Monday, January 17, 2022


 The American Conservative             arTS & LETTERs, culture

Stoned In America

Stones of Contention

 by Timothy H. Ives (New English Review Press, 2021) 263 pages.

While there are many confluences of academic misconduct and racial anxiety in the contemporary West, few are so fun to read about as the phenomenon of “ceremonial stone landscape” activism in contemporary New England

Dr. Timothy Ives, principal archaeologist of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission... has written… exposing the academic fraud and political larceny of a movement that seeks to have stone piles left behind by early American farmers redesignated as pre-European spiritual temples built by Indians,

...The founding myth of the ceremonial stone landscape (CSL) movement was handed down James Mavor, a retired oceanographer who claimed... to have discovered Atlantis, and Byron Dix, a retired engineer who believed there were secret codes in megalith sites in Great Britain...set about “discovering”  the secrets of... rock piles throughout New England...

[Ives] cites no fewer than ten websites promoting the CSL conspiracy theory today… the bounty of the CSL movement came local NIMBYs looking  to prevent land development. These residents discovered “the Indian Rock Defense.” It is now a time-tested strategy for land-use lawyers in the region. Some rock or shell formations appear all of a sudden in lands slated for development.

Proposed solar farms are a favorite target of NIMBYs who resort to the Indian Rock Defense, making the CSL movement an accessory to the fossil fuel industry. 

Ives documents one triumph of NIMBYism now known as the Manitou Hassannash Preserve in Rhode Island. The site was slated for development when NIMBYs demanded a survey. Tribal leaders were bused in to declare, after a seemly pause for divination, that they had recovered the memories of the sacred stone sites. A consultancy of antiquarians and graduate students was hired to write an official report. Photos were taken of rock piles at winter solstice, suggesting a celestial purpose. Even with contrary evidence staring the researchers in the face, they insisted on ancient origins. One large 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 observed. “However, the documentation of this detail is not intended to suggest a date of construction of this feature.”

The clincher came at a public forum in 2017 with Paul Loether, then Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. Loether delivered himself of the statement 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.”