This presentation is part of the online document Acknowledging Landscapes: Presentations from the National Register Landscape Initiative.
Doug Harris: Okay. I am the Deputy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Narragansett Indian Tribe, and I am the preservationist for ceremonial landscapes. John Brown is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and Medicine Man of the tribe. And it is from this office that we have participated with other regional tribes in the mapping and identification and protection of ceremonial stone landscapes.
I would also like to recommend that soon, there’s a website coming to you in about two weeks. The United South and Eastern tribes will have an easy way to access all of our resolutions dealing with ceremonial stone landscapes. Prior to that, you can go to a blog. A local blogger here in Rhode Island has put up all those resolutions and they would be of assistance for you better understanding what we’re attempting to do. But his blog is Larry, L-A-R-R-Y Harrop H-A-R-R-O-P and he has both photographs and full copies of all the USET resolutions.
The first USET resolution was in 2002 and that’s resolution number 2003-022. And what it does is it establishes for the first time in eastern United States the concern that tribes have with regard to ceremonial stone landscapes. And it spells out in limited detail what the significance of ceremonial stone landscapes might be and it basically states that the medicine people and for our region those are [inaudible] in their process of developing communication with our mother the earth and pleading for balance and harmony utilized stones in various kind of configurations.
The first one that you see on the screen is a turtle effigy. This is from Killingworth Connecticut. It’s one of many variations on the theme of a turtle but the turtle, as it may be also in some of your cultures, is the effigy totem of the teacher. It also reminds us of our responsibilities as a cooperative resident of this continent, turtle island.
This is indicative of the effigy form known as serpentine row. Quite often they are curved and meander across the landscape and usually they will start with the tail of serpent in a spring or a stream and will end with the serpent’s head – which you see at the bottom of the screen – also pointing to water.
This is an effigy – and this starts the beginning of a series dealing with Turners Falls – this is a human effigy. It is representative – I believe – of the spirit of the humans who used this site. And this particular site is the one that in 2008 the National Register determined eligible for the placement on the Register of Historic Places and it started our process of going to the Federal Agencies and going to the archaeologists and going to the SHPOs and saying the National Register acknowledges these, what’s your problem.
So this was not dug out of the ground, it was revealed in the area where it is and then covered back over.
This is another effigy form and this general category is referred to as [inaudible] and it is at the end of a ceremonial stone grouping that was very low to the ground and it’s characterized by its point and wings. Then the point is in the direction out west towards Kaytontawit’s house. So the Narragansett [inaudible ] is the spirit energy of the southwest. And it is to [inaudible ] house that when you pass away you wish your spirit to go and it is from [inaudible] field that the crow brought the seeds of the corn, bean, and squash to initiate the agrarian period of life for northeastern tribes, particularly from the Narragansett oral history.
Turners Falls Ceremonial Hill as our analysis began to show, is related to the Perseid meteor shower. I have to start out by saying that when we began this work at Turners Falls it was an airport project. It was federal aviation. It was skepticism. Not about the significance of the area, because it had been determined that there were Paleolithic near it. Our office got involved in monitoring archaeology on one side of the airport that proved to have 2,000 year old, 7,000 year old and 12,000 year old encampment episodes. Something that, in a [inaudible] indicated that there were activities on the other side of the runway and when we took the archaeologists over there, they said there’s nothing here but stone walls.
What we found under our feet, below the leaf cover were discreet stone piles. We said, well these are ceremonial to us. They said, well what we’ll do is we’ll put 100 test pits over here and we’ll find artifacts and we’ll establish the significance. The put 100 test pits in, found no artifacts, it’s not significant because we didn’t find any artifacts. We said, well wait a minute, in a ceremonial place, we would not expect to find quote-un-quote artifacts. You wouldn’t expect to find [inaudible ] debris and other garbage. Ultimately, what was determined was that the camp site that was 2,000, 7,000 and 12,000 years was the encampment where the people who came to do ceremonies left their garbage and did their resting.
The row, the stone row that they were saying was a stone wall, this is a section of it and what we found was that there was a break at one point where the stones had been removed and, in this case, some were toppled down into that break area. They’re all set to one side, as you see there the one stone, but the stone – and if we look at the break in the stone row, we saw a triangle. We then looked at the triangle standing on the base of that triangle. Perpendicular to the base of the triangle, what we could see was- you can see fifteen miles away in the distance – that’s across the airport runway.
We can see Mount Pawchauquet named for the people of the region, Pawchauquet tribe, the Pawchauquet people. And we saw that that horizon line had notches in it. Now we’re assuming that these notches are natural. We’ve not done the level of study that would indicate whether or not a lot of digging went on up there or whether they were natural.
But facing west, when the sun sets – in this case it was August 13th of 2007 – around August 11th, 12th, or 13th, the sun will set in that notch. And that, we determined was, the landscape calendar indication of the time of the highest concentration of the Perseid meteor shower, that you can see later on in the night.
It is at this point that we had remembered what the elder medicine man of the tribe had told us. He said; “do not rely on tribal oral history or tribal lore to win the day on these issues. They – archaeologists and other naysayers – will deny the significance. What you must do is let the landscape speak for itself. And let the tribal oral history and lore stand as its witness.”
I thought I knew exactly what he was talking about when I left his office, and I realized later on I did not have a clue what in fact he really meant. But as we went through this process, what we learned was that the landscape in fact would begin to speak for itself.
What we found on that alignment from the break in the hill to the notch fifteen and a half miles away, was another 3/4 of a mile away, were these standing stones. And they were in that same sunset alignment at 290 degrees. This is a place known as Burnt Hill in Heath Massachusetts and it’s well known as a place of ceremonial stones. The fact that all of these elements were in alignment was the great surprise and that was what the landscape had to teach us. That this was an ancient ceremonial calendar that was utilized by the ancient ancestors of the Pawchauquet as a part of knowing when ceremonies were appropriate to prepare for and to be done.
This is Upton, Massachusetts. This is the Upton chamber. The Upton chamber was a key element in the FCC’s determination of eligibility as a part of the cell tower project. The cell tower applicant wanted to put the cell tower on a hill – Pratt Hill – approximately a mile away. We knew there were ceremonial stones on that hill. There were a number of ceremonial stone groupings. We challenged that process indicating that these are cultural resources that would be impacted that under the National Historic Preservation Act there had a determination of the bounds of the cultural resource, not only its bounds, but how, in fact, it could be avoided.
So, Steve Del Sordo, the Federal Preservation Officer for FCC requested of the project proponent that there be a mapping of the ceremonial hill and its relationship to the chamber, which the tribe – at that point it was the Narragansett tribe, [inaudible ] tribe of [inaudible] and the Maushapogue tribe, the same trio that was involved at Turners Falls.
We did the mapping and what we found out – and the mapping was done by a local archaeological firm, its GPS mapping and it was done with our assistance so that they didn’t miss any of the stones. It was established that there was, in fact, a viewshed, a viewscape, from the chamber, the throat of the chamber up to Pratt Hill. In the tribal oral history, this was a tribal ceremonial site. What we do know is that the summer solstice sunset is the alignment from the chamber to Pratt Hill.
That is the dominant ceremonial stone grouping on Pratt Hill. It does not exist anymore. What happened was that the landowner, in his frustration about having tribes have anything to say about his property when out one day with a backhoe and he knocked all those stones down. Well he wasn’t going to get a cell tower put up there. Ultimately we renegotiated and he said that what he would be willing to do was put the property up for a preservation sale. He didn’t understand what was there, but clearly it meant a lot to some other people and now that property is in preservation. It’s very painful for me to look at this because I remember these stones before they were knocked down.
This is on the Narragansett Indian Reservation in Charlestown, Rhode Island. There are three images of this: this side, the reverse side, and then the definitive side. As you can see in the upper right hand side, there’s an effigy face there. This was the site for a new tribal clinic, which has been delayed, primarily because of a historic preservation concern. We had done mapping here. We knew that this was a ceremonial stone landscape, we didn’t know the details. Those elders who did know had not shared it with us. Those of you who are in charge, you know that that is a frequent occurrence. You have to be worthy of the knowledge, quite often in order to get it. I’m not quite sure how many hoops you have to jump through, but it happens. We had done the ceremonial landscape survey, we had discovered a number of points that we knew were in this bowl and that were along the edge of this bowl. And we knew that we were dealing with a ceremonial calendar. But we could not find the observation point. After the construction work of land clearing began, we began to remove the moss and other growth from this and the face was revealed. We were absolutely moved.
This is the exciting thing about working with the team that has experience in the field. Over ten years we have been working with non-natives who are stewards in their own community of ceremonial landscapes. We’ve been working with retired scientists to put together a system with the Tribal Historic Preservation Officers of the region that is orderly and allows us to go in and determine the bonds of the cultural resource. We knew a lot about this, but we did not know this.
This is the reverse side. And this is a young man in the tribe sitting in this observation seat as his ancestors would have done, we believe, for thousands of years. With this sequence of photographs, we identified for the tribe that if the building was not moved at least 60 feet – and one of our team member’s whose forte is astronomy, sent him the geometry and trigonometry – gave us an indication that if we moved it 60 feet then the point of origin of that seat will be out from behind the building and for the most part it would be able to see all of the alignments that it had to address.
We took that issue – these photographs – to the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and medicine man and they made a determination that there was no question that we would move it in order to preserve the functionality of this observation.
Our plan is that we will use this as a part of the teaching of the young people of the tribe to teach them geometry and astronomy on their own property with the tools that were left behind by our ancestors.
The town of [inaudible] and we are consulting with them on a security fence that they need to put up and you had to get to this project at the bottom of this hill. It’s known as Black Plain Hill with a national grid project. Prior to that we were dealing with it with general regions on a National Park Service battlefield mapping graph because a battle and a massacre took place in the 1600s [inaudible] created the opportunity so that we could not only examine the general area, the base of the hill, and then the top of it.
This is also an observation seat. This is a bear effigy and to the upper right is where the observer would sit. What the observer would be looking at a number of yards away would be this configuration. This is an effigy of a bear standing on its hind legs and then behind it a bear standing on all fours. We are waiting for the opportunity to do the full analysis because the perception is that, as you can see that one line there, [inaudible] the bear’s motion, but this is about probably a foot, foot and a half, maybe two feet in diameter.
If you look very closely – you will see the big dipper in the sky. This is a depiction of what the observer would see in the evening when the big dipper had made it [inaudible]
What we have here is a bear effigy that is relating to the big dipper in the form of what is referred to regionally as the bear’s tail touching the earth. And that too we believe is a part of the ceremonial practices dealing with the deceased.
Hopefully this has been of value as an introduction to ceremonial stone landscapes here in the northeast. The Wampanoag tribe of [inaudible 00:23:59] the Pequot tribe and the Mohegan tribe are the current partners with the Narraganset in approaching federal agencies. We’ve had a great deal of recent success with the Army Corps of Engineers on power-line projects. They now require ceremonial stone landscape mapping as a part of their permitting process. We’ve been successful with FCC. We’re in the process of having a final success with the Federal Aviation Administration and we are entering into projects with Federal Highway.
I would ask that those of you, who have ceremonial stones of this sort in your region, persevere. Use the National Historic Preservation Act. It is a great tool and in some instances, a wonderful weapon. I would also like to acknowledge Robert Thrower the chairman of the Cultural and Heritage Committee of the United South Eastern Tribes. Robert is the THPO for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and recently they went into an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to examine ceremonial stone landscapes on Forest Service land. I was honored to join them down at the Talladega National Forest in Alabama at the tail end of the Appalachian range. We found ceremonial stones in many ways like the ones that we have here and in many ways quite different. The Creek were doing what we were doing, but they were doing it in a different way.
We also know that the Yurok in Northern California had a ceremonial stone tradition. We know that in the National Forest Service areas, Arkansas in Washoe National Forest there are ceremonial stones. This we believe to be a part of the ancient tradition that was shared from the Atlantic to the Pacific by the ancient tribal people.
Paul Loether: This is Paul Loether the Chief of the National Register of Historic Places. I also wanted to note that in terms of small review that we, we did find evidence provided from the early contact period Ezra Stiles, President of Yale, was a person who walked the woods much and in his writings recorded the fact that the tribe members were making stone configurations. While he had no idea what they meant, it impressed him that, in fact, it was something that was going on at the time. That was one of the things that we found very helpful in understanding the fact that a tradition which was not formerly recognized in fact was recorded even by the European community in the early contact period.
Doug: I would like to take this moment to give some serious acknowledgement to the National Register. We did not expect to get a determination of eligibility at Turners Falls. Our perception was that you have two parties from Washington DC, the National Register that I knew very little about and the Federal Aviation Administration, that in Washington they would get together behind closed doors and you didn’t have a chance. What we were told by the National Register is that this issue will get a fair hearing and based upon the evidence we will make our determination. I just really want to thank you all for renewing my faith in what can happen in Washington DC.
Linda McClellen: I think that it was a really good experience for us too, to explore different types of documentation. For the first time we actually had the benefit of oral history conveyed to us through film and video. That was very helpful. We also recognized a larger landscape as having a great value and maybe something we would term a Native American landscape where one would expect to find a number of resources dating to this long period of occupation and visitation for ceremonial purposes that Doug mentioned. It really opens new avenues for us, in terms of assembling that information and making sense of it.
Barbara Wyatt: Doug I have a question then. Was it Turners Falls – and I know it could all be archaeologists on the defensive – there was apparently at least an early issue of the surface lines not being recognized or the stone patterns not being recognized as a significant landscape. Is that something that is now that maybe Turners Falls – no pun intended with the turning point – in archaeologist view of such landscape features, could you comment on that?
Doug: The comment is that in the local newspaper, this week, the argument still is brewing. There are some people who say that the archaeologists were given short shrift; that they didn’t find any evidence, therefore no evidence found by the archaeologists means no significance.
We had the elder medicine woman of the Narraganset tribe at a place in Rhode Island called Queens Fort. Historically everybody knows that Queens Fort was a fort during King Phillips War. Well, she made it very clear, no they just called it Queens Fort and it was a place where one of the women matrons of the tribe, [inaudible] was resident at different points. But it was not a fort it was a place of gathering and of ceremony. She says that’s stated in the Ted Timreck film Great Falls, a film about the Turners Falls issue.
The younger medicine man, John Brown, made a statement that Turners Falls is one of many of such places that he’d been told about as a youth and that he was sure that we would encounter more of them as we looked. And we have done that. The place in north Smithfield known as [inaudible] is one of those places and we’re finding them all over the Northeast. But these are places where local tribes had the responsibility to invite other tribes in to participate in ceremonies and to be made aware of the information that now is the time for ceremony based on what the ceremonial landscapes calendar is telling us.
The battle is not over. Many archaeologists are not willing to let go of the paradigm that gives them their degree. This element of that paradigm in specific, they have said for decades that these are the results of colonial farm clearing. That comes out of the notion that savages could not have had a civilization that was sufficient to deal with the stars and with accounting for a celestial calendar. Those kinds of prejudices die hard. God bless the Puritans. I wish they could come back and rewrite some of their belief systems about tribal people.
It’s still a battle. We are still taking the issue to the federal agencies, and to the developers and to local communities. We have begun to expand so that towns are now contacting our survey team and the tribes, as the overseers of the survey process, to ask for ceremonial stone landscape surveys in their towns so that they don’t destroy places of significance. We have not yet gotten the SHPOs to climb down off the fence, but we’re hoping that the preponderance of evidence will even convince them.
If in fact we can acquire a credible system of dating the placement of stones, I think this issue will be behind us. Because then we can talk about exactly when the stones were put in place.
Paul: One more point I want to make that the landscape context in Turners Falls was very pivotal towards getting an understanding of how all the pieces fit together. That was one of the things that we looked very carefully at here. We also noted that there are other parts of the country where similar things were happening with similar explanations led to, basically by pursuing a logical course of who else could’ve done this. We had discussions with [inaudible] archaeologists and they were saying there was no stone building tradition among the Algonquin, but speaking to former THPO at Yurok tribe, which is California but it is Algonquin, I had a long discussion and having conveyed to me that it, in fact, it was well within the tradition of the Algonquin people in general to build myriad things with stones.
There are a lot of factors that went into our understanding of what the tribe was presenting here. Not the least of which was tribal oral tradition. That was very important. As was the fact that we actually – Doug you can correct me if I’m wrong – I seem to remember there was a letter issued in the 1920s by the Massachusetts Attorney General warning tribal people to stay away from these sites.
Doug: We were ardently encouraged to drop our traditional cultural and spiritual practices in lieu of colonial practices.
Paul Loether: It was upon bane of imprisonment.
Doug: Let me just make one other statement. Stones, it was believed as the oral history tell us, could resonate with the voice. So if you prayed into a stone and you placed it on the earth mother’s body, you would be communicating to her and that communication or that prayer would continue to resonate. One of the things that we are very much against is movement of these stone groupings because if you move them then the prayers are broken and the powerful balance and harmony that the medicine people have sent down to us as the reason they were doing this would be broken. Then the balance, the precarious balance that we are in with our earth mother would be in worse shape, we believe.
Mike [last name unknown]: The work that he mentioned that was then in Talladega National Forest was a project with USGS with a lot of LIDAR flyover, and the one thing I would just say – we’re still analyzing some of the data with that. The critical thing, to me, is the consultation with the tribes and trying to give them cultural context. It’s huge because for archaeologists to try to make interpretations, it’s not going to work. It has to be with the affiliated tribes and the members that have cultural traditions at hand. And we’re looking forward to that. I’m hoping that someday, up in his area of the country, Doug will have some additional flyovers where we can actually start getting a sense of what things looked like maybe [inaudible] remote sensing using LIDAR and then being able to correlate that with the culture.