Stones of Contention, by Timothy H. Ives (New English Review Press, 2021) 263 pages.
While there are a lot of confluences of educational misconduct and racial anxiousness in the up to date West, few are so enjoyable to examine because the phenomenon of “ceremonial stone landscape” activism in up to date New England, particularly in the light fingers of Dr. Timothy Ives, principal archaeologist of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission.
He has written a chic and scholarly work exposing the tutorial fraud and political larceny of a motion that seeks to have stone piles left behind by early American farmers redesignated as pre-European religious temples constructed by Indians. It is a warning.
While there are a number of effectively-acknowledged Indian ceremonial stone or cave websites in New England, many of the websites that will have existed earlier than European settlement are lengthy gone. Until the Seventies, the one individuals who thought in any other case had been fantasists who attributed them to Vikings, Knights Templar, Irish monks, or the Lost Tribes of Israel.
Enter “disco-era America,” as Ives describes it. The founding delusion of the ceremonial stone panorama (CSL) motion was handed down by two previous white males, James Mavor, a retired oceanographer who claimed in a 1969 e book to have found Atlantis, and Byron Dix, a retired engineer who believed there have been secret codes in megalith websites in Great Britain. Mavor and Dix set about “discovering” the secrets and techniques of what we now know to be farmer rock piles all through New England, reinterpreting them as sacred Indian websites that exposed magical kingdoms of the previous. Irish monks had been out, native Indians had been in.
The overeager minds of Mavor and Dix “discovered no shortage of ‘standing stones,’ astronomically aligned ‘stone rows,’ and calendric ‘stone circles’ throughout New England’s forests,” Ives writes. Their 1989 e book Manitou: The Sacred Landscape of New England’s Native Civilization let unfastened a military of white retirees who set out from their subdivisions into the newly enchanted forests of New England, there to disclose all method of stone piles left by magical Indians which may, maybe, lengthen their lives or treatment their arthritis.
It was nonsense, “growing on an old compost of American Romanticism infused with the individualistic, exploratory spirit of the New Age.” Manitou was a case research, notes Ives, of “how two well-educated scientists cast off the shackles of disciplined rationality to indulge the pursuit of a consensus-based ideological vision.” He cites no fewer than ten web sites selling the CSL conspiracy idea at the moment.
The motion couldn’t have succeeded with out the supporting roles performed by 4 different teams. The first to hitch the motion had been the tutorial archaeologists who by the Eighties noticed their goal not as advancing fact however as redressing perceived historic injustices. The teachers had been primarily targeted on themselves, staring into the mirror wracked by guilt about their “colonial gaze” and decided to make restitution by “unmasking” systemic racism on the coronary heart of their subject with its “Eurocentric” reliance on information and logic. That these teachers had been pandering to romanticism concocted by previous white males who couldn’t get a tee-off time didn’t devalue the trigger.
Running carefully behind the teachers got here native, state, and federal authorities who, being handmaids of the individuals, would do absolutely anything to keep away from controversy. They additionally wanted to get stuff finished. “Federally regulated projects with broad public interest…present money trees worth shaking,” Ives notes of the “mitigations” supplied to native tribes and antiquarian teams to ease the ache of improvement.
Slower to acknowledge the bounty of the CSL motion got here native NIMBYs in search of a politically highly effective weapon to stop land improvement. These residents found “the Indian Rock Defense.” It is now a time-examined technique for land-use attorneys in the area. Some rock or shell formations seem unexpectedly in lands slated for improvement. Proposed photo voltaic farms are a favourite goal of NIMBYs who resort to the Indian Rock Defense, making the CSL motion an adjunct to the fossil gasoline business.
Ives paperwork one triumph of NIMBYism now often called the Manitou Hassannash Preserve in Rhode Island. The website was slated for improvement when NIMBYs demanded a survey. Tribal leaders had been bused in to declare, after a seemly pause for divination, that that they had recovered the reminiscences of the sacred stone websites. A consultancy of antiquarians and graduate college students was employed to jot down an official report. Photos had been taken of rock piles at winter solstice, suggesting a celestial goal. Even with opposite proof staring the researchers in the face, they insisted on historic origins. One massive boulder had “rounded drill holes…typically the result of the ‘plug-and-feathers’ method of quarrying and splitting stone, a technique developed around 1830,” the report noticed. “However, the documentation of this detail is not intended to suggest a date of construction of this feature.”
The clincher got here at a public discussion board in 2017 with Paul Loether, then Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. Loether delivered himself of the assertion that “my ancestors were New England farmers and they didn’t build these structures.” As Ives notes, “If everyone knew what their ancestors did and did not do, the fields of archaeology and history would not exist.” Nonetheless, it was a watershed. The city and state rallied to the trigger. Since then, many little previous women have been making movies offering their very own Indian religious interpretations of the rock piles in the protect. Ives has little question these stones are subject clearing particles from white farmers. “This is why I do not read fiction. Life provides enough surprises.”
The “network of middle class whites” that constitutes the CSL motion couldn’t have succeeded with out the ethical warrant offered by the fourth group, self-recognized Indians. At first, the Indians dismissed the claims. But timing is all the pieces. Disco-era America was additionally a time when Indian revitalization was taking form. “Parade float Indians” was offended Indians. The CSL motion introduced a chance for money, to make sure, however the principle draw was cultural and political.
Culturally, the laborious fact is, as Ives reveals, that these Indians are principally extinct as an identifiable group. In the face of cultural loss caused by the encounter with the trendy world, and the more and more weird causes and ways in which individuals declare Indian heritage, CSL activism offered a brand new rallying level at a time of what he calls “Indian racial paranoia.”
As life got here to mimic artwork, the fanciful “sacred sites” found by previous white males turned precise sacred websites divined by Indian leaders. One previous white man in Massachusetts claimed extrasensory powers on account of coaching below a “Cherokee medicine woman.” One of his discoveries was then “sacralized” by native Indians who put 4 clusters of quahog shells on the location, wampum cash in at the moment’s phrases. This “proved” that the location was nonetheless in use as a ceremonial place and thus should have been since time immemorial.
Keeping this cultural glue collectively requires numerous obfuscation and tall tales from Indian individuals. Attempts to solicit better data from them are invariably met with the insistence that non-disclosure agreements had been reached with their ancestors. Suggestions to excavate websites are denied as a result of this may quantity to desecration, not as a result of it would reveal farm refuse from round 1830 slightly than crystals or skeletons from 2000 BC. Ives refers to a “decolonial divorce settlement” that has left these websites and lots of others off-limits to skilled inquiry.
CSL thus goes one step past the traditional observe in up to date archaeology whereby skilled archaeologists uncover an Indian website and its which means earlier than calling in Indians to announce that the Indians, utilizing their decolonized methodologies, have found the location and used their historic knowledge (if tribal guidelines permit) to fill in the clueless archaeologists hidebound in their “Western” strategies. In the case of CSL, we now have skilled archaeologists consciously submitting to a false interpretation to keep away from the intense cost of “taking a non-spiritual position.” Thus “from the moral high ground of an indigenous warriors rebelling against the settler colonial state” the Indian activists “rally others to join their cause.”
In one among this e book’s many shafts of sunshine that one would by no means see on a recent school campus, Ives questions whether or not the Indian leaders know the hurt they’re inflicting on their communities. The lesson that cash should be earned via productive work and interplay with others 5 days every week is a lesson that pertains additionally to “most of the Indian adults inhabiting New England,” he reminds us. Whatever the texture-good impact of the gravy prepare of “mitigations,” the CSL motion is devastating to the productive capacities of the Indians themselves.
Inevitably, the assorted factions in the CSL motion erupted into vicious division. One of essentially the most unstable relationships was between the antiquarians and the Indians. Ives paperwork a fissure that erupted in 2018 when one of many antiquarians complained of the “fake history” being supplied by the Indians about his personal faux discoveries. It was “an ironic circularity.” It was additionally “a rare, if not unique, political unicorn—a white settler colonist suggesting that a local Indian has appropriated his ideas and then erased him from history.”
The CSL interpretations invariably contradict each other, setting off inner disputes of interpretation. Sites are known as burial grounds, then reminiscence piles, then ritual websites, then sacred websites. One was apparently positioned in a spot that historic Indian prognosticators predicted can be the long run proper-of-means for a excessive voltage transmission line, “so they could turbo-charge their visions using its electromagnetic field.” A hilltop website declared on one interpretation to be an historic Indian place of “vision quests” is made up of jagged boulders set in angular ridges that the ancients apparently dragged up the hill by unknown means. Noting the higher scientific rationalization of hilltop erosion patterns, Ives drily observes, “I believe the first things those Indians would have envisioned was a more comfortable place to sit.”
An unmentioned however implicit theme in this e book is the willful erasure of the histories of early New England farmers by the CSL motion. Ives goes to nice lengths to offer documentary proof from up to date newspapers, memoirs, and almanacs, in addition to scientific website research, in regards to the frequent observe of heaping uncovered stones in piles in the center of fields in early America. In “old Yankee taxonomy,” the heavier stones that framed the partitions of so-known as stone corrals had been known as “two-handers,” whereas the smaller stones of the inside had been “one-handers.”
The observe of piling stones was a subject of raging debate in early America as a result of the consultants thought farmers ought to take away the stones altogether slightly than simply pushing them into piles. The farmers resisted calls to cart the stones away, usually utilizing stone-piling as a chore for kids, different occasions hoping to money in on stones when wanted for close by roads. They “embodied the pragmatism of hill farmers,” Ives writes, citing should-learn sources just like the Carlisle Mosquito and the Green Mountain Freeman.
Other websites symbolize cellar holes from farmhouses lengthy gone. The historical past of farm abandonment as new areas had been opened up in the West is a vital a part of the American story. It explains why these cellar holes are largely discovered in wooded areas: as a result of the bushes grew again after the farms had been deserted. When excavated by excitable graduate college students hoping to seek out Indian ceremonial objects, they as a substitute reveal rusting barrel hoops, bricks, and farm detritus from “just beyond the edge of social memory.”
Ives cites all this to ascertain the clear proof that these are not Indian religious websites. In CSL circles, “the notion of historic farmers leaving heaps of stones in their fields is a white supremacist myth.” One main tutorial advocate calls the insistence that these actually are simply previous farmsteads an unsightly try to “purify the land” of Indian spirituality. The CSL motion straight mimics the supposed “violence” and “erasure” of these it assails, partaking in a horrible act of cultural erasure.
Not all these farmers had been white, both. Free blacks and lots of Indians took to the plough, and the best stone piles invariably had been these laid by Indian farmers who had been taught by close by English stonemasons. Irony of irony, the Indian activists are erasing fellow Indians from reminiscence.
All of events to this betrayal of fact and equity deserve a chapter of disgrace. The largely previous, white, male antiquarians with an excessive amount of time on their fingers ought to have thought extra in regards to the penalties of launching half-baked conspiracies into the Internet. The Indian tribes ought to have seen the lengthy-time period harms of perpetuating the victimhood narrative, particularly when based mostly on such gross abuses of historical past. The spirit-searching for white activists ought to have gotten woke to the narcissistic and demeaning nature of their “allyship,” utilizing Indians as stage props for his or her white guilt Passion Play. The native politicians and state and federal authorities who rolled over in the title of “cultural sensitivity” ought to have remembered their duties as public servants. And after all the NIMBYs who pulled out the Indian Rock Defense as a final-gasp to protect their wooded views may need mirrored on the Kantian crucial.
But maybe the best censure ought to be reserved for the teachers who betrayed their skilled obligation. After all, in a free and pluralistic society, there’s nothing unsuitable per se with taking part in a delusion. If there have been, there can be no one attending Buffalo Sabres video games. But the tutorial vocation is one which calls for a rigorous pursuit of fact. The falsity of the teachers is that they’ve fairly overtly eschewed their calling in favor of ideological activism.
Ives, in his light humor, suspects he “will enjoy a special envelope of social distancing in many settings for years to come” on account of this e book. Even earlier than it, he was already vaguely alluded to in the small neighborhood of New England archaeology as a “redneck archaeologist.” Whatever the brickbats to return, Ives writes that he would slightly face them than “feel complicit in a silence with far-reaching negative implications.”
How a lot simpler would his life be, he muses, if he had been to concern a gushing assertion of white guilt and a hovering promise to “let the landscapes speak” unencumbered by truth or logic. He would additionally must declare that he’s “in a committed relationship with” a tribal historic preservation workplace. In time, he may discover himself “secretly hallucinating below power lines.” At final, “redemption would be mine.” He would be capable to “certify my reformation” by becoming a member of the ethical panic over prices of belittling Indian heritage.
That he refuses makes him a hero in my e book, all of the extra extraordinary as a result of he lacks the protections of tenure. His reward for older Indian leaders who refuse to be stampeded into CSL nonsense may as effectively apply to him: “More power to them in an age when the simple act of declining to get on the racial rhetoric train presents a modest form of public heroism.”
Bruce Gilley is professor of political science at Portland State University.