Monday, November 19, 2012

Showing a student around Cawassock Woods

There is lots of stuff at Cowassock Woods and adjacent Wildcat Hill in Ashland, so I thought it would be a good place to walk around and talk to a student from Bridgewater State doing his senior thesis on rock pile site characteristics and their distributions. 
Walked around for more than an hour and managed to miss the bulk of the sites on the hill. Did see this one nice collapsed structure built into the split of a large boulder. 

Did also see faint terracing around a large collapsed chambered mound 
(note: it and the previous mound in the split boulder both had big "hollows").

The conversation reminded me of some things I feel bad about. I was reminded of my relation to the community of people at large who are interested in Native American ceremonial structures. A community I am not all that close with. And I kept hearing ideas - bad ideas - I sent out into the ether myself 10 years ago. Or ideas from Mavor and Dix. A lot of it sounds wrong to me today. For example "standing stones". Are they really a separate category? Or, for example, is it good to automatically identify piles that have a single larger rock as "turtle piles"? Are the compass directions, as interpreted by today's Indians, as sacrosanct as we think? Are long range inter-site alignments real?
Years ago, when I had only seen a handful of sites, I was full of speculation. But later, after seeing hundreds of sites, many of those speculations seem silly. The whole process of speculating before observing looks worse today than it used to. And here was a student with theories who had never even seen a rock pile. 

This gets to the root of my discomfort about the community of speculators, at large. There is not enough observing going on and in the rush to get towns to accept that these sites are sacred Native American artifacts, we may accept non-science. Or is bad science OK if it protects rock piles? [Sorry to be so inarticulate.]


Norman said...

Peter, you're asking difficult, embarrassing questions. I, too, was enamoured with Mavor and Dix's Manitou at first, but wide experience has made me critical of some of their statements and observations. To me, observations are often too loosely applied, such as stone piles that resemble certain animals. And long distance alignments might have real significance if someone could prove that they really exist without using Google Earth, maps and compasses -- devices the Indians certainly didn't have.

Chris Pittman said...

I'm not sure how much can be learned from continued observation of rock pile sites. Archaeological investigations have yielded a fairly coherent understanding of the cultural sequence of indigenous occupation in New England. I don't think we can say with certainty which of these disparate cultures built these stone piles, just by looking at them. It is tempting to assume that at least some of the structures must have been built by Indians in historic times, but this may not in fact be the case. If the piles are older, this would help explain why ethnography has yielded only some clues but no greater, more conclusive understanding. I have to think that among the hundreds of extant sites there must be some that are well-stratified and where archaeological study could reveal the original ground surface on which the piles were built. Artifacts found on this surface or features such as hearths might allow the sites to be conclusively dated. Similarly, excavation of the piles themselves could presumably conclusively established if any were in fact used as graves or grave markers. It seems to me that the best way to advocate for the preservation of these sites is to call for professional archaeological study. If some of these stone rows and other structures are assocciated with Indian villages, there must be evidence of this in the ground. We can speculate endlessly but solid conclusions seem elusive at this point.

pwax said...

I think I agree completely about the value of ground penetrating "dirt" archeology - hopefully respectful and non-destructive. But I also hope you are wrong about "nothing more to be gained from further observation".
One the one hand, that is like: nothing more to be gained by further arrowhead collecting. On the other hand I still dream of getting clear on the correlations between site structure, topography, and region of the map (location).