Thursday, October 27, 2011

Moon Hill

Somewhere in northern Rhode Island is a small hill with a cliff face on its south side.
This hill is topped with three boulders on bedrock. The boulder to the left is propped.
Heading downhill and west, I see two  small propped boulders. Part of the cliff face is visible to the right in the first photo below.

 Further downhill  is this strange, small and square enclosure. The propped boulder above is visible in the background, and the larger propped arrangement is in shadow.
What could be the purpose of this enclosure?  It is too small to be a building foundation.
At the base of the hill is a 200-foot long wall  with a wider leg about  60 feet long. The wider section makes almost a 90 degree angle with the  long wall.  At the other end  of the long wall is a large pile of rocks, as if someone was building  and stopped.
 Near the corner of the wide wall is a faintly visible  circular structure.  Further away to the west is a  cairn with a bent tree.

The oddest structure is this crescent-shaped planter.
I suspect is is a planter, because on the next spring weekend I visited, the woods were blazing with forsythia.
There is another wall on the north side of the hill, and the layout of the site is shown below.  The dark red dot to the left is a small building foundation. Boulders are yellow, cairns red. The small, square enclosure is the dark red dot in the center.  The two sets of walls do not form any enclosures. 

I realized a possible purpose of the square enclosure when I remembered what I have never found in northern Rhode Island:  a chamber.  Despite plenty of wandering, I have never found a subterranean chamber like those Larry Harrop shows in his blog.  Maybe the square enclosure is a vantage point for observing astronomical alignments.  It seems to be true.
The square enclosure has a 253 degree bearing with the large cairn shown above, suggesting a winter solstice alignment.  It also has a 318 degree alignment with the end of the wall on the north side.  Both sets of walls have alignments suggesting lunar standstill.
Perhaps the astronomical alignments  of the walls and cairn are the important aspects of the site, even if it was not used as an observatory.   Maybe someone memorialized this lunar significance by building the crescent  moon-shaped planter.
Here is how the site may have looked at  winter solstice long ago.  The shadow in front of the cairn is that of the viewer.  When painting this site, I realized that one disadvantage of  a small enclosure is that it would have been covered with snow.  A simple solution would have been to leave a pole standing at the enclosure.
I hope to revisit this site once the leaves are down, and see if there are any other astronomical markers, or tool marks on the stones in the wall and cairn.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hidden Walls

Somewhere in northern Rhode Island, at the edge of a farm field, is a  pavement of rocks about 8 feet wide.  Two bent trees are visible in the photo background. This pavement continues 435 feet to an outcrop with a boulder on top.
By the outcrop is a long wall running downhill.
Further on is a marshy area with many well-constructed cairns.
Heading uphill from the marsh, I find an old well at the foot of a large pile of rocks.
A wall starts near the large pile,  makes two 90 degree turns, and runs uphill. These two turns follow the edge of a rocky slope.
Uphill and 230 feet from the well is a small house foundation.
Here is the topo map of the area, turned so that west is at the top.  Red is for areas with cairns, blue for walls, and yellow for large boulders. The well and house foundation are dark red, marked 926 and 724.  The pavement is denoted by the rock wall line to the right.                                        
There are actually two sets of walls here, a 1150- foot wall running east-west, with two shorter segments running north-south.  This complex has an  "F" shape.  I don't know if this has any significance, but there are two other "F"-shaped sets of walls in this area.  Beside the long wall is a walled enclosure with an upside-down "U" shape.  The part of the wall marked 729 and 729  makes two short turns to follow the edge of a steep, rocky slope.
     This might have been a ceremonial site that was later used as a small farm.  The farm layout resembles that of  the reconstructed 1720 Pequot homestead at the Pequot Museum at Foxwoods. These Indian homesteads had a small house foundation and no barn foundation.  Maybe the ceremonial sites were the last  lands the Indians were willing to leave, preferring to eke out a living on the sites.  There is a similar small foundation at the site described in the 9/3/2011 post, and at other sites I have seen.
    Here is my interpretation of the site, using the map as a reference.  The viewer is looking west and uphill at the farm from the cairns at  way point 723 on a cold afternoon in late winter. The well is at lower left edge of the large pile of rocks.

Nearby is a silent witness.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hipses Rock

Hidden behind trees, fences, and ranch houses in Johnston stands Hipses Rock, a large glacial erratic boulder with a long history.  Hipses Rock was mentioned, along with Neutaconkanut Hill, as one of the boundaries in the land transfer from the Narragansetts to Roger Williams.   It used to be surrounded by farmland, and local children would play in the "caves" in its base.  Powwows were held at the rock  in the 1930s.
     Unfortunately, now Hipses Rock may be seen only in glimpses in the winter.  A grainy old photograph was the source for this ink painting.
Up on a ledge west of  Atwood Avenue stands a huge, squarish boulder.  It is quite prominent against the sky in the winter.
Due to its location on private property, it is hard to photograph.   There really is a small "peak" on top.
When I was looking at my topo map of the area, I realized that this boulder was on a 285 degree bearing from Hipses Rock, suggesting it was a marker for spring and fall equinox sunset.

There is also a 73 degree alignment between Hipses Rock and a stone row on Neutaconkanut Hill. This may correspond to summer solstice sunrise.

And here is the stone row which runs across Neutaconkanut Hill at a 73 degree bearing.   That's a satellite dish in the distance.
If there were any other alignment markers, they are long gone.  Perhaps Roger Williams knew the significance of Hipses Rock to the Narragansetts in marking astronomical events when he wrote the following.   "The Sunne and Moone, and Starres, and seasons of the yeere doe preach a God to all sonnes of Men, that they  which know no letters, doe yet read an eternall Power and Godhead in these."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Neutaconkanut Hill

Neutaconkanut Hill  was mentioned as a boundary in the land transfer from the Narragansetts to Roger Williams.  In the 1800s, the hill was the site of the King farm, and an old cemetery and building foundations remain. Although today the hill is topped with TV antennas and surrounded by urban Providence and Johnston, it retains many traces of its past.  The top of the hill is a woodland decorated with stone rows, manitous, bent trees and propped boulders.  If not for the roar of traffic from Plainfield Street, one would think it was a remote forest.
Here is a stone row with a young bent tree.  The stone rows pass over an outcrop, with these propped rocks.
A sign nearby reads "monument", but there is no further explanation.  Probably the most impressive sight is the outcrop resembling huge natural manitous. It faces east and has an unobstructed view of Providence.
Unfortunately, trees have fallen across the front of this outcrop.  The lower picture  from April 2010 gives an impression of the size of these natural structures.  Here is the outcrop from further away, photographed in May 2010.  A stone row, visible to the right, heads north following the contour of the hill.

Here is the view from the top and behind the manitous.
In front of the outcrop is a  terrace with this view.
I have seen outcrops forming natural manitous at other locations in northern RI, and these often have stone rows and other structures nearby.  Perhaps the Indians saw these sites as the earth's expression of spirit or energy.  In any case, this was a wonderful walk on a beautiful afternoon.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Standing Slab Wall

Near the outcrop in the previous (9/30/2011) post  runs a wall composed of standing slabs quarried from the same outcrop.  Walls made of stacked stones may have been added to it later. The  standing slab part  is shown in solid blue lines, and the stacked part with dashed lines, in the map below. The entire wall complex has two legs, giving it a backwards "F" shape. In this part of northern RI, there are two other wall complexes with an F shape.
Red indicates manitous, and green is for bent trees. The outcrop  with the sweat lodge base is at the yellow way point 277.  The wall starts at blue way point  274, with this structure.
It runs about 600 feet uphill to the junction on a small outcrop described in the previous post, and shown in the photo directly below. 

One leg of this wall starts at the junction, runs 300 feet northeast and downhill, and  ends in a cleared area.  The main part of the wall continues northwest about 350 feet from the junction until it  changes into a stacked rock wall. This transition is in front of a cliff surmounted by a boulder. I once found a rusty bucket in this area.  While one would expect to find old farm tools around overgrown farms, it's odd how often  old buckets turn up near stone structures.
The piled rock wall continues about 250 feet, and then turns northeast, climbs and descends a small hill, and ends at a swamp. 
     Standing stone slabs face to face is the most inefficient use of material. Why would anyone build such an impractical and costly wall, unless it had some spiritual significance?  What strikes me about this stone row is the sense of energy in the tilted slabs, like dominoes falling.
The wall crosses outcrops and ties together the landscape.  In this imaginary composition,  the wall seems to race past all the elements in the photos.
These are ink brush paintings containing  real structures arranged to best show their features.  I like  black and white graphic style for smaller landscapes and subjects in which form and pattern are most  important.