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No. 115: Jan-Feb 1998

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The Berkeley Walls Extended

For almost two decades, R. Swanson has been searching out the enigmatic stone walls that festoon the Berkeley Hills and beyond, far, it now seems. We first mentioned these walls and provided a photograph back in 1985. (SF#39) Since then, Swanson's labors have received a modicum of public notoriety but hardly a flicker of academic interest. One reason for professional disinterest seems to be that grant money for exploring old walls is nonexistent!

To bring new readers of SF up to speed on these perplexing California walls, we quote two paragraphs from a recent article by Swanson.

"On the crest of the Berkeley hills there is a long line of large rocks, some are three feet in length, they may weigh a half ton. A century ago they ran for miles on these dry, wind-swept crests then down in a line to what is now the botanical gardens."

.....

"In the past twelve years, I have visited over forty miles of these stone structures. To call them walls is something of a misnomer. Some do go in a straight line, others twist like a demented snake up a steep hillside, others come in a spiral two hundred feet wide and circle into a boulder with a six-inch knob carved on the top of it. Some are massive, over six feet tall and run for miles."

In the same article, Swanson relates how a local TV station that wanted to film the walls took him for a helicopter ride. As expected, all along the East Bay hills they discerned line after long line of walls. Then, when the copter passed over Mission Peak toward Mt. Allison, mile upon mile of still walls appeared. Numbed by these new discoveries, Swanson remarked:

"I could see years of work just laying there waiting for me."

(Swanson, Russell; "The Berkeley Walls and Other Enigmas," Bay Area Rock Art News, 15:7, June 1997.)

Comment. No, the Berkeley walls are not like those piled up by New England farmers and eulogized in Robert Frost's poem. The California walls are said to be pre-Spanish. They certainly don't have any military value. Who knows what they were built for?

From Science Frontiers #115, JAN-FEB 1998. 1998-2000 William R. Corliss