Gumpas Pond" conservation land).Walking in from the south I came to a pond and, sort of, thought there was something rock pile like out on a peninsula in the water. But I could see stone walls and other reasons to ignore it. I decided it would be worth exploring downhill, west of the road, along the flatter lowlands. Glimpsing a shadow on a rock I could not believe I was coming up to rock piles but then I did. I found an entire collection of nice early Wachusett Tradition mounds in the valley, along a collection of linked beaver ponds. In this picture, I added the beaver pond water and approximate placement of each mound.
We'll look at some photos in a second but when I got home I was particularly wondering: why mounds in this one little valley? I assume some village near this valley. But why this valley and not some other valley? It is time to add one other impression about early Wachusett Tradition sites:
  • Early Wachusett Tradition sites tend to occur at higher elevations.
Observe that this is a fertile valley:So I want to make up a narrative to go with these observations.

The early "Wachusett Tradition" is an inland culture of Native Americans in the Woodland period. They grew crops in fertile upland valleys and buried their dead in chambered rectangular mounds along the water, not too far from the village.

That is my attempt to put context around what I am observing. On a personal level, I had some free time and drove up to NH to see if there were mounds with hollows or anything else familiar up in that direction. I found a peaceful and beautiful site in a valley with a brook and a series of beaver ponds.

At first, walking down to the water, I was not sure these were rock piles:
Then I got a look at a big one that left me without doubt:I was quite taken with this pile. Some other pictures of it:
Its outline, from above was something like this:

Turning back, here is a view of one of those first two mounds, from the downhill side:
After this, I walked downstream. There was a pile at the water's edge with the beaver lodge on it. I already showed this but here is another view. The "hollow" in this case was a hole in the middle of the pile that went several feet deep into the pile, down a least to the level of the water table. Continuing, there were some admirable examples of beaver engineering, and then another mound, that seemed to have been stripped of smaller rocks:
Another view, shows the substantial "hollow":These mounds, match the blue square indicators on the second map fragment: along the east side of the beaver brook at the northern pond. At this point in my walk, I reversed direction and went back to the upper pond east of Spaulding Hill Rd.. Earlier I had dismissed the water-side rock piles up there but now I figure they had more credibility and were more worth examining. Bottom line: yes I think there is another mound up at the higher pond.
It almost makes up the entire peninsula. Certainly a badly beaten down ruin.

After that I went home. But a couple of days later, drawn back to the place, I came in from the west at the entrance to the Gumpas Pond conservation land and walked east down to the edge of the beaver pond from that directions. I also did a bit of an exploration over further east and, finding nothing, was overcome with common sense and decided to go back to explore downstream further along the beaver brook. A good strategy.

First I came to smaller pile I missed the first day then, continuing downstream, some smaller 'ceremonies' in the brook:Note the interesting rock:These piles are of a different sort than the larger mounds. I want to say they are much more recent - at least much less damaged.

Then I got to a still lower beaver pond and there were more mounds along the water's edge - west of the water this time. Here are some views of the first one I saw.
Note the beaver engineering in the background. Same pile, from below:[Comment that this is such a pretty little snapshot of a New England "back of the fields" scene.]
From the side, looking south:And another, a few yards down the side of the pond:And one more, looking back to the east:Here is what the beavers do:And here is a last look at this part of the valley:
A classic site, a peaceful spot, a place worth visiting if you are in that part of New Hampshire. Go in at the Gumpas Pond Conservation Entrance to the west. Go down the water and check out the mounds.

1 comment :

pwax said...

The narrative implies that, among other things, portrayals of Native Americans of that period in New England should include stone mound burials.

In other words, they need to fix the dioramas.