Pile Of Stones

In Life by Brian Koberlein4 Comments

When you go to a remote telescope site, one of the things you’ll notice here and there are small piles of stones. Folks put them up when the visit as a way to mark their presence. “I was here.” they seem to say. “I’ve left my mark.” It’s not just astronomers that do this. Hikers, tourists and wayward travelers often make small piles of stones. It seems to be a very human activity. It’s what we do. 

Astronomy and other sciences are much the same. For centuries we’ve studied the heavens, partly for the utilitarian purpose of tracking years and seasons, but also as a way to leave a mark. It seems to be a primal human urge to gather knowledge and pass it on. Of all the crazy things humans do, it seems to me that the drive to understand the universe is one of the most powerful.

It’s a spark of humanity that drives us to say “Here’s what I’ve learned about the universe. Here’s my pile of stones.”


  1. On the Prairie there were no signposts. Trails to the promised land were marked with such piles.

  2. I’ve hiked many regions in the eastern USA and where one pile is made, others follow. I’ve seen what appear to be gardens of piles! Hiking the same trail over a single season will see the piles grow, shrink, appear and disappear, much like the plants in a “real” garden.

  3. I have hiked in several countries where piles of stones or rocks are placed on the trail to indicate the way to go on the trail (if the trail is not a well traversed one or an already well established one). These piles of stones or rocks are called (are known as) cairns. Cairns are definitely known in many of the countries in which I have had the pleasure of hiking. They are the “words” or “signs” of nature that transcend the talking language. Pretty cool!

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