Friday, July 04, 2014

Turtle Parts - Looking for the Nuchal

Above: “A Turtle Shaped Mortar” from Connecticut’s Indigenous Peoples (2013) by Dr. Lucianne Lavin. That is my photo from 9/2008. The “mano” or “pestle” (or "turtle head stone," depending upon your point of view) that fits into the depression was found by gently removing the black soil from around the spot that most likely looked to be chipped away for a nuchal notch for this possible testudinate petroform with a specific purpose.

    I guess if a person is going to claim to see stone turtle effigies where other people see just a “random pile of rocks,” I suppose that person might take a little time to look at some turtle parts – and by turtle I mean both the actual reptiles of the order Chelonii or Testudines and some details reflected in what I think may be cultural depictions of these reptiles, sometimes “free-standing sculptures” or petroforms, sometimes contained in stone piles that are thought to be the results of field clearing or those really long stone piles that are a signature landform of (post European contact) New England commonly called stone walls.
    I mean, how realistic is that supposed stone turtle effigy? Is it really just a coincidence that what one person perceives as a “random pile of rocks (pile of stones, really, if you want to get technical about it) just happens to be sometimes obviously, sometimes vaguely, reminiscent of what might be a representation of a turtle in my eyes (or your eyes) because it really does have a number of characteristic details that reflect actual details of the actual reptile rather than because I really want it to be a turtle Petroform purposely made by someone at some time for some reason??
     And by someone I mean an Indigenous person, and by sometime I mean since the glaciers retreat, and by some reason I mean just that: “some reason.” I can only offer guesses as to why someone who lived on Turtle Island might make a cultural representation of a turtle using, and perhaps modifying, stone.
     Think about how many times you may have read or heard about those early contact times, how the “first settlers” began using already cleared Indian fields. Have you ever read or heard a suggestion as to where the stones went? Think about how many times you’ve read or heard that the Indians burned the “woods” to facilitate hunting, which is slowly evolving into the thoughts that Indigenous People were actually maintaining a Cultural Landscape by selective burning that was sustainable rather than destructive (mostly), perfected with a thousand or so years of practice?  Think about how those fires may have been controlled, how just maybe those rows of stones just might have been fuel breaks created over that long period of time before European Contact, a soft term for Colonial Invasion, separating what was to be burned at a certain time for a certain reason.
    And think about how every stone wall book ever written includes the fact that the earliest of colonial fences were made of wooden rails to satisfy a legal requirement of claiming property ownership, the oldest of stone rows created by dumping stone up against these post less zigzag snake rails (an easy thing to do or imagine) or even actually placing them inside and under cross and rail fences (which seems much harder and more easily imaginable as form of punishment).
    I think about these things because I actually live by a Village site, surrounded by these types of stonework. I think about zigzag rows of stone because there are so many of them in the area and I can’t find one that isn’t carefully made, just like those linear segments of rows of stones.
   And I think about artistic cultural representations of turtles contained in these stone constructions because they far outnumber any other possible representation of other animals that were important to Indigenous People who lived around here, as those people say, “forever.”

    And I think that shouldn’t be a surprise, here on what was called Turtle Island for a very, very long time.  
    Any cultural artistic representation of a turtle depends upon the artistic abilities of the individual (or individuals, I suppose you could say) creating that artwork. I imagine this cultural representation that just happens to include a turtle below would be pretty realistic since all the other surviving details of the damaged sculpture are very realistic, but I can’t easily find a close up of the turtle for some reason. No wonder no one remembers who the artist is:
Aphrodite in Her See Thru Nightie, Resting Her Foot on an Unmistakable (Stone) Turtle (Unknown Artist - 2nd to 3rd century CE) -
    But those are both really far away from me here in Western Connecticut. Closer to Connecticut is that famous Bronx Turtle Petroglyph, like Ed Lenik describes (and I lifted this photo from the Greater Astoria Historical Society website to illustrate):

But this isn’t either a sculpture –or a Petroform.
Here is a photo of an unmistakable Turtle petroform in the Whiteshell Provincial Park, Canada from a fairly reliable (government) source:
“Turtle petroform (Ken Porteous)”
But here’s a couple amateur photos from the same place: - and, in my amateur opinion, that there is also a petroform snake a little west of it in the photo as well…
(This one may not be all that old...)
Like Ed says above, the design of these clearly depict turtles (and isn’t that a rather interesting stone that makes up the neck of the turtle above that some of you reading this might recognize as a rhomboidal stone when viewed from the right side of the petrofrom – in my amateur opinion…) by using stones not only as an outline, but also more by use of a (mostly) solid carapace stone, such as some smaller stone constructions do:
(Manitoba Turtle Petroform by Stan Milosevic -

In Eastern Connecticut, Bob Miner photographed a similar “stone concentration” that I, in my amateur opinion, would call a very similar clearly unmistakeable testudinate depiction, rather than a “random pile of rocks.”

The shell of the turtle seems to be the basic ingredient in a cultural representation of a turtle.
If you want to really sound important and scientific, you can call that upper shell a Carapace, so I shall include some Important Carapace Information I stole from one web site out of many that say much the same thing about a turtle’s most distinguished (distinguishing?) characteristic:
“The shell of turtles is the backbone of their success (pun intended; Sorry.)…These amazing little marvels are what have kept chelonians in business for over 230 million years.  The piece of scute directly behind the head is known as the nuchal. Then all the scutes directly behind the nuchal are known as vertebrals. Radiating along the sides of the shell are scutes called marginal, named of course because they are at the margins or fringes of the shell. 

Finally all the scutes inbetween the vertebrals and the marginals are called costals, thus making up the outer surface of the carapace.”

You will note that the few examples I have shown are not 100% anatomically accurate representations, especially when it comes to “scutes.” And I cannot say for certain that I’ve ever observed a possible turtle Petroform that does have the exact number of each type of scute listed above, but I have observed many times that sometimes but not all the time the detail of a nuchal is actually included in some possible (or is it probable?) Turtle Petroforms.
Here’s a good example of that nuchal notch in a possible (or is it probable??) turtle petroform:

 This hardly seems a coincidence, this purposely placed cobble stone that represents a turtles head, tucked inside a nuchal notch in a single stone carapace without much hint of any other kind of scute in that roughly 3 foot long boulder in a zigzag row of stones that runs along (well, sits beside actually) a small tributary stream that flows over a couple of dramatic waterfalls.
Does it look like this was a natural notch or does it look humanly enhanced?
Has that “head stone” been modified?
Has a few hundred – or a couple thousand - years of weathering rendered it impossible to tell?
I can answer that very quickly: I don’t know.

The very first couple of stone concentrations or combinations of artistically placed stones that I thought just might be turtles actually have more complicated nuchal notches that seem more like protrusions:
Above: Turtle One.
Below: “Chickenyard” Turtle Two.
And since One is free standing while Two is incorporated into a mound,
I'll give you a third, included in a row of stones:
A thought about this occurs to me as I think about how this may represent or reflect that older turtles get more “gnarly” as their scutes grow as they age and that these turtles with the more protruding nuchal scutes may be older turtles or Grand Mother or Grand Father Turtles, perhaps the Great Turtle of various Creation Stories recorded across Turtle Island. In fact, that first turtle, Turtle One, as I call it, may represent the Great Turtle, claw marks on its shell from the Beaver who placed the mud that became the soil of Turtle Island on both sides of shell above the nuchal on that four foot long boulder:

Maybe a little more than 100 feet east of the above Great Turtle is the youngest possible cultural representation of a turtle I’ve been aware of, a hatchling surrounded by the possible representations of the eggshell it has just emerged from:

In another pile of stones perhaps all of 25 or 30 feet away, is another similar but larger possible (probable??) artistic representation of what to me is an unmistakable turtle, created in much the same manner - chipping stone away from the quartz crystal "head stone:"
(- and there are more like these in this same mound group.)
It makes me smile to come across these Indigenous Creations, sometimes with that nuchal, sometimes not, but it is yet another identifying characteristic of the artistic, rather than random, purposeful placement of a stone in a concentration such as a mound:
Or as an inclusion in a row of stones - and sometimes they smile back:

And that’s why I stick my neck out and say “This probable stone cultural representation of a turtle is also sticking its neck out from the stone that represents its upper shell or carapace – which to a novice like myself, look to be split from the same stone - purposely placed directly in front of a nuchal notch:”

Now, back home, on my front steps, what’s up with that stone embedded in the crumbling (crumbled?) piece of 1960’ s mortar?
Stone Tool or Stone Turtle Shell???

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