Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Forest of Manitous

As I mentioned last week, in northern RI there are outcrops where the stone is layered and breaks into thin slabs. Here we see some left behind at an outcrop that has been extensively quarried for these thin slabs.

This outcrop is about 500 feet from the one of layered stone shown 10/7/2011.  The thin slabs broken from the 10/7/2011 outcrop were used to build a long wall of slanted slabs.

In the  area  directly east of this wall, there are many groups of standing slabs.
Here are some:

Here are more:

Here is a veritable forest of manitous,

and some very large ones, that have evidently been pried from the rock in the background.

Note that the sizes of slabs in the same group are similar, suggesting that someone  was sorting these for wall construction. Close by is a partially constructed stone row.

This site also has a bird effigy.

It seems like a great deal of work and material would go into constructing a slanted slab wall.   Maybe this stone was used because it was easy to split, and  would break off naturally from the action of frost and ice. The only other place I have heard of having a wall like this is Gungywamp Swamp in Connecticut.  The preservation group that manages it describes their wall as a farm wall that was topped off with ropes. These stone rows may have first been constructed by natives, and later they were incorporated into farm walls, as described  here.
     The walls in this northern RI site run down steep hills, so this slanted slab arrangement may add stability. The slabs in the wall may also be set standing instead of laid flat so that water will run down instead of freezing between the slabs and disrupting the wall.  However, why would someone stand the single slabs up instead of leaving them flat on the ground?  This also seems like more work, but may prevent the  thin slabs from breaking under accumulated  ice.   For the natives who originally worked the stone, standing the slabs as manitous may have been a sign of respect.
     These standing slabs  are clustered near the outcrops they were chipped from. Some may have been moved a longer distance to stand alone as manitous.  Here one stands in a silent wood at twilight, along a trail traveled with snowshoes.  It is about 3800 feet from the site in the photos.

     And here is another one almost 2 miles away.
 If these manitous were chipped from the outcrops and moved considerable distances, they must have had some important function or great spiritual significance. This site could have been the source of  manitous even farther away.


  1. I find a lot of these upright thin slab stones in various sizes.
    It’s hard to believe they all happened naturally.
    What are your thoughts on their origin?

    1. These thin standing slabs may have been chipped from outcrops of layered stone and stood up elsewhere. Some may have been formed naturally from the action of ice and frost. They had some spiritual significance or practical use as trail or boundary markers. I post more about them later.