By HHA Member Tom Helmer
Photos by Bob Miner, Billi Jo Buehring, Rick Prescott and Tom Helmer
It was a cold afternoon on March 14, Pi Day, as in 3.14, when Don Panciera, Brian Benoit, and two of the usual suspects, Rick Prescott and I took off for the woods for our last shot at getting frostbite. Instead of getting chills from the low temperatures, I ended up with chills from what was unfolding with every step I took as excited voices called out to me what they were seeing as I lumbered slowly up the hill.
I have seen many remarkable indigenous archaeological features in Hopkinton’s woodlands, and I have written and posted photos of many, but I think the four of us were standing with respect in the presence of the most profound Narragansett spiritual landscape that I have personal knowledge of.
When I arrived near the summit, it was already clear how important this place was, and IS, to the indigenous residents of Hopkinton and surrounding communities.
I gathered the men together and let them all know what Rick and I recognized: “You are standing in the middle of a cathedral. Not of your faith, but none the less, this is a cathedral.”
The photos you will see on this page represent the first 30 minutes on a site that will take an inestimable amount of hours to fully grasp. If you read Norman Muller’s page, “Reinforcing Hopkinton’s Evidence”, what we saw was similar to his multi year research site in Oley Hills, PA.
We were on the central high place, but there were connecting strings of rocks leading off to two other large outcrops of rock atop the plateau. One appeared to be 40 yards away, the second was about 60. In addition, a third wall, carefully constructed with several on edge upright flagstones very purposely curved downslope, extending about 60 feet from the main site.
In time, I hope to clarify these estimates, but for now, please join us for the first peek at a major spiritual landscape. Should you one day walk amid any of the many spiritual landscapes in Hopkinton, you should keep in mind the guidance I gave the men with me this afternoon:
“Don’t move anything, don’t take anything, and walk with respect.”
In our lives, we have many teachers, but of that entire crowd, if you search YOUR memory, there will only be a small handful of great teachers who remain as milestones in your life. As “in depth” readers of this site know, Bob Miner was the man who taught me how to “see” Indigenous. We frequently hike together, and when I got home, I sent him 5 photos inquiring if this was the same place where he previously saw a distinctive stone. I got the affirmative reply the next day at noon, and it had this photo, both shots taken within a foot of each other!
Norman Muller noted that the indigenous peoples had no knowledge of the physics involved with shaping the geological features of the landscape. What they knew intimately was the powerful effect those forces demonstrated on the landscape. They knew that it was difficult to split rocks, and a site like this would be attributed to a manitou, a god or powerful spirit. That this formation, which sits on the highest ridge, and offers a “winter bare poles”, unobstructed view of the horizon ½ mile distant, and was linked to at least 2 other high places only magnified the powerful presence this place had in their theology.
Truly, you are looking at a cathedral. Probably not in your faith, but in another’s living culture. And matters of faith are determined by the internal believer, not imposed by an external opinion.
It is fitting it’s in Rhode Island, founded by Roger Williams as a refuge for religious freedom.
Don’t move anything, don’t take anything, and walk with respect.
At the entrance to the big corridor, there is a short, low placement of stones in the center of the corridor. At this late date it is impossible to know what the purpose of this was, but the “Corridor” offers quite a view of the valley below, especially with all the scrub trees burned off, and an unobstructed view of the southern horizon.
The Next Day
Circling the Ridge Base
Yesterday’s adventure came as a surprise. With limited time, we could only look at a small portion of the plateau. This day, 3/15, I walked methodically. As a general rule, you first walk around whatever you found to take in the entire picture. As excited as I was, I at least partially did that in two sessions split by my need for lunch. The Topographic Map below will give you an idea of the size and shape of this 160 yard long plateau and it’s 50’ rising ridge. The brown contour lines are spaced at 10’. The red line is the sequence I walked, and the photos reflect this order.
I will cover walking the base in three slide shows of 48 photos, then will show the plateau with slide shows of the individual areas of interest and their surroundings. As always, you control the slide shows by hovering your cursor over the darker band at the bottom, then press the “play” arrow
The Individual Sites of Interest
There are 7 places of interest; six high places on the plateau, one low place on the valley floor, and a slide show of miscellaneous places and events during our explorations of 3/14, 15, 17 & 18.
It is important to remind you that at this late date, arriving at “certain knowledge”, accepted by all, of the significance of the things found in the woods is extremely rare. lacking certain knowledge, one is left with trying to discern what the “correct opinion” may be. This is a conundrum explored by Socrates more than 3,000 years ago. Saying ‘I KNOW Hopkinton is in Rhode Island’ and saying ‘I THINK Hopkinton is in Rhode Island’ both yield the correct answer.
When HHA puts up a page dealing with records based on archival data from Town Hall, that is as close to certain knowledge of the past as you are likely to get. With everything else, we strive for correct opinion, but there are plenty of opinions to go around.
HHA has an excellent reason to present what we believe is the correct opinion on this site. First of all, we base our opinion on the best information we can glean combined with our local experience. We strive to bring the things we find to public knowledge for the purpose of educating the current hiking community as to the nature of the things they are apt to see in their local forests.
Such a policy runs counter to those concerned people who seek to protect the historic legacy we all share by secrecy. We chose the exact opposite, to protect them by educating people who walk among them about their historic importance. The argument most often waged against that view is HHA’s approach subjects the surviving archaeological features to vandalism.
At first glance this seems irrefutable, but consider this question:
How much archaeology has been lost forever to the bulldozers of ignorance,
compared to sites suffering from vandals with litter, spray paint and malice?
High Place One
The northern end of the ridge/plateau site is surrounded on the North and East sides by a glacial jumble of tumbled rock blocks, with many natural grottos and interior spaces of varying sizes. To the West, it is a gentle slope leading to a swamp. To a modern person, a swamp is undesirable. To the indigenous people, a swamp was a reliable source of water and food during the winter, to supplement hunting.
On this site you will find an unusual grouping of rocks arranged like a pie cut into six slices, with one missing, replaced by some placed stones. One of the stones appears to have the Roman Numeral 12, XII, carved into it. Be very cautious about things like this. Most likely this is a curious natural weathering. However, the indigenous were skilled artisans who could take a natural feature and enhance it to suit their needs, or directly shape stones.
There is a rounded boulder, one of very few atop the plateau that does not display the natural angular fragmentation. On one face there is a natural weathered fissure which may have been enhanced into a symbol. This boulder is very prominent when viewed from below in the valley. It also appears to be the central subject when viewed from what may be a “prayer seat” located in site #2.
So what’s so special about this place? Big deal, it’s just odd rocks on a hill top!
Throughout all of history, in every culture, the “high place” has drawn humanity for many purposes, but there is usually a spiritual component tucked in there someplace. The indigenous peoples were masters of the sky. Like many religions around the world they had deities in Ke-e-suck (the sky/heavens), and everywhere and everything on the land was from Nooh-kas-ah-kee (Mother Earth).
Ke-e-suck-quand – Sun God
Ka-tan-tow-wit – Great South Wind God (see Indigenous History Lexicon)
Na-ne-pau-shat – Moon God
A modern person might think of such concepts as primitive notions from the past, while ignoring their enduring manifestations in the present, such as this evocative sculpture.
An indigenous person from a thousand years ago would recognize Noohkasahkee’s hand.
The Hopkinton High Place was a perfect location for a multi-faceted spiritual landscape. On the HHA web site we currently display over 3,200 pictures, many shot in the woods.
Do you recall seeing the horizon in any of them?
The next slide show covers the skyline from Northwest to Southeast. Recall that the Indigenous Peoples burned the forest once or twice a year, and the scrub trees, brambles and shrubbery would not be tangling your feet or blocking your view. The Indigenous hunters walked silently on grassy meadows under a high canopy, with clear shooting lanes for bow & arrow, not the dense underbrush, scrubby trees and tangled vines covering a forest floor full of noisy litter. At Hopkinton High Place, they could observe the sky, the seasons and the passing moons with a horizon line a half mile away in places.
Hopkinton High Place Skyline
High Place Two
This site might have been connected to high place 3-6 by the stone string which links 3-6, except an old road now cuts off Site 2 from 3. There appears to be no wall connecting 2 to 1. But a careful inspection of the site indicates they may have been connected optically.
It is possible that Site 2 has a “prayer seat” aimed at site 1’s archaeology and the Northeastern sky. A prayer seat is a place for spiritual meditation. Traditional prayer seats are sacred, isolated, and with encompassing views, so this site does not meet ALL of the usual qualifications, but it is isolated by a ceremonial semi circular wall joining in a placed stone and ledge feature.
And as the photos will illustrate the center line of vision for the seated one is the rounded stone boulder with the symbol occurring naturally or enhanced by the hand of man.
High Place Three
The other sites are fairly compact, although the ceremonial row walls are quite lengthy. Site 3 stretches for 20 yards along the Eastern ridge line. In and around this site you will find big and little placed stones, standing stones and possibly a manipulated “corridor”, although the original separation was probably due to glaciation. None the less, there are placed stones at the Eastern entrance.
The ceremonial connecting row string clearly extends from site 3 to site 6.
High Place Four
This site is the most visually compelling of the six when seen from the valley floor. While it does have a perk test pipe, it lacks many interesting archaeological features of the other sites. Yet it has a distinct presence when visited in person, which is felt, rather than measured or visible in the photographs. Many of the pictures from 3/14 are of Site 4, and not included here to avoid repetition.
High Place Five
The connecting stone string row links back to site 4 along the Eastern Ridgeline. The importance of this site sneaks up on you when approaching from the North. You step up on some rocks and a walled “patio” lies below you, facing East. At the back a rock appears to be shaped into a place to sit with your legs at the center of the patio and the walls angling out to a view of the horizon and the valley, a view enhanced by the stones completing the enclosure being placed close to the patio floor level at the top, with a step down to the slope descending to the valley below.
This symmetry is marred by a row of placed stones forming what may be a fire pit at the Southwest corner. Some of us believe these stones were placed in this position later than indigenous usage, which would accord with the traditional definition of a prayer seat. Some believe that the use of the bench seat and the fire pit could be contemporaneous, although not while the fire is burning!
High Place Six
This site blends in with site 5, and the decision to count it as a separate location was due to it’s orientation being in a different quadrant of the compass. Site six is oriented to the West, and contains placed stones, standing stones, a lower “patio” enclosed with a ceremonial wall, and a stone string tending Southwest.
Low Place Seven
This site is off the ridge, yet is certainly a sacred place, hence it’s connection with the Hopkinton High Place. Some of us believe that before European contact, all the land was a blanket of sacred landscapes, recording an oral history stretching back to the retreating glaciers. Leaving that opinion aside, low place seven has standing stones, split rocks with inserted stones, a standing stone with a ceremonial corridor, and the photos illustrate one of the reasons a hiker can walk past an archaeological site and never see it, until one day the light is just right at that particular time.
You will see 4 photos of the same standing stone, back, front in shade, front in sun, and side. If you compare the two front views, unless you have a very experienced eye for photos, you are not prepared for the shape that is revealed in the side shot based on the front view in the shade. Curiously, sometimes the harsh shadows of direct sun obscure details you would easily see under cloudy skies.
Sometimes a discovery comes down to good fortune, being in the right place at the right time with the right light.
This is the “catch all” for objects and events located in and around the Hopkinton High Place. On the many pages of HHA’s web site, you will see that hiking and the “outdoorsy” experience is not confined to the male gender. And it’s not confined to the summer only.
The safest way to get out and see things you can’t see from your car is to hook up with a hiking club in your area, or, if in Hopkinton, hook up with the Land Trust, the Conservation Commission or HHA via the contact page and it’s dependants on this site. But wherever you live, there will be some form of recreation available, and your Town Hall is a good place to start your hunt.
And it’s important to realize that our historic legacy is not confined to tiny areas you see in Hopkinton. There are colonial & indigenous archaeological features all over the continent!
Get your eye trained to “see”, and follow your curiosity when on the trail.
Seeing history in the wild is so much better than seeing it in a “history zoo”.
“See ya in the woods!”
To Learn More About Indigenous Archaeology & Culture …
Please visit the following Indigenous web pages for more indigenous archaeology
- The Fisher Property’s Indigenous Presence
- Reinforcing Hopkinton’s Evidence
- Seeing The Narragansett Presence
Please visit the following Historical Fiction web pages for cultural insight, pre-contact to future
These short stories are based around existing archaeology in Tomaquag Valley
- Sunrise Barrow
- The High Cliff Cougar
- The Happy Girl
- Tomaquag Towers