Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rock Site Attributes - comparison between Georgia and New England with a focus on the Housatonic/Pootatuck River System

Tim MacSweeney adds comments about Georgia/New England Comparison:

Proximity to Petroglyphs:
I have only seen photographs of petroglyphs in what is now called New England. I was given a photograph taken along a stream in Oxford CT of face-like petroglyphs just above the above the water level of the unidentified water feature. They were reminiscent of those at Bellows Falls VT. I do not have a report of nearby rock piles at this site.

Located on Ridges: An exception to the rule in the area I am most familiar with is a large boulder with stones piled on one side of it, at what is called Beacon Gap, near the summit of a hill top that overlooks the Naugatuck River, a tributary of the Housatonic River. I have not personally visited this spot, but aerial images suggest more piles may exist. Photos of large boulders on hilltops are often accompanied by stories of these boulders (a single rock “rock pile?”) being destroyed or rolled from their original resting site. This particularly true of “rocking boulders” being moved or destroyed for “safety reasons.”

Most of the many stone mounds I know of are on hillsides.

Amphitheater or Bowl Shaped Sites: Quite close to my home in Woodbury CT, there is a place that meets this description in a smaller scale. Serpentine, linear and zigzag stone rows are associated with (connected to) this feature; the contour of the upper ridge of the bedrock is enhanced with stacked cobbles. That contour is connected to a zigzag stone row. The large ampitheater/bowl face of the outcrop is bisected by a linear stone row that to my eye contains testudinate or turtle shaped compositions in the stacked stones. Nearby, a serpentine row of stones once bounded the head and both sides of a spring and the small stream that was recently destroyed by the CT Department of Transportation. There are several stone mounds between the former spring and the top of the outcrop. The deceased former owner of the property had collected an incredible amount of projectile points from below the outcrop. He related to me that years ago someone offered to take and appraise the collection, but never returned with the “arrowheads.”

In Plymouth CT, I have only once visited a larger ampitheater-like site, with a spring issuing from the outcrop and with some connecting stone rows and a few nearby stone mounds. Many segments of stone rows still exist on the lower slopes of “Mount Toby” or “Mountobe,” as the area is known.

Serpentine Walls with Incorporated Boulders or Bedrock: There is an incredible amount of this kind of stone work, some of it better described as zigzag stone rows, in the floodplain valley where I live. Much of it is carefully constructed and atypical of the “tossed stones from field clearing along a wooden snake rail fence that has long ago rotted away.” Many “points” of the zigzag rows are boulders. Many linear stone rows (often connected to zigzag rows) end near water features, a large boulder at the terminous. In several places the boulders resemble a triangular snake head, although some are rectangular ( & ). I know of one stone row that is close to one hundred feet long which begins as two forks of zigzag stone rows which becomes a linear stone row that ends in a possibly “worked” boulder that appears to be a snake’s head. A gap leads to a linear stone row containing a small mortar like cobble on a carefully stacked circular segment of stone row as well as composite testudinate forms along its length. The row ends in a large rectangular boulder with a stone suggestive of a turtles carapace resting on it. Photos of this can be seen at:
The row could be said to point toward the site of a Burial Grounds (bounded by a serpentine stone row) that will be included in the Ethnography Section. Many water features are bounded by zigzag stone rows throughout the region still called by its Native American Place name, Nonnewaug or “the fresh water fishing place.” A diagonal row of boulders in the river of the same name is quite possibly a fishweir that is slowly being washed away by river action. On the hill above the Burial Grounds, along a stream bounded by zigzag rows, is a place where petroform Bear and Deer heads rest on large boulders, probable tobacco sacrifice stones. The Bear’s Head will rock when pushed and a nearby stone bears pit marks probably made by a drill-type fire starter.

I have seen many segments of this zigzag (and other) stone work carelessly destroyed as well as altered by rebuilding. I believe it to be remnants of Native American Cultural Landscapes. Aerial photography from 1934, available on-line from the CT State Library, shows many more segments of it existed at that time (

Ethnography: The most striking similarity when it comes to rock pile – stone mounds, stone heaps- is the donation pile stories. The statement found in Excavating and Dating a Stone Pile in Georgia ( ) that “every Indian traveler as he passes that way throws a stone on the place” is identical to many enthnographic observations of New England stone piles. Here in Woodbury the same is said of Pomperaug’s grave, and the man known as Sachem Nonnewaug’s grave, as well as a Sachem known as Mauquash in nearby present day Southbury. Woodcut illustrations in William Cothren’s History of Ancient Woodbury ( ) were the impetus for me to look more closely at what I’d always assumed to be “just dumped piles of rocks.”

“Pomperaug on his death-bed, for some cause, chose to be buried by a small rock near the carriagehouse of Hon. N. B. Smith. There was another village of the tribe in Nonnewaug, and a trail led from that village to Pootatuck village, by this grave, nearly on the line of the present street, as has been before stated. This trail had existed some twenty-five years before the settlement of Woodbury. In accordance with an Indian custom, each member of the tribe, as he passed that way, dropped a small stone upon the grave, in token of his respect for the fame of the departed. At the first settlement of the town, a large heap of stones had accumulated in this way, and a large quantity remain to this day…Mauquash was the last sachem, and died about 1758. He was buried under an apple-tree in the "old chimney lot," so called, now belonging to Amos Mitchell, a short distance east of the old "Eleazer Mitchell house." There was still quite a mound remaining over him a few years since. Nearly or quite all these had been sagamores, and several others held this station who did not arrive at the supreme dignity. Some of them became so attached to the villages they governed while sagamores, that they gave orders to be buried there. Such was the case with Nonnewaug, who was buried under an apple-tree near Nonnewaug Falls. A large hillock or mound was raised over him, and remained, distinguishing his by its size from the other graves around him, till within two or three years, when the present owner of the field committed the sacrilege of plowing it down, much to the regret of every antiquarian (Cothren, pages 88-89).”

Tim MacSweeney /

No comments :