Monday, March 11, 2013

Coming to Terms:Stone Definitions

Cairn or Stone Heap or Rock Pile or Memorial Mound containing Turtle Effigy?
This list has me confused this morning:
11.)    Cairns
22.)    stone piles
33.)     stone rows
44.)    “prayer seats”(U-shaped structures)
55.)     standing stones
66.)     balanced rocks
77.)    split wedged boulders 
88.)    altered rocks (including petroglyphs and mortars)
98.)    stone circles
19.)     effigies 
There doesn’t seem to be an easily found glossary or dictionary that lists many of these sort of features listed above. Cairns are “usually defined as “a pile of stones set on a hill or mountain to mark a spot for walkers and climbers, or as a memorial to somebody who died there,” according to the little look up feature on my Microsoft Word program that I am creating this document on.
Here is one exception:

stones intentionally piled by humans 

Dictionary definition of cairn  (kârn) n.
A mound of stones erected as a memorial or marker.
[Middle English carne, from Scottish Gaelic carn, from Old Irish.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. 

A Synonym is
cairn - a mound of stones piled up as a memorial or to mark a boundary or path
markingmarkmarker - a distinguishing symbol; "the owner's mark was on all the sheep"

From Wikipedia:
“Cairn is a man-made pile (or stack) of stones. It comes from the Scottish Gaeliccàrn (plural càirn). Cairns are found all over the world in uplands, on moorland, on mountaintops, near waterways and on sea cliffs, and also in barren desert and tundra areas. They vary in size from small stone markers to entire artificial hills, and in complexity from loose, conical rock piles to delicately balanced sculptures and elaborate feats of megalithic engineering. Cairns may be painted or otherwise decorated, e.g. for increased visibility or for religious reasons.
In modern times, cairns are often erected as landmarks, a use they have had since ancient times. Since prehistory, they have also been built as sepulchral monuments, or used for defensive, hunting, ceremonial, astronomical and other purposes.
Throughout what today are the continental United States and Canada, cairns still mark indigenous peoples' game-driving "lanes" leading to buffalo jumps, some of which may date to 12,000 years ago.
Natives of arctic North America (i.e. northern Canada, Alaska and indigenous Greenland) have built carefully constructed cairns and stone sculptures, called by names such as inuksuit and inunnguat, as landmarks and directional markers since before contact with Europeans. They are iconic of the region (an inuksuk even features on the flag of the Canadian far-northeastern territory, Nunavut), and are increasingly used as a symbol of Canadian national identity.
In North America, cairns are often petroforms in the shapes of turtles or other animals.[citation needed]
Cairns have been used since pre-Columbian times throughout Latin America to mark trails. Even today in the Andes of South America, the Quechuan peoples use cairns as religious shrines to the indigenous Inca goddess Pachamama, often as part of a synchretic form of Roman Catholicism.”
Turtle Effigy in an Turtle Effigy Mound in a group of Effigy Mounds or Burials?
“Cairns” is a European designate. Rather than use that word, I find that I often say “stone mounds” and “stone heaps,” sometimes adopting the old spelling of “stone heapes.” Many of my friends use the terms stone piles, rock piles, stone mounds, stone stacks, and even “platform cairns/mounds” in the case of large structures with a flat top. “Heaps” is also the term that Eva Butler used in 1946 writing in Bulletin #19 of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut, The Bush or Stone Memorial Heaps of Southern New England." William Cothren in his History of Ancient Woodbury CT calls the stone memorial marker of Sachem Nonnewaug a “hillock or mound” (without using the word “stone,” but using a woodcut illustration to show “stones piled by humans”) in the local history that sent me searching for other mounds or heaps:

Maybe what is needed is a Native American name, possibly derived from a word like “wawaanaquassick” - “place of many good stones (”
Start with wawa or “many” minus (na or “good”) plus quas or “stones” minus (ick or “place of”) equals Wawaquas?
But then what about all the hundreds of other Languages of Turtle Island that probably had unique and individual names for other stone heaps (or mounds or rock piles or cairns)?
(Isn't Stone Piles covered by that? Is an effigy mound a cairn or an effigy or both rather than an effigy stone pile?)

Stone rows:

I apply this term to separate Native American/Indian built “segments of stacked stones longer than they are wide (Thorson’s definition from Stone by Stone et al)” from what are otherwise commonly known as “stone walls” that are more properly termed “stone fences,” as I learned from the works of Eric Sloane.
Much of the rest of the world, and this includes Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, defines a stone row as: “ a linear arrangement of upright, parallel megalithic standing stones set at intervals along a common axis or series of axes, usually dating from the later Neolithic or Bronze Age.[1] Rows may be individual or grouped, and three or more stones aligned can constitute a stone row.” 
These “stone alignments” have gaps between the individual stones. When I say “stone row,” I mean what may appear to the rest of most of the world as a “stone wall,” but is actually a longer than tall carefully stacked remnant of the pre-historic cultural landscape, containing effigies important to the people who built it, and is perhaps a fire break along a road or cultural resourse zone or sacred space that also has ceremonial meaning attached to it (not that a fire break doesn’t involve a ceremonial renewal aspect to it as well as a practical use as well).
(I don't have personal eaxperience with any  prayer seats”(U-shaped structures), so I'm skipping that one.)
Standing Stone:
Often called an orthostat – “Large upstanding stone used in constructing the walls of the chambers and passages in many kinds of megalithic tomb during the Neolithic in Europe. The orthostats directly or indirectly support the roof structure.”
In Europe.
In America, I think of standing stones as long tall stones standing upright alone, or a long tall stone standing up in a bunch of stones. And then there are "standing (alone, seemingly signifigant) boulders too...

And I skipped a couple more until I got to "Effigies" and the standard definitions such as:
ef·fi·gy  (
n. pl. ef·fi·gies
1. A crude figure or dummy representing a hated person or group.
2. A likeness or image, especially of a person.
[French effigie, from Latin effigi, likeness, from effingere, to portray : ex-, ex- + fingere, to shape; see dheigh- in Indo-European roots.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
 Let's try "Animal effigy:"

Turtle Effigy in a Stone row
n effigy [ˈefidʒi]
a likeness of a person, animal etc (in wood, stone etc) effigies of Buddha.
Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary © 2006-2013 K Dictionaries Ltd.

When I use the term “effigy,” I am most often referring to an animal effigy. It is only in later years that I’ve begun to notice human or human-like effigies, perhaps humans or spirits. I recognize single stone effigies and composite or “more than one” stone effigies, which I suppose could (should) be called petroforms. Here again I recognize that most people refer to an outline of stones that constitutes a petroform. Some stone mounds perhaps represent a turtle in outline, but I find that the stones in the mound are also effigies as well.
Stone rows are also sometimes effigies themselves. I have recognized a few Serpent Rows by the large boulder head stones they end in, but I also recognize stone rows can be made up of smaller effigies as well. Small petroforms making up a larger petroform? Is a zigzag row a “lightening petroform” made up of a series of petroforms? Can I choose “All of the above” as my answer?


  1. Excellent post. long are the serpent rows?

  2. Thank you for the kind words. That particular snake-like petroform-like stone structure used in this post is about 100 feet long. My friend Peter at Rock Piles has documented a couple small free standing Uktena-like stone mounds about 4-6 feet long. My thoughts these days are that many stone walls may actually be a series of "entwined" smaller stone serpents. They are all kind of unique constructions of various lengths...