Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rock Site Attributes - comparison between Georgia and New England

Tommy Hudson, from Georgia, writes below with my comments inserted. Readers: please add comments on these topics if you like.

Proximity to Petroglyphs
In Georgia, petroglyphs and petroforms are obviously related. They are often within sight of each other. They may not have been made by the same group of Native Americans, but they may have been part of a similar belief system. The area may have been sacred for a long time, or contain relevant features such as springs.
[PWAX: we do not have many petroglyphs in New England, I maybe do not know what to look for but have never seen any in relation to rock piles]

Located on Ridges
Often, when looking at the best way to get to the top of a hill or mountain, the stone piles are located along, or crossing, that pathway. Rarely are they located at the very top of a hill or mountain. The approach to a summit appears to be the best choice for constructing the piles. All of the recorded serpentine walls in Georgia are located just below the summit. Any ideas
[PWAX: I don't know about mountains, my explorations include lowlands and hills. I agree that piles are not usually at the tops of hills except (for me) in Boxborough/Harvard]

Amphitheater or Bowl Shaped Sites
Several sites in Georgia are in bowl shaped depressions on the sides of mountains. The depressions are two to four acres in size and always contain springs. The bowl forms a "neck" at it's lower end and the springs come together to form a small stream that flows through the "neck." In ten of eleven instances these are the headwaters for major streams in the area. The stone piles are scattered across, and perpendicular to, the "neck" of the bowl. At several of these sites the stone piles are three to four feet in diameter with carefu formal stacked exteriors, and are infilled with smaller three to seven inch diameter stones. Only one of these sites has a stone wall and it is a loosely stacked serpentine wall approximately three hundred feet long with a large boulder "head" on the upper end.
[PWAX: someone who knows the "calendar" sites in VT should weigh in on this topic]

Serpentine Walls with Incorporated Boulders or Bedrock
As mentioned above, several of the serpentine walls in Georgia have boulders at one end. I believe that this indicates the head of a serpent. Boulders are also incorporated into the body of the wall, as if bedrock or larger boulders played a part in their meaning.
[PWAX: Yes I think this is fairly common up here as well]

Anthropomorphic Bird and moth/butterfly shaped mounds are found in Georgia.
Rock Eagle is the most well known bird shape, but there are three other mounds of his type that are lesser known. I have also found several stone piles that resemble the profile of a moth or butterfly with its wings folded. These are
always smaller than the much larger bird types.They are less than twenty feet long.
[PWAX: I have always been struck by how large is the Georgia "Rock Eagle". We may have large effigies but I never noticed that characteristic for a large rock pile. For me this would be a difference between Georgia and New England]

Landform Constrictions
I have several sites located at, or near, pinch points or nick points in the landscape. In addition to the constricted bowl shaped sites mentioned above, I have several sites located on streams with adjacent ridges that intersect the stream in such a way as to cause a constriction in the landscape. These stone pile sites also have nearby petroglyph sites and can be located on the streams both above and below the nick point.
[PWAX: Not sure, I can think of a couple of sites like this up here. Generally I have found so many sites, so many everywhere, that I have backed off from correlating site locations too closely with landscape features]

Serpentine Shaped Mountains
These are sites located just below the high point of a mountain, similar to the ridge sites mentioned above. These mountains, when viewed from a distance, have the profile of a serpent. If the high point of the mountain were viewed as the "head" of a serpent, then the "body" would be the remaining length of the mountain. These are mountain and ridge combinations that are a mile or more in length. These can also be checked on topographic maps. I have quite a few of these sites and I believe them to be an important feature.
[PWAX: I have not noticed this. But see my previous comment. For example Mount Wachusett presents, from the east, as the profile of a beaver but there are hundreds of sites where this view can be seen and just as many in the same area where the view cannot be seen]

Relevant information on much of the above, such as the importance of springs, serpentine walls, and anthropomorphic shapes, can be found in the writings of early pioneers, travelers, ethnographers, and Europeans who lived among the Indians. Over the years I have found that there is quite a bit of information out there on Native American belief systems. I have found that all across North America the beliefs are similar. I think the answers to what has been called "The Stone Pile Problem," can be found in the ethnography.
[PWAX: I do not. This is a discussion we have been having for a long time. I think ethnography has a few interesting things to say but many if not most of the details I am trying to understand are not discussed anywhere and, moreover, are details meaningful to Indians who were already long gone before the Europeans arrived or the historic Indians living here when the Europeans arrived. For example quartz, or manitou stones, or split wedged rocks, or single rocks on rocks, or rock pile arrays and grids. Even something as basic as water or the nature of the underworld seems poorly addressed by ethnography. A good example would be Mt Washington in New Hampshire. The Indians told the white men that they did not "dare go up there" when it is probable they simply did not want to reveal that much to the white guys and, at the same time, those very same Indians might have known little or nothing about what even earlier Indians did up there. Our ethnography about Indians and mountains is obviously wrong. So I consider ethnography generally to have limited value.]

I hope we can solve a little more of the mystery of the "Stone Pile Problem."
[PWAX: I do too. However I do not think of it as a single "problem". Stone Piles are extremely varied and, I think, represent contributions of many different cultures over the past -say- 800 years.]


theseventhgeneration said...

I know of one bowl site here in NY that fits the Amphitheater description. The only difference I can think of offhand is the smaller infill stones in the large stone piles (the NY piles seem to be made up entirely of large rocks). Also, stone walls are numerous at this site, one of which contains a serpent-like wall bulge. This spot is a headwater of the West Branch, Delaware River.

No petroglyphs in NY, either, but I have found effigy stones of various sizes. Often small effigy rocks are on boulders.

The Serpentine Shaped Mountains description reminds me of a north-south range here which extends south from the bowl site described above. I have found rock piles just below the highest points. One of the high points, I still have to check out. The whole area is about 2.5 miles long. From a topo map, it looks serpentine (as opposed to crescent, like a lot of ranges here), but I don't know about the profile, viewed from the ground.

Going back to the bowl, the highest point was a red shale outcrop that has been mined (recently) by the DEC. I was told (by an archaeologist) that this would have been significant. There were no rock piles that I knew of on the outcrop, as the outcrop itself was probably sacred.

They also allowed logging of the rock pile site, just below the outcrop and at the top of the bowl, within the past 10 years and at least one of the rock piles has been driven over by a piece of easy task because the rock pile is very large.

Norman said...

Regarding "Proximity to Petroglyphs," while petroglyphs exist throughout New England, I have not found any in close proximity to stone mounds or petroforms. The Indians did peck granite, but perhaps the hardness of the stone in this region of the country prevented them from recording more examples; or perhaps we are not looking closely enough.

Other than the five stone mounds near the summit of Glastenbury Mt. in Vermont, I cannot think of any defining ridges. There are, however, examples of walls on ridges, or tracing the edges of ledge outcrops.

I have no recollection of "Ampitheater or Bowl-Shaped Sites."

As for "Serpentine Walls with Incorporated Bowlders or Bedrock," there are many examples throughout New England and beyond. Larry Harrop has a beautiful video of one example in RI on his blog.

I am not familiar with effigy mounds in the New England region. We have square, rectangular and circular mounds, but I'd hardly call them effigies. But we do have petroforms in the shape of various creatures, such as turtles or snakes.

"Landform Constrictions"? I can't think of any examples.

"Serpentine-Shaped Mountains" Again, I haven't focused on the shape of mountains.

Ethnography: I tend to concur with Peter on this one. The ethnography of this area is pretty slim, considering that many of the tribes were decimated or had moved on by the time ethnography became a scientific discipline.

I've come to accept the fact that many of the manmade stone features we find in the New England landscape are probably thousands of years old, and represent the sum total of the various tribes that occupied the region. Some of these might be just hundreds of years old, but certain features, such as split-filled, propped or pedestaled boulders are ancient responses to the landscape. I'm thinking of the pedestaled boulder FORTY FEET DOWN in McDonald Lake in Ontario, whish has been estimated to be seven or eight thousand years old, constructed at a time when the water level was low enough for the boulder to be exposed.

Curt Hoffman said...

I suppose it is about time I joined this blog. For those of you who don't know me, I am currently researching Native American stone constructions throughout the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and Canada. I have consulted with at least some of you (Peter Waksman, Norman Muller) and perhaps with others whose handles I don't immediately recognize about this project. I have visited the NEARA archive and copied information from them. I have traveled to the state historic preservation offices and state archaeologists' offices in most of the states outside of New England and obtained information from them.

What I am attempting to do has two goals: first, to obtain enough information on these sites to discover consistent patterns and relationships between sites and environmental features - such as is discussed in this blog, but with GIS to back it up; second, to present such a compelling case for the existence and importance of these sites that the SHPOs will all agree that they are part of the historic landscape and will afford to them the same protections as are now available to buried prehistoric sites and historic standing structures.

In the course of my travels, I have found quite a lot of variability in attitudes of official archaeologists towards sites of this type. I would cite Rhode Island, Georgia, and South Carolina as examples of states where practicing archaeologists are actively to report these sites when they discover them in surveys. I believe that there is no need for me to cite examples of states where this is not the case, because you are all probably all to well aware of those.

I currently have over 2,900 sites in my database, for all of which I have records of geolocation (in UTM, NADB 27 - but I am easily able to convert from lat/long coordinates) and - in most cases - site contents. I am very interested in obtaining information on more sites if you are willing to share it. But I need to be able to locate the sites with some precision on a 1:25000 scale USGS topo map in order to pull up their environmental parameters.

For example, I found a map on this blog of petroglyphs and petriforms in Georgia. I already had most or all of the "petroforms" from the state offices, but as far as I can tell I didn't have many of the petroglyphs. Unfortunately, the map is at a scale where I cannot in many cases tell just where the site is located, and if it overlaps with a site I already have on record. So if the person who compiled that map can give me more precise information about what the numbers on the map stand for I would greatly appreciate it.

The conditions under which this information was obtained preclude my sharing precise geolocational data without specific permission to do so - that would also apply to any information you may choose to share with me. In most cases I will only share this information with the SHPOs and THPOs of the states in which the sites are located - though in at least one case I have agreed not to do even this.

Curt Hoffman said...

In my database, I have 6 sites in NY with petroglyphs: 3 mentioned by Ed Lenik in Picture Rocks in Jericho, Tuxedo, and the Bronx; 1 in Putnam Valley; 1 in Esopus; and 1 in Pound Ridge. There are also 2 pictograph sites in Amsterdam.

pwax said...

(Writing in 2017) I agree more with Tommy's correlation to landscape than I did when writing above comments. "Below the summit" is a good description for a number of places, and also the constriction of water.