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Native American Stone Walls

Native walls occur in various shapes, sizes and configurations.  Perhaps the most enigmatic style of Native stonework, walls are found across the breadth of North America.  The various styles into which these walls can be categorized include:     

Note: unless a link is underlined, it does not yet exist.                                        

Early Accounts of Native Walls - >>›››More›››

Links to Native Wall resources - >>›››More›››

Stone fish weirs:

Documentation of Native stone walls

As reported in late 2002 in the NY Times, high-resolution sonar surveys of the Hudson river revealed ancient stone walls: "The surveys have also turned up more mysterious structures, including a series of submerged walls more than 900 feet long that scientists say are clearly of human construction. They say the walls are probably 3,000 years old because that was the last time the river's water levels were low enough to have allowed construction on dry land."   source: Link  Note this is a conservative age estimate, at least one of the researchers believes a 7,000-year-old age is more likely.

Scattered accounts of Native stone walls (a.k.a. "fences") occur in early records, several of which are reproduced below:

  • Carl Bridenbaugh, editor, The Letters of John Pynchon; Vol. 1, 1984; John Pynchon (founder of Springfield, Massachusetts), in a letter to John Winthrop Jr. (then at New Haven, Connecticut), dated Nov. 30, 1654:
    "Sir I heare a report of a stonewall and strong fort in it, made all of Stone, which is newly discovered at or neere Pequot, I should be glad to know the truth of it fro your selfe, here being many strange reports about it."

  • Queen's "Fort" (a.k.a. Quaipan's Fort) in Exeter, RI is a massive stone construction of Native American origin, listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980.  The contention that it was a fort makes no sense, it is a religious complex.

  • Henry Baker, History of Montville, Connecticut, 1896; p.31:
    "Owaneco . . . . afterwards gave them each [two Englishmen who had rescued him from drowning] one hundred acres of land, which transaction was afterwards confirmed by the General Court, and ordered to be surveyed and laid out 'about a mile or two west northerly of the ancient Indian fence, provided Oweneco hath good right to said land, and is not prejudicial to any former grant.'"

  • Stonington,CT Deeds 1664-1714. Book 2; Part Three; 2:79:  " . . .And from thence wee run North North East Northerly twoo hundred and eightie eight rod where wee marked A small wallnutt tree, and layed an heape of stones aboute it, and marked seven notches on it A Litle within the Indian fence at quahquetoye, And from Thomas Parke his Corner tree A white oack at the Southeast corner of his four score Akres of Land formerly marked on four sides and on heape of Stones layed . . . . The Above written Act of surveighors was entered Januarie the 4th, 1680"

  • Ancestors and Descendants of Jonathan Abell, p. 11: [Rehoboth, MA] The 26th of the 12th mo., 1651, it was agreed that Robert Abell and Richard Bullock should burn the commons round about, from the Indian fence, all on the neck, and so far about the fresh meadows as may be convenient; and they are to have 20s, for their pains, and to begin the 15th of March next, and to be paid out of the first rate.

  • Jeremy Belknap, The History of New Hampshire, Vol. III, 1792; p. 67:
    “At Sanborntown there is the appearance of a fortrefs confifting of five diftinct walls, one within the other, and at Hinfdale there is fomething of the fame kind; but they are vaftly inferior, both in defign and execution to the militiary works found in the country of the Senekas and in the neighbourhood of the Ohio.”

  • The Smithsonian documented one of the massive Native wall complexes in New Hampshire mentioned by Belknap:

    E. G. Squier, Antiquities of the State of New York, Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, Vol. II, 1851; p. 145-6: “There are . . . some remains in the State of New Hampshire, which, whatever their origin, are entitled to notice. The subjoined plan of one of these is from a sketch made in 1822 by Jacob B. Moore, Esq., late Librarian of the Historical Society of New York, who has also furnished the accompanying description.

    ‘According to your request, I send the inclosed sketch and memoranda of an ancient fortification, supposed to have been the work of the Penacook Indians, a once powerful tribe, whose chief seat was in the neighborhood of Concord, New Hampshire. . . . Under the name of Penacooks, were probably included all the Indians inhabiting the valley of the Merrimack, from the great falls at the Amoskeag to the Winnepiseogee Lake, and the great carrying-place on the Pemiqewasset. That they were one and the same tribe, is rendered probable from the exact similarity of relics, which have been found at different places, and from the general resemblance of the remains of ancient fortifications, which have been traced near the lower falls of the Winnepiseogee, in Franklin and Sanbornton, and on the table-land known as the Sugar-Ball Plain in Concord. . . . The accompanying sketch was taken in pencil, on a visit to the spot, in company with the Hon. James Clark and several friends in the month of September, 1822. The remains are on the west side of the Winnepiseogee, near the head of Little Bay, in Sanbornton, New Hampshire. The traces of the walls were at that time easily discerned, although most of the stones had been removed to the mill-dam near at hand, on the river. On approaching the site, we called upon a gentleman (James Gibson) who had lived for many years near the spot, and of whom we learnt the following particulars: He had lived in Sanbornton fifty-two years, and had known the fort some time previous to settling in the place. When he came to the town to reside, the walls were two or three feet high, though in some places they had fallen down, and the whole had evidently much diminished in height, since the first erection. They were about three feet in thickness, constructed of stones outwardly, and filled in with clay, shells, gravel, etc., and such as men in a savage state would be supposed to use for such a purpose. They were placed together with much order and regularity, and when of their primitive height, the walls must have been very strong--at least, sufficiently strong for all the purposes of defence against an enemy to whom the use of firearms was unknown. . . . When the first settlers discovered the fort, there were oak trees of large size standing within the walls. Within the inclosure, and in the mound and vicinity, were found innumerable Indian ornaments, such as crystals cut into rude shapes of diamonds, squares, pyramids, etc., with ornamental pipes of stone and clay--coarse pottery ornamented with various figures--arrowheads, hatchets of stone, and other common implements of peace and war. The small [adjacent] island in the bay appears to have been a burial-place, from the great quantity of bones and other remains disclosed by the plough, when settlements were commenced by the whites. Before the island was cultivated, there were several large excavations resembling cellars or wells discovered, for what purpose constructed or used, can of course be only conjectured. . . . After writing thus far, I addressed a note to the Hon. James Clark, of Franklin, New Hampshire, with inquiries as to the present state of these ruins. Mr. Clark was kind enough at once to make a special visit to the site of the ruins, in company with Mr. Bradford, son of one of the settlers. The following is an extract from his reply:
    The remains of the walls are in part plainly to be traced; but the ground since our former examination has been several years ploughed and cultivated, so as to now give a very indistinct view of what they were in our previous visit, when the foundation of the whole could be distinctly traced. No mounds or passage-ways can now be traced. . . . The stones used in these walls were obtained on the ground, and were of such size as one man could lift; they were laid as well as our good walls for fences in the north, and very regular; they were about three feet in thickness and breast high when first discovered. The stones have been used to fill in the dam now adjoining. There were no embankments in the interior. The distance between the outer and inner wall was about sixty feet; the distance from the north to the south wall was about 250 feet, and from the west wall to the river about 220 feet. There were two other walls extending south to Little Bay. . . . The remains of a fortification, apparently of similar construction to that above described, were some years since to be seen on the bluffs east of the Merrimack River, in Concord, on what was formerly known as Sugar-Ball Plain. The walls could readily be traced for some distance, though crumbled nearly to the ground, and overgrown with large trees.’ ”

The sketch referenced above can be viewed below.  The green arrow indicates a cairn, while the three red arrows point to the blocking mounds opposite the entrances, a common theme in Mississippian architecture, although usually constructed of earth.  The horseshoe design is a common Native religious architectural practice as well.  It should be noted that some of the walls (both in the horseshoe and the portion south of it) are parallel, common features in Native wall complexes.

Stone walls have also been found in the context of numerous rockshelter excavations:

Bulletin of the Connecticut Archaeological Society, Number 32, 1963, Rock Shelter Occupations by Connecticut Indians, C.C. Coffin, p. 7-11
[Claude Coffin was unquestionably the single individual in Connecticut (if not all New England) with the greatest experience and knowledge in locating and excavating Native sites of all sorts. During a long career of excavation (which included the presidency of the Connecticut Archaeological Society) spanning much of the Twentieth Century, Coffin gained practical knowledge which has never been equaled.] Coffin lists rock shelters he excavated in 17 Connecticut towns. Listed below are excerpts from his report which record stone constructions found at the rock shelters he excavated.

  • Double Beach (in Milford) - "A small stone wall was built on the north end of the shelter."

  • East Haven - "I also found a stone fort at Mansfield Grove, East Haven in April, 1928. This fort was located on a high point of rocks. The walls of the fort were made of large rocks with an opening to the south. The wall was about three and one half feet high, and five feet square."

  • North Madison - "This was a very large shelter . . . . It reminded me of a western cliff-dweller ruin. The entire floor was laid out in sections by stone walls from two to three feet high."

  • Shelton - "Knells Rock Cave . . . . is six feet high and five feet wide with a three foot high stone wall built across the entrance."

  • Huntington - "Lookout Cave was located on June 7, 1931. . . . There was a small entrance at the north end but it had been closed up by a three foot high stone wall."

  • Monroe - "A shelter in Monroe was found October 13, 1935. . . . It was twenty-five feet long, twelve feet wide and fifteen feet high at the entrance. Outside the remains of the stone wall covering the entrance were some fire pits."
    Fairfield - "A shelter in Fairfield was located on July 6, 1940. . . . It was enclosed on three sides by a stone wall three feet wide by seven feet long by one and a half feet high."

  • Branford - "A rock shelter in the Stony Creek section of Branford was visited on July 24, 1949. . . . The length of the entrance was eighteen feet. The height of the entrance was four feet. The floor width was eleven and one half feet to the back wall. A stone wall extended around the entrance. The wall was twenty inches high but part of it had fallen down.

Links to Native wall resources:

In the mid-1950's, Philip Smith of the Peabody Museum at Harvard conducted field work to address the subject of Native walls in the Southeast, producing an important review article which examines this subject in the region stretching from Georgia to Indiana: Aboriginal Stone Constructions in the Southern Piedmont  (3.9 MB .pdf). 

Fort Mountain State Park - "The Wall at Fort Mountain is a simple rock wall, running for 855 feet, and ranging from 2 feet to 6 feet in height at different points. Its not known exactly who built the wall, or why, but the construction date is estimated to be somewhere between 500 B. C. and 1500 A.D. Similar walls have been found in Bartow, Catoosa, Dade, Dekalb, Habersham, and Whitfield Counties in Georgia; at Lookout Mountain in Tennessee; and at deSoto Falls in Alabama."

Quassakonkanuck -  Rhode Island place name meaning: Stone fence boundary mark; place at the stone wall  Link

Northeastern Stone wall/boulder complexes Link

California's East Bay Walls  Link

California walls photographs, including an apparent serpent effigy wall  Link

Berkeley, California walls: "Some are massive, over six feet tall and run for miles."  Link

Who built the East Bay [California] walls?  Link

Illinois "stoneforts" with 2000-year-old walls up to 6 feet high  Link

11 Illinois stoneforts listed, including Millstone Bluff, listed on the National Register  Link

Map of stone walls and mounds at Fourteen Mile Creek, Indiana  Link

Fayette County, West Virginia - ancient stone wall nearly 10 miles long  Link

Fayette County, West Virginia - hilltop wall enclosure of over 300 acres Link

Fort Mountain, Georgia - wall runs 855 feet east and west, varying in height from 2 to 6 feet  Link and Link

Minnesota - Blue Mound stone wall, runs approximately 375 meters east and west Link

Georgia - 6 mountaintop stone wall sites Link

Blue Jay, West Virginia stone fort along Beaver Creek Link

Plan of stone walls at above "fort" Link

California - Stone Alignments at Tomales Point Link

California- Stone fish traps Link


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How can Native walls be distinguished from more recent walls?  Other walls generally fall into two categories:

  • Boundary walls

  • Agricultural walls

Boundary walls are generally straight.  Agricultural walls normally are arranged in a rectangular and/or square checkerboard pattern.  They served to either keep animals inside fields, or to keep them out of fields containing crops. 

Native walls in the East frequently exhibit the following characteristics:

  • too high

  • too low

  • too wide

  • too many walls within a small area

  • walls ending at boulders

  • walls to  nowhere

  • walls in impossibly rugged terrain

  • walls which vary sharply  in height

  • deeply buried walls

  • arced walls

  • stones laid-up vertical or diagonal

In a Native American wall complex, certain features are often present:

  • stone cairns - both freestanding and appended to the walls

  • corner cairns

  • a wall which extends beyond the intersection with another wall (i.e., a corner) and continues a distance (from a few to tens of feet) before abruptly ending

  • connecting walls which run boulder-to-boulder, water-to-bedrock outcrop or boulder-to-bedrock outcrop

  • associated stonework, including wells, chambers, standing stone, U-shaped structures and propped boulders