Sunday, March 31, 2013

Stone and Brush Eagle-Traps

I don't know why the text below that accompanies this drawing doesn't read: "It was common for Indians to seek high country locations, conceal themselves in a brush covered stone-lined pit structure, or as the drawing shows, a free standing brush covered stone structure. I found a couple photos that show examples of both:

Friday, March 29, 2013

On the way back from the Powissett Mounds

Referring to the previous post
Usually I just stumble along in an area where I hope there will be rock piles. I look for undisturbed woods, I look for hill and water, but mostly I believe my discoveries are purely opportunistic. I find sites because I am persistent and vaguely systematic. But every once and a while, my little antennae tingle at the site of a familiar topography. I see something and say: that looks like a place I have found rock piles in the past. 
For example, this pallisade of stone wall, carefully following the outcrops.
I saw this on my right as I headed south along a trail. I do not think I have the place locate correctly on the map (of the previous post). Anyway, I have found rock piles on hills, in little flat areas surrounded by these sorts of "pallisades" and was telling myself: you really need to go take a look up there.
I am a lazy old man, more tired than usual because of the past several months of reduced activity, but forced myself to go take a look. There was one more rock pile up there, and I will take credit for some skill in addition to luck in finding it.
 There are lots of little curiosities in these woods:
I am encouraged to go back again this next weekend. The snow should be gone and I can hope to find another nice site in there.

Powissett Mounds

Powissett is an area of Dover managed by the Trustees of Reservation, adjacent to the Hale Reservation. It is an area of little hills, valleys, swamps, and small reservoirs. I went down there last weekend for the usual reason: less snow in that direction; and managed to push my tired legs along for a mile or so. Starting on Powisset Str. I headed north along the west side of small valley, saw a "U" structure but nothing much otherwise:
 (note the pit in the foreground)
The Dover woods are not familiar to me, I never found much there before and I don't know what sorts of topography are the most likely places to find rock piles in there. So I was headed for those lakes (Noanet and Powissett Ponds) to exercise the "down near water" hunting strategy. When I got to Powissett Pond, it was all dressed up as a summer camp, and so I spent mo more time around the edges and, instead, thought it was time to switch to a more upland hunting strategy. At the first opportunity, I headed uphill and was immediately rewarded. "Now that's a rock pile!"
There were a few more larger ones looming in the background (I live for that moment when I notice the "looming"). At first I thought this was a wonderful small collection of mounds. But I poked around more and there are actually perhaps 8 larger mounds, several smaller outliers, and a couple of house foundations, all in a quadrant of woods enclosed by stone walls. Later, when I left the site, I ran into a trail map, which helped me be exact about where I found the site:
Let me show you the first group of mounds. Here is another view of the pile I spotted initially: 
Is that a faint hollow on top? Here was another pile built onto an outcrop:
 And here was the next one. Ooh baby!
Is that a little hollow on top?
Another view. What a beautiful pile. Best I saw.
Under the snow, I cannot tell if this mound has a rectangular outline, or any polygonal corners. But it is pretty close to the same thing I showed you last week from Hy-Crest Pond in Sterling. These things are actually pretty universal, although I suspect them of having regional variations and differing ages. 
Nearby, on the way out to the sky, was an interesting "gap" configuration:
If you stood on the large mound and looked this way, you would see it at this angle:
The "vertical sides" are crisp dividers of the horizon.

After this, I poked around more and saw one thing after another.
Then I saw two building foundations:
What does this tell us? Assuming they are historic period foundations, either these mounds are also from the historic period or the people who built the foundations still valued this place and had some recollection of it. A mixture like this of mound and foundation is a bridge into the past.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Stone Structures (Maine/Alaska)

"Over the course of the day we recorded and measured 18 stone structures. Many of them have a 2 meter diameter and are half a meter in height. A few of the structures have obvious courses and were finely made."
"What makes this area even more special is the archaeological evidence of prehistoric and historic human activity. Dating back 4,000 to several hundred years ago, archaeologists are still unsure of the purposes of the large stone structures that stand along the rims of the calderas..."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A different kind of fragment

My wife is out of town so I had some spare time tonight, I decided to get out and try my luck at finding arrowheads. Bright overcast days like today was are the best for poring over the surface of the ground. It's tough this time of year to find anything so I went to a new spot I have never explored before. As happens more often than not, there was nothing to find there, not even a chip or flake, no sign Indians ever lived in this sandy place. With little time left before dark I drove to a farm field where I had found just a few broken arrowheads some years ago. It's a huge place and I have spent a lot of time there, walking for miles over every inch time and time again, and I have very little to show for it. With little chance of finding anything there, it sometimes feels like a waste of time to go there at all- but my hobby is really looking for stuff, not finding stuff. And in this place I can look all I want.

The sun went down, the last rays of light barely illuminated the earth. In such lighting only the quartz really stands out, I kept looking but had lost nearly all hope and was feeling desperate. I spotted a smooth gray object that looked artificial and picked it up. In my hand it had a smooth, waxy feel. I examined it closely and could hardly believe what I had found.
This poor little broken fragment, this humble and unassuming bit of drab stone, certainly is not much to look at. But it is an important find for me, a first. The material is soapstone, also known as steatite. It is a fragment of a bowl or other vessel that was carved and used by Indians thousands of years ago. They valued soapstone because it could be shaped into things like bowls and pipes, and because it retains heat, making it useful for cooking. Soapstone outcrops are rare; the material for this bowl likely originated rather far from where I found this, it is (in my opinion) very likely the material was quarried from an outcrop in Rhode Island. This material is very soft and can be scratched with a fingernail, but the production of bowls from this stone using quartzite tools was difficult and time-consuming. It has some plow scars as you can see.

I really like the clear tool marks on what would have been the inside of the vessel. It gives me goosebumps to think of these marks being made by a tool used by an early man, thousands of years ago. Soapstone bowls are associated with the Terminal Archaic period, 2,500-2,000 BP. It is believed that the discovery of soapstone might have been a major step in the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherers to a more sedentary way of life.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Buffalo Hunt Cairns

"The drawing above, from the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre, shows the drive line cairns being prepared for a buffalo hunt." From:

The "Placing" of Identity in Nomadic Societies:

Aboriginal Landscapes of the Northwestern Plains of North America

by Michael C. Wilson

Douglas College in New Westminster, British Columbia

"Natural landscapes are appropriated, organized, and named by people, whose activities are localized to places and are thus transformed into cultural landscapes...Until recently, there had been few detailed studies of the cultural landscapes..."

Indian Place Name data base

Vin of Menotomy Maps writes:
I’m working on something that might be of value to your readers and they might be able to help expand on it. 
It’s something I use because I’m always forgetting what today’s names are for the Indian names I come across in older texts.
I put the names in a database. My idea is to share this database and have others add to it.

Are these stone tools? From Greene Cty, NY

Reader Sara Sammon writes:
While out for a walk on our property ...Greene County NY ...we stopped at a known knapping station that we found years ago and each spring new flakes are visible.. Attached are what we found in the area... My question could the larger two stones be tools? working ax?

Sunday, March 24, 2013


I thought there might be something down in the Hale Reservation area.

By Hy-Crest Pond

Hy-Crest pond is a large, seemingly natural, lake south of the Leominster hills, in northern Sterling. I can tell you there are lots of rock piles in the woods next to the roads that pass this pond, including an old homestead surrounded by rock piles. But I have not found much away from the roads and it is tough going with a combination of mountain laurel and poor -slash and discard- forestry practices. 

But all and all, I think I'll keep the location of this mound to myself. It is pristine. You won't have trouble finding it if you look carefully. I saw this several years ago and thought the mound was only a few inches high - ignoring the obvious fact that it was sitting atop a larger artificial mound. Coming across it again, I took another look and saw that this is pretty much a typical "mound with hollow", except it is not rectangular and the hollow is not obvious.
In the past, I was struck by the sense of a ramp climbing up the side of the pile. 
But I did not realize it was so big. It is kind of rectangular, in that it has a corner:
A magnificent example.
In the past when I looked at this pile, I did not see anything nearby. Isolated piles lack context. But this time I noticed three things nearby. One was a small rock-on-rock, which I did not photo. But I was happily surprised to see something else in the bushes down at the water's edge. Never saw this before because I never came in winter:
Another view:
This is a perfect little smeared crescent - just like the ones in Groton between Horse Hill and Blood Rd. I always thought these were an older form of "mound with hollow". So now the larger mound has some context.
I also noticed that the stone wall had an opening in it, next to the larger mound.
In overview, here is the mound with a wall running straight back from the large rock in the foreground. The lake is to the left.
It is fair to say that this is a lake shore culture.