Timothy H. Ives was kind enough to email me a copy of the “Cairnfields in New England’s Forgotten Pastures.” I read it once, then twice, and then I read it once again. Each time I got the feeling that I’d read it somewhere before but I know that can’t be true. I guess that it is just sounds so much so much like so many other things I’ve read about stone mounds and stone walls presented as reminders of an “agrarian past” related to a very brief period of time.
Dr. Ives abstract states: Most of the cairnfields in New England’s forested hills were likely built by nineteenth-century farmers to prolong the usefulness of increasingly stony, overgrazed pastures. This working hypothesis is supported by a historical context, observations of cairnfields in Rhode Island, and a formation model that accounts for important cultural and environmental factors. Cairnfields may yield new and important insights into some of the more prosaic, historically overlooked dimensions of agrarian pasts, particularly when their study leverages a landscape approach within the context of farmstead archaeology.
I’m not sure how, as Ives writes, “this paper presents a modest contribution toward the shared goal of distinguishing ceremonial stonework from that of farmers (Lavin 2013:296) in a region where a variety of mutually influential cultural traditions render stone piles and cairns meaningful (Ives 2013).” Every figure included in the paper, some of them obviously Indigenous-made constructions in the eyes of members of the Narragansett Tribal Nation or independent researchers, is presented as proof, such as Robert Thorson “imagines” and Susan Allport “proposes,” of how post contact agrarian field clearing might look, while neglecting to show any image of any proven Indigenous Stone Feature of any kind anywhere as an example. While Ives wants to “emphasize that no disrespect is intended toward Native American Tribes who may ascribe sacred value to cairnfields within the context of Ceremonial Stone Landscapes (sensu United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. 2007), he seems reluctant to mention a single Indigenous Cultural Landscape in the western hemi-sphere for comparison, including the Turners Falls Sacred Ceremonial Hill Site. Every word written in “Cairnfields” seems to deny that Indigenous Cultures in the Northeast, over a span of 12,000 years or more, could have possibly left any visible reminder of their presence on the landscape.
Reading the paper caused me to pause and ask some myself some “If/Then” questions:
“If the already understudied Indigenous Cultural Landscape is ignored, particularly in the case of Stone Features, then wouldn’t a person be guilty of passing off Pseudoscience as Science, substituting myths for truth, and Ethnically Cleansing away evidence of thousands of years of Traditional Ecological Knowledge by claiming, without further research, that the great majority of stonework in the Northeast is the result of field clearing methods of post-contact agriculture?
If there are many free standing stone concentrations/constructions that either contain effigies or resemble animals both actual and legendary, as well as other designs and patterns that figured highly and appear in the artwork in other media created by the Indigenous People of Turtle Island (Native Americans of North America) – 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 - Indigenous People or farmers fancifully and whimsically "doodling" as Thorson calls it?
If those same techniques and designs found in Indigenous artwork can be found in those longer piles of stones most often called “stone walls” then again, who was most likely to have the greater amount of time and greater motivation to create this artwork especially when the stone wall ends in what clearly resembles a snakes head (as I once heard a panel member at a Roundtable on Stone Features and Ceremonial Stone Landscapes at the IAIS Research Center say, as if reading my mind)?
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, in times of increasing territorialism? Which would be a considered the more “dire need” to justify the labor required to create nearly a quarter million miles of stone walls – fuel breaks to control Indigenous burning over a great length of time or animal containment fences in the brief period of time known as the Golden Age of Stonewall Building that began shortly after the American Revolutionary War and ended with the invention of barbed wire.
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?
Doesn't the Law of Parsimony apply not only to the time required for the building of “stone walls” but also to the reuse of already existing stone structures – or their removal from the landscape?
Did wooden rail fences actually come first or were fence laws created to culturally appropriate existing stone wall fuel breaks and/or petroforms in a quick and simple manner, adding rails to meet a height requirment?
Will the time come when an archeologist’s reputation be in jeopardy for NOT recognizing Stone Features of the Sacred Ceremonial Landscape (such as turtles on Turtle Island)?
Will the time come when the sanity of an independent researcher is NOT questioned when pointing out repeated patterns in Indigenous Stonework and Artwork…