Challenging traditional and long-standing understandings, this volume provides an important new lens for interpreting stone structures that had previously been attributed to settler colonialism. Instead, the contributors to this volume argue that these locations are sacred Indigenous sites.
This volume introduces readers to eastern North America’s Indigenous ceremonial stone landscapes (CSLs)—sacred sites whose principal identifying characteristics are built stone structures that cluster within specific physical landscapes. Our Hidden Landscapes edited by Lucianne Lavin and Elaine Thomas presents these often unrecognized sites as significant cultural landscapes in need of protection and preservation.
In this book, Native American authors provide perspectives on the cultural meaning and significance of CSLs and their characteristics, while professional archaeologists and anthropologists provide a variety of approaches for better understanding, protecting, and preserving them. The chapters present overwhelming evidence in the form of oral tradition, historic documentation, ethnographies, and archaeological research that these important sites created and used by Indigenous peoples are deserving of protection.
This work enables archaeologists, historians, conservationists, foresters, and members of the general public to recognize these important ritual sites. Read an excerpt from the book’s Introduction below.
The purpose of this book is to introduce readers to Indigenous ceremonial stone landscapes in Eastern North America — sacred sites whose principal identifying characteristics are stone cultural features (stone groupings) in a variety of designs that cluster within specific physical landscapes. Such sacred sites have been known and used for thousands of years throughout the Americas; some are still being used today, especially in South and Central America and the North American West. Professional archaeologists working in these regions routinely acknowledge their existence (e.g., Morgan et al. 2014, Reeves and Kennedy 2017; see also Thrane, this volume). This is not always the case for Eastern North America, particularly the Northeast, where such sites are often misidentified and destroyed.
Indigenous-Built Stone Structures and their Early Recordation by Euro-Americans
The designed stone groupings in the form of mounds, rows, enclosures, niches, above-ground and subterranean chambers, perched boulders, split stones, standing stones, and other stone creations are often aligned with astronomic events such as the sunrises and sunsets of the winter or summer solstices, annual meteor showers, certain constellations, cycles of the moon, and other cosmic phenomena. In turn, celestial events are known historically to be associated with – and often are the catalyst for – traditional, annual Native American religious rituals and festivals. For example, anthropologist Dr. Frank G. Speck’s eyewitness account of the Cayuga Iroquois Mid-Winter Festival reported that the eight-day ceremony began five days after the constellation Pleiades was directly overhead at sunset following the first new moon in January (Speck 1949:49). Often the designed stones are in the form of animals, particularly turtles and serpents, which play significant roles in Native American creation stories, folklore, and spiritual practices (Simmons 1986).
Seventeenth, 18th, and 19th century English and Dutch settlers described seeing Native peoples east of the Mississippi create and use these sacred stone landscapes. Some significant examples are the 17th century accounts of Indigenous stone monuments, in the Chesapeake Bay area by English explorer John Smith of Pocahontas fame (called pawcorances by the local tribal peoples), and in the Carolina Piedmont by German explorer John Lederer (King and Strickland, this volume), and the 18th century Journal of Reverend John Sergeant, particularly his Nov. 3, 1734 entry describing a huge stone memorial mound in Great Barrington, Massachusetts actively being visited by Mohican tribal members (Hopkins 1753: 24). Sergeant was the first minister to the Mohican Indian tribe in their main village, which is now Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In the 19th century, the anonymous author of “A Description of Mashpee, in the County of Barnstable” described local Natives building and using stone monuments (Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, written in 1802 and cited by Simmons, 1986: 253). The Indigenous community of Mashpee is located in eastern Massachusetts on what is now known as Cape Cod. In 1907 Frank Speck visited Mashpee and was told by elderly Wampanoag informants that the roadside monuments were spirit-lodges, where tribal members left offerings to the spirits of the dead (Simmons 1986: 254).
Likewise, the spiritual significance of built stone structures was conveyed by Native American leaders and informants to other Euro-American researchers, and subsequently published in the late 19th-21st century anthropological literature. Some of these ceremonial sites continue in use today. Primary documents, like those previously cited, that describe and/or support (through accounts of Indigenous worldview and spirituality) Indigenous creation and use of ritual stone features are not uncommon, and most are easily available to researchers online or through library loan. To make this point, we list a small, additional selection from that body of available literature: Philip L. Barbour (1986), The Complete Works of Captain John Smith, 1580-1631; Joseph Bruchac (1993), The Native American Sweat Lodge: History and Legends; Thor Conway (1993), Painted Dreams: Native American Rock Art; Frank Glynn (1973), “Excavation of the Pilot’s Point Stone Heaps;” Doug Harris and Paul Robinson (2015), “The Ancient Ceremonial Landscape and King Philip’s War: Battlefields of Nipsachuck”; Diamond Jenness (1935), The Ojibwa Indians of Parry Island, Their Social and Religious Life; Charles Leland (1884), The Algonquin Legends of New England; James Mooney (1900), Myths of the Cherokees; Robert E. Ritzenthaler and Pat Ritzenthaler (1970), The Woodland Indians of the Western Great Lakes; Elaine Thomas (2015), “Maintaining the Integrity of the Homeland: Recognizing and Re-Awakening the Memory of Forgotten Places through Mohegan Archaeology.”
Nohham Rolf Cachat-Schilling
Julia A. King
Johannes (Jannie) H. N. Loubser
Frederick W. Martin
Charity Moore Norton
Paul A. Robinson
Laurie W. Rush
Scott M. Strickland
Kathleen Patricia Thrane
Matthew Victor Weiss