Friday, January 20, 2017

Old Stone Wall on the Forested Hillside (VT & CT)

   Well I’m reading something called “Analyze Your Town’s Cultural Landscape” that I found online {] and partway through it I find a mention of a stone wall:
“Say you have found an old stone wall in the forested hillside near you. The first thing you need to do is to try to date the stone wall. You might do some research at the town clerk’s office and discover the wall was mentioned in an 1850 deed. You may not know exactly when it was built, but you know it is at least a mid-nineteenth-century feature. The next thing to do would be to look for other human features that could be the same age. You might follow the stone wall and find a cellar hole, and a small stone-lined hole in the ground, and a lilac bush. Human features tend to cluster in certain time periods, and the clusters can help you reconstruct what happened there. The cellar hole you find corresponds to a farmhouse site shown on a map from 1857 and on one from 1869. The small stone-lined hole uses the same building technique as the wall (no mortar, dry-stone), and you surmise it is a well for the farmhouse. The lilac bush is on the side of the cellar hole that faces an old road. It must have been planted there before it was forest, and probably long before. So, you associate all these elements from one era together, erase in your mind’s eye the recent additions to the landscape, and try to picture the mid-nineteenth-century farmhouse along the road, with a dooryard lilac and well, and open fields beyond fenced in stone.
If that stone wall now runs through the woods, you may also be able to research and see in your mind’s eye the farm failure, the abandonment of the farmhouse and farmland, and the natural forest succession of the twentieth century. You’ve started with one human feature on the landscape and learned to read what you see in greater depth.
Human use of the Vermont landscape reaches back 11,000 years, and each of the layers of human use can be looked at one at a time. To understand the prehistoric human layers of the landscape, you need to look mostly underground, and look at archeological excavations to see how early humans used the landscape. (If you’re interested in prehistoric landscapes, see the section that follows.) Most of the human features in the Vermont today, however, are from the landscapes created in historic times by the European settlers of the last 200 years...”
And I’m “interested in prehistoric landscapes” (and offended by the use of the word “prehistoric”), but I’m already certain that any further thoughts about that stone wall won’t include the possibility that it is an Indigenous made feature. I click on the link and there it is:
“Even though there are almost no human features visible above the ground that date back to prehistoric times, knowing how prehistoric Native Americans used the landscape may change the way you see the physical landscape today...”
I’ll challenge that statement, chop it up and rearrange it to say:
“Knowing how pre-contact Indigenous People Native Americans used the landscape may change the way you see the physical landscape today. There may be many features visible above the ground that reach back to sometime in those 11,000 years, including that stone wall on the hillside.”

I can’t easily run up that hillside in Vermont to look at that stone wall but I can tell you about a hillside or two in Connecticut where a stone wall or two (or more) might be above ground visible features of the Indigenous Ethnographic Cultural Landscape. Here’s one that technically is on a hillside above my home – but it’s a big hill and actually near the center next town – and oddly enough, on what became the estate of the first Puritan (now Congregationalist) minister in that town, associated with a building that was constructed as a farmhouse in about 1754:
Based on common assumptions about stone walls, you could conclude that this stone wall was constructed at some time after 1754, as fields and pastures were cleared of stones and the land deforested so that wooden rails for fences were in short supply. Then again, maybe the minister wanted a "proper" (English) stone wall around his property from the very beginning. Looking for some cultural clues, you might note those stones, the boulders, that “anchor” this stone wall – another assumed common practice you’ll find in your stone wall field guide, how colonial fence builders kept stones in place at gateways into tracts of land.
But when you look a little more closely at those boulders, you might notice something else:
Someone at some time modified that boulder so that the boulder appears to have a round white eye.

Looking at that stone wall might remind a person of a large snake, similar perhaps to snake petroforms or boulder outlines –or earthen mounds – or even, moving farther south, temples and walls and other structures in Central and South America.
A little imagination (and my Paint program) creates a different view of this gateway:
That’s the “above the ground” clue that hints at Indigenous Culture. Some proper archaeological investigation, below ground, might better assign a date to this gateway. Following the stone walls here leads many interesting places [].
More Stone Walls on Hillsides (and numerous other places):

Visualizing Serpent Walls (with the help of some Abenaki stories:

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