By HHA Member Tom Helmer
Editor’s Note: Tom is the author of the 340 page book “Walking Together In Tomaquag Valley”. This is a richly illustrated Field Guide to the Archaeological Features of both the Colonial Era and the Narragansett Era remaining in Hopkinton’s Tomaquag Valley. Through ten progressively challenging walks, he trains the hiker’s eye to “see” the subtle indications of the Hand Of Man in Colonial Times, & deeper into the past to Indigenous Times. These distinctions become clear by his instructive Photographs & Text Explanations of these abundant Archaeological Features as they appear in the forests of today.
Hopkinton got some more good news recently, as far as Natural History & our Historic Legacy is concerned. The State of RI recently purchased a 30 acre tract of land at the corner of North Road and Canonchet Road. The locals know this is way out in the nether reaches of town, near Ell Pond, Long Pond and Wincheck Pond, near the Rockville area of Hopkinton.
This area is heavily forested, and dense with Mountain Laurel. Hikers know Mountain Laurel has two primary missions in life. The first is a year round ambition to poke an eye out with it’s dense interlacing of stiff, sharp ended twigs. The second, known to the “outdoorsy set”, is to create a Paradise of stunning beauty in the late Spring, when each of the 138,947 individual bushes, which line North Road in particular, are covered from top to bottom with dense clusters of pink/white ‘parasol’ blossoms.
In announcing the acquisition of this property, which will be open to hunting and passive outdoor recreation, including hiking, the public was informed that the property “includes a number of cairns, piles of stone set to mark a spot, which reflect the agricultural legacy of the property”.
Having hiked extensively in the North Road and Canonchet Road area, my experience has been that the forests also contain many Archaeological Features that also reflect the Indigenous Presence, usually outnumbering the Colonial Agricultural Presence by a wide margin.
When asked to join a group of experienced hikers, I readily agreed to walk the property and see if we could verify the presence of stone cairns relating to the unmentioned Indigenous presence. On December 30, Harvey Buford, Mike McNamara and Marne McNamara, of the Hopkinton Conservation Commission & the Hopkinton Historical Association, were joined by Rick Prescott and myself, of the Hopkinton Historical Association.
Our purpose was not to be confrontational, but to assess if this area was unique in only having Colonial / European Archaeology, or if, as in the neighboring woodlands, there was also a visible, earlier legacy from the people who lived here for millennia before “first contact” with Europe.
This sounds like a really STUPID reason to hike through mountain laurel thickets in the Wintertime.
And so it is, when viewed from a Eurocentric basis. However, the historical education we each have researched for ourselves has brought us a better understanding of how demeaning it is to the Indigenous Peoples living among us today when the evidence for their long presence and distinctive culture is routinely ignored, dismissed, or attributed to the same Colonists who displaced them.
Let me repeat: we were / are not confrontational, but wanted to use our combined expertise to identify sites that were “Possibly”, “Probably” or “Certainly” archeological evidence for the prior occupancy of the Indigenous Peoples who resided here for millenniums. We believe this to be a matter of Cultural Justice.
This web page is a record of what we found off the beaten path. In the movie “Avatar”, the hero is being trained as an Indigenous Warrior. To complete his training, he must bond with an Iguan, referred to as a “Banshee”. To accomplish this, he famously says “You have to go to where the Banshees are.”
We invite you to come along with us, to where the evidence for the Indigenous Presence is.
As you look at these photos of the Fisher Property, and similar examples from other sites in Hopkinton, spare a moment to look at the background, at “Where the Indigenous Archaeology is”.
The 12/30/2013 Photographs
To aid your understanding, occasionally a photo from another location will be added to illustrate a particular category of Narragansett Archaeology. This will help you to recognize similar structures on your own hikes in the forests of your area. Many things are similar, but not identical, among the Indigenous Tribes of Northeastern USA. Differences are noted between the clans of Tomaquag Valley and the clans of the Canonchet Uplands, although both were part of the Narragansett Tribe. What is illustrated is a good example of the category. What is left in the woods may not be equal in artistry or dimension.
We entered the property and decided to start on the path of least resistance, a trail off of Canonchet Road blocked by a steel cable to keep vehicles out. Early on we noticed stone walls, which while numerous in New England, still are are Archaeological Features from the Colonial Era. We found an unusual pit with sloping sides of unknown purpose and provenance, but it was clearly not Indigenous, so we continued on.
The path shoved it’s way through an existing stone wall, where some rocks were placed to the side by hand, and others seemed to be pushed aside by the front bucket of a back hoe, as the rocks were mixed in with a large amount of dirt. Many Colonial and most Indigenous Features will be constructed of hand placed stones, not a mix of stone and earth. So we ignored these things as well. We were ten minutes into the property, and had found nary a trace of anything remotely Indigenous.
This lack of evidence is actually a very strong case for the Agricultural Legacy of this portion of the property. In the years after King Phillip’s War, 1675-78, The Narragansett Tribe, and many others, were defeated by the Colonists of Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut, and their Indian allies.
As the article will detail, the results of this war were disastrous for the Narragansett, and ultimately the Indigenous populations all across North America. The tribe was decimated by disease, casualties in the war, and many suffered enslavement, while some escaped to carry on their culture in the wild, or secretly in enslavement. Meanwhile, with no defenders left, the Forest lands that supported the traditional Indigenous Peoples were transformed into the European cleared Farmlands which supported the traditional Colonists.
As a result of widespread open field farming, rather than hunting and small scale farming, most of the stone remnants of the Indigenous Peoples were destroyed in the process of clearing and plowing the fields. Even when hiking in an area where the Indigenous Presence is abundant, the terrain will be marginal, or unfit for the plow. Those old fields are a barren desert for Indigenous Archaeological Features, although they still yield a dwindling supply of arrowheads. The many stone walls running through the deepest forests give testimony to how much land was transformed into agricultural usage. In those areas, you may hike for a half mile and not see any trace of the Indigenous who lived here before.
But the flip side is that when you do begin to find Narragansett Archaeology, keep a sharp eye, because there may be many more features that still survive in a “Hot Spot”.
The first thing we saw that maaay-beee was Indigenous, but probably not, is this collection of stones. My walking stick, which you will see often, is 5 feet long. This cairn is too large to be a grave site, which will be a 5’ oval. It was not constructed by a back hoe bucket pushing a mix of dirt & rock, as the stones have only accumulated compost, not been imbedded in dirt. What makes this pile of used rocks interesting is it’s relationship with the pointed standing stone in the background.
Just about everything surviving today of Indigenous Archaeology has a sacred component to it in their Theology. The Standing stone with the pointer tip may indicate an astronomical event for the rising or setting of the sun or a specific star…
Q. WHAT? Look at all that mountain laurel and all the trees! How can you even think a Narragansett could see the horizon!
A. The Narragansett burned the forest every Fall, and sometimes in the Spring. All this copious vegetation was not present in their day. The landscape was a grassy meadow with a high canopy of trees providing shade. It was like walking silently in a grassy park. The visibility for a hunter was superb, they could walk stealthily, and there was no underbrush to deflect an arrow. And a sunset or sunrise was easily visible on the horizon.
“Tu-nup-pa” means turtle in Narragansett. The tu-nup-pa was also the symbol for Mother Earth, extremely important in their Theology. Where many customs of various Tribes were local in application, I believe the worship of “Nooh-kas-ah-kee”, Mother Earth, was the same, with the same turtle symbol, in ALL the Tribes of North America. The entire continent was called “Turtle Island” among the Narragansett. As you encounter Indigenous symbology, keep your eyes open for Turtle tee shirts, jewelry and sun catchers.
This is the view from the front. The large rock in the red circle would be the head, the red oval would be the turtle’s Right front foot. The Left front foot is missing, but may be the displaced rock directly in front of the head. If so, the head would be in better alignment.
In your mind’s eye, restore the left foot, make the head level, & imagine the Turtle sculpture.
As interesting as that is, to make a complete artistic essence of turtle appear, I can only say this is Probably a turtle. I need something that is Certainly Indigenous.
This is the “Gold Standard” for an Indigenous Sculpture of a Turtle.
This is one is found on the Hopkinton Land Trust’s Trail near the Town DPW building.
This one is a turtle cairn atop a boulder on Private Property. Please ask first!
Back to the Fisher property…
This is a second Possible Turtle Cairn. Sometimes there may be two or three in one area. The head is to the Right.
Once again, I believe this is Narragansett, but I am not certain it is a turtle.
This mound is too covered to tell what it is. It might be a turtle, it might be nothing with a big rock. You have to fight against “Turtle Fever”. When you find a turtle, you’ll know. Meanwhile, this is a good place to pause to read the instructive web page “Certain Knowledge vs. Correct Opinion”.
This is certainly a Narragansett Cairn! It possibly is a Turtle Cairn. If it is, the gap in the sculpture to the upper right of the head is deliberate. In Narragansett Theology, you were expected to bring an occasional gift to the spirits, which were in the sky, on the land in the plants, animals and the people, or under the ground. Your gift need not be expensive, or even very much. But it had to be something that was important to you personally. That opening was where you left your gift.
Test Your Observation Skills QUIZ:
Was there such a place for a gift in the beautiful sculpture of the Land Trust Turtle?
OK, you have no idea!
So go back 4 photos. (HINT: Low, between the head & foot)
Then check out the perched turtle. (Gently now! Low, to the Right of the head.)
Here is some good advice if you are searching for archaeology in the woods.
Look around you all the time.
Follow your curiosity and hunches, but don’t get lost.
Don’t be a “know it all”, walk completely around your find and look at it.
The side you approached may be nothing,
but there might be an effigy of Alfred E. Newman on the back side, and you could be rich!
Well, maybe not, but you get my point. The back counts too!
This also is certainly an Indigenous Cairn.
Remember I told you about “Turtle Fever?
Do YOU see a turtle in these rocks? (No! That’s Rick!)
This is not a Turtle, but is certainly an Indigenous Feature we locally call a Memorial Stone. The Narragansett remembered their dead. Those who died in camp or nearby were buried in graves oriented to the Southwest, the home of their Great South Wind God, “Kow-tan-tow-wit”, the giver of the staple crop corn and beans, to whose home all souls go at death. But what of those who died far away at war, or whose body was never recovered?
The answer was found in Memorial Stones. A large stone will have a few to a great many smaller stones placed atop it. Sometimes a piece of quartz was also placed among the smaller stones for added Honor. The Narragansett, and all Indigenous Tribes depended on an Oral History. Once a person was honored with a Memorial Stone, succeeding generations would still recall the heroes of their past. They had no need for a name carved on a rock, they knew whose stone this was.
There will be more Memorial Stones from Fisher later on the page.
When you CERTAINLY find a Turtle, you have proof of the Narragansett Presence.
No Colonial Farmer had the time to fool around piling up rocks to look like turtles! 99% of all Colonial Archaeology that remains in the woods is something practical. No matter how hungry you get, you can’t make soup from a rock turtle!
The five of us were unanimous. We were certain this was a Narragansett Turtle Cairn. The next pictures are a sculptural representation of “Nooh-kas-ah-kee”, Mother Earth.
On behalf of the five of us who made this walk , thank you for joining us on this page!
It is a small thing to us of European descent. But if it was your ancestors who were being cut out of their well deserved recognition, maybe you would think differently. I bet you would.
We believe this photographic evidence proves that the Fisher property, just like the other Public tracts of land in the area, bears an unmistakable witness to the Indigenous Presence before us.
It is an obvious fallacy to think that our history began in 1620 at Plymouth Colony, and yet, subconsciously, many of us DO think like that.
The Hopkinton Historical Association, on the pages of it’s Web Site,
gently reminds us of the presence of the people who came before, and who are still here. For HHA, this is a matter of Cultural Justice and Fairness to all of Hopkinton’s Residents.
Now, I speak only for myself. I believe our educational system has substituted myths and fairy tales instead of presenting factual history concerning the Indigenous Peoples.
If you want to advance beyond cartoons, you have to educate yourself.
You have to follow your own curiosity.
I recommend you start where I did, by reading up on King Phillips War.
Tom Helmer, December 31, 2013