Saturday, March 31, 2012

Start of Excavation

Cairn #5 has been selected as the first candidate to excavate.  It has the most characteristics of a Native American cairn: relatively flat topography, comparable size, and near the brow of a water overlook.  It is also undisturbed.

All of the volunteers (none) showed up, so I went to work as though I knew what I was doing.  About 1/4 of the overlaid stones have been set aside by this afternoon.  Just as I was removing the last one, I discovered an omen that suggested I should stop for the day.  Under the last rock was a copperhead snake coiled into a snug space.  It was not disturbed by all my prior noise and bustle, nor by my removing its cover.  Even a gentle prod on its head and body did not encourage it to vacate, only deserving of a flicking forked tongue.

Since I was plenty tired already, I judged it was a good time to knock off for the day.

Nothing promising was found in today's efforts, even though the northwest quadrant is down to the extant grade level.  Time to build the sifter...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Euro-American or Native American?

The professional opinion of two archaeologists is that the cairns at this site are NOT Native American in origin.  The stated basis for this position includes:
  1.   There are no other known Native American cairns located on similar topography
  2.   Native American cairns are found in much smaller grouping of structures
  3.  The construction does not include any soil, as is typical of Native American tradition
  4.  No Native American artifacts have been directly associated with the cairns

It is deemed more likely that the cairns were created by Euro-American settlers, probably after about 1820.  Suggestions of possible cairn purposes include:
  1.   Construction material for mills, of which there were several within about ½ mile.
  2.   Field clearing
  3.   Stockpiling of construction material
  4.   “Busy work” for idle farm hands/family members

Neither professional was tasked to determine the actual origin of the cairns; rather they were to assess the Native American connection, if any.  They therefore offered alternate use suggestions without searching for supporting evidence. Thus, it is fairly easy to dismiss the proposed Euro-American suggestions. 
  1.  Even the mill on this property was probably built with stones from a closer source, about half the transport distance.  Stone was used for a dry-stacked foundation as well as one low rock wall about 100 yards long for the millrace.  Other mills in the neighborhood probably had similar rock sources much closer than the site of the cairns.
  2. There are no tillable fields within 200 yards of the cairn site, making it highly unlikely that the cairn stones came from anywhere other than the rock field where they now reside.
  3. The total volume of the 27 cairns is estimated as 98.9 cubic meters.  Optimistically judging that one man could extract, transport, and stack one cubic meter per day, the cairns now existing would cost nearly five man-months of labor, not counting transit time to and from the work site.  It is highly unlikely that anyone would invest that much to stock readily available materials.  Even more unlikely is the notion of stockpiling it when it could be loaded directly on a sled or wagon without the extra effort of stacking.
  4.  It would seem to be an extraordinary amount of busy work for no apparent benefit.

Nothing above argues that the cairns are NOT Euro-American in origin.  It just doesn’t seem we have yet discovered a viable explanation.

How to resolve the issue?  

The most obvious answer is to search for artifacts in one or more of the cairns.  If something is found, it might lead to a conclusion of the origins.  In fact, it seems very likely to me that there are probably multiple origins.

The sizes of the cairns run in a continuum from less than 1 cubic meter in volume to the largest at over 16 cubic meters.  It isn't obvious how the large range in sizes would be common to a single purpose.

The construction techniques vary also.  Many of the moderate size seem to have a base of 3-4 large flat stones on which the rest are stacked in random fashion.  The smaller examples are simple piles, but some include much larger stones than others.  Finally, at least two have examples of courses of stones at the base, much like stone walls would be constructed.

To search for answers with the minimum disturbance to the site a clever selection process is needed.  Anyone with a scheme which offers the highest probability of finding a Native American cairn is urged to contact me soonest.  

My working assumption is that any Native American artifact is most likely located at the grade level.  So the excavation process would be to remove each stone of the selected cairn until the grade level or soil is reached.  Only then would a search grid be established and sifting be practical.

Standing by for selection process ideas...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cairns Are Historic?

A second archaeologist has opined that the available data indicates that the cairns are NOT of Native American origin, but of more recent activity.  Jack Ray, an archaeologist with the Center for Archaeology Research, Missouri State University, has reviewed all of the published reports, including the photographic evidence and suggest it is more likely Euroamerican in nature.  An extract from his e-mail follows:

I respectively submit that all of the available information indicates that the 26 rock structures on your property likely represent some activity of Euroamericans (i.e., since 1820) rather than prehistoric Indians, whetherthat be field clearing or stockpiling for construction of mills, fences,outbuildings, or some other odd reason. For example, I grew up on a farm in the 1960s and 70s and my father would make my brothers and me do odd jobs such as clearing a field just to keep us busy for a small fee (.50-.75/hr).
Prehistoric rock cairns in MO typically occur alone on bluffs overlooking perennial streams, although occasionally 2 rock cairns may occur on a ridge and rarely in small groups of 3 or 4 (never 20 or more). Working in the Ozarks for more than 30 years, I have never heard of more than 4 prehistoric  rock cairns on any one site. Additionally, as I understand it, there is no soil mixed with the sandstone rocks, only decayed leaf litter. Most prehistoric burial mounds have at least some soil mixed with the rocks.
As for other sites, I suspect that prehistoric sites occur all along (redacted) Creek (ridge summits and stream terraces). This is not at all uncommon along perennial streams in the Ozarks, since during the past 12,000 or so years of prehistory, Native Americans traversed and occasionally camped on nearly every level spot. The problem, however, would be linking these sites to your cairns. Just because they are present in the valley doesn't mean that they are associated with the cairns. Even if you find Scallorn arrow points (and apparently you have....they are the most common arrow point type in the Ozarks...they are found practically everywhere) in the general vicinity, it is not necessarily supportive evidence that Late Woodland peoples constructed those rock piles....just that they lived in the area. If, on the other hand, you were to find Scallorn and other artifacts within and beneath the rock piles, you can make a better case that they indeed are prehistoric. As I understand it, no artifacts have been found directly associated with any of the rock piles. 

Although Jack has not yet visited the site, his experience in the Ozarks weighs heavily in finding the truth of the subject rock features.  An excavation of one or two of the cairns is now a real possibility, if the owner's ancient body can stand the strain and pain!

Standby for a decision...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Osage Association Not Likely

The archaeologist from the Osage Nation, James Munkries, released his eight-page assessment of the association of our cairns with Osage tradition.  The heart of his report is extracted here:

...I have attached the report generated by this office documenting my visit to your property and our determination regarding the likely cultural affiliation of the documented cairns.  After careful deliberation and discussion, it has been determined that the documented cairns on your property are not likely to be associated with the peoples of the Osage nation or their ancestors...

Unfortunately, James can't positively rule out the possibility of Osage and/or prehistoric cultures association with the site, but he feels it is more likely to be historic in origin.

The bottom line is that we still don't have a definitive answer to the origins and purpose of the rock cairns and are still hoping for more data on which to base a judgement.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Osage Nation Archaeologist Visits

Today an archaeologist working for the Osage Nation in Oklahoma visited our site to make an assessment about possible Osage presence.  He spent about two and half hours touring the site and interviewing us.

My impression upon his departure is that he was conflicted by what he found.  He thought that there were a number of non-Osage characteristics.  Specifically, he thought the terrain was unusual; a steep slope and minimal water view.  He also remarked on the large variation of construction shape and size. And he observed that the large number of cairns in one spot is outside his experience.  He expects to get a report in front of the Osage Committee within a month or two and then we might get a better idea if the Osage had a part in its creation.

 Standing by...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Valentine Cairn

The Valentine Cairn has been officially designated Cairn #Q with its own sign post.  It will still retain the unofficial nickname of  "Valentine" for the romantically inclined.