Three Rock Pile Sites
is useful to go beyond simple logic to locate and interpret rock pile
example, logic can get us to within
hundred yards of a site but sometimes something more is needed to find
hidden there, low in the bushes. A friend from
Carlisle says: "good instincts are 90% of it". When I am hunting
for sites, I look for places with water and
changing topography. But when I am in such a place and there are still
many directions to explore, it is fun to let the random search
determined by the direction of animal
the flights of birds such as grouse, woodpeckers, and
grackles. I particularly like to follow deer tracks and think "the deer
where to go". It is fun to be superstitious although it is not
clear if it helps. Once at a site however, some superstition
or guess work is necessary to interpret it. So I propose three
narratives: one about a burial place, another about a place of
natural energy, and a third about an observatory.
In the woods nearby, in a
swamp, is a low ridge of land extending
southward with a brook to the east and a wetland to the west which
join together south of the ridge. A few
acres of the higher land are
enclosed within a triangle of stone
walls, all of which continue outward to join other walls apparently
demarcating property. But here the walls meet to create a
triangle of remaindered land. There is some additional structure where
the brook cuts across the northeast corner of the triangle
and inside the triangle are thirty or more rock piles, mostly low oval
ground piles incorporating a central piece
of quartz. At the corners of the enclosure are other piles suggesting
deliberate shapes and built on top of support rocks. I have come to
believe the site is a
graveyard. The low piles are the individual graves, and the piles built
on support rocks at the three corners are effigies related to burial
and death ceremonies.
Here is a sketch of the site topography with
brown topo lines, black stone walls. The dotted line indicates a cart
path crossing a bridge and passing through wall openings. The bearings
are not true
bearings but magnetic ones.
In October 2003 I was exploring along a dirt road northward through the
looking systematically to either side, when I came to a place with rock
There were several built low to the ground incorporting
quartz or lighter colored rocks. They were mostly on the western facing
side of the ridge and the lighter colored rocks were mostly on the
eastern side of the piles. It had already become a standing hypothesis
that this kind of ground
pile with white rocks might be burials, especially if there was a view
to the west. Since the site was surrounded by water on three sides with
views to the east and west, the piles here fit the profile.
However one of the first piles I saw, near the southern corner of the
site, was not built on thr ground but was build prominently on a
support boulder. The shape of the rocks in the pile seemed suggestive
effigy but it was complex
and damaged, so I could
not make anything of it.
In the northeastern corner of the site there were a collection of four
other piles built with cobbles on support rocks.
Each pile had a "head" rock sticking out the side. In these pictures,
the direction of the tree shadows show that the heads are mostly facing
in the same direction, and are hanging off
the edge of their support in the same direction, which is roughly
north. These are a type of pile sometimes called "turtles".
That is what I saw on my first visit to the site: A place surrounded
by water on 3 sides with
different structures inside a triangular enclosure of stone walls,
including: low "burial" style
piles facing west over the water, a group of "turtles" to the
northeast, and a possible effigy on a boulder in the southern
corner, that I could make no sense of.
On subsequent visits I
noticed there was yet another pile on a support rock at the
northern corner, it was very damaged; so supported piles only occured
at the corners of the
also noticed several more ground piles than on the first visit, noticed
break in the northern wall that appeared to be a deliberate entrance,
and spent time studying the curious wall structure in the northeast
corner where the stream crosses the walls.
This is a view westward into the site from outside the northeast
entrance breaks are along the walls to the right.
An interesting thing happened on the second visit I made to the site.
It was in the fall and there was a large flock of grackles in the trees
over the site as I approached. Grackles are small black birds like
small crows, with
long tails. While I was there, they moved off but
then, as I was leaving, there were so many of them flying up all
around that I got a picture of some of them, even though
most had already flown up and off a ways:
I decided to follow the racket of their chirping into the trees across
the dirt road from the site, and found myself standing on another rock
pile. So I thought this was amusing that they led me to another pile.
A few days later I was exploring in a different place and again
heard grackles off to the side of my path. I thought it would be fun to
explore over in their direction but instead
I followed a prior plan. It was a fruitless
exploration so, on returning, I turned off the path towards where the
grackles had been and I immediately found rock piles. I though that was
amusing. Then a couple of days later, I found another site by being
systematic but, about two minutes after I located the new site, a flock
of grackles arrived over head and started chirping. It was starting to
look like flocks of migrating grackles are good
predictors of rock pile sites. Perhaps they like to flock
in the kinds of trees on the kinds of low knolls that are common sites
for rock piles. Although not superstitious, today I
would pay attention to a flock of grackles.
The next visit to the site was after inviting a sharp-eyed friend
Carlisle to take a look. I was confident he would see
things I had missed. First he noticed the breaks in the stone
walls to the
east leading to a dilapidated stone bridge leading across the
brook and over to the opening in the wall on the northern boundary of
This bridge (first picture,
view from the east side of the bridge) is
part of the complex structure of walls on this side,
which are very far from being understood. For example the culvert
system (second picture, view from the south at the third culvert)
indicates that the brook has
not shifted its bed
and the intention was for the walls to criss-cross it this
During a wet spring this
structure results in two small ponds nearly surrounded by stone wall.
The phrase "water impoundment" seems to fit. What is going on here?
There are collapsed structures inside the impoundement areas, worth
My friend, in addition to spotting the cart path and bridge leading
the site, took one look at the complicated pile at the
southern corner and said: "that's a raven".
He pointed to a rock (the one in the middle of the picture with a sharp
tip pointing to the lower right) and said it was deliberately shaped to
look like the head of a crow or raven. This is useful technique:
looking for one special rock which has been deliberately shaped. Here,
I think he is correct because other features of the pile fall into
place symmetrically to left and right of this head: a left wing
formed by an oval rock placed on the support, and right wing formed by
a line, carved or natural, on the support rock.
In the same timeframe as finding and exploring this site, I had a
number of conversations with Indians about the use of quartz. I was
trying to understand the ground piles and hoping that understanding
quartz would make it easier. Back then, in 2003, I thought quartz was
an indicator of purity. In the process of being corrected about this, I
may have also asked about the meaning of the crow or raven in Native
mythology. The answer I heard, and which I also found online, is that
the crow is a messenger to the dead. Here is a story, from the Web (1)
"The Arapaho believed that the spirit
world was in the West, on the same level as their world, but on
mountains surrounded by water. Crow, a leader of the Spirit World and a
messenger, collected the departed and brought them to the hills overlooking this sea. To the
east of the sea of the dead was the boundary of the living world..."
This seems to describe the site in a remarkable way. Perhaps it is
deliberately playing out the story.
Like the spirit world, the site is
surrounded by water. The departed are there, looking out over the water
to the west and also to the east. To the east, the brook is at the edge
of the living world, corresponding to the higher land to the east of
the site. The crow is there as a messenger between the departed and the
land of the living. Unfortunately, the Arapaho story does not tell us
about turtles, nor give a clue for interpreting the damaged pile in the
northern corner. What the story does do is to re-enforce the
speculation that this is a burial site. Since we know so little and
certainly can not dig up the piles,
perhaps all we can hope for is internal consistency of the hypotheses.
In particular it supports the view that low ground piles incorporating
quartz are burials. This leads us to seriously consider: what is the
purpose of the quartz in a burial pile? We have alread
discussed that quartz does not "block", hence it may do the
opposite, which is to transmit [I think this was also suggested by an
Indian friend]. Pursuing this, if low ground piles with quartz are
graves then perhaps the quartz plays the role of a window through which
the soul can pass. Thus from the tentative idenitification of a rock
pile as a crow effigy we pass (not by logic but by a tightening of the
inter related speculations) to a tentative conclusion about the use of
quartz. If these ideas are valid, they will be further re-enforced by
observations. Otherwise, they will be contradicted and replaced.
(1) CrowHaven's Tale Collection.
In the uplands north of here is a small pond surrounded by hills to the
north, east, and west but with gently sloping shores and marshes to
the south. On several acres of higher ground to the south there is an
area bounded by
stone walls with as many as one hundred rock
piles, mostly built upon support rocks and having symmetries or
the appearance of deliberate shapes - the type of piles I call
effigies. These include good representations of woman, man,
and turtle; along with more ambiguous representations possibly of deer
and eagle; and still vaguer representations of heads with segmented
tails, small lines of rocks, and little platforms. The view from
site is outwards across the pond and directly north
to a notch in the hills. Perhaps the concentration of rock piles here
because the lake is a headwater, or perhaps it is because of the
balanced and wide horizon provided by the opening to the sky above the
Place of Natural Energy
Here is a sketch of the site topography, with brown topo lines, black
and magnetic compass bearings. The wall along the western edge of the
site leads northeast out into the wetland. At first it has mounded up
dirt and rocks along it but, as it continues, the wall ends and the
mounded rocks and dirt continue and swell into an artificial berm. Near
the end, the berm has a short well-made segment of retaining wall. To
the east side of the site is a solitary outlier rock pile, an
the west side there is a large
boulder in the back yard of a house.
By effigy, I mean a rock pile with a "head" and an axis of
symmetry passing through the head. There are many piles like this at
the site. Most of the piles, whether or not they are effigies, occur in
groups or clusters with a
space in the
middle of the each cluster.
For example in the foreground of the first picture is a small group; a
larger group can be seen in the background. In the second picture you
get a sense of the number and density of the piles at the site.
I found the site with my friend from Carlisle in May 2000 while
systematically looking for rock pile sites. More precisely, I got us
within one hundred yards and he found the piles "hidden there, low in
the bushes". At that time, at most three or four rock pile sites were
known in this area. I had noticed a solitary rock pile in Concord
formed like a seated woman; but the observation was subjective and of
little importance until a very similar pile was noticed by friends in
Carlisle. Any pattern can arise at random but when the same
complex pattern occurs more than once, it creates the suspicion that
the pattern is deliberate. In this case not only were the Concord and
Carlisle rock piles similar, their locations had similar topography.
Both places were adjacent to a spring and both provided a view
out to the southeastern sky. In addition to this, both piles were
physically oriented in the same way with head to the northwest and feet
Could these all be coincidences or could they be predictive of
each other? Could we find another woman shaped pile facing this way by
other places with water coming out of the ground and views to the
One idea was that piles were intentionally
located next to a water source - a "water" hypothesis. Another
idea was that the rock piles always faced in this directions and the
sites always faced to the
southeast - a "direction" hypothesis. In order to test these,
I located another brook close to the Carlisle site and walked up it
until I got to its source. Just as I hoped, there were rock piles
there. But no female figures and no view to the southeast. When I asked
my friend from Carlisle to take a look, complaining that I did not find
any female figures, he spent five minutes looking around, digging in
the leaves, and shouted out: "here's your effigy". What he uncovered
was not a woman figure. Perhaps it was a man? It faced northwest. A
second rock pile nearby looked a bit like a turtle. The site faced the
brook to the northwest. We continued exploring and for
several weeks did not find any woman effigies until, finally, we
did find one at this pond site: a reward for persistence, a third
Here is the original woman effigy found in Concord compared to the one
found at the pond. In the first picture, note the vertical axis of
symmetry from upper "head" rock down to the large horizontal rock which
is either a pedestal or represents crosssed legs of a seated figure.
The breasts are represented by the paler rock with lower edge following
the line of a "W". These same features are present in the second
picture but the axis of symmetry is horizontal with the "head" to the
right. Compare these also with another
possible example from here, or the one
from Carlisle. We also found many other effigies at this pond site.
Here is the original man found along the brook, and a new example
found here at the pond. It is assumed these are human figures and,
lacking breasts but with prominent arms, they are identified as a man
figures. Please note similar detailing of the cross-bar
and of the
lower edge of the base rock. It is hard to accept that such minor
details might have specific meanings.
Other examples of rock pile designs which are nearly identical across
many sites in this area include turtles and birds. For example, in the
case of turtles, we frequently see a single rock hanging over the edge
of a slightly domed support boulder. The single rock, or "head", is
shaped with a pointed "beak", as on an actual turtle, and usually there
is a prominent quartz vein on the dome of the support
boulder. [Note that in our quest to understand the meanings of quartz
and how it is used, this is another clue. In many traditional stories,
the turtle holds the world and all its souls on its back.]
The "directionality" hypothesis that sites or effigies always face in
certain directions was not correct, at least not in its
simple form. But the "water" hypothesis, saying that rock piles
occur near a water source, was confirmed and led to finding many more
sites, as described here.
Of course there is much more to it than water and effigies but these do
form a very common phenomenon in this area. Effigies have also been
found near large boulders - sometimes on hilltops with no water. Since
large boulders were regarded by the Indians as ceremonial and as
providing a kind of spiritual energy, it seems likely that water
sources provide a similar energy. Effigies have also been
found in places with a high level of lightening activity. It is
possible that lightening was yet another form of spiritual energy. If
so, then it is reasonable to suppose that rock piles, in particular
effigy rock piles, were constructed
at these locations in order to interact with and benefit from the
energy. The nature of the specific rock piles at this pond
and, more particularly, the nature of their grouping implies very
specific and elaborate activities and I take it that this place shares
something with places of large boulders and lightening strikes - some
energy calling for the construction of rock piles.
One group of effigies, in particular
attention.It lies near the center of the
site with the best view
outwards to the north, towards the notch and contains a large number of
piles, some recognizable others not.
This panorama shows the group from left (northeast) to center
(southeast) to right
(southwest). In the picture,
"fish" is at the far left, the eagle at the far right, the woman is
roughly in the center, and the man, turtle, and deer are not visible.
Here are pictures of the individual piles of the group layed out on the
match their actual layout on the ground, with north at the top
of the pictures. The double quotation marks acknowledge the
doubtfulness of the identification.
click on the thumbnails to see the full sized pictures.]
center picture is taken facing to the north from within the group, so
you can see the man to
the upper left and the "fish" to the upper right, beyond the deer in
picture. It seems that the deer, if that is a correct identification,
is in a special position within the overall group. It is also worth
attention to how the man and woman figures are placed - on opposite
sides of the group with man to the
northwest and woman to the southeast. The cross-bar
which forms the man's arms is
pointing due north and the site faces north but you can also see the
eastern and western skies.
I have come to think that the man, woman, and turtle effigies are
correct identifications. I am not at all confident of the others
because the shapes are not reproduced in other places (except elsewhere
at this same site there is another example like the eagle)
Notice that all the effigies within the single group
represent different species. The head with segmented body occurs nearby
again but in a different group. Several other groups appear to have
a woman and a turtle. Does this mean we should also expect a man, and
all the others to be nearby? There is much more to
The site was a very important early discovery. We located
continuing a systematic exploration near water sources and it was
the third site found that way. The site had a new examples of woman,
man, turtle, and many others and remains
complete and un-damaged effigy gallery known.
On the hills west of Beaver Brook in Boxborough, facing east over the
valley is a collection of rock piles discussed in Manitou on p.279 (1). Bruce
MacAlleer tracked down this site by comparing the
Manitou map with a Fort
Devens "stone wall" map that includes this area.
Here is Figure 11-9 from the book (reproduced by permission). To quote
from Mavor and Dix: "Shown at the
bottom of Figure 11-9 as a
group of dots is a field of stone mounds situated on a hillside
plateau. There are about 75 small piles of broken stone, obviously
quarried from the surrounding ledges. Some piles are made of elongated
pieces of stone piled up parallel
with one another...".
There are, indeed, a large number of single piles with elongated pieces
of stone on top.
For example the first photo shows a pile with a single stone post
extending out towards the
camera. The second photo shows a similar structure. In the third
picture there is a noticeable upright block. Piles with these elongated
stones are everywhere at the site. They
are similar to the type identified as "marker piles" in Rock Pile Types. I believe the elongated
rocks help define the pile's exact locations and
that this is important when lining up rock piles, which is related to
Here is a crude sketch of the pile locations. The piles are plotted as
blue dots on the topo map. At B is a large glacial erratic next to a
Twins pile. At S is a seat backed against a smaller erratic - which
appears to have fallen off of a sconce. At H, the highpoint on the
plateau, there is a separate cluster of piles and perhaps another seat.
Most of the piles lie to the east and downhill of a faint rib of
bedrock which runs along the site on the line approximately from H
Here is a picture of the seat at "S". This is a typical example built
on the ground, as described here.
the site on the first day, it seemed there were rows of piles, three in
a row...four in a row, going
every which way. On subsequent visits, I continue to be overwhelmed by
the number of piles and the large amounts of directional information.
It is hard to photograph examples. The first picture shows an alignment
where there is another pile downhill from, but in line with, the first
two. In the
second picture, a split rock lines up with two boulders and a (hard to
rock pile beyond. In the third picture, circles show five items in a
row, some rocks in the ground and some piles too far in the background
to make out. These straight lines, although hard to photo, are real.
Their presence bolsters the assumption that marker piles are
involved with alignments as well as the possibility that sometimes a
split rock is split in a specific direction intentionally.
By an alignment I mean a
linear structure which
points to an event in the sky. In this case the aligments are formed by
sequences of rock piles but it is also possible that the elongated
rocks in the piles are single rock alignments. Ideas from astronomy are
core topics in the book Manitou
- a book which has generated a great deal of interest, including my
own, in stone structures such as rock piles. Lacking knowledge of
I invited friends with compasses to take a look at the site. One of
them observed that the hill across the valley to the east had solstice
either end. This means the furthest north sunrise is visible at the
left edge of the hill and the furthest south sunrise is visible at the
right edge of the hill. I verified something like this using Tim Fohl's
"MAPTECH-Terrain Navigator" software.
Here is an plot of the topography with exaggerated elevations. The blue
"V" drawn on the map has its vertex at the site and opens eastward. The
left arm of the "V" is the direction of the summer solstice sunrise at
62 degrees. The right arm is the direction of the winter solstice at
124 degrees. These directions frame the hill on the other side of the
Here is a picture of the hill viewed over Cisco corporate buildings.
There were too many trees to get a good photo from higher up, so this
picture is taken from below the site. This hill
provides a basic calendar as the sun rises at different points from
right to left. Although it cetainly could be used this way, I do not
observing such a calendar was the main activity at the site.
The "plateau" where
the site is located is actually a series of slopes and levels.
Most of the
piles occur on the steeper parts of the slope and, from these places,
the alignment points down into the valley to the east and up into the
sky to the west. This suggests that the main purpose of the alignments
is to view events to the west, not to the east, and higher in the sky
above the horizon. Some of the elongated
might have been intended to be seen against the sky itself. For example
there are a number of rock piles exactly on the corner between level
slope. Is there a particular view which these facilitate?
An elevated view of the
sky is also suggested by an interesting
pile with a hole in it. On the bottom of a lower reaches of a slope,
below "S" in the site sketch, is a
prominent pile built up
on a support boulder. This pile has a deliberate
aperature through which a small pointer is visible against the sky.
This is a picture of the pile with a "hole" or aperature, looking back
down through the aperature, with the pointer in the
foreground. When looking in the other direction, outward through the
aperature, the view is
towards a point high above the eastern horizon. Some people would think
these are just coincidental details. I think they suggest that looking
at the sky was a highly precise activity here. Since the
site sits on the lower slopes of a larger hill behind and to the west,
it would have an early sunset and be in darker shadow in the evening.
The location would be
advantageous to watch stars and moon rise events in the early
evening. Perhaps someone with a better understanding of astronomy and
better ability to measure these directions can study the site more
carefully in the future - there is a great deal more to be figured out
The site has other features besides the ones which suggest astronomy
and sky watching. Lower down, below the site, on the last shoulder
valley is a large glacial erratic with a "Twins" rock pile beside it.
This suggests the site is located at a border between two territories
[reasons given here]. Also, at
the site, there is an unusual concentration of quartz in one place.
On one ledge there are several large
blocks of quartz. They share the ledge with a small boat
rudder-shaped piece of burnt rock. I suspect this is not a
coincidence What does the quartz concentration mean here and why
is it placed near this familiar shape? There are also other rocks
throughout the site stained reddish brown, indicating that they have
been burnt. Was burning done here to break up the rocks or as part of
some other activity? Perhaps this has nothing to do with sky watching?
The burnt rock, the aligments which go in many directions, including
directions high in the sky, the concentration of quartz in one place,
and the many piles with an elongated rock on top - all these things
together but none are understood. We have only scratched the
surface at this site; just as we have barely scratched the surface of
the subject of rock piles.
(1) Manitou - The Sacred
Landscape of New England's Native Civilization. James W. Mavor,
Jr. and Byron E. Dix. Inner Traditions International, Ltd. One Park
Street Rochester, VT 05767 (1989) pp 279-282.