Manitou Stones in Rochester Vermont

by Norman Muller

I had seen what is often termed Manitou stones at a site in Rochester, Vermont, in the years preceding 2007, three examples to be exact. But I felt there should be more, and so in early November of 2007, while on my way to Burlington, VT, to give a talk at the annual meeting of the Eastern States Archaeological Federation, I made a stop at the site designated R7-1 to look more carefully for Manitou stones. There are more there than I expected, as the following examples attest. I have not given the site a systematic going-over, and undoubtedly more are to be found.

Manitou stones are often thin, triangular or round profiled stones set on edge against or in front of large cairns or mounds, and what I term platform cairns. Some of these stones may be in the shape of a colonial period gravestone, with a head-and-shoulders shape, similar to a small one that Bob Miner discovered in Rhode Island propping up one end of a stone slab (Fig. 1).

Fig 1

These stones seem to be commemorative in some way, emphasizing the importance of the stone mound or cairn against which they have been placed. For example, the small Manitou stone shown in Figure 1 is not much more than a foot high and may reference the space underneath the stone slab rather than the slab itself.

At the Rochester site, the first Manitou stone that one usually comes upon first is found in front of a large, but mostly ruinous stone cairn near a dirt road that was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The cairn is about twenty feet long and no more than thirty feet from the road (Fig. 2).It is difficult to see the Manitou stone in this image as it blends in with the shapes and colors of the stones in back. This is one of the few ruined cairns at the site, and since there are colonial farm foundations just to the east of the cairn, a few hundred feet away, and in back of where I was standing when I took the photo, I have concluded that many of the stones from the cairn were used to construct the barn and house foundations and perhaps walls in the vicinity.

Fig 2

A side view of this Manitou stone, taken during this November trip, shows the stone in better detail at the far left of the image (Fig. 3).One can generally make out the round arched shape of the stone. This is the usual shape of Manitou stones at the site.

Fig 3

From this location, I wandered through the woods to the southwest, passing through a rather swampy area until I came upon a low stone mound next to a flowing brook (Fig. 4).

Fig 4

Here the Manitou stone, light gray in color, nicely contrasts with the darker stones of the low stone mound to the left of the brook. Invisible in this photograph, and at the other end of this mound, was another Manitou stone (Fig. 5), which was shaped much like the first one and apparently of the same kind of metamorphic stone. This is the only such stone mound with two Manitou stones, and this additional accent must emphasize the importance of this particular mound.

Fig 5

This stone mound, as seen from the north end, is quite well finished and has an oval shape (Fig. 6).The Manitou stone shown in Fig. 5 is in profile to the left in Fig.6.The piece of white birch log in the stream at the bottom left of the photo can also be seen in Fig. 6 and serves as a marker to identify the location of the Manitou stone. Note that this mound is literally on an island between two streams.

Fig 6

Several years ago, I began to pay attention to Manitou stones at the site when I saw and photographed a stone mound or cairn with a Manitou stone positioned at one end (Fig. 7).This was a rather nondescript mound halfway down the slope from the higher or western edge to the bottom to the east. From this point on I began to look carefully for these stones.

Fig 7

The next one I saw was the one at the end of the spectacular crescent cairn at the western border of the site (Fig. 8).I have already discussed this cairn in a previous article ('An Unusual Crescent-Shaped Cairn and the Significance of Quartz' Smith Farm). An end view of this cairn is shown in Fig. 3 of the article.

This cairn, I conclude, is the most important and significant at the site, not only because of its marvelously constructed shape and its location at the western or upper border of the site, but also because of the presence of quartz that was carefully placed in the very front center of the cairn.

Fig 8

Continuing to wander through the site last November, I came across another Manitou stone, this one against a cairn not far from the first one I came across that day (Fig. 9).

Fig 9

Near the foundation stones at the site are a number of impressive cairns that the owners of the farm never bothered to remove in the mid-1800s. Why should they when they were carefully constructed in the first place and generally built on ledge outcrops or boulders, such as this example (Fig. 10).To attempt to remove them would have been wasted energy, when they had more important tasks at hand.

Fig 10

Nearby was a wonderful stone construction on a large boulder or ledge outcrop. Some hemlock branches obscured one side of the construction, and so I removed them to reveal a very unusual shaped slab of stone leaning against the carefully piles stones (Fig. 11).This slab looked like the profile of a mountain.

Fig 11

A detail photo of the stone shows its shape better (Fig. 12):

Fig 12

This stone mound, like so many others at the site, had no real shape, but seemed simply to conform to the underlying shape of the bedrock and continued beyond the rock outcrop to form a spill of stone around the east facing side (Fig. 13.

Fig 13

This construction (what else to call it?) went on for about thirty feet or so, and represented an incredible amount of work. Whoever built this first had to find the stones and then carry them to the site where the mound is located. I seriously doubt they were found just where the stone mound is located, since the area around it is now largely free of stones, and if one walks beyond the probable borders of the farm into heavily forested areas that were obviously never farmed, there is no appreciable increase in the amount of stones found on the ground. So the question that I have been asking myself every time I visit the site is where did all the stones come from?The slope above the farm was not cultivated to any extent, and it was probably used as a hay source, since two or three rusty scythe blades were found there two to three years ago. Stones will not be worked to the surface from land that hasn't been cultivated.

The mystery of these 150+ cairns or stone mounds persists, but we are working to remove the veil of secrecy that presently surrounds this site.