Thursday, June 14, 2012

Stuart Pond - Sterling, MA

Let me call your attention to the smaller blue outline on the northwest side of the pond. This is a small early Wachusett Tradition stone mound site and, as far as "science" goes, its presence tells us no more than that this culture was here in Sterling, a bit further south than usual. So it is one small data point. But it was fun locating the site. I have found very few sites since the Upton tragedy and was soothed in a personal way.

I have come to hate logging and the way it is practiced in New England. In my opinion, logging is the most destructive force in the MA woods and once those slobs have hacked into a woodland you can neither walk there comfortably nor expect to find anything intact of a historical nature. I dare say it is not fit for beast either, providing no safe walking for anything bigger than a turkey. Logging here, west of Stuart Pond, made the going very difficult. I was planning on looking at the side of the pond and then heading west and uphill but, instead, ended up skirting the swamps because they were the least logged, and got down in the little valley over there. I ended up not covering much territory. At first I parked and headed in at a "Wachusett Greenways" Trail head. The going was too tough and I ended up walking south on the west side of the pond, following a skidder path. Soon the lake came into view through the trees to my left.
I am seeing this lovely little knoll looking out over the water to the southeast:And I think: this would be a perfect spot for a burial mound (low down with a view over water). Maybe I should take a closer look. So I take a couple steps off the skidder path, look around and, see this to the left:
A "hah!" was forced out of me. So pleasant to see a rock pile where it should be. Not exactly expected and very satisfying. I drove across country to get to pretty much this exact spot.

Let me explain that rectangular mounds with hollows, which I consider to be decrepit burials, come in roughly two styles. One style is built higher on the hillsides and the mounds are five to 10 feet tall. Another style is built next to the water and the mounds are never more than a few inches tall. This has always suggested to me that the water-side versions are older. The design of a mound "with a tail" is more typically present with the water-side version. So since those seem older than the hillside ones I have been calling water-side mounds "early Wachusett Tradition" calling the hillside ones "late Wachusett Tradition". But I have not shown you any mounds with hollows yet so we'll take a look in a moment. Another characteristic of both early and later mound sites is that the large mound or mounds are routinely surrounded by small satellite rock piles. I don't know - I figure they are part of the "machine" for getting the soul up into the heavens.

The site layout was something like this:
So, I stepped off the path, glanced around and spotted a pile down in a dip. Looking around more carefully I could make out a larger pile with some uneven outline but covered with debris. As I poked around there were several smaller piles in the bushes. So not a great site example but fitting the rough description of an early Wachusett site. Let's take a closer look. Notice the rectangular structure of this first pile. Notice the way the individual rocks are lined up following one of the sides of the rectangle.Also notice the way this little flat pile is at the bottom of what looks like an artificially dug hole or pit. It looks a bit as though someone borrowed soil here. But for what? The adjacent road? Or maybe the knoll is itself artificial. An earthen mound?

Here is a view back towards the knoll with the pond to the left:Underneath the fern, behind it to the right, and also a bit to its left, there is rock pile. A bit closer and you can see the individual rocks:Back on the knoll looking at a broader view, where you can see satellites in the background:
Some of the satellites:Quoting Robert Frost, this "gave my heart a change of mood and saved some part of a day I had rued."

Poetry aside, notice that this is a southeastern facing site. One of the things I have noticed about these "Wachusett Tradition" sites is that they violate pan-Indian concepts of ceremonialism. The rectangular mounds violate the "no corners allowed" concept. And the site outlook direction violates the "always face the southwest" concept. Or I could just be wrong that these are burial sites. I have that bias. But if correct, this indicates these sites were built before pan-Indian concepts. To put it more baldly: pan-Indian concepts will not help understand these sites.

CLARIFICATION: There are many ideas that are tribe specific but, in modern times, I believe there is something called the "Pan Indian Movement" (see here) which refers to Native American concepts (and activism) that are shared across tribes. Concepts like: calling it a "powwow"; use of flute; avoiding "corners"; and (as far as I can tell) certain aspects of spirituality.


pwax said...

I would hope to get a discussion started about the applicability of pan-Indian thinking.

Tim MacSweeney said...

Well, I was going to ask you, what are "pan-Indian concepts of ceremonialism?"