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Rhode Island may be a small state but it is rich in lithic features. Clusters of rockpiles are spread throughout its conservation lands, petroglyphs and runes are carved along its shores, and curiously propped boulders suggest that more than nature was involved in the manipulation of the stone-filled landscape.
The unusual arched architecture of the tower gracing Touro Park in Newport has spawned considerable speculation on its origin and use. Historically known as the remains of a 17th century windmill constructed by Governor Benedict Arnold, alternative proposals have conjured up visits by Vikings, Medieval Norse, Portuguese, Templars, the Chinese and Basques. A nearby museum makes the case for a link to the Elizabethan navigator and astronomer John Dee.
Long visible at low tide on the west side of Narragansett Bay, this boulder contained engraved characters resembling Norse runes. Although difficult to date or authenticate, some accept the stone’s engravings as evidence for pre-Columbian Viking exploration of Rhode Island’s shoreline.
Clusters of stone piles can be found within the state’s conservation lands. Some may be remnants of Indian burial or prayer sites while others may be the result of field clearing. Perhaps analysis of the distribution of piles and research into historic land use may one day tease these theories apart.
Glaciers may have left these large erratics perched in prominent locations, or perhaps they were jockeyed into position by prehistoric peoples. Either way, the pair of propped boulders peering from bedrock outcrops in Eschoheag create an impressive image.
Deep furrows in a boulder on the Scout Reservation have been interpreted by some as Native American symbols, perhaps a tomahawk and arrowhead signifying a hidden cache of weapons nearby. But like so many of the other lithic features in Rhode Island, there are other possible explanations, from a pioneer engraving to natural erosion of softer veins in the stone.