Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Oneota burial cairn, northern Mississippi River valley

(From the Effigy Mounds Preservation Initiative Face Book Group)
(Christopher Veit Photo)
Kurt Sampson (writes): “What is really known of these rock "cairns" ?? Has one ever been excavated or explored to determine this?”
Michelle Birnbaum: “Talk to Ron Schirmer - he has a grad student working his dissertation on cairns near Red Wing.”
Kurt Sampson “That's where this photo came from. Christopher Veit, what's the deal with these???
Michelle Birnbaum: They are not burials. Near Red Wing they are one hill tops and may be group or territorial marker.”
Jimmy Clark: Seems we saw a few during the Great River Road Survey with John Penman in 1981-82 while locating mounds and sites. Check annual highway archaeology reports 1980 and after. And look through Orr's stack of field notes. The bluffs weren't wooded until cessation of fires.
Ron Schirmer: “There are a few different types of rock-based monuments. This particular one is a form apparently unique to Red Wing.”
Christopher Veit: “This monument is not visible from the valley floor, and not because of the trees. It is hidden from view from they valley floor by the crest of the slope, I doubt that was coincidental. I do not belive this monument's primary purpose is as a territorial marker. I'll kindly defer to Dr. Ron Schirmer in this matter.”
Ron Schirmer (responds): “Now I'm on a computer and can address this further. The pictured monument is the only one that remains unmolested. Originally it was a hollow structure, but it has collapsed. All other known examples of this type were pulled apart between 1840 and 1880 to look for "Indian relics". Single wooden posts (one of eastern red cedar and one of oak) were found in separate ones, and one yielded "a shank bone" without further description. None have ever been scientifically studied. They are definitely not for burials, though they are clearly sacred structures. When standing, they would have varied between 6 and 8 feet tall, making them visible from the villages on the adjacent valley floors. And indeed, a viewshed analysis shows that almost all of this particular type of structure were within clear lines of sight of each other, and very much clustered around a series of Oneota villages in the Spring Creek valley. Two weeks ago I got the first AMS date from one of the villages - A.D. 1330. Contrary to popular (and uninformed) belief, Red Wing was NOT abandoned after the Silvernale phase, but instead continued to host a large population of Bartron phase Oneota peoples well into the 14th century, contemporary with the early parts of both the LaCrosse and Blue Earth Oneota regions.”
Todd J Stein: “Interesting - I wonder if these stone cairns are related in function to the "ghost" or "spirit" houses created out of wood by the Odawa people in Northern lower Michigan. They looked very much like copies of longhouses (although they were constructed out of any old wood or boards washed up on shore) with a peaked roof over the entrance on one end. In height and length they looked to be about the size of a man, although no burials or remains were associated with them. Up until a few years ago there was a large number of them on North Manitou Island. When last I saw them most were decayed &/or in a state of serious disrepair, although a few of them seem to have been maintained until fairly recently.”
Ron Schirmer: “Interestingly, Todd, they do seem to be related to Ioway tradition spirit lodges, which I would assume to be functionally equivalent.”

Kurt Sampson on mounds in the Sacred Ground Documentary Series:

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