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Archaeotrek—Alternate Perceptions Magazine, May 2015

Borderland (Massachusetts) State Park
Stone Walls & Stone Chambers

by: Dr. Greg Little

Borderland is a Massachusetts State Park located about 30-miles south of Boston near the towns of Easton and Sharon. The large park is a major recreation area with nearly 1,800 acres and 20 miles of trails. A mansion built in 1910 is the focal point of the park along with ponds and dense wood trails used by hikers and bikers. Brochures and other information about the park cite a stone “potato chamber” built in the early 1900s along with the existence of numerous stone walls that snake around the wooded areas and rocky outcrops. Staff at the park will point out the locations of the stone walls on trail maps and relate that they were all built in historic times, but the only mention of underground stone chambers is the historic potato chamber found behind the mansion. In fact, on our recent visit the staff related that the only stone chamber at the site was the historic “potato chamber.”

The walls in the park are all located in the woods and are very curious with most of them being a few feet high and composed of various sized boulders. Some of them are well made while others are obviously older, showing less skill in their construction. They form a bizarre, seemingly nonsensical maze in some areas where stone outcrops are found in the center of them. Many of these walls enclose small areas and have several diagonal walls running off them often curving around the high outcrops.

The construction of such stone walls was actively done by farmers in New England starting in the early 1800s, basically as a result of laws requiring fencing for animals and property lines. Many of the stone walls constructed by farmers actually had split rail fences built on top of them to raise the height to required levels. The dense woodlands had been cleared by early farmers, but the deforestation caused so much erosion that the soil became useless for food production or grazing. Eventually the farms were abandoned and the forests returned, leaving the walls in their midst. Thus, it’s asserted by mainstream archaeologists that all the walls and associated stone chambers were built by farmers. But many people, including Jim Vieira, believe that “some” of the walls that are found nearly everywhere in New England were made by Native American tribes in pre-historic times. It is accepted that many pre-historic tribes built stonewalls in many areas including New York, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and elsewhere. Thus, it is likely that some of the walls constructed in New England were not made by settlers in historic times.

After being told that the only stone chamber at Borderland was found behind the mansion, we were somewhat surprised to find at least three of them were hidden on the rocky outcrops among the walls. We found the first one by walking a snaking wall that curved up the side of a hill ending at one of the large rocky outcrops. There, covered by leaves, was the entrance to a stone chamber. It had been blocked or concealed by large rocks placed just inside its entrance—nearly obscuring it. It appeared to descend far into the outcrop. We then began to follow other walls that curved up these outcrops and soon found another manmade chamber. It was well formed and had the appearance of a burial chamber. Then, while walking along another wall, we came to circular wall that had yellow caution tape around it. In the back portion of this circular wall enclosure, there was another stone chamber with the roof propped up with large wooden logs that had apparently been placed recently. The interior walls of the chamber were formed by irregular shaped rocks carefully placed together. The chamber was rounded with a stone slab roof about 4 feet above the floor. It was about 6-feet deep. It was exceedingly well made without mortar and had obviously been excavated recently. Later we found that at least one other well-formed stone chamber was on top of another stone outcrop located in a different area of the park.

The idea that all of the walls and stone chambers in New England were built in Colonial or historic times is simply far fetched. It is likely that Jim Vieira is correct. Some of these are clearly Native American in origin. Some of them are burial chambers identical to stone burial chambers found in mounds in the South. However, the long-term occupation of these sites by Native Americans and settlers makes definitive answers on them a nearly insurmountable task.

Wednesday, December 06, 2023