Stone Piles -- Historical Meaning?
July 25, 2009 6:09 AM   Subscribe

I sometimes see decorative piles of stones in front of --primarily rural-- homes. I like the effect very much. I wonder if there is an historical meaning or symbolism to these stone piles or if it is merely an enhancement.
posted by psc1860 to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It may well be a Cairn that you're talking about. Here's the wikipedia page.
posted by merocet at 6:10 AM on July 25, 2009

See also inukshuk.
posted by maxpower at 6:18 AM on July 25, 2009

Well, in Vermont, they could be field stone from decades of soil cultivation. Around my family home there are field stone walls weaving in various places through the woods. At one point, 50, 100, 150 years ago these were farm fields. At my family home they were all thrown down a ravine, where a "pile" of them exists about 50 ft. long and 15 ft. high. Lots of people use them for decoration. If you go to buy them, they cost about $1500 per ton delivered for quality stone. Out west, particularly in the desert, people build stone monuments all the time. I've seen some 7-8ft tall while hiking in Joshua Tree. I believe that some of them are designed to mark "spiritual places of power." I built one once because it was fun. I'm not sure if they qualify as carins though. I'd leave that to the anthropologist.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:25 AM on July 25, 2009

On preview, they look a lot like the inukshuk that maxpower linked to.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:26 AM on July 25, 2009

sometimes, it's just a pile of rocks.

We've got one of those, most of our neighbors do, and in most cases, there's no real symbolism to them. (Ours is over the wellpoint, so that the PVC pipe isn't visible to passersby, but is still reasonably accessible.)

We get new rocks every spring, as they come up due to frost heave and cultivation. Most of the new rocks get added to the water feature in the back yard, but larger ones will get added to the rockpile in the front yard.
posted by jlkr at 8:14 AM on July 25, 2009

I started to see a lot of these in peculiar places, like streams in forests, a few years ago. In some places I get the impression it became sort of a fad for a while, esp. in areas populated by (for want of a better term) "hippie new age artsy types." I mean this only descriptively, not pejoratively: I see a lot of stone piles and towers in the Catskills near Woodstock and environs, frinstance.
posted by scratch at 8:37 AM on July 25, 2009

I recommend the work of artist Andy Goldsworthy.
posted by effluvia at 8:38 AM on July 25, 2009

It depends on what you mean by "piled" - If you're talking stone balancing, that's one thing, artistic and intentionally decorative -- but often a pile of stones are just discarded fieldstone (picked from the ground to avoid busting plows) tossed out of the way, or they could be piled to mark the edge of a property line or section line. A picture of what you're thinking of might help.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:44 AM on July 25, 2009

2nd needing a picture. We have many piles of rocks on our rural property and the last thing they're for is decoration. The first thing they're for is getting them out of the dirt where we're trying to grow things.
posted by Ookseer at 11:20 AM on July 25, 2009

Did you know that most of the low stone walls you see are in fields are basically purposeless? They may mark property lines, but not much else.

So why do they exist?

Because fields are full of rocks.
posted by Netzapper at 4:45 PM on July 25, 2009

... and plows don't like rocks.
posted by 517 at 6:45 PM on July 25, 2009

My family's ranch has cairns all over. My grandfather and great-grandfather used to build them when they were out watching over the cattle and sheep. Some are markers but they were built mainly to alleviate boredom.
posted by Tenuki at 4:09 AM on July 26, 2009

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