Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Identifying Snake Petroforms/Serpent "Stone Walls"

    I suppose that if a person is going to go around talking about how many of New England Stone Walls aren’t really the stone fences we’ve been taught to believe in (a bit of ““intentional ignorance” of what it is inconvenient to know,” as Noam Chompsky put it in a recent NY Times interview-, but rather possible much older Snake Petroforms on Turtle Island, then I guess that person should compare these stone structures to actual snakes and see – I mean scientifically observe – the similarities.
     So I guess I’ll just lift a guide from online and use the “folk process” to adapt it, just like Bob Dylan might do to an old song – except I won’t claim it as original material on my latest CD release:

Identify Snakes (and their representations in stone): A How-to Guide
by Filip Tkaczyk (and me in parentheses and italics)

    "Ever wondered how to identify snakes? Well, with 120 species found in North America, North of Mexico it can be a challenge. Here are some things you can look for and think about to help you identify snakes. Let's look at some basics first...
    Snakes are beautiful animals (and so are their lithic counterparts), with amazing forms, colors and behaviors (which in the case of a stone snake would be something similar to other snake representations in other forms of Indigenous artwork: the spiritual power of the snake or perhaps the Great Serpent is in that object, that decorated pot, basket, or quillwork/beadwork on an article of clothing. See:Effigies as Source of protection to Agricultural Fields ).
Key field marks for identifying snakes (and their representations in stone). One of the simplest ways to identify snakes (and their representations in stone) is by breaking their identification down to key field marks. These are aspects of (both kinds of) the snake's appearance which make it unique as a group or species (or petroform). Here is a list of some of the best ones to use:

Body Type: Is the body type slim and long, medium thickness and long, or short and stout? Is it large or small? Approximately how long? (Is it linear, gently serpentine, zigzag or a combination of styles? Large stones, small stones, or a combination of both? Is it intact or interrupted by modern construction? Was it easier to leave alone than remove it and adapt it (or, more accurately, culturally appropriate it and the area it encloses) to a post contact use (and claim it as something else)? Does another serpent conncect with it? Does it's tail split into other rows of stones?)
(A break/gateway in the Serpent in photo #5)

(Does it undulate, have high spots on, go kinda "up and down," like a vertical zigzag?)

Head Shape: Is the head shaped like a broad arrowhead, like a spade, or like an oval? Does it have a distinct neck? (Does it resemble the head stone of any known snake petroform, such as the Bannock Point Petroforms in Whiteshell Provincal Park in Manitoba { Whiteshell / Bannock Point Petroforms)  – or one posted on the Rock Piles blog (rockpiles serpent search)? Is it a single stone or a combination of stones?)
(Above: East end of Serpent in photo #5)

 (Or is that head an outcrop of bedrock? Has it been humanly enhanced at all, in order to more accurately resemble a snake head? Does the snake head resemble something else, such as a human face, from a different point of view, recalling the Great Serpent’s ability to shape-shift into a person, as well as the opposite of this, demonstrate a shaman’s ability to transform into a snake? Are there grooves in that head stone that might either be realistic representations of a certain snake or a convenient place to put some horns or even both?)
(Above: Shape Shifting Grinning Serpent, below: Grooved for Horns)
(Above:Same break/gateway in the Serpent in photo #5; below: the other Serpent Stone Rows around that Grinning Serpent/Shaman.)
(Do two - or more - heads form an opening into other areas, like serpent gateways, as above or are they related to water as is this one below - that is also included in the enhanced image above? Does the tail dissappear into water as well? Does it re-emerge? Are there more heads along the same row of stones you can't help but call a Stone Wall?)
(These three shown below form the gateway just below the Serpent in the first photo above.)
Eyes: Are the eyes (if present in a stone) large or small? Does it have rounded or vertical pupils? Are there scales that jut out over the eye like an eyebrow? What color are they? (Are they pecked and polished into the stone or better revealed by that same sort of process? Is there a natural feature of a stone that resembles eyes? Is it a combination of both?)

(Mouth: Does it have a mouth, natural or enhanced, if a solid stone? If the stone representation is a combination of stones, does the stacking suggest a mouth - or even a mouth with an egg in it, reminiscent  of the Great Serpent Mound? Should we - or could we - put the fallen boulder shown below back in place? When are you available to help? How could we do it without heavy machinery?)

(Top left photo in this collage above is by Norman Muller, desacrated by me to show the eye and the egg, sent to me because of the resemblence to the photo right below it.)
Scales: What texture are the scales (or stones that represent scales or scutes), rough or smooth? Do some or all of the scales have keels (raising lines running lengthwise through scale)?
Patterns: What kinds of patterns does the snake (or representation in stone) have?
Blotches: large blocks of color (or stones) that are irregular or rectangular, often with dark borders.
Diamonds: large, diamond shaped markings of one or multiple colors (represented in stone by rhomboidal stones or in a pattern of stacking – or both!).
(More about the shape: Rhombus Rhomboid Rhomboidal)
Speckles: one or more dots or flecks of color per scale (or stone).
Spots: small, rounded marks generally without borders that can cover several scales (or stone).
Crossbands: Bands of color that go across the back and down the sides, but don't cross the belly.
Rings: Are (there) bands (of) color that go across the back and down the sides, completely encircling the body?

Stripes: are/(do) lines of color run lengthwise down the snake's body? They may be only a scale (or stone) wide or may be many scales (or stones) wide.
Two-toned: Where the back and belly are different colors.
Head and neck colors: Some species have distinct markings or colors on the head in the form of bands, stripes or solid areas of color (Do the stones imitate this?).
No pattern: The body is a single, uniform color (or is it a "sparse" pile of stones?)."
(Above: Stitching together 3 of Jeff's photos from his fine Flickr Photostream)

(And, I find I need to add, what else is around that Serpent?) 

{Adapted, and in some places grammatically corrected, from: a page on the Alderleaf Wilderness College website which can be found at 

And I'll ask again:
     If there are many free standing stone concentrations/constructions that resemble animals, both actual and legendary, that figured highly in the Indigenous People of Turtle Island (Native Americans of North America) Worldview – the turtle, bear and deer etc. along with the Great Serpents etc., -  then who was more likely to have the time and motivation to create this artwork?
      If those same techniques of artwork can be found in those longer piles of stones most often called “stone walls” then again, who was most likely to have the time and motivation to create this artwork?
       If the Indigenous People of Turtle Island (Native Americans of North America) maintained the landscape with fire then how were those fires controlled, especially in areas of dense population?
        If Paleo-Indians (the Ancestors of the Indigenous People of Turtle Island) made “sophisticated prehistoric stone walls deep beneath the surface of Lake Huron,” the most recent find described as “two stone lines forming a lane about 30 metres long and eight metres wide which ended in a corral-type structure” with “hunting blinds built into the sides as well as other lanes and structures,” then why not elsewhere on Turtle Island?
       And I’ll repeat again that: "To deny that there are remnants of Stonework (and Earthworks) of many kinds that illustrate an Indigenous presence on the Sacred Landscape of Turtle Island is a form of Ethnic Cleansing," adding that the reuse of Indigenous made stonework and claiming them as post contact “stone walls and fences” was a form of cultural appropriation very much related to the appropriation of Indigenous land. (See:

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! Been hibernating along with rocks buried under snow. Catching up on your fine winter work.