Fieldstone Walls

We've got all the dystopia we need right here

This is now an amateur industrial archeology blog. Come for the mills, stay for the evolving social-property relations.

Fieldstone walls are an ultimate dystopian technology. In the Hudson Valley, my part of the world, settlers used these walls to segment and then destroy Munse Lenape civilization by carving up their communally regulated hunting property. But it wasn’t just settlers building the walls. Many settlers were enslavers, too, and the population in these parts was probably at least 20% enslaved. The stone supply chain of field to wall was inseparable from slavery, at least at the aggregate level of the hamlet that once occupied this area. Searching for dystopian technologies on future spaceships and distant planets is an interesting move, because we’ve got all we need right here.

Anyway, while digging drainage ditches I unearthed up a fragment of a Pepsi bottle that the Internet tells me is from the 1940s. Below the Pepsi shard is the base of what appears to be a fieldstone wall; you can see a stone still in the ground, and I’d already pulled out a few when I took this picture. The farm that covered this neighborhood in the 19th century was closing up shop just around then—capitalism was de-industrializing the area as fast as it had developed it, agriculture was moving to more capital-intensive pastures, and my street was transitioning to ‘economically devastated residential’.

The Pepsi bottle is a big deal because there’s a bunch of archeological features for which I can infer an order of events but have nothing to pin any of the dates on. Now I do (I learned this technique from BBC’s Time Team). And I wonder who last handled these stones.