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...

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