Saturday, January 31, 2015

Let me clarify that comment

 (or at least try)
      Jumping off of the Rock Piles Post Agricultural use versus rock pile site where I left an almost coherent comment (maybe), I attempt to clarify some thoughts below:

     I think that there are some well-known facts that are too often neglected to be taken into perspective when discussing the still remaining Stone Features on the Indigenous Cultural Landscape.
      The first to come to my mind, and perhaps the most important, is the Pre-Contact Indigenous use of fire to produce an abundance of resources. Charles Mann (a map he uses in 1493 above, another below) addresses the issue in a wide view of the western hemisphere in 1491 and William Cronon focuses in on New England in Changes in the Land, not as a simple “slash and burn,” but as a more involved and sophisticated practice, both calling the Indigenous People the keystone species responsible for the creation of a mosaic of resource zones that were wonders to the earliest of Europeans who saw that abundance.
    Some archaeologists and anthropologists call the introduction of maize into New England a “non-event” in an already densely populated area with an already increasing rate sedentism (or semi-sedentism – semi-permanent villages or base camps that People returned to after traveling to outlying sites to “hunt and gather” or collect some sort of resource) because of the efficiency of that sustainable system of manipulating the environment that is poorly described as “hunting and gathering.” Groups of Indigenous People would have to had an increasingly better means of controlling those fires as populations grew, burning over only certain tracts of land at certain times while leaving others to produce, rather than some sort of widespread and destructive conflagration that neighboring groups of People might not appreciate.

      Cronan suggests that these things are best studied in “locale” and wandering around from floodplain to uplands and beyond in my locale, following zigzag and linear rows of stones along both sides of watercourses was the first place I realized that one function of these constructions seemed to be fuel breaks ensuring that the riparian resource zone would be protected from burning, preserving a green canopy that improves water quality. Another place these double rows of stones occurred was along some trails – especially true of trails that became modern roads, some still with remnants of rows of stones still, many more discernable on CT aerial photos from 1934.
 I can’t think of an easier way to keep a trail clear than to “burn it over in the fall or the spring – or both. Intersecting these riparian rows and trail rows are other rows of stones, some linear, some zigzag some changing from one to the other, what resource was inside each a puzzle, sometimes with a plant species like blueberries still remaining and growing as clues as to what might have been. The Law of Parsimony works well with this Indigenous Fire Theory, Indigenous People building stone fuel breaks over thousands of years.

      Next to come to mind is the Post Contact business of defining a legal fence in order to claim ownership of land, usually involving the earliest of New England Fences, easily made wooden rail fences. Every single stone wall book or magazine (or web post) article I’ve ever come across drives home the point that earliest of fences were made of wooden rails, the stones haphazardly tossed up against the rails as fields were cleared and plowed (or those prime targets of the early days, the already cleared horticultural fields that Indigenous People had recently vacated). Most insist you had to wait for the American Revolutionary War to be over for a supposed Golden Age of Stonewall Building to begin – and then barely a hundred years later the fun is all over because someone invents barbed wire. Some authors insist these New England stone fences, all the estimated quarter million miles of them, that were too much work for the early European settlers, suddenly appeared between 1783 and an “established Farm Era” that ended about 1825-1835 when people abandoned farms here for more productive land elsewhere or moved to the cities (Thorson), defying the Law of Parsimony once again.

     I think more attention needs to be paid to the manner of construction of those "stone walls" that are too casually dismissed as "agrarian" - in the post contact sense - especially if those "stone walls" end in (or include) a grinning serpent's head like this one above, - and contain stones that are placed to recall turtles (like the one below, just a little south of that grinning serpent - and in a still active agricultural zone) as well as all those bears and birds and rhomboids and much, much more...


  1. In which Mann book are those maps found?

  2. The maps come from pages 40 & 41 of "1493," the follow up to "1491." The credit reads:
    "Maps created by Nick Springer and Tracy Pollack, Springer Cartographics LLC: copyright by Charles C. Mann"

  3. Thanks Tim your blog is amazing