Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Some comments on Harry Holstein's NEARA Journal article

The article is titled: COMPARISON OF STONE STRUCTURES AT WEST BOLTON, VERMONT WITH THOSE FOUND AT SITES IN THE SOUTHEAST - Preliminary Observations Based on an Initial Visit to West Bolton. It appears in the Summer 2012 issue of the NEARA Journal.

I was excited to read this article by Harry Holstein, a professor from Alabama who has done systematic studies of a several really interesting rock pile sites down south. Norman Muller introduced him to this blog and there have been several discussions about the southern sites (see here). So here are comments, pass them along if it makes sense:

1. The article includes several maps and created, for me, a strong impression of lots of short stretches of stone wall. Lots more than I see up here. To be sure, there are usually stone walls at rock pile sites. But I almost never see large numbers of short stretches. I can think of only 2 sites here that might fit the description. And nothing approaching the Alabama examples.

What about you guys?

I have not been to West Bolton, VT but the similarity with sites here in MA is not so clear. At least not in the dimension of multiple short stretches of stone wall. But I see pictures of Harry standing behind a rock pile with a hollow and a "tail" and that resonates very strongly. [It is a Lazy 9] This brings up the next comment:

2. It appears southern mounds are more circular than rectangular and are described as almost invariably having a doughnut hole (what I call a "hollow"). This fact is addressed by the article and the conclusion is that it is caused by vandalism. There are many reasons I have started seeing the "hole" as a key element of the pile structure. Here is one argument: Nobody dug a hole in the pile in the previous 2 pictures - low to the ground piles often have the hole. Another argument: it is the main visual similarity between southern and northern sites. Another argument: It is too systematic and symmetric. So rather than dismissing the "hole" as a byproduct of vandalism - let us embrace its meaning as collapsed inner chamber. After all, those piles might have been tombs.

3. The vertical sided piles in the southern sites are a lot like ours. I associate them with the periphery of a site with doughnuts. This is consistent with them having a function related to the doughnuts.

4. I was moved by the discussion of brooks and springs as entrances to the underworld. The possibility of needing a guide struck me as connected to split-wedged rocks that appear at a spring. The implication would be that the wedge is used to end the ceremony in the same way a rock (I think) was used to block a prayer seat after it is used.


Tim MacSweeney said...

I recently went looking for a short stretch of zigzag stone row that I remember as being inside the zigzag row bounded raparian zone of a stream and very close to the rocking bear head stone above the village site on the other side of the floodplain (that's a long sentence). I was looking for it because my friend Alyssa in Northern CA says she finds them there very often. I never found that short stretch that I intended to photograph; the old cart path was all brushed over, lots of those nasty invaisive roses - couldn't even locate the bear!

Tim MacSweeney said...

Oh yeah: the CA ethnogrophies document stone row building and repair by Native People:

Norman said...

I've been to a few sites in the South, but all in Georgia. The main one, at Track Rock Gap, consists of short segments of stone wall, all more or less following the contours of the terrain. An article by Jannie Loubser and Douglas Frink (with maps) on this site, is found online (Stratum Unlimited website). To my knowledge, there is nothing like this site in the Northeast.

Southern mounds are not as carefully constructed as the ones we find here in the Northeast, and they are usually round, low and spread out. Their cairns are often well made and of the barrel-shape variety.

Harry didn't visit what I remember as the most spectacular part of the West Bolton site, or at least his photos don't convey this. There is a section in the lowlands along a stream and beautiful waterfall, which consists of a number of well built stone mounds, and there is a section on a ridge. It's quite spread out, and I think Harry visited the latter.