Northeastern Section - 56th Annual Meeting - 2021

Paper No. 12-2
Presentation Time: 8:25 AM


THORSON, Robert M., Department of Geosciences, University of Connecticut, U-1045, 354 Mansfield Road, Storrs, CT 06269-1045

The Euro-settlement of rural New England between the 17th to 20th centuries created an agro-ecosystem of fenced fields, pastures, yards, and buildings linked to village roads and hydro-powered industry. The most tangible result of this land use transition from Holocene forested conditions was a massive, sprawling constellation of stone walls, piles, cairns, circles causeways, surfaces, mill-dams, embankments, and building foundations, much of which survives today as undocumented ruins within reforested, closed-canopy woodlands. Free-standing fieldstone walls are by far the most common element of this stone domain, making them the region's signature landform. The vast majority grew incrementally when waste stone from agricultural fields and pastures was scuttled outward to fence lines that later incorporated the stone.

Despite the great range in structure and origin of stone walls, most recent mapping and inventory projects using LiDAR imagery and GIS analysis treat the entire population as a single undifferentiated entity. Such investigations seldom quantitatively address how wall type and wall characteristics-- rather than presence or absence-- vary over the landscape at the project scale. Doing so scientifically would require an objective classification incorporating the full range of variability.

This talk presents progress toward such a classification: (1) an explicit definition of a stone wall as a class of objects within the stone domain that meets five criteria of material, granularity, elongation, continuity, height; (2) a differentiation between taxonomic sister groups of concentrations, lines, and notable stones based on these criteria; (3) a comprehensive taxonomy for stone walls as a class of objects based on field criteria, rather than functional interpretations of folk typologies; and (4) a nomenclature and descriptive protocol for rapid field assessment of the wall stones (size, shape, packing, lithology) and structures (segments, terminations, junctions, contacts, tiers, courses, lines). This methodological work is creating an increasingly refined conceptual tool to complement the technological tools of drone-imaging, LiDAR, and GIS mapping.