The Walls of Ston are the longest complete fortress system in Europe (and second in the world behind the Great Wall of China) and they are known colloquially as ‘The Great Wall of Croatia.
The isolated wall system on the Peljesac Peninsula connects Ston with the neighbouring town of Mali (‘little’) Ston. The walls were built in the 14th and 15th centuries with two distinct purposes in mind – firstly to act as the first line of defence for Ston as well as the strategically vital port city of Dubrovnik 60km south down the Dalmatian coast and secondly, to safeguard the highly lucrative salt pans in the area which are still operational to this day. The salt produced in Ston is said to be the purest in the entire Mediterranean region.
The limestone walls are shaped like an irregular pentagon and today measure a little over five kilometres in length. They were originally built with 40 towers and five fortresses although only 20 of the towers survive today. Within the walls, streets are laid out in a perpendicular design.
After almost 50 years of restoration projects (for authenticity, using the same or similar techniques as the original builders used), the walls reopened in 2009. They attract a growing number of tourists, partly to see some of the best defensive walls and fortresses in Europe and partly for arguably the most stunning views of the Adriatic Sea you’ll find along the Dalmatian coast.
There is very little in terms of amenities on site aside from a number of hillside restaurants serving what are claimed to be some of the best oysters in the world, eaten literally metres from where they are farmed. The town of Ston includes hotels, apartments, shops and cafés as well as great beaches, watersports and opportunities for excursions further afield.
Fans of Game of Thrones may recognise the Walls of Ston as the fortifications protecting King’s Landing.
Walls in history
This history describes the field boundaries and enclosures built by farmers, husbandmen and labourers, which are such an important feature of the countryside they traverse, and which remain mostly in use today. It does not include the dry stone buildings and fortifications of earlier times, such as the Iron Age brochs of Scotland or the village of Skara Brae in the Orkneys, many of which exhibit advanced craftsmanship in dry stonework.
The enclosing of the rocky uplands of Britain began well back in prehistory, during the period when a nomadic pastoral and hunting life gradually gave way to settled farming. This left a permanent if faint mark on the land in the form of stone circles and surrounding irregular patchwork of ditches and dykes, which is the trademark of the ‘Celtic’ field system. These early settlements were concentrated on the drier terraces and hillsides where woods and scrublands were most easily cleared. They now remain, often far above the present limits of cultivation, as evidence of a milder climate. In Ireland the earliest traces of walled fields have been discovered incorporated into megalithic tombs of late Neolithic age. Here the pattern of small, apparently random-shaped fields may still be found around the scattered farmsteads which replaced the old ‘clachans’ or tribal hamlets.
In Britain, the remains of settlements around the South Western moors, in the Lake District and on the limestone and gritstone terraces of the western Pennines are usually assigned to the Romano-British period, although occasional findings have been dated as far back as 2000 BC. Certainly it was around the time of the Roman invasions when fairly cohesive tribal federations developed, capable of erecting extensive fortifications and defensive earthworks.
The next main period of wall building began in the early Middle Ages and continued, slowly and with many changes of pace depending on the economic conditions of the time, into the post-medieval period. It has been traced most thoroughly in Yorkshire where it is associated with the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian settlements of the 6th century AD onward (Raistrick, 1966). It was then that the open field system so characteristic of medieval English agriculture really developed. Typically, settlements divided their holdings into three sections. On the fertile, flat and seasonally flooded bottomlands the ‘leys’ or ‘ings’ were located, divided from the drier ground by a permanent ditch and fence, hedge or dry stone wall. The two or three common fields were similarly fenced off from each other, and from the third section, which was the common pasture or waste which extended to the borders of the next settlement. There were no permanent divisions within the water meadows or the common field. Where medieval walls remain, they are of huge clearance boulders with little coursing of the stones, and no throughs or topstones, but with some batter. They follow fairly irregular alignments, in response to immovable obstacles or the waller’s whim.
Although open-field walls can still be traced in some of the Yorkshire Dales villages, notably Linton in Wharfedale, the total impact of these enclosures was limited. Most land remained as waste, outside the bounds, although from the 12th century onward grazing disputes led in a few cases to the erection of walls between large holdings. These moorland walls or ditches are seldom traceable today, but they remain among the earliest fences for which written documents are available (p10).
Meanwhile in the ‘Celtic fringe’, the older infield-outfield system persisted, even where the earlier settlements were abandoned. In the granite areas of Cornwall and Devon, in parts of Wales and Scotland, and through much of Ireland, the story is one of continued nibbling away at the open land. Tiny garden-like plots fenced by massive clearance walls surrounded each farmstead, but these islands of cultivation remained virtually swamped in the vast expanse of open moor.
The next definable walling period, which particularly affected the Pennine region, started in the 14th and 15th centuries, and continued until the 18th. It was at its height in the Elizabethan period when cottagers and householders for the first time were legally permitted to enclose small ‘crofts’ or private holdings. The fertility of arable land was nearly exhausted by this period. To revitalize the land, it was necessary for individual householders to use their own stock to manure and improve their holdings. Crofts were small, about half an acre (0.2 hectare) on average, with four or five scattered crofts held by each house. Crofts were walled by the individuals concerned using stone quarried or cleared from the common waste. Although the walls were still squat and poorly coursed, their lines were rather more regular than the older piecemeal enclosures. By the 16th century, attempts were being made to breed improved types of sheep for their wool, and parts of the outlying wastes were enclosed to make this work easier. Enclosures in the north were restricted to the vicinity of the villages, while more extensive fencing took place in the south and Midlands. In the Pennines this period brought the completion of that ‘maze of small enclosures, crofts and tiny fields, with scarcely a straight wall among them’ which still surrounds many Dales villages (Raistrick, 1966).
The population continued to grow during the 17th and 18th centuries, putting pressure on the old open-field system. In the Pennines, this early industrial period saw the enclosing of ‘intakes’, which were rectangular fields of 1-3 acres (0.4-1.2 hectares), located beyond the old common fields. The moorland soil was unsuitable for crops, but could be limed and drained to support sheep. These intakes provided the mining and textile labourers who farmed them with a source of protein, as well as with the outdoor work which their employers considered beneficial.
This period also saw far more extensive enclosures to form the principal pastures of the community, often several hundred acres in extent, and divided adjoining townships from one another. They were made by common consent, and involved all the shareholders in the construction and, frequently, the repair of the walls. Usually a shepherd was paid to tend the pastures, and sometimes he had the duty of repairing walls and gates. Outside wallers or masons were seldom required, either for building or maintenance.
About 1780, the situation changed drastically. From this time, enclosures were promoted by large landowners or one or two private individuals in each area for their own benefit. These people had the means and influence to engineer private Acts of Parliament which effectively stripped the smaller farmers of their common rights. Each Act appointed commissioners to survey the area in question, and to allot portions to every claimant, along with proportional responsibility for fencing the holdings. Since the set limit for walling the bounds was only a year or two, the specifications were very exacting and the length required was often many miles, the commissioners had to hire wallers or men free from the land to do the work. Only the wealthiest parties could pay for this labour the others had to forfeit their shares to the commissioners. As Raistrick (1966) concludes:
The enclosures were a tragedy for the small man he lost his right of pasturage on the common, lost his bit of land, and was compelled to become a wage labourer in a time of falling wages and rising cost of living. It secured the enslavement of the labouring classes.
In 1801 the situation was further rationalised by a general Act of Parliament, and by 1820 most of the work was done. The old common field had been subdivided into small straight-walled rectangular plots. In the Pennines these enclosure walls are visually unmistakable, with their precisely placed throughs and topstones, uniform batter and unvarying height. These walls were planned by city surveyors and built by professionals, who worked in gangs all through the clement months to finish the job.
Taking England as a whole, much land was in its modern form even before the Enclosure Acts. In the Midlands, perhaps the heart of the open-field system, at least 30% of the land was enclosed by 1700. In many counties, including Kent, Sussex, Devon, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Cheshire, Lancashire, Staffordshire, Northumberland, Durham, Suffolk and Essex the open-field system had never had a strong hold, and piecemeal enclosure had taken place more or less continuously from the 12th century onwards.
In the south west of England and much of Wales, the old Celtic field system had evolved gradually into one of separate farmsteads surrounded by small fields, with large areas remaining as common moorland. In Wales, walling remained a matter for the small farmer, even after he became tenant to an absentee landlord. A Royal Commission report of 1894 states that ‘the stone walls in the neighbourhood were generally built by the tenant, except near the mountains, where sometimes the walls were long ones, and these were built by the landlord.’ The Commission noted many complaints from tenants that landlords ‘exhausted’ the compensation for their work over a period of only fourteen or fifteen years, whereas the walls were as good as new for twenty or thirty years or more.
According to Rainsford-Hannay (1972), enclosures started in Scotland with an Enclosure Act of 1710, relating to some land in west Kircudbrightshire. Pieces of land were leased free to people who would move to them in spring, set up huts reminiscent of the Highlanders’ sheilings, work their plots and in return build enclosure walls. Within a year or two many miles of dykes had been raised, greatly increasing the value of the land. This example was quickly followed, but not without opposition from bands of people who tried to break down the walls and injure the enclosed animals. The ringleaders were executed, and thereafter the enclosures proceeded virtually unhindered.
Many Scottish dykes were built to standard specifications, the best and tallest being the march dykes which bounded the great estates. In some places, special problems resulted in unusual walls, such as Monymusk clearance or ‘consumption’ dykes northwest of Aberdeen. Rainsford-Hannay (1972) quotes from contracts of 1736 and 1741 in which the tenant was required to wall a certain area to a height of one ell, or 3″ (940mm), using stones ‘taken from within, as long as there are any, both great and small’ and ‘not to leave a stone in the enclosure, which three men cannot roll or four men carry in a hand barrow’. The first contract specified a coping of ‘faile’ or peat sods, but the later contract omitted this, probably because it robbed the land of important topsoil. Instead the tenant was paid to bring the wall up to a height of 4″ (1.4m) as and when he wished, using stones which arose after ploughing. The biggest consumption dyke is Kingswell West Dyke (p126).
Lake District enclosures were on the whole rather late. Until the Union of 1603, raids across the border from Scotland kept the area so insecure that the land continued to be communally farmed, which made it easier for some men to leave the land at short notice for temporary military service. After the cessation of border troubles many of the common township fields were enclosed and improved by private agreement, but farming remained generally backward compared to elsewhere in the country. Most Lakeland walls were built after the Parliamentary Enclosure Act of 1801.
Most Irish walls are also fairly recent. From the mid-18th century enclosure was advocated by land reformers, but there was much local resistance to permanent walls. Instead, one-year sod barriers were constructed, which were then thrown down after the harvest so they could replenish the soil. This practice continued into the 18th century in many areas. The ancient megaliths of Ireland have remained mainly untouched, even during periods of walling activity, as there was a strong superstition against the splitting of large stones.
The history of dry stone enclosure walls does not quite end with the 19th century, even though little land remained to be subdivided. Mining activities brought temporary bursts of walling in certain areas, such as some of the Yorkshire Dales. In the 20th century, road widening and building has brought the need for construction of many miles of walls. During the 1930s, rebuilding of roadside walls in the West Riding of Yorkshire was used to ease local unemployment. In recent times, the National Parks and other authorities concerned with the conservation of the countryside have been active in promoting dry stone walling through grants and other schemes (chapter 2). From there being very few full-time wallers working during the mid part of the 20th century, numbers are now rising again, as the importance of conserving the walled landscape has become apparent. As detailed in chapter 2, many walls are in a poor condition, and it would need an investment similar to that of the enclosure era to rebuild them. The walled landscape of upland Britain is a monument to centuries of patient labour, and it is too important to be left to decay.
Learn more about Trump's wall
Read on to find out about other famous walls that have left their mark on history.
The Berlin Wall was one of the most famous walls in modern history, dividing a nation for 28 years and playing a significant role in a conflict called the Cold War.
Back in the 1950s, Germany was split into two - East Germany and West Germany.
The country's capital Berlin was actually located in East Germany, but the city was portioned up between east and western powers too - and a wall put up between the two.
At first, it was just a fence, but it was soon filled with concrete and was up to 3.6 metres tall in some places.
The idea was the wall would stop people fleeing from poorer, Communist East Berlin (and Soviet rule) into Western Europe.
Many hundreds of people died trying to cross it in the hope of a better life on the other side.
The Berlin Wall became a symbol of oppression and control inflicted by East Germany and the Soviets on its citizens.
The arrival of US President Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 saw the east and west start to work together more in order to sort their differences and learn to coexist.
In November 1989, the border was declared open and people in Berlin began to tear the wall down.
To this day, the Berlin Wall - and what is left of it - remains a powerful symbol of the impact of division. Millions of tourists visit what's left of the wall each year.
New England Is Crisscrossed With Thousands of Miles of Stone Walls
Walk into a patch of forest in New England, and chances are you will—almost literally—stumble across a stone wall. Thigh-high, perhaps, it is cobbled together with stones of various shapes and sizes, with splotches of lichen and spongy moss instead of mortar. Most of the stones are what are called “two-handers”—light enough to lift, but not with just one hand. The wall winds down a hill and out of sight. According to Robert Thorson, a landscape geologist at University of Connecticut, these walls are “damn near everywhere” in the forests of rural New England.
He estimates that there are more than 100,000 miles of old, disused stone walls out there, or enough to circle the globe four times.
Who would build a stone wall, let alone hundreds of thousands of miles of them, in the middle of the forest? No one. The walls weren’t built in the forest but in and around farms. By the middle of the 19th century, New England was over 70 percent deforested by settlers, a rolling landscape of smallholdings as far as the eye could see. But by the end of the century, industrialization and large-scale farms led to thousands of fields being abandoned, to begin a slow process of reforestation.
“New England had great pastures,” says Thorson. “It was a beef-butter-bacon economy.”
As farmers cleared those New England forests, they found rocks—lots and lots of them. The glaciers that receded at the end of the last Ice Age left behind millions of tons of stone in a range of sizes. New England soils remain notoriously stony today.
Stone walls in Block Island, Rhode Island, c. 1880. Block Island Historical Society, printed by Robert Downie
When life gives you stones? Build a wall. Farmers pulled these plow-impeding stones from their fields and piled them on the edges. “The farmer’s main interest was his fields,” says Thorson. “The walls are simply a disposal pile. It was routine farm work.” This process was replicated at thousands of farms across the region—a collective act of labor on a glacial scale.
The supply of stone seemed endless. A field would be cleared in the autumn, and there would be a whole new crop of stones in the spring. This is due to a process known as “frost heave.” As deforested soils freeze and thaw, stones shift and migrate to the surface. “People in the Northeast thought that the devil had put them there,” says Susan Allport, author of the book Sermons in Stone: The Stone Walls of New England and New York. “They just kept coming.”
Stone Wall at Old Manse, Concord, Massachusetts. Robert Thorson
Wall-building peaked in the mid-1800s when, Thorson estimates, there were around 240,000 miles of them in New England. That amounts to roughly 400 million tons of stone, or enough to build the Great Pyramid of Giza—more than 60 times over.
No one dedicates more time to thinking about these walls than Thorson, who has written a children’s book, a field guide, and countless articles about them since he first moved to New England in 1984. Thorson, bald and bearded, a mossy stone himself, is a landscape geologist, and he distinctly remembers his first walks in the New England woods—and coming across one stone wall after another. His mind was full of questions about what they were and who built them, “it was a phenomenon that was extraordinary,” he says. “One thing led to another, and I got obsessed on the topic”.
Thorson started the Stone Wall Initiative in 2002, aimed at educating the public about this distinctive feature of their forests, in addition to conserving the walls and studying how they impact the landscape around them. Thorson has built a reputation as the ultimate expert on this phenomenon. “You know how a natural history museum would have a person who identifies stuff for you? I’m kind of that guy for stone walls,” he says.
Robert Thorson with a stone wall, Kettle Pond National Wildlife Refuge, Rhode Island. Liam Nangle
Every year he takes his students to a maple-beech forest stand in Storrs, Connecticut, which he calls “The Glen,” to look at a classic farmstead stone wall. This wall is thigh-high, and mostly built of gneiss and schist, metamorphic rocks common in the valley flanks of central New England. With Thorson’s help, one begins to see a little structure in how the stones were stacked—in messy tiers, by a farmer who added one load at a time.
Thorson may be particularly obsessed with the walls, but he’s not alone in the interest. He is constantly invited to speak at garden clubs, historical societies, public libraries, and more. “The interest doesn’t die down,” he says. “Twenty years later, it’s still going on.”
His field guide, Exploring Stone Walls, is a directory of some of the most unusual, interesting, or distinctive walls in the region. The tallest example is a mortared sea wall beneath the Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island, measuring over 100 feet. The oldest wall, in Popham Point, Maine, dates to 1607. Thorson’s favorite historically significant wall is at the Old Manse, a historic home in Concord, Massachusetts. It provided cover for minutemen firing on the British during the Revolutionary War. Thorson also highlights Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall,” located on his farm in Derry, New Hampshire, the inspiration for the famous line, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
The “Mending Wall” on Robert Frost’s farm in Derry, New Hampshire. Robert Thorson
Thorson knows about as much as one can know about the world-wonder- scale web of walls across the Northeast, but there remains much to learn, particularly in terms of what they mean for ecosystems, such as their role as both habitat and impediment to wildlife, and their effect on erosion and sedimentation. “It sounds silly,” he says, “but we almost know nothing about them.”
Geographer and landscape archaeologist Katharine Johnson earned her doctorate mapping stone walls from above, using lidar (light detection and ranging) technology. Lidar is similar to radar, only instead of using radio waves to detect objects, it uses light. Laser pulses—thousands per second—are emitted from a specially equipped plane. There are so many of these pulses, that some are able to hit the small spaces between leaves and penetrate all the way to the forest floor, even through thick tree cover. Johnson’s lidar images reveal the exent of those crisscrossing stone walls in a way nothing else can.
A lidar image showing the concealed walls beneath a forest in Eastford, Connecticut. USDA NRCS, CTECO, Katharine Johnson and Will Ouimet
Her research shows that, stripped of the region’s resurgent forests, the walls provide a snapshot of 19th-century history—a map of what land was cleared and farmed at the time. Combined with other data on the forests themselves, this can help specialists model historic forest cover and, in turn, help ecologists understand how forests grow back after they have been disturbed or cleared entirely. The walls can hold the key to New England’s social history, including settlement patterns and farming styles. They provide a static backdrop against which change can be measured.
“Stone walls are the most important artifacts in rural New England,” Thorson says. “They’re a visceral connection to the past. They are just as surely a remnant of a former civilization as a ruin in the Amazon rain forest.”
Each of the millions of stones that make up New England stone walls was held by a person, usually a subsistence farmer, or perhaps a hired Native American or a slave. What remains is a trace of countless individual acts etched on the landscape. “Those labors,” says Allport, “hundreds of years later, they endure.”
The History Hidden in the Walls
Once you start digging — whether excavating long-populated urban land for a commercial project or tearing down the walls of a house — you never know what you’ll find. It might be a ritual object placed there to ward off evil spirits 300 years ago, or a few decades ago. It might have been put there on purpose or left by accident. Unless it’s a time capsule with a note enclosed, you’ll never know for sure.
Every building carries history within its walls, ceilings, floors and foundations. The very wood, plaster and stone can contain powerful secrets, even talismans, some of which were placed there for future inhabitants to find — a thread linking past and future.
Consider Michelle Morgan Harrison, an interior designer who is renovating her home, a house built in 1816 in New Canaan, Conn. Her general contractor, Patrick Kennedy, recently found a skull buried beneath an old white oak beam. “At first, I thought: It’s human!” said Ms. Harrison, who was relieved to discover that it wasn’t. Then they thought it might be a horse’s skull, one of the objects that Irish builders traditionally placed inside homes.
It turned out to be that of a dog, although half of the skull is missing.
“I’ve seen a bit of everything” while renovating, said Mr. Kennedy, a contractor and carpenter for 20 years. “But the skull was unique, and there’s no way it could have fallen in there the way it was buried. It was placed almost exactly in the center under the doorway, and there were no other bones with it. I immediately thought it was something superstitious.”
So much so, he said, that he plans to rebury it in the same place in the house after renovations are complete.
“The practice of burying or concealing items in the structure of a house is called immurement,” said Joseph Heathcott, an architectural historian and urbanist who teaches at the New School in New York.
“It is actually an ancient practice that cuts across many cultures and civilizations,” Dr. Heathcott added. The most famous examples are artifacts entombed with Egyptian pharaohs in the pyramids, but he said that ritual objects have often been found in the walls of Roman villas and ordinary houses during archaeological excavations. “The history of Freemasonry traces its origins to the rituals of concealment by masons, sealing up secrets in their buildings,” he said.
Objects were often hidden away as a way to bring good luck to inhabitants. This was the case in Ireland, he said, “where it was common when building a home to bury a horse skull in the floor or under the hearth, a Celtic practice that dates back centuries. Sometimes it would be the entire skull, other times just the front section or the top without the lower jaw.”
In England and Ireland, it was also customary in many regions to bury dead cats in the walls or under floors of houses to ward off malicious spirits, Dr. Heathcott added.
It all sounds like ancient history — until you or your work crew find something.
When Rob DeRocker, a marketing consultant in Tarrytown, N.Y., began gut-renovating his 1843 home, known as the Ice House — it was used to store ice in the 19th century — several objects appeared. He found a clay pipe and a tobacco pouch inside a window frame, a player-piano roll in a ceiling, a child’s alphabet flash card and several hand-painted ceramic tiles. He dreamed of “Antiques Roadshow” riches, but he discovered the items are more historic than valuable. Nonetheless, Mr. DeRocker relishes his home’s material history: “When this house was built, Abraham Lincoln was still a lawyer,” he said.
People who think they’ve found something old and valuable frequently contact the New-York Historical Society, said Margaret K. Hofer, a vice president of the society and director of its museum. “We get calls like that all the time,” she said. Museum staff members typically ask for a photo by email before deciding to look more closely.
“Some definitely think they’re going to strike it rich — they’re usually quite wrong,” she said. Common finds include old newspapers, sometimes used for insulation, and firearms and munitions, like the Revolutionary War cannonball found in a Brooklyn backyard last August. That one actually did prove to be historically valuable, she said, marking a key battle, albeit “a major loss for the American army.”
A couple of years ago, Ms. Hofer opened a time capsule from 1914 created by the Lower Wall Street Business Men’s Association and given at that time to the historical society for safekeeping, to be opened later.
The 1914 capsule, encased in a handsome brass trunk, was in storage at the society until 2000, displayed unopened in its Luce Center from 2000 to 2014, “and then opened with great fanfare in October 2014, when it was resealed,” Ms. Hofer said. “It contained many publications of the day, including newspapers, periodicals and annual reports,” she said.
In 2015, teenage museumgoers created a time capsule of their own, adding e-cigarettes, a cellphone, a Starbucks cup and some concert tickets.
One of the museum’s richest sources of objects has been the Ear Inn, a house built around 1770 and still standing — although it has sunk 10 inches in the past 20 years — at 326 Spring Street in Lower Manhattan. Today, a bar and restaurant occupy its ground floor. The house produced many souvenirs of early New York when its owners, Martin Sheridan and Richard Hayman, dug up the basement.
“There’s a lot of great stuff in there,” Ms. Hofer said, “the objects of everyday life. It’s a snapshot of a time period and a class of people.” The haul included a chamber pot and whiskey jugs.
“We were digging in the basement to put in posts to shore up the house,” Mr. Hayman said. “The building has sunk six feet since it was built.”
A house doesn’t need Revolutionary credentials to be a trove.
“In my 30 years of architectural practice we’ve found many different things under floors and inside of walls, most left there inadvertently,” said Marvin J. Anderson, a Seattle architect. “Newspapers were used for years as insulation, and regularly help us date when an addition was built or an improvement was made.” In a recent renovation of a 1914 Seattle house, he found a layer of 1924 newspapers under the floorboards in a maid’s room.
“While renovating a 1902 house several years ago, we came across a fire-scorched red corset inside a wall,” he said. “It certainly stopped construction for several hours and raised many eyebrows, but we never figured out the story behind it.”
Some homeowners and some work crews choose to leave signatures and items behind as well, Mr. Anderson added. “When we renovate houses we encourage clients and their families to create and leave time capsules inside the house somewhere, something to be discovered when walls and ceilings are opened up in 50 to 100 years.”
Construction crews also routinely sign wall framing, knowing it will be covered up. “Years ago a client told me of the tradition of placing foreign coins under the basement floor slab that it would bring wisdom from around the world into the home,” Mr. Anderson said. “I’ve never researched the tradition, but we’ve done this on numerous projects, as an opportunity to pause and celebrate a moment or milestone during construction.”
When Mr. Kennedy began working on Ms. Harrison’s 1816 house, a carpenter’s signature from 1921 was found on an attic window frame. Also discovered: a time capsule from the 1990s that included a note from the 9-year-old girl then living there.
Kim Gordon, a designer in Los Angeles who specializes in renovating 1920s-era homes, collects items she finds in the process and creates a small package she places in a wall when the project is done, sometimes with the owner’s knowledge, sometimes not. Inside a wall in a house from 1905, the oldest she’s yet renovated, she found a small sterling-silver medallion of the Virgin Mary, on a bit of chain. “It was very detailed, a beautiful, beautiful piece,” she said. After completing the renovation, she placed it into a small fabric pouch, added some crushed seashells, pebbles and a clay figure, and tucked it back inside a wall.
She collects small objects at flea markets “that speak to me” and keeps them for use in future packages during renovations. “It’s an anchor in the space,” she said. “I’ve given the house an intention.”
And, of course, commercial projects that require major excavation routinely unearth all kinds of things. But the 19th-century ship discovered in May 2016 in Boston, and the ancient elephant bones found in November of that year in Los Angeles during excavation work on the Wilshire/La Brea Station for the Purple Line Extension subway, were of jaw-dropping significance. The subway extension, a Skanska-Traylor-Shea project, produced teeth, tusks and a partial skull of at least two of the extinct mammals.
In Boston, another Skanska team at work on a 17-story office tower had been on site for more than eight months, and was six to eight weeks into the excavation phase when it revealed a ship, sunk between 1850 and 1880, that still contained barrels of lime and items including knives, forks and plates. It was about 20 feet down and approximately 500 yards from the current shore by the Institute of Contemporary Art.
It’s in “the heart of Boston and the heart of a major development” said Shawn Hurley, the chief executive and president of Skanska USA commercial development. “We didn’t know what it was at first, but the employee who saw it was smart enough to stop construction.”
It was a sunny day. Skanska’s offices overlook the site and excitement grew as staff members realized, “We’ve got the real deal!” he recalled.
Suddenly encountering a piece of history can be a shock.
“I felt kind of amazed. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Mr. Hurley, who then immediately faced a host of questions: “What do we need to do here? What are the next steps?”
The importance of their accidental find was confirmed, he said, as city and state archaeologists agreed it was the most significant find of their careers. “We probably had a team of seven or eight archaeologists on-site for a week. They were ecstatic.”
BASCOMB: The colonists in New England faced an uphill battle in turning the region&rsquos vast forests into farmland. They had to fell massive trees and contend with rocks strewn throughout the soil they aimed to plow. So, stone by stone, they stacked the rocks left over from glaciers into waist-high walls. Each year frost heaves pushed still more stones to the surface, which some of those early farmers said was the work of the devil.
Generations later, farmers returned time and again to repair the walls as the years went by. That&rsquos the subject of Robert Frost&rsquos famous poem, The Mending Wall, read here by the poet himself.
FROST: Mending Wall
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours."
A New Hampshire stone wall in winter. (Photo: Steve Curwood)
CURWOOD: Those stone walls of Robert Frost&rsquos verse still exist in Southern New Hampshire, as do thousands like it across New England. Made mostly of granite, these walls serve as windows into the geological and cultural history of the region. I went for a walk through an old farmstead with a stone wall expert to learn more.
CURWOOD: So, we're here in Nottingham, New Hampshire, at a 1755 farmhouse. It's surrounded by stone walls, and we're joined now by Robert Thorson. He's a professor of geology at the University of Connecticut. And he's author of &ldquoStone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England's Stone Walls&rdquo. Welcome to Living on Earth, Professor.
THORSON: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.
CURWOOD: So, how did you first get involved studying stones?
THORSON: Well, I moved here from Alaska, and I had grown up in the sort of Scandinavian Midwestern upper Midwest heritage where you don't see any stone walls whatsoever and I moved here from Alaska in 1984. And I thought, well, I'm hired as a landscape archaeologist and a geologist and a scientist to teach. And I thought, I better go get myself a look at stone walls. And so I went to the Natchaug State forest, which is nearby in eastern Connecticut where I was working. And I just started walking a traverse. And I was going up over one after another, and another and another stone walls, and it just struck me that day. What are these things? Why are they the size they are, the color they are, the mass they are, the continuity they are, the pattern they are. all those questions that a trained scientists would ask about them.
CURWOOD: So, stone walls are all over the region. Who made these walls?
THORSON: If you're talking about the abandoned field farm landscape of the 19th and 18th century, then almost entirely, it's the people who own the land and were using money from the land to do things. If you're talking about the Gilded Age or 1920s or Edwardian or even late Victorian, when you get past the zenith of New England's agriculture, then most of the walls are being built by immigrant work parties for very low pay, but the money came from somewhere else. And so you end up with a nice, tidy, long, uniform degree of construction that an architect might recognize. The walls that I like are the ones built by the people on the land, because there's an ecological component to them, a human ecological component.
Robert Frost (1874 &ndash 1963) was a prolific American poet whose work included, &ldquoThe Road Not Taken,&rdquo &ldquoFire And Ice,&rdquo and &ldquoMending Wall.&rdquo (Photo: Walter Albertin, Wikimedia Commons via U.S. Library of Congress)
CURWOOD: Let's go up the wall a little further, because I want to ask you about the ecology of what's in these walls today.
CURWOOD: So, many of these stone walls obviously were abandoned. This farm stopped farming livestock probably a century and a half ago. But you say that these are important parts of our ecosystem. What makes them so important in the ecosystem?
THORSON: Well, if you look at the stone wall right in front of us, you don't see any surface moisture, and you never will, unless it's raining or you're getting snow melt. These are very, very dry. They're effectively deserts. They're hollow, open spaces that animals can live that don't exist on the woodland floor. It's also a corridor. If you wanted to move along your territory and you were a fox, or you were a squirrel, or you were a cat, a bobcat or a fisher cat, you could cruise along the top of the wall and see more. You would be more exposed if you were a predator. If you were prey, you'd likely scurry along beneath the edge of the wall, and you get cover. So, as boundaries, as corridors, and as habitat, stone walls have a life all their own.
CURWOOD: And the geologic story here?
THORSON: Well, if you accept that human beings are geologic agents - which I do, being the strongest one - then they're part of that geologic story. If you were to just say, OK, what happened here since glaciation, we're about it. I mean, glaciation and then human activity, those are the two dominant events that have happened here on the landscape to shape and change the landscape. It's not to say that other people didn't live here for a long time, but these are the main shapers, and one is glacial in origin, climatically driven, and one is human in origin, economically driven.
CURWOOD: Thor, talk to me about the famous stone walls here in New England.
THORSON: I think the most famous one is Robert Frost&rsquos Mending Wall, because people in Iowa know about that wall. People in Florida know about that wall, and it's one of New England's real treasures, that poem. And I've been to Derry a number of times, and I've talked there and explored and investigated the mending wall. It turns out the Mending Wall is a combination of two different walls. That poem was written when Frost was in England. It was one of his earliest ones and he's writing it from memory. And he garbled together two things, whether intentionally or not, that are really important to the New England psyche. One of the ideas, the maintenance, structure, order, you know, keeping stone on stone, mending the wall, and the other, of course, is territorialism, the fences that we erect between ourselves in our communities and otherwise. And he really dwells nicely on both of those. The Mending Wall, the poem, has both the boundary wall and the precarious stones as round as balls are loaves, but the actual walls on that property are very distinct. One is a boundary and one is a place where you can hardly stack a stone, and they don't map on top of each other.
CURWOOD: Philosophically, what do you think if his point that there's something that doesn't like a wall?
THORSON: That something is all of nature itself that doesn't like a wall, because a wall is created with intent by human beings. For whatever reason, it's going to come down, and to me, that's nice. I love the old, abandoned, lichen-crusted closed canopy forested walls in the age of the Anthropocene because they tell us that in some places, the Anthropocene impact is already being re-healed. And the wildness seeking person in me likes seeing that.
Robert Thorson (left) and Host Steve Curwood examine a rock from a wall in New Hampshire. (Photo: Jenni Doering)
CURWOOD: So some would say that stone walls helped win the American Revolution. Why would they say that?
THORSON: The number one reason that they would say that would be because the colonists, the ragtag Minutemen, used the walls for cover, and they were very hard to pick off by the British marching in columns down the road. On a deeper level, you could argue that the walls are expedient parts of the farms that gave the beef and the butter and the bacon and the bread that fed those armies. We know that armies don't march on an empty stomach. Also, I think there's a territorial boundary element. I think that just seeing a stone wall, makes you feel more secure, it makes you feel enclosed. It makes you feel contained. It makes you feel separate. So, you could say that, at a psychological bedrock level, they helped with the idea of separateness.
CURWOOD: Robert Thorson is a professor of geology at the University of Connecticut. Thor, thanks so much for taking the time with us.
THORSON: It's been a pleasure. What could be nicer than being in the woods with surrounded by stone walls?
Dry Stack Walls: A Disappearing Piece of American History - 2002-03-05
Old rock walls, many dating to the 19th century, line roads and divide pasture land throughout the American mid-south states of Kentucky and Tennessee. But many of these stone structures, which were built without any mortar, are being torn down and, as Terri Smith reports, local activists fear the picturesque charm of their region will disappear with them.
George Patterson knows how to make dry-stack rock walls. It's a craft he learned in his native Scotland. Since moving to Nashville five years ago, he has found a niche as one of the few masons who practice this mortarless method of building rock walls. Like a house of cards that relies on perfect balance to remain standing, these walls some of which are 150 years old - consist of rocks sculpted and placed so that they stand solely due to weight and surface friction. On this breezy day, Mr. Patterson works on restoring a dry stack wall in a history-rich suburb of Nashville.
"It's a craft that's been going on throughout the world for hundreds of years, really. You know, some of the Incas were great builders of dry stack walls. It's a pity that people don't keep them up - that's the big thing," Mr. Patterson says.
Often referred to as "slave walls," most of the rock walls in middle Tennessee were actually built by Irish and Scottish immigrants in the 19th century. When masons built walls for plantation owners, they were probably assisted by slaves who gathered stones and helped with digging. Many of those slaves went on to become masons themselves after they were freed. Although no one knows exactly how many of these walls remain, historians and preservationists agree that a count needs to be made. Mary Alisons Haynie, a Doctor of Arts student at Middle Tennessee State University, says the walls were originally erected to divide property and contain animals.
"They have to be high enough that a horse won't jump over them or deep enough they are built on top of a foundation that goes into the ground so pigs wouldn't root through them. Beyond that there are significant differences. As you can see, the stone wall we're looking at is 2 layers deep, so they can come in different depths and different heights and the stones here are very thick and heavy and they're very much the same size throughout," Ms. Haynie explains.
Because they are such a central part of this region's traditional landscape, many Tennesseans feel if the walls disappear so will much of the state's charm.
"Rock walls, old hedgerows of trees, fence roads - these are integral parts of the tapestry of Tennessee. If we don't do things [to protect them], we will look like anywhere, USA," Laura Turner says.
Two years ago, activist Laura Turner helped shepherd a resolution through the state legislature, which recognized the historic value of rock walls. The resolution called on the Tennessee Historical Commission to identify stone walls worthy of preservation and to develop criteria for their protection. The commission was also asked to come up with standards for moving and rebuilding walls when saving them wasn't an option. But a resolution is not a law, so there are no Penalties for tearing down walls and no state resources to pay for a survey of the walls that are left.
About a year after the resolution passed, Ms. Turner began an effort to convert the document's sentiment into legislation to protect stone walls along public roads. She says the Tennessee Department of Transportation or T-DOT voiced its opposition.
"They assured us that they did not take down rock walls and that they were very careful about that and that we did not need this bill. A few months later, I got an emergency call, 'The wall on Hillsboro Road is being bulldozed down' and within three hours, TDOT took down a wall that experts say dates back to 1850," Ms. Turner says. That dramatic event inspired Senator Douglas Henry to step up to the plate again. He had sponsored the original resolution, and now encouraged the Tennessee Historical Commission to act on it to quickly draft standards for protecting Tennessee's rock walls. While the discussions of what those standards should be have been progressing smoothly, T-DOT's Assistant Chief Engineer Dennis Cook says everyone agrees the day to day use of the criteria will be the challenge.
"The criteria can't say no stone walls shall be removed. We can't live with that because of safety and other things. The criteria have to have some flexibility," Mr. Cook says.
For now, T-DOT has agreed that anytime road surveyors find a long stretch of well-preserved rock wall with historic value, the department will inform the community before proceeding.
Those who admire Tennessee's stone walls agree that until legislation is passed that mandates their protection, public pressure will be just as important in keeping these walls standing as the artfully crafted pressure between the rocks themselves.
Walls of Ston - History
History of the Walls of Jerusalem
The First Walls Were Built by the Canaanites
Long before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the Jebusites lived securely within the walls of Jerusalem. The city was blessed with natural valleys around it that made it easy to defend. The city walls and its fortress provided additional protection.
David Conquered the Jebusite City and Enlarged the City Walls
God was with David and allowed him to capture Jerusalem from the Jebusites. Later, he built additional walls to fortify the city. The Gihon Spring was outside the city at this time. The city would become known as the City of David.
2 Samuel 5:6&ndash10: And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, &ldquoYou will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off&rdquo&mdashthinking, &ldquoDavid cannot come in here.&rdquo 7 Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. 8 And David said on that day, &ldquoWhoever would strike the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack &lsquothe lame and the blind,&rsquo who are hated by David's soul.&rdquo Therefore, it is said, &ldquoThe blind and the lame shall not come into the house.&rdquo 9 And David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built the city all around from the Millo inward. 10 And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.
Solomon Adds to the Walls of the City
After David died, Solomon built the temple upon the threshing floor of Araunah. He enlarged the Temple Mount Platform and added walls from the City of David to the Temple Mount.
Hezekiah Builds a Large Broad Wall
In 701 BC, the Assyrians, headed by Sennacherib invaded Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel, because of their disobedience to God. According to an Assyrian stele found in the ruins of the royal palace of Nineveh, Sennacherib conquered 46 cities in Judea prior to attempting to conquer Jerusalem.
God allowed most of Judah to be conquered but protected Jerusalem because of Hezekiah&rsquos obedience to Him. As Hezekiah began to prepare for what he knew would be a terrible siege by a merciless Assyrian war machine, he had to figure out how to protect his people. This meant building new defenses.
During the time of Hezekiah, Jerusalem&rsquos urban population had grown far outside the old walls of the city and were unprotected. King Hezekiah fortified the existing walls of the city and built a new wall in a rapid manner to protect those living outside the city walls.
2 Chronicles 32:5: He set to work resolutely and built up all the wall that was broken down and raised towers upon it, and outside it he built another wall, and he strengthened the Millo in the city of David. He also made weapons and shields in abundance.
Hezekiah&rsquos new wall measured about 22 feet wide (7 m.) by 25 feet high (8 m.). It was a massive undertaking and measured around 2.5 miles (4 km.) in length.
A portion of the wall was discovered in the 1970s by Israeli archaeologist Nahman Avigad and dated to the reign of King Hezekiah (716&ndash687 BC). It was called &ldquoHezekiah&rsquos Broad Wall&rdquo by archaeologists because of its width.
Hezekiah also built a water tunnel in order to keep the water from the Gihon Spring inside the city walls so the Assyrians couldn&rsquot cut off the water supply (2 Chron. 32:3&ndash4). The curving tunnel is 583 yards (533 m.) long and has a fall of 12 inches (30 cm.) between its two ends. It was chiseled from both ends to the middle at the same time. It took the water from the Gihon Spring under the mountain to the Pool of Siloam below the city.
Nehemiah Rebuilds the Walls
When the Babylonians conquered and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, they also destroyed the walls and burned the gates with fire. However, God sovereignly moved in the heart of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, to allow Nehemiah to rebuild the walls later on.
Nehemiah 1:1&ndash3: Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, &ldquoThe remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire."
The rebuilding and repair of the wall was a miracle.
Nehemiah 6:15&ndash16: So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.
Nehemiah didn't change the existing walls of Hezekiah, but just repaired those that existed.
Hasmonean Wall Addition
The Jews gained their independence from the Seleucid Empire in 164 BC. under the Maccabees and Hasmoneans.
At this time, Jerusalem began to be rebuilt along with its walls. During the Hasmonean period 164&ndash63 BC, a wall was added to the northern part of the existing wall. It would be this city layout that would exist during the time of Christ.
Agrippa I Wall Addition
Agrippa I began the construction of an additional wall of the city which was completed just at the beginning of the First Jewish&ndashRoman War in 66 AD. This would be the largest area the city walls would encompass.
The City Walls Today
In the 16th century, Suleiman decided to rebuild the city walls on much of the remains of the ancient walls that already existed. They were completed in 1538 and are the walls that exist today.
New England Stone Wall History
Most fences in early colonial Massachusetts were a combination of stone and wood, usually reaching four to five feet high. These stonewalls were dry, made without mortar, as the limestone needed for the bonding mortar was an extremely limited commodity. Any available limestone was used either for house plaster or for restoring soil.
A stone fence surrounding the colonial animal pound in Atkinson, NH.
Stone fences typically surrounded cemeteries, cow pastures , farms, or animal pounds According to Allport, by the early 1650’s the colony of Massachusetts had already enacted legislation mandating farmers to build fences to a minimum height to separate their livestock from other farmers’ crops or a neighbor’s prized livestock. Most towns in colonial Massachusetts had fence requirements between four and five feet. To
enforce these regulations each town was to employ at least two “fence viewers”. (for example, see the Town Minutes in Sarah O’Shea’s research paper). The responsibility of the fence viewer was to monitor all fences in the community in regards to both height and condition. Fines would be levied if the standards were not maintained. Eventually, town pounds were built for livestock that strayed onto other farmers’ properties. The pound keeper set the fine to be paid before the offending livestock could be “bailed out” to its owner.
Using a rope, students recreated a Gunther’s chain that would be used to measure the amount of stone necessary to build their wall.
In colonial Massachusetts all fence measurement requirements were in units called “chains” or “perches”. The term “chain” originated from the surveying invention of Englishman Edmond Gunther in 1620. Gunther’s chain is a predecessor of the tape measure. The chain was sixty-six feet long, consisting of 100 links measuring approximately 7.92 inches apiece. Many modern day units of measure, including furlongs, acres, and miles, are based on Gunther’s sixty-six foot chain. (See Gunther’s chain conversion chart).
Looking for some-one to talk to a small group about stone walls at the Historic WInslow House Marshfield MA in 2020. We are a 501c3 non profit and our membership is dedicated to the mission to preserve and protect the c1699 Historic House. We hols lectures during our season May-Oct. We do not have much of a budget but I would be able to pay a small stipend.
The Hamilton-Wenham Garden Club hosted a fabulous talk on stone walls with author and stone wall builder Kevin Gardner. It was FANTASTIC. He’s a spell binding speaker and built a mini stone wall during his presentation. I took pictures of stone walls in our community and he analyzed and dated them.
The story behind our stone walls
Driving on the Massachusetts Turnpike recently after a light snowfall, I noticed a lot of stone walls in the woods. Snaking across hills and valleys, they stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the landscape. What struck me was how many long-abandoned walls there were.
Driving on the Massachusetts Turnpike recently after a light snowfall, I noticed a lot of stone walls in the woods. Snaking across hills and valleys, they stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the landscape. What struck me was how many long-abandoned walls there were.
I began to look for them and I wondered who could have made the obviously great effort to move all of those stones in an area that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.
Curiosity led me to Robert Thorson's book, "Exploring Stone Walls: A Field Guide to New England's Stone Walls." In it, Thorson explains the purpose and types of the many stone walls that line the land around us. He sorts them by age, style, materials and function, and he explains why stone walls were important in our early history. Thorson also makes the case that ancient walls are still significant today, serving to maintain and preserve a healthy ecosystem.
I do a lot of walking in remote areas of the Cape, and I'll occasionally come upon an old stone wall with no apparent connection to any human habitation. But nearby, I'll spot a cellar hole or perhaps a group of lilac bushes or some clumps of iris — a giveaway that the place was once a family farm. I'll sit on the stones and try to imagine the lives of the people who long ago worked to build a life in the woods.
In their day, the atmosphere of their work place wasn't broken by a single sound that wasn't part of nature. No trucks, power saws, or tractors. In my mind, I see a man hauling pieces of granite cobble on a wooden sled behind a draft animal and levering them carefully into a boundary of stone. He works with quiet determination to complete a section before the last remnant of daylight is gone.
Most of the stone walls on Cape Cod are found north of the Mid-Cape highway. Geologists tell us that the glacier that shaped the peninsula thousands of years ago dropped the bulk of rocks and boulders along the spine of Cape Cod. Similar rock deposits are also found along the western edge of the Cape from Pocasset south toward Falmouth. Much lighter materials comprise the south coast of the Cape and that is why there are fewer old stone walls there.
Dig a hole in East Dennis or Brewster and you will find rock. In South Yarmouth or Harwich Port, there will be very few. One of the finest examples of a well-maintained stone wall complex is at the Jenkins farm in West Barnstable off Pine Street. Here, tons of cobbles comprise an almost chest-high stone barrier enclosing old fields and pastures. Deeper in the woods south of Shawme Pond in Sandwich, the remnant of an old wall, now almost covered with decayed material, defines a woodland path near a stone foundation. Once it was a homestead. Now it is place for squirrels and an occasional red fox.
New England saw the rise of many small farms in the 18th century. Abundant stone provided material for walls to close off fields and define land holdings. After the Civil War, there was an out-migration of people from these farms to the newly opened American west. Abandoned buildings fell into ruin and trees reclaimed the pastures. Today, there are more trees in New England than there were 200 years ago. The farms are gone but the stone walls remain, causing the occasional hiker who might happen by to question who it was that built them.
In a sense we can think of these walls as our pyramids, not dedicated to the Gods but rather, standing as testaments to the strength and endurance of the ordinary people who first came to settle this land.