Pilot’s Point: Two Ceremonial Stone Mounds
By Mary Gage
Text © 2009. Mary E. Gage. All Rights Reserved.
Frank Glynn during the mid 1950’s excavated two stone mounds at Pilot’s Point on the south coast of Connecticut. In the Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut, No. 38, 1973, a report written up by the late Glynn and edited by Richard Q. Bourn, Jr. was published.
Stone mounds and stone cairns in New England are 99 percent of the time all stone. At Pilot’s Point, Stone Heap I was a stone mound covered a layer of burnt stones and charcoal in which were hearths, pits and post holes. Stone Heap II was a mound of stones, burnt stones and seashells with a small attached shell midden adjacent to a large glacial split boulder. Frank Glynn felt Stone Heap I was ceremonial. He looked for potential evidence of cremation but did not find any bone. The type of ceremony held was not determined. Stone heap II was used to cook seafood, principally clams and oysters. This article explores the use of the two stone mounds as intentional ceremonial features.
Pilot’s Point’s Sites
On the tip of Pilot’s Point three areas were given site names. The Seekamp site had scattered artifacts. This site was found during an extreme low tide. The Manstan site had two hearths and a pit. This site starts at normal low tide and is completely flooded by high tide. The Pilots Point site had two stone mounds. This site is above the high tide line.
The Seekamp site may represent artifacts washed down slope from the Manstan site. The Manstan site represents three potential episodes of usage during Archaic times. The pit is the lowest feature on the slope. The two hearths are further up the slope and may represent a rising water level. Eventually this site became flooded by high tide and another move up slope was needed. The Pilot’s Point site is furthest up the knoll. The site was built above the high tide line. It had Archaic and Early Woodland artifacts. (Glynn 1953; Glynn 1973)
Rising sea levels forced the people using Pilot’s Point to continually move up slope to avoid the sites being inundated with sea water.
1. Artifacts were found on the site. The problem was their locations were not identified. They can only be used in a general manner to show the site was in use during the Late Archaic on into the Early Woodland periods. For historic usage of the site see Glynn’s article.
2. Unless otherwise noted all page and figure references are to Glynn’s 1973 article.
Stone Heap I
Description by Glynn: After the stone mound was removed, “a well defined outer wall*, outside of which a complete humus horizon had formed. Within the wall was a three inch layer of black clay which was covered by a stone pavement with hearths, fire-pits and postholes below. Above it was a compact deposit of burnt stones and fine charcoal, also containing stone hearths and postholes.” (p.80)
Size: Twelve feet wide by twenty-one feet long by two feet high (maximum) (p.80)
Shape: Oval mound
Orientation: East and west (p.78)
Information obtained from illustration (Fig. 4 and text on page 80)
Humus horizon surrounded the stone mound outside the outer wall
Layer 1 – Loose stones (mound), top surface
Layer 2 – Burnt stones and charcoal (twelve inches thick)
Layer 3A** – Stone pavement
Layer 3B** – Black Clay (three inches thick)
Layer 4 – Occupation layer called the Junction Zone; artifacts were recovered across the point from this small-stone surface layer; two different thicknesses were given: “A ‘crust’ of small stones two to three inches” (Glynn 1953, p.19) and “A shovel-wide trench dug out from the mound disclosed that the base of the mound was part of a continuous occupation zone extending four to seven inches under the present surface.” (p.80)
Layer 5 – Clay subsoil
Layer 6 – Glacial till, lowest layer
*Wall is shown as a ring of large stones in illustration. (Fig. 3 p.86).
**Layer 3 was divided up into parts A and B to show it was made up of two different materials and for use in vertical location of a few features.
A layer of black clay placed on the ground surface, surrounded by stones forming a perimeter wall defined a specific space. A layer of stones placed on top of the clay created a stone pavement / floor. Built into, on and above the stone floor were hearths, pits and post holes at various depths. These features were buried over time by a gradual build up of burnt stones and charcoal. The burnt stones and charcoal were in turn buried under a mound of loose stones
Twenty features were found under the stone mound. In addition there were twenty-four post holes which were not given feature numbers. See Post Holes below.
F1 – Double Stone-Ringed Hearth (one on top of the other) (p.80)
“Two small stone-ringed hearths, one superimposed upon the other. Two one inch thick slabs of stone formed the roof of the lower hearth and the floor of the upper hearth.”
Lower Hearth: “U-shaped, fifteen inches by eight inches, covered by broken slabs. It faces west and contained no shell.”
Upper Hearth: “Circular, nine inches diameter. Ringed by small cobbles, it contained six quahog shells.”
Location: “in Layer 2”
F2 – Stone ringed hearth (p.80)
Size: Eighteen inches in diameter, six inches deep
Location: Immediately below the loose stone mound
Contained: Small quantity of broken clam shells
F3A – Double Pit (p.80)
Location: “The upper pit extended through Layers 2 and 3.”
Covering: “A triple cover of flat pieces of stone shingles [3 layers of flat stones] were fashioned overlaying [covering] this pit.”
F3B – Lower Pit “descended from the base of Layer three” downward into gravel (p.81)
Depth: Fourteen inches
Contained: “On the base were found two fragments of a much-decayed blue mussel shell, quartz chips, and two small pieces of carbonized grey birch bark. There was a large amount of black carbon content in the soil of the lower pit.”
F4 & F5 – Two stone ringed features, listed together (p.81)
Size: Six inches diameter
Location: “extended from Layer 2 well into Layer 5”
Contained: Both had black material and chips; “Feature 5 contained a flake of flint which might be a small flake knife.”
Classification: Could not be determined if F4 and F5 were pits or post holes (p.81)
F6 – Stone ringed hearth (p.81)
Location: “bottom was the stone floor at the lower Layer 2”
F7 – Small hearth (p.81, shown as a stone-ringed hearth in fig. 3)
Size: Nine inches diameter
Location: “bottom of Layer 2 [Layer 2A]”
Covering: Boulder-on-Top “Into this hearth a large wedge-shaped boulder had been placed as if to plug or seal the hearth. The lower nine inches of this boulder were deeply burnt.” Note: The illustration of the boulder in figure 3 shows a square boulder not a wedge shaped boulder.
F8 – Oval hearth (p.81)
Depth: Six inches deep
Contained: A few pieces of quahog shell
Location: Upper part of Layer 2
F9 – Shown as a Stone Ringed Hearth in figure 3 (p.86)
Listed as “similar in all respects to Feature 6 and 8” (p.81)
Feature 6 is a stone ringed hearth and feature 8 is an oval hearth without a stone ring. The statement is confusing.
Location: “in the cobble gravel” again confusing as no layer is listed as cobble gravel, possibly Layer 4
Contained: quartz chips and shell fragments
F10 – Large Circular Fire-Pit (this stood out because of its size and configuration)
Size: Four feet ten inches diameter by five feet three inches deep. “It was clearly defined in the gravels.”
Location: Starts at Layer 3 and extends down into Layer 6 the glacial till (p.87 & Fig. 4). The fire-pit is on the east side of the Stone Heap I.
The following layers were noted in this pit (Fig. 4):
1. Large stones closely massed which probably prevented exploration.
2. Thick deposit of black soil and granite stones, rich in very fine charcoal. In this deposit artifacts and sherds were found.
“Here [feature 10] the covering of carbonized earth and loose stone was thickest, and the covering rocks were largest.” (p.81)
Two Standing Stones: “The two rectangular stone slabs on the south-east were well imbedded in the black deposit. There can be no question they were a part of the original stone covering and were vertically placed. They are of further interest because none of their surface showed any sign of being weathered, which suggests they were either excavated or quarried from the granite outcroppings one hundred feet southeast of the heap, by the builders.” (p.81)
3. A closely fitted floor, chiefly slab-like pieces of stone.
4. “The whole pit was outlined by a webbing of small stone cobbles.” (p.81)
“A ring of small cobbles, set vertically, outlined the pit’s circumference.” (p.80)
5. Gravel backfill with stones mixed in
6. Black soil
7. fire scorched soil
F11 – Cobble hearth (p.81 & shown as a stone-ringed hearth in fig. 3)
Location: “in the floor over Feature 10”
Covering: Boulder-on-Top a wedge-shaped (triangular) boulder had been placed on top of the hearth. “The lower eight inches of this boulder were thoroughly fired.” Figure 3 shows a wedged shaped boulder which coincides with the text description.
F12 – Stone-lined oval pit (p.81)
Size: Twenty-two inches by twenty inches by seven plus inches deep
Construction: “box-like walls. Flat stone slabs set vertically on its west and northeast sides gave it this look.” Only feature with this type of construction.
Location: “extended from the floor [stone pavement] of Layer 2, down through black base more than seven inches to subsoil.”
Contained: “black soil, burnt and broken stones, charcoal, and a few bits of carbonized twigs”
F13 – [Circular or Oval] Pit (p.81)
Size: Nineteen inches diameter
Location: Layer unknown, next to pit feature 12 on map fig. 3
Notation: “Feature 13 was a fire-pit, with the exception of the box-like walls, was in all other respects a slightly smaller (19 inch diameter) replica of Feature 12.”
Glynn called all the pits “fire-pits”. This appears to be incorrect as there is only one pit in which a fire was created, that is pit feature F10 with burnt soil at its base. Burnt soil is not mentioned as the base of any other pit.
F14 – Pit (p.81)
Size: Nine inches diameter
Location: “extended nine inches below the base of Layer 3”
F15 – Oval Pit
Size: Fourteen inches diameter by six inches deep
Location: “beneath Layer 3”
F16 – Double Hearth (side by side, attached to each other) (p.81)
Base: “base was stone floor”
Contained: “twelve inches of burnt stone and carbon-black soil.”
F17 – Circular/oval hearth (p.81)
Construction: Stone lined floor
Size: Fifteen inches by eighteen inches
Contained: Carbon black burnt stone, and a few pieces of shell
Location: Upper part of Layer 2
F18 – Double Hearth (one on top of the other) (p.81)
Location: Base of Lower Hearth - stone pavement
Base of Upper Hearth - on top of Lower Hearth
Size: Twenty inches diameter
Notation: “The sides and lower part of this upper hearth floor were more burnt at the top.”
F19 – Double Stone Ringed Hearth (one on top of the other) (p.81)
Size: Thirteen inches diameter
Construction: Each hearth had a stone floor, “two layers of flat burnt stone”
Contained: Lower hearth one carbonized feather
Location: No indication of what layer the hearths were found in was given
F20 – Small Circular Hearth (p.81)
Size: Eight inches diameter
Location: “in the stone floor [pavement] and penetrated down through Layer 3”
Plain – Upper post holes: 8
Lower post holes: 12
Stone Ringed – Upper post holes: 2
Lower post holes: 2
In addition there are two small stone ringed features F4 and F5 that may be stone ringed post holes or small pits
Size: Five inches diameter by six plus inches deep; size came from a single stone ringed post hole under feature F17
Lower Post Holes – in “stone pavement with hearths, fire-pits and postholes”
Upper Post Holes – in “a compact deposit of burnt stones and fine charcoal, also containing stone hearths and postholes.” (p.80)
Location in Feature:
Interior – 12 Lower post holes
8 Upper post holes
Exterior – Without mound cover: 1 Lower stone ringed post hole
1 Upper stone ringed post hole*
With stone mound cover: 1 Lower plain post hole
1 Upper plain post hole
* If in upper level, it must be within Feature’s level 2
Patterns found in Stone Heap I
Blue mussel shell – Pit F3B in lowest layer 5
Quahog shell – Hearths F1 upper part of layer 2
F8 in layer 2
Clam shell – Hearth F2 top most, just under stone mound, upper part of layer 2
Unidentified shell – Hearth F17
Stone Pavement – slab-like pieces of stone, closely fitted, formed a floor on top of gravel re-fill in large fire pit feature F10
Stone Pavement & Black Clay – Stone pavement (type of stone not stated) placed on top of black clay; formed the floor space for future hearths, pits and post holes
Stone Block-on-Top of Hearth: Triangular stone block (F11) and square stone block (F7), placed on top of burning fire within stone ringed hearths, both were located in Layer 3A (stone pavement)
Flat Stones: Hearth (F1) covered with two 1” thick slabs, was located in Layer 2
Pit (F3A) covered with three layers of flat stone shingles, was located in Layer 2
Plain verses Stone Ringed
Hearths: stone-lined floor
Post Holes: lacked a stone ring around the top edge
Hearths: had a stone ring around perimeter of hearths; in addition some of these hearths were stated as also having a stone-lined floor; detailed information was not available for all the hearths, some hearths were shown as stone ringed in an illustration which was not mentioned in the text.
Post Holes: had a stone ring around the top edge
Pit: Feature 10 had stones set in a vertical position around the top edge of the pit
F1 stone ringed hearth in layer 2, one on top of another
F11 stone ringed hearth in stone floor was built on top of fire-pit feature F10
F16 stone-lined hearth in layer 3A, side by side
F18 stone-lined hearth in layer 3A, one on top of another
F19 stone-ringed hearth, one on top of another, layer unknown
F3A and F3B are dug pits placed one above. However, the bottom pit is offset from the top pit so only a part of the bottom pit is directly underneath the top pit. This double pit feature may be by coincidence rather than intentional
The “covering” pattern shows variations on the usage. The stone pavement used to define the large floor, was used to cover old features and as a base in which to build new features. In the hearths and large fire pit, the stone covering was used to close the features. Of these, two hearths had large boulders placed on top and left in place. This is significant and possibly symbolic. One boulder was triangular shaped. The triangular shape is associated with blocking out uninvited spirits.
The two sets of post holes show posts were used. The exact vertical-location within the layers is unknown. The hearths in the upper level Layer 2 occur at different heights. It is not known if the post holes also occur at different heights. Therefore, it is impossible to do any analysis on the layout of the post holes. The post holes do not match up with hearths therefore they are not thought to be utilitarian.
The double hearths show repeated usage of the same hearth with recognition of older and newer versions. The purpose is unknown.
Plain verses stone ringed features show different usage patterns. The pattern showed up in hearths, post holes and a single large fire-pit. The pits were plain with one exception which had two stone-lined walls. The use of stone to outline / edge a feature seems to have significance. This is especially evident in the post holes which came in plain and stone ringed. Both the Upper and Lower post hole sets each had two stone ringed post holes. The rest of the post holes were plain. Of the plain post holes two were on the exterior of the stone mound. These two plain post holes were covered by two separate stone mound extensions. Both mound extensions were in the northeast corner. This shows deliberate burial or closure of the post holes indicating they had significance and/or importance.
Total per level 10 Upper
Plain – 8 Upper
Stone Ringed – 2 Upper
Doubles: 4 (F1, F16, F18. F19)
Stone Ringed: 6 (F1, F2, F7, F9, F11, F19)
Plain: 5 (F8, F16, F17, F18, F20)
Fire-pit – Stone Ringed: 1 (F10)
Hearths show almost equal numbers of plain and stone ringed types. Of the eleven hearths three are doubled up one on top of another and one is doubled side by side. The ratios show hearths out number pits 2 to 1. Little is known about the pits.
Out of the twenty hearths and pits only ten have specific vertical placement locations. This is problematic because it does not permit layout patterns to be discerned per level.
Plain post holes far out number stone ringed post holes. There are two stone ringed post holes per level which appears to have significance. The number of post holes from the lower level is greater than the upper level but is meaningless without exact starting points in the levels.
Native Americans created a defined space on the ground in which they built hearths and pits, and erected posts. The posts do not line up with hearths. Two post holes found underneath two separate short extensions of the stone mound indicate the posts had symbolic significance. The posts may have had carvings. Both are on the northeast corner which also may have had directional orientation.
They used the defined space to contain the remains of fires held within it. As the burnt stone layer built up they continued to build new hearths and pits. The minute quantity of seashells found in the pits suggests there may have been a small quantity of seafood cooked. However, the lack of a large quantity of seashells indicates it was not a seafood feast type ceremony.
Several features were purposely closed. The fire-burned boulders used to close two hearths suggest symbolism in the form of blocking out uninvited spirits. At an unknown time the whole feature was closed by covering it with a mound of loose stones. This is uncharacteristic and not used at utilitarian hearths. It signifies the feature was sacred and ceremonies were held at this place.
What brought about the closure? It was not rising ocean water as the feature is above the current high tide line. It is likely a change in cultural beliefs. A radical change is seen in the differences between stone heap I and stone heap II. The problem at this point is it is impossible to obtain carbon dates from the site which would have allowed sequencing of the two stone mounds.
Stone Heap II
Location: East of Stone Heap I
Oval Mound – attached to a large glacial boulder with clefts; “mixed fired stone and shell deposit”, “Shell was abundant throughout this heap, a marked contrast to Stone Heap I.” (p.82); four large stone slabs graduating in size are shown on top of the east side of the mound (fig 5, & p.88) It was nine feet in diameter by over two feet high, figure 5 drawing notes the stone mound has a depth of 36” (three feet high), the text on page 82 states the mound was forty-two inches high at its maximum point (the mound was likely lower in some places and higher in other places which would account for the different heights / depths given)
Shell Heap – small “surfacial” [surface]; attached to west side of mound and NW corner of glacial boulder (p.82) It was approximately three feet diameter, size is taken from scaled drawing fig. 5 (p.88)
Glacial Boulder – Approximately eight feet long by four and a half feet wide, size is taken from scaled drawing fig. 5 (p.88)
1. “Quartz cores, flakes and chips were found as well as broken choppers and scrappers.” (p.82)
2. “A thick, grit-tempered sherd, cord-marked on both sides in the Vinette I style, was found a few feet away from the heap’s base on the southeastern side.” (p.82)
3. “… broken whiskey bottles and spent gun shells found among the burnt stone and clam shells marking the top of the heap. There is every reason to believe the white men have continued to use the aboriginal invention of a stone platform for a clam bake.” (p.82)
4. Pestle deposited in a pit (see Pit under Features) (p.82)
5. Clam shells and oyster shells, primary shells found in Stone Heap II. (p.82)
6. “A considerable number of stone tools of chopper types were included amongst the stones used to build hearth upon hearth within the heap.” (p.82)
Location: Shown as a rectangular shaped hearth in the middle of the mound close to the boulder’s face (Fig. 5)
Size: Approximately three feet wide by four feet long, size is taken from scaled drawing fig. 5 (p.88)
Location: “between two of the fingers [in a split] of the boulder.” (p.82)
Artifact: “small pestle, with red oxide still adhering to the abrading surface” (p.82)
Stone heap II was built up against a large split boulder. A large hearth was within the mound of burnt stones and shells. The burnt stones and shells left over from the cooking fires were used to build-up a mound around the hearth. The same as took place at stone heap I.
Not all the shell was mixed in with the burnt stones. At some point, a shell midden was established on the west side of the mound. It was attached to the mound and a corner of the glacial boulder.
A single pit was found inside the split of the boulder. Inside the pit was a pestle stained with red oxide. Another pestle plus a mortar were found at the site. No other information was available for these other two artifacts.
The glacial boulder appears to be the focal point of this mound. It is not the only difference between the two stone mounds. Stone heap I had eleven small hearths and seven pits plus post holes whereas stone heap II had one large hearth and one pit, and no post holes.
The single pit associated with stone heap II had a pestle with red oxide adhering to it. The pit was inside a cleft [split] in the glacial boulder. Split stone cairns found at cairn sites indicate an association with the Underworld. The red oxide ground to a powder suggested by the pestle suggests body painting. Body painting is associated with ceremonies. The large quantity of clam and oyster shells mixed in the mound suggests a feast was involved with the ceremony.
Stone heap I lacked the shells found in stone heap II. Therefore the burnt stones from fires in stone heap II were not used to build up the burnt stone and charcoal layer in stone heap I. This suggests two different time periods
Another Ceremonial Food Related Site
An article in the Bulletin of Massachusetts Archeological Society on rockshelters included one from Connecticut. “The Aircraft Road rockshelter in Middleton, Connecticut contained a midden with a complete clay elbow pipe, a complete steatite pipe, fragments of a third clay pipe and a Genesee point.” (Dudek & Chartier 2004, 22) Dudek & Chartier point out “objects of ceremonial significance such as the smoking pipes” made some of these rockshelters “special places”. In the case of Aircraft Road rockshelter, a Late Woodland site, the midden containing, three pipes suggests a ceremony which included food. This idea holds with the Pilot’s Point stone heap II.
Dudek, Martin G & Craig S. Cartier
2004 “The Tall Pines Rockshelter, Clinton, MA and Rockshelter Use During the Late Woodland and Contact Periods.” Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society Vol. 65 No. 1 (Spr 2004), pp. 18-24.
1953 “The Pilot’s Point Submerged Sites.” Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut no.27 (Dec. 1953) pp. 11-29.
1973 “Excavation of the Pilot’s Point Stone Heaps.” Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut no.38 (1973) pp. 77-89.