Stone Effigies and Gods
Effigies are found in several forms, including
cairns, walls and petroforms, as well as shaped
individual stones and boulders:
- Cairns shaped as birds, turtles or other animals.
- Effigy Walls generally depict serpents, mediators
between the Upperworld and the Underworld. Serpent effigy walls often terminate at a
boulder, at one or both ends. These also often
originate at a well, or other earth entrance.
- Petroforms are boulder arrangements, built on
bedrock or soil, often
depicting humans, turtles, circles, snakes or abstractions.
- Boulders (both propped and freestanding) and
stone slabs were shaped in effigy forms, frequently bird
- Stone gods occur in several styles.
Manitou stones are one type of stone god, shaped in a
Stone serpent effigies -
Ohio History and
HERE: "as the
sun rises through a notch high above in the Fort Ancient earthen
wall on the summer and winter solstices, a pole positioned at
the end of an effigy casts a shadow down its length. The two
stone 'serpents' are positioned so that one is shadowed at the
summer solstice and one at the winter solstice.")
Serpent - in
Catlettsburg (Boyd County), KY (listed on the
National Register in 1974).
"unique for its much larger size, well-defined serpent outline,
strikingly bifurcated tail, and associated stone ring, which may
represent an egg." Also see
Effigy Mounds -
of stone and earth in Ohio and elsewhere
Wilkins, G.R. 1981. A rock serpent mound in Logan County,
West Virginia. Tennessee Anthropological Newsletter 6(4): 1-4
- Kern, Ohio 'Sun Serpent' with solstice alignment; listed on
the National Register in 1986.
Destroyed Iowa earthen
serpent effigy? - 1/4 mile long, at an extensive
stone and earthen mound site extending into S. Dakota, with
The Blood Run site has National Historic
Rock Eagle effigy cairn
Petroforms - links to articles containing
photographs and plans of petroforms:
The South Dakota boulder petroform of a
turtle illustrated below is documented in the Smithsonian
Institution's 12th Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology;
1891, p. 40.
A Connecticut serpent effigy petroform:
Below are several early accounts of Native
stone gods in the Northeast:
Rev. Timothy Dwight (president of Yale),
Travels in New-England and New-York, vol. 1, 1821; p.85:
They also formed images of stone
and paid them religious homage. One of these idols is now in
the museum at Hartford. Sacred stones exist still in several
places: one, particularly, at Middletown, to which every
Indian who passes by makes a religious obeisance."
Rev. Ezra Stiles (president of Yale), The
Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles:
January 29, 1789: At E. Guilford 28th I visited an
Indian Stone God which lay in a Fence about half a Mile
East of Mr. Todds Meetinghouse . . . . Mr. Phineas Meigs
died about 1781, aged c. 73. He told Rev. Jonathan Todd
(born 1713) that he removed this stone God from the Bottom
of the Hill at the Edge of the Swamp, and put it into the
fence. It was removed about twenty Rods. I judge it a Ton
& half weight. Mr. Benjamin Teal gave me an account of a
Fort or Inclosure by Earthen Walls about 21/2
Miles N.W. from this Image, 30 or 40 Rods long, two Rods
wide Trench, Wall ten feet high Inside next a Swamp & five
feet next the Hill, being on a Declivity .
May 19, 1789: "View[ed] an Indian Stone God [at Springfield,
MA], similar to ours in the College Library.
May 22, 1789: "Visited Rev. Mr. Huntington [at Middletown]
who went & showed me another Indian stone God about
half a Mile East of his Meetinghouse.
September 19, 1794: "[On top of West Rock in New Haven] I
spied a carved or wrought stone, which I know to be one of
the Indian Gods, of which I have found about or
above twenty in different places from Boston to Hudsons
River, and particularly between New Milford on West and
Medfield Massachusetts on East.
October 22, 1793: "Aged Deacon Avery of Groton Pockatunnek
tells me that the Mohegan Indians once had Idols : that in
the great Reforma 1741 as he called it those Indians brot in
& gave up to the English a number of stone & wooden Idols
; & have had & worshipped none since.
E.G. Squier, Antiquities of the State of New
York, Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, Vol. II, 1851; p.
The superstitions of the Indians extended to remarkable
objects in nature. A tree or stone of singular form seldom
failed to command their reverence. A stone which, from the
action of natural causes, has assumed the general form of a
man or an animal, is especially an object of regard; and the
fancied resemblance is often heightened by artificial means,
as by daubs of paint, indicating the eyes, mouth and other
features. . . . [Squier provides an illustration of one
stone god, which] was found in East Hartford, Connecticut,
and deposited in the Museum of Yale College in 1788. It is
thirty-one inches high and seventeen wide; the material is
white granite. It is said the Indians placed their dead
before it previous to burial, and afterward returned and
danced around it.