Indian Relics or Just Rocks?

September 9, 2007

Author: Richard C. Lewis

Source: The Boston Globe

NORTH SMITHFIELD, R.I. - Long before the first European settlers, bands of Indians roamed the hills and woodlands in this section of northern Rhode Island. They hunted game in the hills and likely settled along the rivers and swamps.

Some scholars believe the various tribes that traversed this area for centuries buried their dead in the forested hills, using the abundant rocks scattered throughout to create uniquely shaped mounds to honor them and to mark their burial sites.

What these piles mean and whether they are significant are questions that have sprung anew now that a group of developers wants to turn 264 acres of these woodlands into residences. The proposed Rankin Estates development would consist of up to 120 single-family homes, making it by far the largest single residential development in this rural town of about 11,000.

The developers have been stymied so far by a heated dispute over whether clusters of rocks found on the property are Indian burial mounds or simply piles of stones cleared away by early settlers to farm the land.