"We know that settlers weren't farming here that long ago," said Wise.
But the sugar maple does little to pinpoint the date the rock cairns were created.
"It's probably somewhere between 1750 A.D. and 10,000 B.C.," he said with a grin.
American Indians of the Archaic period (7,000-1,000 B.C.) were known to have lived in the Kanawha Valley, as did people of the Adena (1,000 B.C.-500 A.D.) and Hopewell (500 B.C.-1,000 A.D.) cultures.
In addition to building mounds, the Adena and Hopewell people built trenches, rock walls, rock enclosures and other earthworks throughout the area.
The Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of Ethnology conducted a survey of American Indian works in the Kanawha Valley in 1890-1891, and found similar rock cairns on mountaintops across the Kanawha River from Mount Carbon in Fayette County.
"On the summits of nearly all prominent bluffs, spurs and high points of this region are heaps of large, angular stones," according to a survey report published in 1894. "Unlike the loose cairns of the Plains and the Northwest and elsewhere, these appear to have been systematically constructed for some particular purpose."
Many of the 4- to 8-foot-tall Fayette County cairns contained "circular, well-like spaces in the middle," as does at least one of the Cabell County cairns. Some of the Fayette County stones were apparently carried from "a rude stone quarry" one-half mile away from the cairns.
According to the Bureau of Ethnology report, similar "rock heaps" 4 to 8 feet high were recorded in the Dunbar and Spring Hill areas, along with numerous Indian-made rock walls and enclosures.
Along a small stream at the base of the hillside where the cairns are located is a large petroglyph boulder bearing a series of linear engravings that could be tally marks.
Wise said there are reports of other rock cairn sites in the vicinity of Blue Creek, Huttonsville and Stonewall Jackson Lake, as well as in Pendleton and Summers counties, and he suspects there may be others across the state.
Photographs of similar rock cairns from across New England and the Appalachians can be found on the Internet. Wise said several groups documenting the sites have attached unorthodox explanations for their creation, including visits by pre-Columbian European explorers.
Wise said the Cabell rock cairns "probably had some kind of ritual use by Native Americans, but that's only speculation at this point.
"Maybe it was a place where they initiated boys and men into the tribe, or introduced them to its history. Maybe they would pass through those twin cairns at the end of this area and go on a vision quest. Maybe the cairns with platforms were used as de-fleshing places for the dead. ...It's possible they were used as burial mounds. But why was this built here? Why in such an isolated place? It makes no sense."
Wise said he would like to hear from hunters and other outdoor types who have come across similar cairns. He prefers to be contacted by e-mail at rbw...@excite.com.
"I plan on studying these things for quite a while. It's my retirement project," he said. "If nothing else, it will keep me out of the bars and poolrooms."