Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Last finds in July

Indian artifacts can be found in many contexts. On rare occasions I have found isolated stone tools in places that appear to be otherwise void of any other artifact of any type. I imagine that these might possibly be objects lost during a hunt, though that is only speculation. Far more often, arrowheads and other tools are found at sites where Indians actually lived, right where their dwellings were erected at one time. In these places they cooked and ate and slept, they worked and played games, raised their children, and they also made and maintained stone tools. This created a lot of debitage in the form of chips and flakes of toolmaking stone. Today, these chips and flakes are, in most places, the most obvious signs of prehistoric occupation. When I am in a new spot I look not for tools but for these broken flakes. When I find chips and flakes, I know there are likely to be tools there as well, and that is when I start looking most thoroughly and carefully.

To identify debitage it is helpful to know how stones are broken by nature and how that is different from rocks broken by a person. I am going to make some general comments, please note that there are exceptions to every rule and different settings and circumstances can produce different results. I am not a geologist and base this on my study of archaeological site reports and also my experience looking at thousands of rocks in places where I find artifacts and also in places where I don't find anything. Some types of rock are soft and frangible and these could perhaps be broken by frost or other natural processes but the types of stone used by Indians for tools were generally hard and not likely to be easily broken. Quartz is a type of stone that is very hard and was generally widely used by prehistoric people in what is now Massachusetts. In some places it was used more than in others, and some cultures had a strong preference for other materials, but quartz tools are found at nearly all sites in southern New England where Indian artifacts have been recovered, and some archaeological reports go as far as calling quartz debitage "ubiquitous" at these sites. Quartz breaks unpredictably and I believe that attempting to make quartz tools produces a lot of debitage for every finished point so there is a lot of it around. In dirt and gravel, and in and around waterways, quartz is usually found in the form of round pebbles and cobbles. These pebbles can be broken by glacial action and sometimes by moving around in water. When this happens, usually the pebble is broken, it tumbles around and the broken piece becomes more or less worn, and then it is broken again, and so on, producing a rock with breaks showing varying degrees of wear. If you find quartz pieces on the ground that have multiple broken faces all of which show no appreciable wear, especially when no part of the original smooth outer surface of the pebble remains, you are probably looking at something broken by a person. Quartz often does not break conchoidally and it generally does not show flaking so looking for a bulb of percussion or concave flaking is not really helpful when evaluating broken pieces of this material. In my experience if you find an area with multiple small broken quartz pieces that include flat sharp flakes and jagged broken chunks, and you can rule out crushed stone/gravel laid down in recent times and rocks broken by vehicles, you have found a prehistoric site.

When I find a site I will pick up the debitage and take it home. I do this to keep the entire artifact assemblage intact for possible future archaeologists who may want to study these sites. I also like to study the flaking and materials. Sometimes I go through my piles of debitage sorted by site and I find broken tools I did not recognize at first. Also, I don't want other arrowhead hunters to come by and see this stuff and find my spots. Last night I spent a little while in a sandy place, here are the flakes I brought home.
In the top row there is an argillite flake and two gray rhyolite or felsite flakes. The one in the middle shows a few clear flaking scars on the side visible in the photo, the other side is smooth. It is a percussion flake resulting from thinning a form during tool manufacture. The quartz pieces in the bottom two rows are typical flakes and pieces, some are thin, others more chunky. Some archaeologists speculate that stone flakes were the most common everyday tools used for some tasks in some cultures. If you want to find arrowheads you need to start by finding stuff like this.

Last week on Wednesday I searched a spot where I have had some luck this summer. I found a lot of chips and flakes before I ever found a tool in this place. I was pleased to spot this sticking out of the dirt:
I expected this to be a rougly equilateral triangle and hoped the tip would not be broken. I was surprised when I picked it up to find it to be longer than average, and fairly narrow. The tip is perfect, very sharp. I am very happy with this find. Sorry for the poor photo.
Here it is with some other tools and tool fragments I have found lately in two different places. In the top row are three pieces from last night: the corner of a quartz triangle, a rhyolite stem or base fragment, and a badly broken quartz base fragment. In the bottom row are a quartz stemmed point missing the tip, the nice point from the photos above, a mystery tool, and the base of a triangular point. The mystery tool is thick and is like a knife but it has really really heavy wear all along the curved bottom edge. It is almost polished, smooth. In my opinion it is not like basal grinding but more like heavy use wear. I wonder if this was a woodworking tool, maybe a chisel or adze bit, with the point originally being set into a wood handle? I don't have anything else just like this.

Small Stone Wall and Numerous Cairns - Moosup CT

From reader Steve:
Pics 013-015 are of the first cairn that looked like a work of art. Pics 020-024 are of another cairn very close by that also seemed deliberately made for a reason. On pic 027, you can see 3 cairns forming a triangle and in pics 026 and 028, you can see the other 2 cairns that make up this triangle with the cairns shown in pics 020-024.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Medicine Wheel - seen on Netflix

Seemed to be in use, not just a set:Show seems to be filmed in Alberta CA.

Pandorus Sphinxmoth - the grape hawkmoth

Oh my god!Seen in Falmouth, MA. About 2 inches long. Never saw one before. What a thrill.
In motion:

Rock pile site clearing continues in Acton

From Linda McElroy [referring to Nashoba Brook Conservation Land, in Acton MA - yellow trail]:

The date for this workday has been set for August 18 from 10:00 AM to 2 PM, or whenever we finish. (Shouldn't be more than 4 hours.) And we will take time out for lunch. (I am thinking picnic at the site around 12:30.) If the weather is non-cooperating, we will try again on Sunday.
Objectives are to finish clearing out brush, cut a few more saplings, undertake more detailed cleaning of duff around individual piles, and possibly cut a short trail that has been approved and flagged to the enigmatic foundation on the slight rise above the site. (Boy Scouts may do or have done.)

Sunset Cairn Photo

 from a blog http://alifemoreawesome.blogspot.com/
There's more cairns in there, some modern, some perhaps older, perhaps added to...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rhode Island Footprints

Reader Jeff R. writes:
Jeff from Rhode Island here, I just wanted to alert you and your readership at RockPiles about an incredible blog called rifootprints relating to prehistoric and colonial indian history and culture in Rhode Island , nearby CT and MA. A treasure trove, I would say.....

[PWAX: adding a permanent link to the right]

Inscribed pebble and possible birdstone from CT

Reader Mellisa H. writes:
I live in Connecticut and just recently, while hiking with my children along the rivers, have been finding some interesting rocks. One of these rocks I am almost certain, is a bird stone. I am sending you two pictures, one of the six inch bird stone, and another of a three inch rock with markings. ... I was hoping for your opinion as to whether or not my artifacts may be of native American origin.[PWAX: I am especially impressed with the inscribed pebble. Those are pretty rare in New England. Maybe a dozen exist? Not sure about the bird stone - other photos will be posted later...Here they are.]

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Canada's Stonehenge

From dc:
Fascinating story on "Canada's Stonehenge" here, and the video is especially good. dc

Friday, July 27, 2012

Are there rock piles with hollows on Cape Cod?

The composition of sites is different down here in Falmouth, MA. Certainly there is nothing like the large rectangular "Wachusett Tradition" mounds but I speculate that a small rectangular pile with a hollow was an early form of the tradition. This is as close as I get to seeing something like that on Cape Cod (this is BB woods):There is a slight rectangular form and a sense of a denser concentration of component rocks to one side.

Voluntown CT Perched Boulders

From reader Steve:
These 2 large perched stones were just 100 feet from one another on this ridge line and when lined up were in a N/S True alignment.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Seen in Beebe Woods

Typical of what you see in these woods, near Upland Rd. Also disheveled rock piles and faint hints of alignments.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Spot in Catskill NY

Read Matt B writes:
I put up some pictures and thoughts about some stone work around my place in Catskill NY.

[Permanent link added to the right]

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Building a Mile High Cairn


 "As I understand it, one of the elements for locating a rock cairn site is being on a prominent rise with a broad viewshed...

 This was the initial feature observed at FS 1, a rock cairn (which is essentially an intentional rock stack). These kinds of features may have cultural significance to the native tribes, and finding these types of features and sites is the goal of this stage of the survey.
I don't know what significance these features have," writes texasrobo at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/texasrobo/5019387300/in/photostream/


Rock Formation at Mikiami Falls (Manitoba) - Ian Davidson-Hunt photo

http://www.whitefeatherforest.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/land-use-strategy.pdf - page 26
- that looks identical to another image captioned:
Rock of cultural significance near Mikiaimi Falls [Photo Credit: A. Chapeskie]
http://ontarioparks.com/english/planning_pdf/white/background_info.pdf page 26


From Norman Muller [not rock pile related]
Last year I visited Hovenweep National Monument along the Utah-Colorado border and took photos of the remarkable Anasazi architecture found there. The two photos attached are of the Holly House Unit, one of the most visually impressive archaeological sites I’ve ever seen.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Upton Chamber becomes official

"Mysterious cave now part of new Upton Heritage Park" from Boston.com

Libby Hill - Gray, ME (part 2)

Continuing Rob S's account from here.
So last winter while exploring Libby Hill I expanded my exploration to around May’s Meadow, a beaver bog that’s about a half a mile away. I followed a deer trail down past some cliffs and saw a rock perched on a boulder in such a way that looked as if placed there rather than natural. It looked to be a marker. I searched the area for anything I could find, but nothing came up. I decided to try again when the snow was gone.
In May I relocated the stone; it looked as if it were made to fit the boulder. If it were a trail marker, then it did stand at a place where it was easy to get down through a small ravine. One would hardly need a marker for that though. I went down into the ravine and didn’t need to go far when I saw the small stone circle. It’s about five or six feet wide and is nestled amongst some boulders at the base of a rocky ledge. It’s not truly a circle; it’s backed by two large rocks that form something of a niche. The back end of this niche is blocked by a couple of stones. The top of the niche remains open. Nearby is a boulder that is raised off the ground about a foot or better. On a ledge above the stone circle is a place that has a crescent shape collection of stones. I don’t know if it’s part of the site or not.
One thing I can add about this site; It sits at a cross road where animals can move through the ravine. It would be a good spot for a hunter to sit and watch.

Libby Hill - Gray, ME

Reader Rob S. writes:
I don’t remember who I told about Libby Hill last winter. I suspected that there’d be something along the way from Little Sebago to the Royal River. This was the most likely rout from the Sebago Lake Region to the coast. The top of the hill once had a farm that belonged to the family that gave the hill its name. Beyond the old farmstead’s walls and cellar holes just west of the hill’s summit is a boulder with an odd peak that caught my eye. Next to it is a stone wall that I believe to be part of the old farm, but I’m noting it none the less. Further down the hillside from these were what looked to be boulders with rock piles on them and cairns; it was hard to say with the snow covering them.
I went back in May to find out that they were indeed cairns and rock covered boulders and not too far from those were areas with many rock piles. In the same area is a wall of sorts that looks more like an elongated rock dump. Further tromping on the hill led to the discovery of more rock piles and what may be a cairn or perhaps a short segment of stone wall that was started and abandoned. I wish I could tell you one hundred percent that this was not any part of any past farming activity, but the farmstead wasn’t more than a shout away from most of these sites. There is one small site that I’ll post later that I doubt was made by White farmers.
This entire site is owned by the town of Gray which maintains trails throughout. The town in order to gain revenue has had this land logged over many times. Both the trail building and logging has taken its toll on some of the piles. With this in mind I also remind you that this was farmland as well. The Libby family also operated some small granite quarries on this hill. At the risk or sounding like a broken record – the farm was abandoned around the time of the Civil War and had returned to being woodland by the 1890’s.
[Rob continues] As I said, I had visited this site many times to get better photos. Each time I searched new areas. On the Lynx Trail I came across some small piles which scattered into the woods. I’m sure I hadn’t seen them all; most were easily hidden by the ferns and bushes. Further along the trail is a structure which I can’t decide if it’s a cairn or a short wall that was started but soon discontinued. I submit it for your speculation.[...to be continued]

July finds

     Looking for arrowheads in the heat of the summer is tough. Sweat stings my eyes, the hot sun beats down on me in the shadeless places I search. Horse-flies inflict painful bites. Summer thunderstorms can include periods of very heavy rain that cause erosion and can expose artifacts, but there have been very few of those so far this summer, in the places I have been searching. After days (or weeks) without rain, the sun bakes the earth into a uniform-looking crust, dust covers all and it is very, very hard to find anything at all.
     Despite this, I have been getting out and looking. I have found artifacts at three different sites so far this month. The first two are favorite places that I visit again and again. They were inhabited by different cultures, the artifact assemblages are different. Here is a broken Stark point in situ at the most productive of the sites, I was lucky to go there after it had rained and find some things just waiting to be picked up.
     Not far away I spotted a fragment of another tool, perhaps a knife or scraper, made of the same gray rhyolite material.
     Here these are together with other artifacts I found in multiple visits to this place, this month. The fruits of many hours of searching. Frustratingly, all are broken, some are just fragments.

     The materials include quartz, argillite, and felsite. A couple of these things are really big, there is a pink felsite piece I initially thought was a preform but careful examination reveals small flaking scars on the edges where they were retouched using pressure flaking, so it must have been a tool. The giant stemmed base would have been a monster of a point.
     The break on this interesting stemmed point appears to be very fresh. The other piece is probably somewhere nearby but it is tiny and I will almost certainly never find it.
     Here are my finds from two trips to another site where I find a lot of quartz triangles. I think this place might have been a fishing camp, I speculate that the triangular points in this place may have been made for spearing fish.
     The quartz points are easy to spot even when conditions are dry. But it took a lot of time sweating out in the sun to come up with these three broken and damaged pieces.
     The highlight of the month so far has been my first finds in a new place. This is a place that I have been trying to get in to for 3 years, it is close to another area where I have found quartz tools. It is immediately adjacent to some houses, the people in those homes will call the police if they see anybody on the property. The land itself is owned by someone else who lives elsewhere, it is leased by yet another person. Getting permission to get in there took a lot of time and patience, I had to earn trust and be introduced to people and get written permission and now I finally can get in there and spend some time. I first visited this place in the wintertime and found flakes and chips but no tools. I returned on this past Sunday afternoon, hoping something new might have popped up. But after weeks of dry weather, the conditions were deplorable. Only small areas were searchable. Despite this I did find some things. I found a badly broken quartz fragment that is part of a projectile point, then a triangle made from an interesting material but sadly missing all three corners. Looking further, I found the banged-up base of a neat petagonal point made out of an exotic non-local stone I am not familiar with, and finally the lower part of what once was a very nice and finely made quartz stemmed point. I know that there will be more to find there after a good rain storm that might wash off the rocks and open up some new spots. The artifacts here are different from the ones I have found just a short distance away, I would love to find a whole example of the pentagonal type, I think it is called Jacks Reef Petagonal.
     Monday night it rained a short time. I hoped this rain might have created some improvement in the new place so I went there last night after work. I don't think a drop of rain fell there, the conditions seemed to have gotten even worse. Sand was blowing around in the breeze, the ground (in those places where the ground was visible) was covered with crusty dirt clods covered with dust. Very, very few rocks were visible. I occupied myself with picking up broken pieces of crockery I could see here and there, I decided to keep the pieces that have decoration on them. Perhaps there was a home here at one time. I know there are flakes and chips there but I only saw very, very few. Walking along the edge of a sandy spot, I spotted a familiar shape lying among the clods and dust.
     If this had not been right on top of the ground and fully exposed like this I probably would not have noticed it. From a distance it looked like just another clump of dirt. This is a really cool tool, very big, and thick. It is sturdy and does not seem aerodynamic, I think this is a Stark knife, perhaps a spear point. It is banged up, the tip is worn, a chunk is missing from the stem. But it is mostly intact, as close as I have come to a whole arrowhead in a while.
     I am really thrilled with this one. I'm not sure what the material is. It was the only thing I found last night. If we can get some good rain I am sure I can find more in that place but I probably won't find anything better than this. Here it is cleaned up, also a photo of it along with my finds from the same area on Sunday.