Thursday, June 30, 2011

Is it a bird?

This same curious shape keeps coming up. Here it is in northern Fitchburg:
We also saw these in Dunstable here (2nd, 3rd, and 4th pics after "Please look at the Shape"). I think this ties the two places together.

"Traces In the Woods"

A new blog on stones in the woods. [Click here].
Link added to the right.

Archaeological assessment of the stone mound/wall phenomenon in West Virginia

James Gage writes:

The West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office (WVSHPO) newsletter for March 2011, states the WVSHPO plans on overseeing an “archaeological assessment of the stone mound/wall phenomenon in West Virginia.” (Page 12) The project is subject to available funding. The idea that a state SHPO is willing to officially sanction such an investigation is a major step forward. The article can be read online at

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A mound hunting experiment

The hypothesis is that there was a mound building culture in northern Middlesex County MA, in towns along the NH border. This culture built its mounds:
  • In high valleys
  • Overlooking nearby water
  • Near a road, or old road
These conditions seemed to be ideally met over east of Rindge Rd in northernmost Fitchburg. I went through a 1/4 mile or so of heavy bushes, got onto the old road there (just below the word "CORPORATE" on the map fragment), and stepped off to get into the area outlined in pencil. I found mounds immediately. The blue outline shows where I stepped into the mound site. And that is all I explored. Anyone want to come along next weekend to visit the rest of the pencil outline?

In any case, doesn't that mean the hypothesis is confirmed? Not because of this alone but because of this and the other times (see earlier articles on Groton, Dunstable, Ashby, and Pelham NH).

New large mounds with hollows - northern Fitchburg

I am pretty psyched about these new mounds from northern Fitchburg.
Here is another, with enough hint of a corner to suggest it was rectangular or had some kind of structure.

Flowering Mountain Laurel

My old friend, across from Ashby West and Fallulah Brook in northernmost Fitchburg:
I set off through it.

Stumbling onto more mounds

This gives a glimpse of the moment:

Giants on the Landscape

The Sleeping Giant
A mural by Stanley Murphy shows the giant Moshup catching a whale.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Quartz projectile points - southeastern MA

Chris Pittman writes:
I did get out a couple of times over the weekend to search a few fields. I had more luck than usual and ended up with five points, all broken or damaged but there is a large quartz stemmed point that I am very happy with, this is a new shape for me and I think it might be a Bare Island. The small crude quartz stemmed point is also something different for me. The bugs were really nasty out there and I got very dirty but it was worth it.

Shaman Whalers of Ancient Kodiak Island

Not rock pile related but an interesting and weird story, from the Anchorage Daily News [click here]

Monday, June 27, 2011

Demonstrating Design - old stone tool exercise

I am going to try demonstrating that some old rocks are actually deliberately manufactured stone tools - badly weathered but still identifiable.

First, consider the percussive flake - a concave facet, created by force focused along the edge of a rock. When a rock is struck with force, a cone of energy propagates through the rock and can break off a piece, as a flake. You can wonder how nature might produce these (when rocks fall off a cliff, or are thrown to land by a big wave) but for the most part these can only be created by man. If you have been seeing them your whole life it is because you have been seeing stone tools - they are very common. In some places, for example in the desert, it can be hard to find any rock that has not been percussively flaked sometime in the past.

With nice glassy volcanic materials, percussive flakes usually come along with concoidal fracture, and there are other significant details. But on coarse grained materials the flakes do not look so good. Here are some flakes in a pretty good material:
Note the straight lines where the flake ends early along the central ridge. These are called "hinge" flakes - places where the natural grain of the rock frustrates the conic section and a kind of step is produced.

Here are flakes made in slate, which has natural cleavage planes:Here are flakes in quartz, which are entirely based on cleavage planes, all hinge all the time:Generally, if a percussive flake is present, the stone was worked. More specifically, when a sequence of similar size flakes occur - especially when they alternate in directive (front/back/front/etc) then this is strong evidence it was not just broken but broken in order to produce an edge.

Flakes are harder to recognize but are no less unique, when the rock has been severely weathered. The edges of the flake get rounded and, with enough wear, the flake becomes a dimple on the rocks surface. At that point it is only the sequence of flakes (now dimples) that can attest to the object having been made deliberately.

Here are three stones I want to compare:(from the other side:)
From left to right, these are slate from Shirley, basalt from Wilmington parking lot gravel, quartz from the Nevada desert. Based on flaking alone, the slate and quartz are obviously worked. You must put your faith in dimples to believe the middle item was deliberate - it has been through a glacier and had lots of iron deposited on its surface.

But based on a higher order concept of design comparison, there is less doubt these three objects represent the same kind of tool. Following the principles discussed here we must define the design and then discuss how these objects fit that design. We build upon the flake "design concept", assume it needs no further demonstration, and apply the principle that complex designs are demonstrated if they are composed in the same way from the same simpler design elements.

So, here is the proposed design:This is a pretty faithful description of the shape you see three times in the above photos. Also, following the principle that common design features have common function, it is fair to say this tool type included: some kind of neck for hafting and some kind of sharpened edge and tip. One can add that the hafting was asymmetric.

The slate example is the best preserved and examining the "tip" and sharpened edge, one sees the flakes are relatively fresh on one side of the long-axis midline, and are worn down on the other side of the midline. In other words, the lower right hand side of the above design was the functional edge. This gives us a final guess as to the nature of these objects. Something shaped a bit like this:I suppose this is close to nonsense. But I believe this shape actually represents a very persistent design that was present throughout the US, somewhere back around or before the last glacier.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A recently damaged rock pile

by theseventhgeneration
I'm not sure what the culprit was trying to create with the wood and plastic, but my guess is, it's a hunter's seat.Note the lack of lichen on the rocks in this picture.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Flatrock Hill, Dunstable MA - a hill too far

Looking for more mounds with hollows, I went to the next further north hill in Dunstable. It is called Flatrock Hill and is within a mile or so of the southern edge of Nashua NH. Maybe I did not see any because I still, reflexively, head up the hills rather than down into the flats. I thought the valley between Blanchard Hill and Flatrock Hill might be interesting and there was a standing stone with gunsight there:The name "Flatrock" suggests either a single notable flat rock or else a geology of flat rocks. It turned out to be the latter and the hill was all chopped up with quarries. I climbed thinking there might be something made from quarry debris at the top. Just a little: But there was nothing notable for a while. Later, having made the circuit of the other hills, I stepped across the wetland between two of the smaller hills and into a very green place, full of rock piles in different stages of disrepair.A pretty place, a field gone back to woods: I'll show you some of the pictures but the main point I wanted to make about this site was that it seems clear there are piles of different ages. Some older:Some newer:Otherwise... Please look at the Symmetry:(another view:) and here: Please look at the Shape: I did not find the Wachusett Tradition but I'll remember the green. The map:

Dunbarton NH Site

Chris Pittman writes:

...uploaded some pictures from the little site I found in Dunbarton earlier this month, here is the link:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Quartz on Rock

This was a piece of quartz on an separated bit of bedrock, below and visible from a bald spot of solid bedrock. It would have been visible looking outward from the bald spot. Two other times I saw a single rock on support rock made from quartz this way were in Harvard MA, where it was at the edge of a drop-off, and near Putney VT, just below a little lookout place and in line with a wall pointing to the horizon. So quartz in a rock-on-rock does occur but, maybe, for use at the beginning of a line of sight.

One thing leads to another

Taking Alleve D with ephedrine, I didn't get a wink of sleep last night. So rather than daytime dreaming, let me tell a couple of stories about rock pile sites from last weekend.

Saturday I went down to Upton State Forest and wanted to explore the southernmost area but thought the only way to get there was via a road that enters the Forest about 2 miles to the north. It turned out the road was not open for traffic, so I tried to make the most out of being stuck at the north end. Walking south, I turned west and south onto a "blue" trail and soon came to a wall junction with a hint of rock pile, then a couple of smeared piles on either side of the trail. Looking around from there I could see an outcrop and when I went to look at it, saw a rock-on-rock. So I kept going and found another rock-on-rock and thought: "all right, I'll accept the invitation" and continued along that contour of land. A few feet later, there were 5 rock piles in a little group - sort of triangular piles [like at Punkatasset, etc] .
My personal experience with single rock on support rock is that sometimes they are like trail markers and sometimes like boundary markers. Here, they seemed to lead to the small group of piles but it is probably wrong to give too much credence to this sense of invitation. More likely they were visible from the outcrop, as were all the other piles.

Some other highlights: That first pile above includes a piece of quartz:Reminds me these piles at Patch Hill in Boxborough. Also, walking around a bit I saw several other piles, and a nice split-wedged rock:[It looks like a turtle but most split-wedged rocks don't.]

Sunday, I went back to Dunstable hoping to see more Wachusett Tradition piles but it was "A Hill Too Far". I found a site a bit like the one above from Upton. We'll take a look.