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Groundbreaking Study Shows Ritual Use of Sacred Stone Sites

This is an abridged form of the 80+ page report.  Click on blue hyperlinks as indicated for figure images.  Coming this summer: exceprts from the follow-up report on documentary evidence of ceremonies and land management regimes, Through the Words of Those Who Went Before, with a comment on burial site selection by the Deputy THPO of the Mohegan Nation. Thanks!

Coming this fall and beyond: Western Massachusetts Stone Relics: Distribution Patterns and Materials Selection, is an archaeological study of how sacred stone prayer sites were built and why; Through the Words of Those Who Went Before studies ceremonial tradition and land use management in regard to sacred places.

by Rolf Cachat, M.S., Chair, Western Chapter, Massachusetts Archaeological Society, member Native American Intertribal Council of Western Massachusetts, Northeastern Anthropological Association, American Society for Ethnohistory, and Northeastern Antiquities Research Association, and a descendant of Naśaué Nipmuck of Massachusetts and Akwesasne Rotinons'honni

[Pre-publication Unproofed Galleys - with some redactions.  Become a member of MAS and receive full articles]

A Quantitative Assessment of Stone Relics in a Western Massachusetts Town

copyright 2017, Rolf Cachat-Schilling (2016 Massachusetts Archaeological Society)


The nature of stone works that appear with great frequency on the Massachusetts landscape has been debated for some time. A sacred site, near the former village of Peskeompscut in the mid-Connecticut River Valley, found its way through state (Massachusetts Historical Commission) and federal processes of evaluation. A federal decision (Dec. 11, 2008, National Register of Historic Places, “NRHP”) concluded that the same site is indeed Algonquian in origin and conforms to established cultural/religious practices of regional indigenous peoples, while further recognizing a 16-mile radius centered on Sacred Hill Ceremonial Site ("SHCS") as a special Traditional Cultural Property ("TCP") region of priority value. Said region encompasses the study area (NRHP 2008; Graveline 2016b:5-7; Washington 2016:2).

To elucidate origins and purposes of numerous stone relic groups in Shutesbury, Massachusetts, a quantitative and objective assessment of 60 ostensible Ceremonial Stone Landscapes (“CSLs”) was performed, based on site surveys and inventories (2013-2016). A CSL is legally defined according to Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (National Historic Preservation Act, Section 106; Harris 2016, Washington 2016 personal communications, ‘pc’ hereafter), being characterized by sets of ritual stone surface features, both natural and manmade, consistent in both unique design and choice of stone (Harris and Robinson 2015:141; Prentice 1976-78, Grierson 1975:pc). CSLs exist within TCPs on macro- and micro-scale (Prentice 1976-78: pc). In this report, original Native names have been restored (in italics) where possible, with post-Colonial labels in parenthesis.

The entire landscape of the mid-Connecticut Valley forms a cross of the four cardinal directions (North, South, East, West) at the convergence of Puckomegon (Deerfield), Papacontuckquash (Millers) and Quinneticut Rivers (Connecticut, all three: Indian Land Deeds for Hampshire County, “IL-DHC,” folios 33-48, see Figure 1).


Figure 1 - Stone configuration (Site 7, ~ 3m each side) against ritual, celestial and landscape map of Central Quinneticut Valley.


This quartered circle is a ubiquitous symbol across Native North America and serves commonly as a Pan-American cultural symbol (e.g., logos for “Tribe Called Red,” the American Indian Movement and its chapters, Native American Student Movement, NACCO, NAFSA, etc.). Sacred Hill Ceremonial Site (SHCS) rests centrally within four sacred mountain groups marking the sacred quarter points in Northfield, Leverett-Shutesbury, Goshen and Hawley (Prentice 1978, Graveline 2015a), forming a sacred ritual landscape, at the heart of which the many nations of the Valley gathered for their great Annual Ceremony that figures centrally across Eastern Algonquian nations (Harrington 2012:81-122; Ruttenber 1992b:317; Prentice 1976, Shoumatoff 1978, Figure 1).

Abenaki oral tradition speaks of their cousins, the Pocumtuck, in this sacred place and of the Giant Beaver, calling the people of the Ahsakw (North and South Sugarloaf), or Wequomps area, Amiskwôlowôkoiak, people of the beaver-tail-hill (Bruchac 2005:1). In the shadow of these legendary twin monoliths rests one of the earliest habitation sites in the Northeast. Across the river is a sacred mountain, holding many populations of medicinal plants that are otherwise very rare or absent in the rest of the valley (Prentice 1978, pc, New England Wild Flower Society, "NEWFS," author’s surveys 1998, 2008, 2010). Kunckquatchu (Mt. Toby Massif, ‘Greatest of the Mountains,’ qunnukqui – ‘high,’ Nipmuc, Trumbull 1905:274; ILDHC 1638:folio 39) is also traditionally home to the great Manitou Wittum (Prentice 1978: pc), and remains one of two most biodiverse places in Massachusetts (NEWFS, Brumback 2007:pc), the site of sacred natural rock formations and sweetwater springs (Nepessooeneg, ILDHC 1638:folio 39).

The entire sacred precinct as a whole and the stone works within it are one TCP and one CSL (NRHP declaration in re: SHCS 2008, Graveline 2015a:5- 7), composed of many progressively smaller CSLs within the sacred precinct (TCP), which CSLs are themselves composed of stone clusters (káhtôquwuk, Narragansett, Harris and Robinson, 2015:140; Prentice 1978: pc) made of individuals, each representing the world in balance from micro to macro over again in a Moebius-strip sort of connection.

Aside from small concentric stone works, qusukqaniyutôk (‘stone row, enclosure’ Harris and Robinson, 2015:140, ‘fence that crosses back’ viz. qussuk, ‘stone,’ Nipmuc or quski, quskaca, ‘returning, crosses over,’ qaqi, ‘runs,’ pumiyotôk, ‘fence, wall,’ Mohegan, Mohegan Nation 2004:145, 95, 129) define spaces, while świhwákuwi (viz. świk+wāgawi, ‘it grows around,’ Unami Lenapeuw, Zeisberger 1995:151, 173; świ, ‘three’ for 3-sided - Mohegan Nation 2004:98) form open ellipses that the author considers roughly equivalent to the “nave” of a Christian church, and sunś nipámu (‘marker stone’ Narragansett, Harris and Robinson 2015:140, viz. sunś, ‘stone,’ nipawu ‘stand up,’ Mohegan Nation 2004:100, 83) serve as indicators. Individual deaths and memorial services for those persons are marked with waûnonaqussuk (Natick Nipmuc wâunonukhauónat – ‘to flatter,’ Trumbull 1903:202, verb stem wâunon- ‘honor’ + qussuk ‘stone’ = wâunonaqussuk – ‘honoring stone’ + quanash pl., also Narragansett wunnaumwâuonck – ‘faithfulness, truthfulness,’ wunna, ‘good,’ wáunen, ‘honor,’ + onk, abstract suffix, O’Brien 2005:37, Wawanaquas- sik, ‘place of many honoring stones,’- Nochpeem Mahikkaneuw/Wappinger, Ruttenber 1992b:373).

Historical Context

Denialism is deeply rooted in the history of Euroamerican literature on Native America, long supported by academia and governmental agencies, and still very popular in some venues. In this century, mtDNA tests from Ohio mound skeletons yielded 4 of 5 documented Native haplotypes, while recovery rate was 69% (34 of 49 individuals), which level indicates excellent quality of DNA preservation (Mills 2003: passim). Genetic comparison of results with living Šawanoki Lenaweek (Shawnee - Algonquians) confirmed their direct descent from these builders, yet revisionist “documentaries” remain popular on this subject.

Although Ives (2013:37-79), like others, focuses on the densely populated and archaeologically mitigated coastal Northeast, the case of Shutesbury CSLs presents a rebuttal by context. Furthermore, Ives relies almost entirely on anecdotal, second- and third-hand European sources that are also conjectural. Direct observation of CSLs and methodical comparisons appear entirely lacking in


Cachat-Schilling -- Shutesbury Sites

both Ives and his sources. Native sources appear to be absent as well. Even Ives admits that the documented record of Euroamerican cairn works is lacking.

In contrast to Ives’ cases, Shutesbury is only recently compromised by European occupancy (c. 1735), while farm lots historically cover a minority space, where large tracts remained as woodlots under low harvest, and population remained persistently low (Shutesbury Town Master Plan, Historic Maps, Land Use Type Maps, Town History, 2004: passim). As well, the immigrant population present elsewhere is lacking in this case, as Shutesbury was a relatively isolated community near highly preferred farmlands (Hadley, etc.) during farm re-occupancy periods, where immigrant farmers did settle and where CSLs are largely absent. Moreover, CSLs in Shutesbury are almost completely absent from the historic farm lots, while frequent on historic woodlots. From the 1860’s until the 1960’s, the population was in overall slow decline, with even lower early occupancy (Shutesbury Historical Commission 2004: passim). The author has obtained specific tract history from longtime residents and records for each of the nine tertiary assessment sites (see section below).

As seen in the 1871 Beers Atlas Map (Beers 1871, Figure 2), Shutesbury was thinly populated and concentrated near town center, with large tracts at distance from farmsteads. Though sites must be redacted for security reasons, the studied sites predominate in those areas farthest from homes and farmsteads, mostly on commercially unattractive land. This does not mean CSLs were not once where Euroamericans built, just that CSLs are not now in evidence there. Moreover, the most intact and intensively studied sites are all in locations at maximal distance from recorded Colonial buildings.

The Town of Shutesbury Master Plan provides an ostensible record of the post-Contact historical context of subject sites (2004:Natural and Historical Resources section). Notably, Dr. Dena Dincauze (University of Massachusetts), hired by the town to assess Native sites, reports that scores of registered Native sites in the Quabbin watershed represent only a fraction of the true total, which she describes as best-known to “local avocational archaeologists” (Shutesbury Master Plan, Scenic and Historic Resources 2004:6-8). John Winthrop describes the smallpox epidemic of 1633 and its devastation of the Massachusetts area nations (2006:passim), which was preceded by a coastal plague in 1617, and was followed by massacres of entire Native towns, women and children included, during King Philip’s War (1675-76) and Queen Anne’s War (1702-16). Seventy years after the genocide of some 20,000+ Algonquians (Driver 1969:Map 6) “Extirpated this Execrable Race,” as Jeffrey Amherst advocated in an exchange of letters with Col. Henry Bouquet (July of 1763, Randall, 2002:1), “Roadtown” was incorporated on the now-emptied sacred district, which town became Shutesbury. Only one contact-period cemetery (dating back several millennia in use) has been identified by Massachusetts in the Valley (Wissatinnewag, a Pocumtuck cemetery in Greenfield, MA, Nolumbeka Project 2010). About 2 km away rests the first federally recognized CSL in a TCP east of the Mississippi (NRHP 2008 in re: SHCS), which includes a 32-mile-diameter Special TCP District, extending to the previously named hills bounding the precinct.

[Appendix I contains extensive additional notes concerning historical context.]


Figure 2 - 1871 Beers Map of Shutesbury, showing thinly populated, large tracts as woodlots.



Cultural Context

Northwest is where the Great Beaver’s tail brushes the sky (Harris 2016: pc, Ursa Minor), while southwest is the home of Kichtan (Kâuntantowit, Grierson 1975: pc; Prentice 1976:pc; Harris 2015:140, others), while the southeast is where the Turtle clan rattle should be kept in the Annual Ceremony house of the Lenape (Harrington 2012:120) and is the home of Mishánogkus (Venus, Trumbull 1903:11, Kchi alakws, Abenaki, Lolo:14), and the northeast is home to Aniśquttauog (Trumbull 1903:6), known also as Pleiades (Figure 1). The cardinal points are significant around the world.

Native Algonquian religious practices are not as poorly documented as it may at first appear. Early Colonists recount some generalities about ritual practices, but also some telling details. Ruttenber’s work, The Native Inhabitants of Manhattan and its Indian Antiquities, is subsumed and quoted in The Memorial History of the City of New York (1892, James G. Wilson, editor Vol. 1, Chapter II, p. 50) in reference to Wawanaquassik as “honoring stone”(detailed in Ruttenber 1992b:372-73, Figure 3). The Wappinger (Abenaki, Ruttenber 1992b:377) term describes an important ceremonial landscape feature mentioned in several 17th- and 18th-century accounts from the Massachusetts Bay area. This particular sort of ceremonial stone object appears abundantly in records, while other types appear not at all or only vaguely. Obscurity of other relic types may be due to the fact that wâunonaqussuk ritual relates to a public figure’s demise, while other rituals were and are more private and more given to world well-being. Another cause may be that wâunonaqussukquanash are large, showy and interacted with in front of Colonial witnesses, who may have quite easily overlooked the many nearby small, subtle rock groupings. Ezra Stiles, minister, Yale President and researcher on Native religion, who exchanged letters with Webster on this subject, noted a “carved or wrought” rock near West Haven, CT, as an “Indian God” with whom he was familiar, and that he counted 20 such effigies on his own travels between Boston and the Hudson (1794:47).

Before venturing into ritual types, the record of Algonquian stone works requires a few examples. Washington Irving chronicled honoring ceremonies at stone groups and mounds, as did Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Daniel Webster, to name just a few (Gage and Gage 2007:100-608). In The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon (1819:48), Irving states that Native peoples, even though robbed of their lands and removed for generations, still located their holy places with ease and made solemn pilgrimage to them.

Dr. James Trumbull notes another location of honoring a past sachem in Indian Names of Places, etc., in and on the borders of Connecticut (1881:53). A site in Norwich, CT records a tradition of wâunona-qussuk, where a bronze plaque erected by the state tells the story of Miantonomo, a Narragansett sachem who sought to form a confederacy against the Colonists in the wake of the depraved massacre of Pequots in 1637 near present Mystic (Harris and Robinson 2105: 136-138), and who was murdered in 1643. The cairn was stolen for construction material. The memorial place is not identical to the burial in practice. For instance, in Unami Lenapeuw, a burial ground is ehenda tauwundîn ‘conserved land’ (‘place for’ + ‘uninhabitable’ + diminutive, derived from words for ‘wilderness/unallotted’).

Also destroyed is the famous wâunonaqussuk to the Scaticook Sachem killed in a revenge act by the brother of a slain foe. Monument Mountain, in West Stockbridge, is subject of more modern myths, but is well documented as the honoring place of the ill-fated Sachem. The immediate area of West Stockbridge and Stockbridge contains several CSLs known to the author.

Noah Webster wrote in a 1788 letter to Rev. Ezra Stiles about secondary burial practices of region- al Native nations, and detailed the erection of mounds covered with stones. This practice is witnessed again by John Heckwelder in his Vocabulary of Nanticoke, the Nanticoke being an Algonquian people of the Delmarva Peninsula, Southern New Jersey and parts of Eastern Pennsylvania. (Heckwelder (1821) 2004:15). Harrington details the Skeleton Dance of the Lenni Lenape, associated with the above ritual (Harrington 1921:18). Colo- nists were unlikely to witness, however, the quiet rituals at nearby stone groupings that involved no bones. There is no use in looking for bones at stone ceremonial sites; there are none. The nature of sacred stone relics is ethereal, echoic, and symbolic, not material and personal. The actual ossuaries are concealed and coded within a well-secreted context.

Among ceremonial landscapes, wâunonaqussukquanash are rare. As will be seen from the data, two rock structure types dominate, both of which are part of what Narragansett traditionally refer to as káhtôquwuk (stone groupings, Harris and Robinson 2015:140). Both types of káhtôquwuk follow strictly formal design and choice of stone, as well as dimensions. To comprehend the basis of their purpose, the basis of ritual must be explained to some extent. Aside from honoring traditions, there are a host of rituals, a few of which give plentiful insight. Regular quotidian prayers include the Morning Prayer, which continues to this day in Nipmuc to thank God for good health and all good things, to pray for all the people, to the Sun. Notably, water features repeatedly. As well, the name Nipmuc/Nipnet refers to “people of the fresh water,” a theme that dominates place names, prayers and life of the people in this area, represented by the tree of life and flowing water in the Nipmuc tribal emblem. Nipmuc places of worship associate with water.

Aside from daily worship, there are several important holidays in the Algonquian year (Harris and Robinson 2015:140, Harrington 2012:passim; Prentice 1976-78:pc). At these times, celestial bodies play a central role in community worship greeting the sun and spirits back to earth in spring and bidding farewell to the dearly departed in mid-August for several days (Ruttenber 1992a:19; Harrington 1921:196-200; Prentice 1976, Shoumatoff 1978), which event inaugurates a sacred season ending in the fall Annual Ceremony (Harrington 1921:196-200). Many myths relate to these matters across Algonquian and Haudenosaunee cultural lines, too many to relate here. Roger Williams again noted that the people of this area “reckoned the stars” with great skill (confirmed by Ruttenber, 1992a:29). A better account comes through Narragansett Tribal Oral History in the joint report on the Nipsachuck sacred site:

“It was through Ceremonial Stone Landscapes and the various features within them that the Ancients acknowledged the Mother Earth and her celestial relatives (sun, moon, stars, constellations, meteors, comets, etc.), which we contemporarily refer to as astrological alignments, can be perceived through the Ancients’ placement of stone features to join and enhance various natural features within these landscapes" (Harris and Robinson 2015:140).

A third form of ritual is that of the Pau Wau or the Pniese (Medeu, Unami Lenapeuw, Zeisberger 1995:90, Mtewis, Southern Anishnabe, 2014), the priesthood of the Algonquians. Aside from periodic community rituals, priests also interceded in emergency matters and unforeseen needs. For these rituals, the priest’s power to call elemental forces and to alter forms was a central employment of skill, some remarkable examples of which are recorded by surprisingly objective witnesses.

Wassenaar goes into some detail about a place perceived as and called by the Dutch, Dans Kammer (the dancing room – on account of its rock enclosure), just north of Newburgh, NY (Ruttenber 1992a:27-30), which is described as being a mass of rocks with two “dancing rings” of large grassy ellipses set apart from one another (Ruttenber 1192b:383-85). Note the epithet kammer and not veld, the concurrent Dutch term applied to open grassy spaces. Dans Kammer was twin spaces then, of very large świhwakuwi (one was later built upon), with associated káhtôquwuk that have been mostly dismantled by campers, and later developed as an industrial space. Numerous other CSLs dot the Hudson Highlands landscape (Shoumatoff 1978, Prentice 1976). Ruttenber’s Dutch reports also state that the Mahikkaneuk women were most expert in astronomy and could name every star in the sky, as well as times of ascent, setting and other events (Ruttenber 1992a:29).

The sacredness of Dans Kammer is attested in the account of Hans Hansen, 1684, a Dutch settler who decided to visit with his bride and an elder Munsi matron, Leshee. Leshee forbade them to land at the “rocky peninsula” named above, warning them that trespassers suffer death. The Dutch noted with bias the rituals held at Dans Kammer, and that 400-500 or more persons gathered at a time there on certain days. Hansen et al. insisted on landing there, found a Munsi hiding in the bushes nearby, whom they took captive over Leshee’s protests, and were set upon by avengers



when their captive called out, who took the party hostage and burned the Hansens alive. The remaining party, who had not entered of their own will, were allowed to live once ransomed (all: Ruttenber 1992b:383-85). Another such “dance chamber” (świhwakuwi) was recorded by the Dutch near Sankpenak (Roeliff Jansen Kill, near Claverack, NY), part of the Wawanaquassik tract, the boundary between Wappinger and Mahikkaneuk, which the author and others have long known to also contain káhtôquwuk.

We re-encounter shamanistic transformations of tents, monsters and people into stone, and back again, in “Châhkâpâs kiyâ Michi-îyuch”(Jagabesh and the Bad People), as told by John Peastitute, an elder Storykeeper from the Far North Kâwawâchikâmach Nâskâpî community, and again in Âchân Tipâchimunâ (Peastitute 2015:passim). The East Canadian landscape is marked all over with cairns, both directional and ritual, on record and in personal experience. Comparison of religion, language and culture all show marked cohesion among Algonquians across Northeastern Unites States and Canada (Goddard 1978, 1996; Driver 1969; 2012; www.eastcree. org/cree 2014; Mohegan Nation 2004; Parker 2008; Lolo (Laurent) 2009; O’Brien 2005; Trowbridge 2011, Trumbull 1903; Zeisberger 2014; Horsford 2002; Heckwelder 2002, 2004; Harrington 2012; Cummings 1857; Barton 2007; Grierson 1976, Prentice 1976).

Intercessional emergency conjuring with medicine objects appears again in the Western St. James Bay community (Âtahlôkana), along with turning living beings into stone. That effigies of stone are featured thus as protective is not surprising. Harris recounts of the rituals conducted at Nipsachuck that they centered on praying into the stone objects and investing them with power to balance a world very much out of norm (Harris and Robinson 2015:141). Personal conveyance from my Great Aunt Jenny Prentice, who trained in medicine ways of the Oklahoma Lenni Lenape, taught me that rock groupings mirror heavenly constellations as configurations of powerful spirits (serpent, turtle, beaver, bear, eagle), and káhtôquwuk are individually invested with powerful prayers, as well as being places for calendric holidays (świhwakuwi), special healing and direct intercession. As well, Harrington’s compendium of early accounts regarding Lenni Lenape religion and ceremonies abound with details confirming calendric, healing, conjuring, transformative and thanksgiving rituals, noting here also that Manitoiwuk (‘minor spirits/gods,’ Unami; Zeisberger et al. 1763:162, Harrington 1921:1) were invoked as intermediary agents in various minor ceremonies (Harrington 1921:196-200). Ruttenber details ritual practices amid the stone groupings at the twin świhwakuwi of Dans Kammer (1992a:27-29).

CSLs as pauwaus are attested to in the Town of Bedford, NY historical archives at Katonah Library (a hamlet named for a Siwanoy Sachem), as well as in the Village of Mount Kisco Library (cis- qua, Siwanoy Munsi, sassaqua, Unami Lenapeuw, ‘swampy,’ viz. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), which briefly recount Pappenoharo’s Rebellion, also known as Pacham, and shamanistic acts among the “Carens and rockes so deare to them" (Bedford Archives 1967-69:87).

That extreme numbers of new stone works seem to appear late in the history of these sites may indicate intensification of ritual efforts to rebalance the world during the extreme plight of the Algonquian holocaust. Within TCPs, CSLs are multi-purpose holy places that have a locational, but separated, relationship with burial grounds. These sacred places were used for intensive healing ceremonies and to care for the world of living beings by maintaining a harmony between the earth, water and sky worlds - places for prayer and contemplation, purification and restoration. These sites also appear as layered over earlier works.

Native American CSLs can be found from the northern limits of human Nearctic habitation as inuksuq and other forms to the tip of Tierra del Fuego as small and beautifully smooth spheres. CSLs, as they are found in the town studied, can be found from the Western shores of the Great Lakes to the Eastern shores on the Atlantic. Many photographic examples can be found online, taken by concerned residents, and in the many books and articles presently published on this subject.  Moore and Weiss confirm kátôquwuk as "of prehistoric origin" in their concurrent article (2016:passim) for Ohio Journal of Archaeology, with photographs of Native American relics in West Virginia that match relics in Shutesbury, both Eastern Algonquian homelands.

Many subtypes of relics and subtle stone arrangements are not assessed or discussed in this report. For instance, qusuqaniyutók and sunś nipámu come


Cachat-Schilling -- Shutesbury Sites

in many forms, some subtle, and the spaces between CSLs contain subtle markers in many places that form a networked map on the land of an extended sacred realm (Kohler 2016).

[Appendix II contains extensive additional notes on cultural context.]



All access-permitted private and public lands were assessed at a basic level in Shutesbury, which has large tracts in conservation status. Of the 60 tallied CSL sites, as defined by criteria in the Preliminary Results section, 25 were further assessed for characteristics and content, from which nine representative sites were selected for deeper analysis. For a total of 754 stone structures in the nine final sites, 33 points of data were collected per item. Basic analysis of data reveals that characteristics of these studied sites correlate closely to three historically documented ceremonial stone landscapes for comparison, belonging to the linguistically and culturally close Algonquian nations of the Munsi Delaware and Mohegan-cluster divisions, specifically, the Tankiteke of Southeast New York, the Pocumtuck of the West Central Connecticut Valley (and environs) and the Narragansett of Rhode Island (and environs).

The first step was to locate and catalogue the TCPs within the town, yielding 60 sites on public lands and private lands with access permission. An immediate question concerns the possibility of undiscovered sites on private lands or inaccessible points, which initial assessment of the 60 found sites addresses. Early data indicated a very low likelihood of excluded sites, except in two possible areas of concern, for which a reasonable projection can be made from their context. Information on the locations of all 60 sites was collected as well as their context. These data points yield an interesting picture. With only a few exceptions, the 60 sites relate to terrain and water similarly within two terrain categories:

[redacted data]

Also apparent early on was that many sites are strikingly similar in content and distribution of stone structures. On that basis, the work of evaluation was reduced to manageable size by selecting 25 sites that best represent the entire 60, with the added interest of ruling out several sites that are too damaged and too mixed with later-period additions to reasonably be assessed. Once those 25 sites were defined, a further layer of information was extracted regarding just over 500 relics to characterize them more deeply: an inventory of surface features and basic categorization of them by physical characteristics, as well as data points on their position, basic condition, relation to terrain and water, relation to other relic types, relation to cardinal directions and known Algonquian calendric points of interest, and relation to other sites. Basic notes on exposure, aspect, soil types and notable features of various kinds were also collected. This collected information was analyzed, yielding a second level of insight into the sites as a whole and as individuals. Highly regular location and orientation of sites was also apparent at this point. Sites were equally locatable by use of traditional knowledge, marker stones (sunś nipámu, Narragansett, Harris and Robinson 2015:140, example in Figure 5), or dominant locational data from preliminary results (see below).

Nine sites represent the breadth of site types to be found within the 60, as well as including the set of most complete, intact and informative sites, and representing the various areas of site clustering, plus their various characteristics of placement. This set of nine includes representative minor and major sites (in terms of total area and total number of relics), intact and compromised sites, sites with features appearing to evidence cultural mixing and sites without such evidential features (as defined in Secondary Results).

With the above in mind, a set of characteristics was selected to determine the origins, basic relationships, manufacture method and distribution of all above-ground structures. Notes were taken regarding objects whose features do not fit criteria for that study level or otherwise appear to be anomalies within the CSL categories listed above, as well as objects almost completely subsumed by soil. On this level, complete surveys of each site were performed using one-meter squares in groups of four, made of string knotted on bamboo rods and drawing all objects within each unit. Grid maps of 30 m x 17 m were collated from the meter


units, and those grid maps were collated into site maps. The grid size was chosen for convenient fit to the graphing format and workable scale with generous visual detail. My gratitude goes to James Cachat-Schilling and Miles Tardie for their tireless and patient assistance in surveying these sites. Collected data were collated and sorted to extract the characteristic collective properties of the sites and their various relic types.

Preliminary Analysis

Initial qualification of above-ground stone features included 60 sites, from which 500 objects were recorded as samples representative of categorized site contents by sorting and averaging field data against known categories of CSL objects given above. Binary quantization was assigned to the following qualitative criteria: [* A separate list of 31 criteria for evaluating cultural and economic uses is contained in Appendix III, which were used as the standard to arrive at a quantized response to the marked criteria.]

  1. Structures are positioned in an area where their presence is impractical for known post- Contact Euroamerican economic uses and their construction is difficult.
  2. Structures consist of stone types and shapes not evidenced in nearby Euroamerican structures, or in historic-period overseas examples of European stone works (esp. Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, Italy, Portugal).
  3. Structures show labor intensity and extent of labor that is impractical and would be inefficient/wasteful under pragmatic terms.
  4. Number and elaboration of features are obstructive of co-use for grazing, watering stock, etc.
  5. Frequency of structures and similar sites defies practical explanation.
  6. Orientation and nature/types of features do not translate to Euroamerican uses.
  7. Orientation and nature/types of features translate to known Algonquian ritual uses (direction of ritual significance, primary re- source orientations, unique land feature orientation).*
  8. Features fit known ritual practices of the Middle-Late Woodland-to-Contact Period.
  9. Terrain on which features sit lacks evidence of Euroamerican use, documented or by visible artifact (including vegetation types, tracks, debris, relics).*
  10. Neighboring terrain is unsuited to Euroamerican uses.*
  11. Site lacks evidence of Euroamerican structures.*
  12. Site is consistent with recorded Algonquian CSL sites in terms of location and content.*
  13. Structure lacks evidence of recent tampering.
  14. Structure is consistent with other structures on site.
  15. Structure is consistent with structures in other sites in town.
  16. Structure is consistent with known structures outside of town, but in the Eastern Algonquian region.*
  17. Structure is consistent with a documented written description, drawing, painting, or photo of an Eastern Algonquian structure.*
  18. Structure is consistent with a known structure that has received Federal or State recognition as a Native American historic feature.
  19. Structure is consistent with tribally recognized features.

Over 68% of sample objects meet all 19 criteria. 96% meet 16 or more criteria, and 88% meet 18 or more criteria. No chambers are included. No atypical features (“hearthstones,” etc.) are included. Features that could not be comparatively dated as older than recorded (in Town records or other post-1735 sources) features nearby are excluded in this preliminary analysis. Comparative dating was accomplished by comparison of diversity among moss and lichen communities on the surfaces of stones that compose objects close together (< 3 m), experiencing similar sunlight and exposure, and comparing surface sections at the same height from the present ground surface. The last parameter addresses the vertical stratification of microbiotal habitats, which is pronounced in moss and lichens (Lincoln, 2008:pc).

Neighboring objects were considered part of separate periods only when their total number of floral species differed by more than 50%. Using this measure, three distinct periods of construction were identified, not including post-Colonial periods or periods earlier than the Woodland period. Stone features only partly visible and sometimes appearing to pass under later features were noted frequently. These features may represent works from earlier periods; indeed, relics from more than one period are expected (Dincauze 2004:6-9). Data collected regarding each of the 60 sites as a whole yield the following:

- 80% (48) are located on terrain having the same features in terms of knolls, slopes, low areas, etc.

- 85% (51) are located along the North-South flow of spring waters, with a small included group that are near waters having experienced historic and reported changes.

- 75% (45) have a matched, atypically close pair (< 2 m, see tables in tertiary assessment) or quartet of cairns on boulders, positioned similarly relative to other features, with a similar uphill feature.

- 20% (12) have a long, low boulder with many small, round stones on top (wâunonaqussuk), located near on the east of a certain feature or near the eastern boundary of the object distribution area for the site.

- 80% have a large boulder, split boulder or pair of boulders near water.

- 80% distribute low, concentric ground cairns (anogkuéu káhtôquwuk) primarily on the east side, usually across water from boulder-based cairns.

- 85% distribute higher, boulder-based cairns (skuguisu káhtqwk.) to the west of water.

- 75% have large, thin, flat, triangular sunś nipámu and/or a large, flat, thin stone with “shoulders” and a “head.”

- 60% have multiple sunś nipámu and/or Manitou stones (Mavor and Dix 1989).

Secondary Assessment

Of 25 sites in the secondary study of just over 500 sample relics, 96% have low ground cairns in 4-6 concentric arcs that are consistently made of small, round stones, though sometimes quite oblong, and are consistently 2 m in diameter, seldom varying by more than 0.5 meter.

Of the same sites:

- 60% have one to a few long boulder cairns, sizes averaging 4-5 m.

- 90% have cairns on boulder bases that are essentially round and rise between 0.8 m and 1.8 m from current ground level.

- 60% have a large, long, low boulder cairns with many stones on top. It must be noted that sites lacking this feature often have candidates for this feature where it cannot be known if rocks were removed.

- 60% are associated with one to a few mounds at some distance, but with consistent directional correlation, some with small hand stones showing and others completely covered with leaves and loam, which mounds are of two types: a type larger than 5.3 x 5.3 m, often oblong, and another almost always ~1 m x 2 m or ~ 3.8 m x 1.3 m.


- About 30% of sites are extremely dam-aged. All but one of extremely damaged sites are located on one landholder’s properties.

- 94% of intact concentric circle káhtôquwuk are formed from four to six rings, the center most often being a stone of unusual type (jasper with contrasting line, pegmatite, quartz crystal or quartz inclusion, leucic granite, or similar mineral). Center stone is usually quite round or else pyramidal.

-88% of intact boulder-based cairn káhtôquwuk consist of 38-50 flattish stones, usually all of the same type in a given feature, where basal stones are somewhat larger than the succeeding courses of stone, which are quite uniform in size. Courses of stone number five to seven in intact specimens of this type.

Tertiary Assessment

Nine final sites were assessed for deeper data, a total of 33 data points for each feature, which data points subsume the criteria of the preliminary assessment. Qualitative data were quantized as binary values (present/absent; yes/no), while the remaining are all as-measured values from the field (structure dimensions to within 0.3 m, between structures to < 0.5 m, perimeters within 5% error). The nine sites include two small sites (< 60 features), 4 medium sites (60 -100 features) and 3 large sites (> 100 features). Due to space limitations, only three sites can be presented in any detail here. Sites numbered 3, 7 and 18 provide excellent windows into the entire collection of sites.

Site 3

This site perches on a gentle slope, high above a swampy valley and pond system laced by a brook with a northern aspect, while a spring arises in roughly the lower middle of the site, just below a large boulder topped with about 35 small, round stones (Figure 3) with evidence of recent tampering (exposed top stones are devoid of flora). The site drains through a series of small knolls before plunging steeply toward the swamp. Tree cover is mostly hardwoods with few shrubs or herbs and bounded by mixed hemlock. In this case, the water flows south to north, while cairn types are also reversed in distribution relative to many other sites - concentric ground cairns on the west and boulder cairns on the east of the water. On the south limit of cairns, a low, undulating and sinuous stone wall passes for about 7 m along a south-by-southwest to north-by-northeast axis, which ends with a gap of about 5 m before a higher wall with a slightly curved, mounded shape that lies south-north. At the lower edge of cairn distribution is a slightly oblong, rounded cluster of ground cairns. The south limit is bounded by an early post-Contact wall, judged so by the anomalous method of building, strikingly different from the described low walls, being by comparison narrow, high, differently stacked, considerably more cleanly linear and of single-stone thickness. When plotted on a graph as if viewed from above, the cairns of Site 3, anomalous wall and lower cluster take on the rough appearance of a turtle, which is also true of Sites 6, 18C and 19. As well, the four just-named sites have similar total numbers of features (within ~10), which features are noticeably smaller than at large sites (e.g. Site 7). Feature/


[Figure 3 - Wâunonaqussuk (Site 3, ~4m L x 1.2 m H x 2 m W) with fallen ‘Manitou’ stone to rear left and supporting base rocks.]



Cachat-Schilling -- Shutesbury Sites

structure size and site size appear to be in proportion. Three size categories emerge: <60 (range of about 5), 60 -100 (range ~10), 100 -120+ (range ~20). Three sites are redacted from this report at the request of Traditional Historical Preservation Officers, with roughly double the total numbers of relics (250+), making a fourth category. Site 3 is the densest (average N1 = 1.3 m, in Figure 4) of the three detailed sites, with a maximum nearest neighbors total equal to Site 18 (max N < 10 m = 14, in Figure 4) and the smallest area of the final study group. Uphill, to the southwest, is a large świhwakuwi that opens to the southwest and lies across a forest road from two somewhat isolated boulder cairns in excellent condition less than 2 m apart and rising to 1.3 m.

Site 7

This site lies among three low knolls that embrace three small ephemeral springs and one perennial spring within the larger embrace of three high, rocky ridges. The three knolls lie side-by-side and present a north-south axis with east-west slopes, rocky and consistent with topographically dominant local glacial patterns (University of New Hampshire, online USGS Quadrant maps, Shutesbury, MA 1939). Surrounding vegetation is diverse and shrubs are similarly diverse. In the lower section is a group of trees numbered for what appears to be a forest study.

On these slopes and in the lower area where the spring rivulets braid together are found 126 stone structures of three major (káhtôquwuk, wâunonaqussuk, sunś nipámu) and four additional minor types (káhtôquwuk, sunś nipámu) with five anomalous objects and less than ten “questionable” objects. Of the structures, 110 of 126 show no serious damage, and 112 show no sign of material reuse by later periods. The upper and lower concentrations are separated by an approximately 30 m gap, which is transected by one and possibly more partially sunken stone rows (on swampy terrain.) At the north end of the site is the main spring erupting at the base of a very large split boulder (> 5 m), whose immediate area is swampy. Other than the two mentioned areas, the site is thin-soiled, extremely rocky, and principally on steep slopes or knoll tops, with narrow, flat hollows between. Just to the southwest is a high ridge offering vistas southeast and southwest across a river valley. Almost all datable objects fall into successive phases of construction, which do not appear to be widely separated, according to floral tallies (see Preliminary Analysis) and weathering. Other objects are either mostly subsumed by soil and ancient in appearance, or almost devoid of flora detectable with a hand-held magnifying lens and sharp-edged.

In an area of twelve 30 m x17 m grids, over 70% of total structures concentrate in six grids, while 50% concentrate in four grids, which are distributed in two parts: the central and lower (south) areas. Average distances from first and second neighbors, as well as minimum and maximum separations and total neighboring structures within 10 m appear in Figure 4. Of the 126 structures, 50 are 2 m or less from the nearest neighbor. Structures as a whole have an average of 4.7 neighboring structures within 10 m, with an average first neighbor at 2.7 m (avg. N1 = 2.7, Figure 4). Of concentric ground cairns, 94% are within 0.5 m of a 2 m diameter. Of boulder-based cairns, 82% are within 0.5 m of a 2 m diameter. Structures in the densest four grids have a range of 7-12 neighbors within 10 m, averaging 8.6 neighbors within 10 m. Distribution shows another interesting behavior; any three nearest neighbors have a higher than 80% chance of being placed such that two are evenly spaced from a third and 0.25 x further away from each other, forming a triangle. For concentric ground cairns, a distancing ratio of approximately 2 x 2 x 2.5 is typical.

The central two grids lie atop a knoll, near the center of which is a group of at least 5 sunś nipámu that associate with smaller, triangular stones that may have stood upright. Sunś nipámu are consistently shaped like an elongated arrowhead, beveled at the base, with an acute-angled top (Figure 5). Another stone type is rare, called “Manitou” stone (Mavor and Dix 1989), which are rather rectangular,


Site No.

Avg. N1 (m)

Avg. N2 (m)

Max. N1 (m)

Min. N1 (m)

Min. N2 (m)

Avg./Max. N within 10 m






























Figure 4 - Clustering values for detailed sites (# 3, 7, 18) showing first- and second-nearest neighbors (N1, nearest neighbor, N2, second-nearest, N, total neighbors), outliers filtered (sunś nipámu).

[Appendix IV contains numerous distribution, nearest neighbor, materials type and materials dimension data tables, which together strongly evidence consistent design, material selection and distribution of relics and sites.]



elongated, topped with shoulder-like indents and a “head.” The sunś nipámu group aligns with true north, south, east, west, and northeast (40°, Figure 5). At about 220° southwest of the group’s center is a pair of intact boulder cairns and two similar cairns that have partly collapsed (across the water). Through a large, triangular boulder’s point, the sunset can be viewed beginning late July between the same two cairns lying at the base of a knoll, reaching the apparent mid-point between them August 12-14 (as viewed by eye in 2016). Several sunken stone rows intersect the swampy area around the rivulet, one of which appears to course along a 120° axis.

To the east of the springhead and boulder, on the edge of the wetland, is a boulder in excess of 7 m length with more than three dozen small stones gathered on top, identifiable as a wâunonaqussuk. Nearby the road edge is an identifiably modern cellar, judged thus by the cut stone and lack of flora on the stones, as well as by what appears to be a collapsed chimney alongside. In addition, the type of stone used in this structure is not consistent with any stone relic, except two anomalous stones on the nearest concentric ground cairn that lack the flora of associated stones and are angular and thin, whereas the rest of the stones in that neighboring cairn are round or oblong, smooth and thick. The cellar is atypically deep, however, for a modern or 19th century cellar. Measurement reached 3.3 m, finding jumbled rocks rather than a floor of any kind.

Together, the cairns represent káhtôquwuk, stone groups and effigies (ex. Figure 7), with intersecting and embracing qusukquaniyutôk (stone rows), while certain stones near the springhead, the center, as well as at the perimeter of the lower and western areas are sunś nipámu (markers) according to the Narragansett tradition (Harris and Robin- son 2015:140).

Figure 6 - Configuration of káhtôquwuk and boulders, Site 7. Perennial spring is marked by an arrow; other springs are marked by dotted lines. Filled areas represent groups of stone structures.

Site 18

A natural hollow embraces this site on a steep slope with an eastern aspect, perched high above


Figure 5 - Standing stones (sunś nipámu): largest = ~1m x .5m, smallest = ~.5m x .3m. located in the central upper portion of Site 7.




Cachat-Schilling -- Shutesbury Sites

a river valley abutting an old road that is also a pre-existing Native trace, and bordered by a creek that is now guttered along this portion of the road. The terrain is extremely rocky and steep, as well as bound on the south and west by a shoulder crossing the slope at an angle toward the western ridge top, which is flat and looks southwest and east. A spring is marked on 1939 USGS topographical quadrangles (UNH archives online) as perched and arising just to the north of the site, but which does not now appear to flow more than occasionally. To the south-by-southwest, just beyond the perimeter of the outermost káhtôquwuk, a series of seven small stone marker stacks (each made of five to seven acutely triangular stones) forms an intermittent and evenly spaced, lazy arc along the ridge just below the crest to within meters of the topmost suns nipámu that delimits the upper boundary of the site and direct due west. If viewed from the center cairns of the site, the stone stacks would seem to trace rise and set of the sun and celestial objects central to Algonquian religion. To the east across the road is a deep, U-shaped row of boulders, świhwakuwi (Harris and Robinson 2015:140). The tree cover is mixed deciduous and coniferous, with an abundance of hemlock. The area across the road is, by contrast, formed by unusual low, long parallel ridges, from which arise a series of parallel spring rivulets and on the south of which is a large area of alluvial deposit. The ridges are dominated by hemlock, while the alluvial area is largely white birch and interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana). Associated with the far side are four groups of CSLs in a concentrated area, with three more CSLs groups in close proximity to one an- other across the next road. Together, they form a complex of more than 300 objects covering a 0.4 km area.

Site 18 is slightly denser (avg. N1 = 2 m, Figure 4) with structures than Site 7, and covers a slightly smaller area. Maximum number of neighbors within 10 m (14) is also slightly higher than Site 7 (Figure 4). Overall, the figures are very close and appear to correlate even more closely when relative site size is taken into account. This site rests on the most extreme slope of all but 2 of the original 60 sites. There are no signs of any Euroamerican structures on this site, whose position combines dramatic views from the top with a somewhat enclosed and womb-like central area. The configuration of structures, when distribution is plotted as if viewed from above, resembles a bird in flight (Figure 8).


Site N0.








11 *


Avg. N1










Avg. N2










Max. N1










Min. N1










Avg. N < 10 m










Max. N < 10 m










Total relics











Table 2 – Clustering Values for 9 Sites: N1 = nearest neighbor, N2 = second neighbor, N = total neighbors within 10 m.  * Site 11 received heavy damage through reuse for stone walls through the mid-section of the site.



Figure 8. Scale Distribution Plot of Site 18 (~90 m N-S x ~95 m E-W).




Figure 7 . Káhtôquwuk (Site 18, ~ 2 m diam. x ~1.3 m H), edge of neighboring structure visible at lower right.


[Appendix V contains many images of individual sacred relics and contextual features.]




Many of those who have delved into the subject of CSLs and TCPs have heard the negation that these structures are the result of agricultural activity. More specifically, wall building, field clearing and boundary marking are named as sources (Ives 2013:passim), which argument fails on several bases that have been tested herein. By contrast, Ives and others fail to test their conjectures at all, presenting no direct study, only inferences from earlier conjecture. First, CSLs in Shutesbury concentrate primarily on non-agricultural land; many are on land impossible to till and useless for grazing. There is no historic lack of available suitable farmland in this area. As well, káhtôquwuk are mostly so dense that little ground is left for grazing within, while neighboring ground is often even less appealing. Several sites are essentially rocks on rocks, where only a century of afforestation has provided sufficient matter for plants to grow. Other sites sit along mucky swamps, where CSLs are positioned such that they would obstruct livestock from on-site grazing or access to water. Moreover, about half of sites in the study contain abundant lamb-kill, also known as sheep's laurel (Kalmia angustifolia, commonly named thus becuase sheep like it, but it's poisonous to them), and which plant is historically abundant in such places, meaning that sheep could never have been grazed there.  Having tended sheep, the author was first instructed on the need to avoid this plant and several others common to this region. Town records do not support evidence of flocks sufficient to require the area covering CSLs in the subject town. Moreover, a comparative increase in identifiably Euroamerican construction on a given site and nearby sites correlates neatly with decrease in number of intact CSL objects. In the subject town, CSLs are almost completely absent from open, flat or farmed lands, and those that lack a body of water, an aspect previously reported for other locations (Mavor and Dix 1989).

CSLs do positively correlate with water sources and major orientations in relation to celestial events central to traditional Algonquian religious practices. Most telling is the density of objects. Though boundaries are sometimes marked with cairns, over 100 cairns concentrate within areas of less than a sporting field, away from documented historic property boundaries, evenly distributed in a pattern that correlates to culturally-important calendric azimuths, and very densely distributed. Ceremonial Stone Landscapes predominate the Eastern Woodland world since before European contact and persisting into the present, yet they are poorly studied and poorly understood by all but a few. The persistence of CSLs in TCPs through time is remarkable, as is their insistent design, regardless of challenges provided by terrain.

Objective data contradict casual claims that natural or European agricultural activities produced these finely balanced stone works, while examination of their physical and correlational characteristics clarifies their elaborate, exacting, inspired and complex nature and function. These beautiful sacred places beg further investigation with LIDAR to obtain massive data on correlations, azimuths and large-scale distribution of sites. From massive correlational data, detailed insights can be extracted using statistical models, such as the fuzzy c-means (FCM) algorithm and by kernel-based FCM clustering with genetic algorithm (Beydek et al. 1984:191-203; Ding and Fu 2016: 233-38), which means are anticipated to further confirm the sophisticated, strictly prescribed design and ritual use of TCPs and their CSLs. Only then will a greater public become aware of the full beauty of Northeastern Native sacred places.


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