Updated: Feb 7
Stone Prayers – Native American Stone Constructions of the Eastern Seaboard
America Through Time series, Fronthill Media
Dr. Curtiss Hoffman, Prof. Emeritus Bridgewater State University
Dr. Hoffman is a 40+-year veteran of Massachusetts archaeology, centering on Indigenous archaeology. Prefaced by Black-Eagle Sun (Nipmuc), the study gathers in a wide collaboration of data from both Indigenous and other researchers across more than 5,500 sites stretching from Maine to Georgia.
Details on the forms of stone prayers, their number and locations in relation to other landscape features across many states are gathered in and analyzed using standard methods of statistical analysis. This is an objective means of reviewing masses of information and understanding how they relate to one another, the patterns they form, and other clues that help us reference their narrative alongside the local Indigenous traditional narrative.
Stone Prayers looks at collections of stone groupings across our landscapes to determine their characteristics, such as how they are constructed, what types can be found within their designs, how and where they are placed, and how these sites are grouped into clusters. Dr. Hoffman then compares these aspects from state to state and in relation to the landscape to characterize their distribution. All this information is used to compare to two competing explanations for their origin: as Indigenous sacred practice akin to spiritual stone monuments across the world, or as Euroamerican farming cast-offs and assorted idiosyncratic activities like keeping children busy.
Data from stone prayers show that there is a high degree of consistent construction forms, choice of placement in the local landscape, and patterns of distribution across the larger landscape. These aspects are compared to Euroamerican farming habits, where there is little to no correlation. The same aspects are compared to Colonist witnesses describing Indigenous cultural practices in historic documents and Indigenous self-narrative on cultural and ceremonial practices, where there is a very high correlation.
Comparison of historic cultural practices provides numerous citations from documents and witnesses that attest to Indigenous people gathering as stone prayer places and creating different types of stone prayers to memorialize events.
Importantly, Dr. Hoffman sets out this investigation on stone prayers within the context of Indigenous cultural statements on our ceremonial practices. On page 40, Dr. Hoffman cites the United South and Eastern Tribes, a coalition of 26 federally recognized tribes from Maine to Texas, and their declaration (USET Resolution No. 2003:22; 2003, 2007) on Ceremonial Stone Landscapes (stone prayer groupings, maunumuetash).
The book begins by defining what is and is not science, and what is and is not relevant evidence in discourse on stone prayers. Dr. Hoffman defines the terms being used and the competing hypotheses on ancient stone works in the region of concern. Methods governing the collection and presentation of data in this work are then laid out, followed by a history of investigations on historic and proto-historic stone works in the Eastern United States.
The overall results of this multi-year, multi-state collaboration are summarized in brief as one chapter, while the elements of the studies are presented in detail through the succeeding chapters. Here, we learn about selectivity in siting stone prayers, where Dr. Hoffman’s results confirm earlier published reports. Forms of stone prayers and the consistent appearance of stone prayers across the Eastern Seaboard are detailed.
The study then details clusters of stone prayers, maunumuetash, or ceremonial stone landscapes (CSLs) from Maine to Georgia. The many aspects of location, content and correlation for each place of stone prayers is given in great detail. The data are then gathered for statistical analysis, upon which Dr. Hoffman compares proposed origins for these features and testing their fit to the actual data.
By applying objective data and testing hypotheses, Dr. Hoffman reconfirms Indigenous self-narrative about ceremonial life.