Monday, September 19, 2022

In the footprints of Mavor and Dix - but ending up in a different place

I have been trying to find the place in Freetown that they write about in Manitou. Those familiar with the book will recall they excavated one rock pile there, under the theory that destroying one was justified if it helped protect the others. I think they did succeed in protecting the sites. But where are they? The only clue I have was that the "Bolton Cedar Swamp" was to the southeast. Turning this around, northwest of the Bolton Cedar Swamp is a pretty big area of woods. So I have been dipping my toes into various woods over there - about 45 minutes drive from home. I keep finding sites this way. But they do not match what is described in Manitou.

A couple of things make this chapter of my exploration different from previous ones. Following in someone else's footprints takes away some of the triumph of discovery and adds a burden of secrecy that I am not used to. I believe that whoever first discovers a site has, by definition, the right to keep it secret. And you don't go telling other people's secrets, if you happen to discover them. Also, a quick look at the map of Freetown State Forest shows there is a Wampanoag Reservation and a Watuppa Reservation on the western side of the forest. I imagine local Indians wanting to keep these sites to themselves. So I am inclined to keep quiet about where these Freetown sites are located. But the one I just visited is several miles east of those reservations, and it is clearly different from what Mavor and Dix described

The pile they excavated had large amounts of red ocher (hematite) incorporated in the pile. They also found some rather mysterious, semi religious, objects, like an quartz "owl" effigy. I come away with a strong sense of secrecy, privacy, and spirituality surrounding these sites. All of which makes we think I should tread carefully - which is very contrary to the impulse to communicate and share these sites. So much so, that I take a moment to wonder: are they right to take on a cloak of spirituality in their report? Consider the title "Manitou" itself. Is this appropriate? Are they discussing someone else's spirituality or are they appropriating a bit of it to make their point? 

It doesn't matter so much except that I have to decide what to report and what to keep quiet about. The site I explored in eastern Freetown is several miles away from the Wampanoag Reservation, and did not match the hints provided in Manitou. Here are some mismatches: (1) They describe an area of small cedar swamps, interrupted by higher ground. (2) The sites are facing southeast, located at the southern ends of the little swamps. (3) They show a photo of what must have been a good sized, tall, rock piles. (4) They report that these are not burials.

The mismatches are: (1) I have yet to see any cedar swamps, or white cedar trees. (2) The sites I have found (especially the one reported below) are not facing southeast. (3) I am seeing some similar, good sized piles, but I am also seeing quite a lot of other things; most notably (4) Oh yes some of those are burials.

So, I will keep quiet about sites nearer to the Wampanoag Reservation, and you can let me know in comments if you feel the world would be better off knowing about the following place or not. Mavor and Dix did not find this place. It is along Rt 140, northwest of the Bolton Cedar Swamp. It is a small woods, circled by private property, bordered by the highway and a bit inaccessible. I snuck in from the south via a solar panel array.

Walked north, along the left side of the array and, wanting to get into the woods, I dove in near the top of the array. Of course there were hints of ceremonialism, right there in the woods:
Looking back towards the opening of the solar panel array: we see two "rock-on-rock" lining up with a larger boulder in the background. 

There were a few other things here and there but I was hoping to find what was discussed in Manitou so I continued north following the easier footing of an old road. My expectation was that any site that had been visited a few times would have some kind of a trail leading to it. So when I spotted a footh path heading east up the outcrops, I followed in up and northeast over towards the traffic sounds from Rt 140. But after a few minutes the trail disappeared and I was disappointed with what was to be seen along the higher ground, so I headed back downhill (west) and, started seeing rock piles along the foot of the slope, just before the ground became lower, wetter, swampier. 

Here we are looking south, with the slope to the left and the swamp to the right. You can see it is pretty old and tumbled down. It must have been quite "busy" at some point:
Come to look around a bit, this almost looks as "busy" as Parker Woodland.

I proceeded north and another collection of ruins appeared. This was all around an old "foundation", as follows:

Seen from the other direction:
There were two "holes" with a collapsed central structure - a chimney and hearth?

All around the foundation were a variety of features, including large piles along the slope - more or less evenly spaced:

Linear features - in this case ending in what I took to be a mound with hollows, and perhaps a standing stone:
Speaking of standing stones, I saw several examples of "manitou" stones propped against piles. I usually do not credit this idea but I have to admit, it seems real, when you see enough examples:

In the last example, the pile itself is curious. A kind of "dented trapezoid"; with no hollow. That is not familiar to me. Maybe the 6th picture from this Parker Woodland report (click here).

As for there being "burials", you know what I think about this:

Later, as I walked around, I saw a number of things that I think of as the oldest kind of burial: a place between rocks, covered with a bit material - now gone. For example:
And this, which seems unmistakeable.
I believe the remnants are very long gone from these places and it only makes sense to honor them. 

Plenty of nicely preserved old piles:
and at least one pile that looked like it might be an effigy, with a pointy head, nearest to the camera:
As I walked back out, I saw a few other things scattered about in the low lands:

And who doesn't like to see an occasional boulder arrangement:
All and all an interesting place. 

Friday, September 16, 2022

Appetizer - East Freetown, MA

Look how flat and even that slope is.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Bushwacking in Freetown, MA

 Gives a feel for why you want to stay on a trail in there:

Dipping into Freetown State Forest

The story of the stone mounds of Freetown-Fall River State Forest, told in Manitou, left a lasting impression on me. Though they tend to write in a dry semi-scientific manner, the things the authors find while digging up a rock pile are quite spooky. It brings up the ethical question of whether it is right or wrong to project about someone else's mysticism.

Anyway, I was happy to realize the Freetown was a closer drive than some of the other places I have been driving for hikes, so I started going there. First try was a slow walk down Hathaway Rd. We took a side trail and came across rock piles, then we continued on the main road and encountered another site. Later I was able to confirm that two places were different spots along the same ridge. What I found was not a good match for what Mavor and Dix wrote about in Manitou and, on closer reading, I find they were over on the east side of town, while this walk I took was more to the west. Very much a typical "Nipmuc" site, what I found was burials and marker piles. Interestingly Manitou does not make such identifications.

I thought, since this is not far from a Wampanoag Reservation, that specific locations could be kept "secret". Of course you are welcome to walk down that road and see what you can see. I came across some things like this: 

You should recognize this shape by now (see the corners and the hollow?).
Here is a variant:
I thought this one looked like it might have a falling over "manitou stone":
There are many places like this in New England:
Lots of older piles:
Some still fresh looking ones, scattered around in the holly:
Goodbye for now, I'll be coming back here. It is a large woods.

Thursday, September 08, 2022

Interpreting old weathered rocks

I was walking on Hathaway Rd in Freetown State Forest and was amazed at how many of the pieces of gravel show signs of percussive organized flaking. This sort of thing is typical:

(That looks like a modern scratch.)

Here is a honking big example:

See the flakes?
Perhaps such a tool is not worth putting in anyone's collection but it's a tool nonetheless. What is interesting is the sheer number of such things. They were on the order of every fifth rock along the entire road. I am not going to bother to argue with someone who does not recognize this as a stone tool but, aside from that, I do want to discuss how is it possible for there to be such a high density of tools over the entire road? I am not talking about little clusters of tools here and there but rather a geological layer of gravel that contains numerous stone tools in every sample examined.

There are two things that stand out. First, it takes a long time to use so many rocks that you run out of material. Second, those rock must be exposed in order to be used. Putting such statements to work interpreting what we see in the Freetown gravel, I conclude that there must have been a long period of time when these gravels were exposed, as an entire surface of gravel. The best candidate for this is the period of time after the gravel was deposited (~19K years ago) and before there were significant additional soil buildup - quite a while later.

To tell the truth I am often puzzled by larger rocks that come out of the glacial till showing signs of having been used or flaked. A reasonable possibility is that there was a long post-glacial period of high population density. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Freetown State Forest

 I just started exploring Freetown State Forest. It is a big woods.

Northern Wrentham State Forest

I was told there were some interesting sites in the northern part of Wrentham State Forest. Having been there four times without seeing anything, I am starting to wonder what am I missing. Maybe a little further north? This last time was east of Taunton Str., north of the highway. A couple things:

A nice example of a stone 'U'. 

Over on the eastern side, a familiar site, slightly rectangular with a hollow:

This was part of a larger structure, shown on the left here:
It was by itself.

Back over on the western side, a few hundred yards from the road. Is that a rock pile?

Yes it is.
Pretty faint:

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Why you should not trust population genetics or DNA geneology results

Study reveals flaws in popular genetic method (

They talk about "PCA" or Principal Component Analysis. This is the method that assumes your data lies in an oval (or an ellipsoid in higher dimensions), assuming the data has "components" that match the axes of the ellipsoid. It is complete nonsense when the data does not happen to lie within an ellipsoid. I had no idea it was used in genetic comparisons but that explains why they keep concluding such absurdities as the "Clovis First" or the uniform populations of South America.

For example:

"Techniques that offer such flexibility encourage bad science and are particularly dangerous in a world where there is intense pressure to publish. If a researcher runs PCA several times, the temptation will always be to select the output that makes the best story," adds Prof. William Amos, from the Univesity of Cambridge, who was not involved in the study.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Beaver Brook State Park, Windham CT

Thought it would be worth exploring the valley south of Beaver Hill and, for some dumb reason, I thought my wife and I would have the easiest walk in from the north. We followed that dotted line down from the top of the map fragment:

I did not realize we were trespassing most of the way. Up top, there was a solitary niche, which I took to be ceremonial:
[The colors are so much brighter on a sunny day.] We proceeded south, into an area of stone walls and an old house foundation. A beautiful and remote place in the hills of eastern CT. 

Sadly, we were slogging through thick undergrowth when the old road (the dotted line) disappeared into black birch saplings. Then we were slogging through knee deep blueberries. Then we were slogging through waist deep cinnamon ferns. Fresh out of a pandemic we were not in shape for it. In fact, the purpose of taking a drive and trying some more ambitious hikes was partially in order to get back in shape. The ferns were wet and my wife started getting a blister. So, although I had hoped to descend into what looked like a great rock pile hunting spot, we thought it was wiser to give up and go back the way we came. I was worried that, if we missed the top of the old road, we would have to slog through even denser growth to get back to the car, so I retraced our steps very carefully and it worked out.

Fall is upon us, at least since there has been such a severe drought.

Back as we crossed the hilltop, these two standing stones were a few feet apart and seemed related:

Otherwise we saw no evidence of ceremonial stone work. Enough to be puzzling. [Some of the larger boulders looked like they had been moved a bit.]

We had spent the night at "The Inn" in Mansfield and, just before leaving the room, I noticed a Bible in a drawer next to the bed. Thinking it would be fun, I opened to a random spot and read a verse - you know "Sortes Biblicae"-kind of idea. The verse was about the Israelites casting down all the works of the Nephrim (or Asherim or some such earlier religious people). It mentioned at some length that the Israelites were systematic and destroyed all the things they could find: temples, statues, etc. As with most things in the Bible, the stories are generic enough to apply to almost anything. But as we are walking through the woods, seeing nothing but an old house foundation and walls, and I am wondering what happened to the stonework that I expected to find up there, the biblical story came to mind. The systematic erasing of all the "devils work" is a traditional activity. So maybe that is what happened here. It would be fun to find that verse again (I tried and failed, back at home) because it is an idea that might  explain some of the empty woods in areas that should have rock piles.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

A brief moment in Natchaug State Forest

In Natchaug State Forest in northeastern CT, my wife had developed blisters, so we were touring by car. As we turned from Kingsbury Str. onto Old Griffin Rd, I spotted something in the bushes near the road- northeast of the corner. This was the only "mound with hollow" I saw in the course of several days walking and driving about.

Some other views:

If you look closely you can see the mound is built up against a large split rock.
I saw the same thing a couple days ago in Tiverton - a mound built against a large split rock. Hopefully you do not need me to explain the symbolism.

I should mention that I found a small site, a few hundred yards uphill from Fayette Rd, over at the southeastern end of the Hampton Reservoir. Not worth showing pictures, I suspect that the actual structures were too broken down to see clearly.

Parker Woodland (the videos)

My wife took some videos featuring, predominantly, me. Here I am again lumbering around. I lost some weight since the last time.

Short Walks in Parker Woodland (part II - the south)

The "cairns" are clearly marked on various trail maps, so we followed directions and got to a site, perched on a completely rocky slope, far from any possible plowing or field. Trying to call these things farm-related seems the height of absurdity. Well you can believe the Native Americans left no traces or you can believe you lying eyes.

As we approached along the blue trail, I commented to my wife that we were coming up to a bit of a spring. And then there was first rock pile, followed by more and grander piles. They have obviously been rebuilt at least once, maybe several times.



I would guess these are marker piles, just like many of the ones in the north part of the park.

And now, before leaving this place and answering my wife's question ["why look at more?"] let me mention what seemed to be a crime. In one spot, there was collection of quartz chunks. Recall that quartz if not that common around here and that one of the rock piles had a chunk of quartz on top (see first video, above). 

You notice a plastic Tupperware container. This was an orienteering "letter box". I wonder if some orienteering fool, decided to collect all those nice pieces of quartz so as to make the letter box more visible and findable by the next orienteering participant. It is not often that vandals leave their identity there to be found. And, I think someone who cares about Parker Woodland, should think about locating the organization responsible for this. I would think it gives orienteering a big black eye.

Back to my wife's original question: Why look at more of these? 
I could not pretend the answer involves seeing new things because they were not really new. Another answer might be: because it is interesting studying regional variations. But that is not really true either because they are pretty much the same as what I find elsewhere. For example triangular marker piles, from Fitchburg and other places. Or tall piles with a blaze of quartz [now mostly destroyed at Parker Woodland]. Being told about a site is far less interesting than discovering it yourself. What is definitely a true answer is that I remain curious about why are sites located exactly were they are.

In the case of southern Parker Woodland, the answer is obvious if you look at a map, or go their in person: it is a flat bench between springs, facing south; easily accessible from a brook below.

As for the sites at the northern end of the park, they were clustered around the house foundations and all were on high points amidst the surrounding woods. Their calendrical appearance suggests each household had its own needs. But that is surely an oversimplification. In any case, the question of location remains interesting - even after becoming jaded to the appearance of the particular sites.

My wife also wanted to know what we were "seeing". She wanted an overview. My explanation was that it is obvious not only that Indians lived here for a long time and that they seemed to still be around - judging from the careful reconstructions. If you look at these piles, you see many with the upper rocks having no lichen.