Being and Becoming Stone

Material Semiotics in Indian Religion and Spirituality

  • Craig N. Cipolla


This essay employs Peircean semiotics to interpret shifts in Indian religion and spirituality in northeastern North America from the seventeenth century onwards. Patterns of material culture attest to a complex knotting of Algonquian spiritual practices and European-introduced Christianity during this period. At the center of this study are a series of contested stone features that relate both to shifting forms of spirituality in Indian country along with new agricultural practices at the time, typically associated with white farms. These two distinct histories of practice resulted in a ubiquitous set of stone features in the landscapes of New England. Archaeologists often see these diverse features as icons of the same object, while ethnohistoric records, oral histories, and contemporary indigenous and local interpretations point to the ambiguity of these features. A Peircean approach offers important insights on these contested features, both in the past and the present, demonstrating how meaning varies according to the community of human interpreters and how it shifts in a fluid and context-driven manner.

Keywords: Peircean semiotics; Native North America; archaeological theory; religion; spirituality; heritage; stone; colonialism

Image: Rev, Erza Stile’s 1762 sketch of Barrington / Stockbridge MA (Monument Mountain) stone cairn. Reprinted in “the Brush or Stone heaps of Southern New England” by Eva Butler
Sep 25, 2016
How to Cite
CIPOLLA, Craig N.. Being and Becoming Stone. Semiotic Review, [S.l.], n. 4, sep. 2016. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 11 dec. 2023.