Native American Indian Mortars of Tiot
Photo showing supposed Native American “grinding holes” in the ledge near the Neponset River at Water Street, 1934. (Photograph by F.P. Orchard, colorized by the Norwood Historical Society)

Norwood ERA Archaeological Expedition Unearths Artifacts Of Ancient Civilization, Which Are Checked As Probably Authentic By Harvard Expert

For the first time in the history of Norwood, the permanent presence of Indian occupation and civilization seems to have been located within her borders. An expedition conducted by the archaeological division of the Norwood Federal Emergency Relief Administration has unearthed and verified an amazing collection of Indian “mortars” which were ground out of a solid ledge to the Neponset River at Water Street, East Walpole. These round deep holes in the rock are said to have been gradually cut by the Indian women as they ground their com four and five hundred years ago. They have been visited, checked, and photographed by Mr. F. P. Orchard, Curator of Archaeology at Peabody Museum, Harvard University, and It is his opinion they are perfectly genuine every way. To check his Judgment, a geologist will be sent to the mortars by the Museum to give a final, expert decision.

F. M. Larrabee- Discoverer?

The expedition, under the direction of Commander Win Everett, was originally undertaken at the suggestion of. F. M. Larrabee, 91 Union street, East Walpole. If anyone can claim the honor of discovery, it would seem to be Mr. Larrabee. At least, his were the first human eyes to see the mortars since they were covered by the waters of a mill pond shortly after Dedham was settled in 1636. The water was never drained off until about 1900, the Frank Morse grist mill and home, which had stood on the Water Street property, having burned In 1897. No sooner was the ledge high, and scarcely dry. when Mr. Larabeee was on it, looking at the mortars. He had known the« tradition of their existence under the pond’s surface for many years and had dreamed of the day when he might he might be able to prove or disprove it. The mortars turned out to be far finer than he had ever dared to hope.

The Expedition Sets Sail

Bright and early one morning recently the good ship Chevy 28 left her moorings at 78 Winter Street, Norwood, with the Commander, crew, and cargo aboard. The crew consisted of First Lieutenant Bettina and Second Lieutenant Carol, both export archaeologists, having dug for years in their father’s garden. The cargo, which sunk the Chevy 28 to the gunwale, was made up of shovels, hoes, jugs of water, a huge and ancient bath towel, and an equally huge and ancient Auto Grafiex camera, kindly donated to the expedition by the Norwood Messenger. SaiIng rapidly, as is her want, the Chevy 28 was soon anchored at the Water Street bridge. The cargo was swiftly and sweatily transported to the ledge, lying in the river just south of the bridge with its western side embedded in the west bank of the Neponset.

Native American Indian Mortars of Tiot
(Photograph by F.P. Orchard, colorized by the Norwood Historical Society)

Mortars Excavated- Lieut. Execrated

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At this point, it was discovered that the Second lieutenant was wearing high French heel dippers which were scarcely suitable for scaling rocks. After a hearty reprimand from the Commander, the Second Loot was given the ladylike Job of secretary with a chance to sit on the ledge and check measurements in a notebook. The Commander and re«t of the crew then got busy excavating the foul-smelling mud and water out of the mortar. The technique was to stuff the towel into the hole of the mortar, mop up all the muddy water possible, and wring out. Then pour In more fresh water and repeat until the mortar was completely clean and empty. Two hours went in the hot and did the trick. Then measurements and photography commenced.

Biggest Mortar Holds a Bushel

There are five mortars, each distant. and separate, with a different size and depth. The great ledge of granite runs out to a point, in the river, around which the dirty, sluggish current crawls. Almost on this point, cut into a sharply uprising wall of rock, is the largest of the mortars.

The diameter of the fifth mortar is about two feet, with an average depth of 12 inches. As It is at water level, and its side towards the river having been broken down to the surface of the river, it is impossible to clean out the liquid content of thick, black, evil-smelling goo now taking the place of the bushels of corn once filling it. A small cement dam around the broken side will be necessary before it can be pumped out.

Native American Indian Mortars of Tiot
The largest mortar (Photograph by F.P. Orchard, colorized by the Norwood Historical Society)

Whetstones for Tomahawks

Besides it are two saucerlike holes. They are 6 inches deep and 10 inches long. These, Curator Orchard explains, were probably used by the Indian warriors as whetstones to sharpen their tomahawks, spears and arrowheads. Beside some of the other mortars are also plain evidence of three grinding places.

Four Smaller Mortars

Ten feet back from the big fellow, on the west side of the ledge is the next mortar. It is 18×6 inches and 8 inches deep. Five feet nearer the bridge are the remaining three mortars. They were ground down the side of the ledge in a line at right angles to the above-mentioned mortars. The top one, almost at the crest of the ledge, is 6 inches deep by 7 in diameter. The next lower is 4 inches deep by 6 in diameter. The lowest one is almost on the gravel level of the shore and is the second largest of the five. This is an oval, 14×16 inches and 12 inches deep.

Native American Indian Mortars of Tiot
(Photograph by F.P. Orchard, colorized by the Norwood Historical Society)

Cut By Centuries of Patient Pounding

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The inside of each mortar is as smooth as the top of a marble table. The extreme bottom of each is concave, like the inside of a pitcher. Each was made by Heaven knows how many generations of native women as they hammered the kernels of maize with a heavy stone pestle, cutting the mortar deeper and deeper as the years went by.

Pestle Hunting May Become the Rage

It was common among the Algonquin tribes of New England to have pestles decorated with an animal head a the top, both as an ornament and a convenient handle or the fingers of the women. Judging from the collections from Massachusetts in the Peabody Museum, about five percent of the more carefully wrought stone pestles terminate at the end in a knob or a more or less carefully sculptured head of an animal. Stress is laid on this point, as it is expected that some of those rare Indian artifacts will be discovered in the banks or bed of the Neponsetnear the mortars, or downstream towards the Ink Mill. These pestles are of various lengths, up to about 28 inches, and are commonly about 2 inches in diameter. Usually, they were made of slate and are generally grey or greenish in color. When the tribe broke camp, the women used to hide the pestles in the forks of trees or bury them in the river bank. So pestle hunting may soon take the place of scavenger hunting by the younger set.

Native American Indian Mortars of Tiot
(Photograph by F.P. Orchard, colorized by the Norwood Historical Society)

The Author Lights His Pipe

There is said to be another very fine mortar on the north side of the Water Street bridge. Mr. Larrabee and his son found it. The writer takes their word for it. Because there is a heck of a lot of poison ivy there, too! We are less intrepid than Commander Byrd. We can take our exploring, or leave it alone. But after the other mortars were washed and measured, we leaned on the bridge above them and did a little dreaming. One has to dream on this Job a bit to get the most fun out of it. Nor was it hard to see, looking at that rough ledge with the steep, green bank running away from it to the west up the hill to Washington Street, a picture of the scene before the Pilgrims landed. The clear, limpid Neponset which formed such an important part of that “place of waters“ or “meeting of the waters”, which is the rough translation of the word “Tiot” which we translate today as ‘Norwood’.

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Mr. F. P. Orchard says that it to probably “Tieott”, according to the latest study of local Indian speech. Over the river banks hung thick and large trees, possibly pines, their trunks extending in a dark, cool shade on the hill. The wigwams set back among them on the bank, with lazily smoking campfires -a few papooses, perhaps, strapped on their little boards, hung from the lower tree branches while, their mothers worked at the mortars, grinding the daily bread of the tribe. Here corn was ground and the women crept way, the warriors stalk grandly down to the rack, or for the next hunt. It is more than likely that on this ledge, mid many an excited grunt, came the first news of the strange people with white faces and deadly thunder in little. shining tubes, who had landed in Massasoit’s country down by the great father of waters. It is far from unlikely that the great Chickatabot himself, hunting westward from his lodge in what is now Quincy, visited, as Sachem, this outlying tribe of the “Moswetusett” or Massachusetts, and sat in council in the shelter of the ridge, with the soft murmur of the river and the leaping splash of the big fish in its depth as an accompaniment.

Native American Indian Mortars of Tiot
(Photograph by F.P. Orchard, colorized by the Norwood Historical Society)

Anyway, there are the mortars and the whet-stones. You can feel sure they are the real thing. Go and look them over. Then do your own dreaming—it you have time for such dissipation.

P. E.—Oh! I forgot to say that the Engineering Dept, of Norwood has a splendid set of plans all drawn for a new bridge to replace, shortly, the present Water Street structure. Those plans intrude a charge of dynamite to blow the Indian mortar ledge to Kingdom Come.—Selectmen! Spare those holes! Touch not a single mortar! Don’t hurt a lot of gentle souls by disregarding this exhorter!

By Win Everett, with photos by Mr. F. P. Orchard

September 25, 1934- The Norwood Messenger