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Native American Stone Structures

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Overview

Native American ceremonial stone structures are found throughout the continental U.S. and portions of Canada. Northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada have some of the highest concentrations of these structures. The structures include stone chambers, cairns, standing stones, enclosures, ceremonial walls, pedestal boulders (dolmens), balanced rocks, and niches. The sites are known as “Ceremonial Stone Landscapes” (CSL).

Many of the structures have survived on conservation lands, state parks, and undeveloped private property. Some of the structures date before contact with whites while others were built by Native Americans in the 1700 and 1800s who took up white farming practices. Just because it is found on a farm doesn't mean it is always an agricultural structure.  This portion of the website is a basic field guide to spotting and identifying a number of different types of ceremonial structures. Some sections will include more in depth analysis of the structures for those persons interested in exploring the big questions – who built them, why, and when.

Information on historic agricultural structures like root cellars can found in Historic Section.
 

Native American Ceremonial Sites
By Mary Gage

Native Americans built ceremonial sites for spiritual purposes. Spirits ruled and controlled everything in life. They controlled animals, rain, growing plants, everything that was needed to survive.  Spirits are living beings like the Christian's God. To get the spirits to work with the people Natives created ceremonies in which they could communicate their needs and make offerings.

An example is seen in a southwest winter solstice ceremony. “The ladder prayer stick is used in the Winter Solstice ceremony in a symbolic way, being in fact an offering to the sun, which is supposed to be weary at that time and in need of assistance in climbing from his home in the under-world to the sky.” (Fewkes 1906)

The people used the ceremony to assist the sun spirit by offering it a ladder to climb from the underworld to the upperworld. In doing so, the spirit travels from one place to another place with the help of people. People were vital to the ceremony and the ceremony was vital to the spirit. There was an interdependence between people and spirits.  

Ceremonial sites consist of two major components: (1) stone structures and (2) the natural landscape. The two components are inter-related to such a point that Native Americans themselves have come to refer to such places as Ceremonial Stone Landscapes. This relationship is evident at South Street in the use of boulders and outcrops to create ceremonial cairns.

Fewkes, J. Walter,1906, Hopi Shrines Near the East Mesa, Arizona. American Anthropologist, New Series, 8: 346-375.

Native American Historical Beliefs and Cultural Concepts
Applicable to Stone Structures (Link to Article)

OTHER RESOURCES

Mary Gage,  “New England Native American Spirit Structures.” Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society 74 (1): 25-32 (2013). [PDF Version]

James Gage, “Field Clearing: Stone Removal and Disposal Practices in Agriculture & Farming.” Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut  76:33-81 (2014). [PDF Version]

Mary Gage, “Testing the Stockpiling and Field Stone Clearing Pile Theories” Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society 76 (1): 2-27 (2015) [PDF Version]

Mary Gage and James Gage, “How to Identify and Distinguish Native American Ceremonial Stone Structures from Historic Farm Structures”  Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut  77:17-40 (2015) [PDF Version]

Mary Gage and James Gage, “Stone Chambers: Root Cellars, Ice Houses, or Native American Ceremonial Structures?” Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut  77:69-100 (2015) [PDF Version]

Mary Gage, “The Challenge: Should Ceremonial Cairns and Field Clearing Piles be Characterized by Diversity or Consistency?” Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut  78: 33-50 (2016) [PDF Version]

Cairns

Split Stones

Symbolism

24 Chambers

Historic Links-Small

Niches

Pedestal & Perched Boulders

Native American Historical Beliefs and Cultural Concepts
Applicable to Stone Structures

Source Materials
on Native American Cairns

Spirits

Colors, Shapes, Numbers, & Quartz

Native American Ceremonial Sites

Northwood-Cairn-Small

Caddy Park Site, Quincy MA

Titicut Site: Another Site with Similar Features To Caddy Park

Gungywamp Site, Groton, CT

Articles, Photos, and more ...

Manana Island Petroglyph, ME

Places to Visit - Small Cairn Site, Northwood, NH

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Copyright (c) 2005-2008, James E. Gage & Mary E. Gage. All Rights Reserved.
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