I've recently watched two movies that feature the Indian burial ground as a plot point, however in these two films they both actually show a physical burial ground, which appears to be made up of concentric circles of rocks. I've never seen this anywhere other than in movies, and my Google searches mostly lead me to more images from these movies, so I'm curious where the inspiration for these came from. The two films (there may be others) that I saw these in are Pet Semetary (1989) and Bone Tomahawk (2015). Are these portrayals based on any actual burial ground ruins?

Pet Semetary

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Bone Tomahawk

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  • 2
    Side note: "Indian burial grounds" are also an important plot point in the movie Poltergeist. – Todd Wilcox Oct 22 at 16:22
  • @ToddWilcox yes indeed, I had that one in mind as well but didn't mention it since there isn't any depiction of them. Its a common horror trope, but the only examples of them being depicted that I could think of was the two mentioned. – sanpaco Oct 22 at 16:28
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    @ToddWilcox And The Shining. – Acccumulation Oct 22 at 21:53
  • To be clear, you're asking about that one site specifically, and not Indian Burial Grounds more broadly? – BruceWayne Oct 22 at 22:41
  • @BruceWayne I'm asking about burial grounds that the two in the film screen-caps are patterned off of. – sanpaco Oct 22 at 22:43
up vote 13 down vote accepted

According to Atlas Obscura:

First of all, it’s important to note that the Indian Burial Ground, which is sometimes abbreviated to IBG, is a trope, and not a real thing. Pre-Columbian peoples identified as hundreds of totally different communities, families, or nations, without very many similarities between them. That extended to the burying and treatment of the dead; in some arctic communities, the dead were simply left on the ice to be eaten by predators (what else are you going to do up there?), whereas other groups practiced more familiar burial forms ranging from mass graves to careful and solemn burials to burials performed quickly and with great fear of the corpse. The IBG concept is wrong right from the get-go; depending on how you look at it, there’s either no such thing or an unending variety of them.

(See also TV Tropes' page on the subject.)

The only thing I've found that somewhat resembles the images in these movies is the Medicine Wheel/Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark, formerly known as the "Bighorn Medicine Wheel":

The stones are arranged in the shape of a wheel, 80 feet across and with 28 spokes emanating from a central cairn. The cairn, a ring-shaped pile of rocks, is large enough to sit in and is surrounded by six others that lie along the wheel’s circumference. Oddly enough, this configuration is not unique to Wyoming. Rather, hundreds of similar stone wheels exist throughout North America.

Known as medicine wheels, or sacred hoops, these special structures have been built by American Indians for centuries. With uses ranging from the ritual to the astronomical, the medicine wheel has been appropriated over time by New Age spiritualists, Wiccans, and Pagans.

See also Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medicine_Wheel/Medicine_Mountain_National_Historic_Landmark

  • The trope is likely a dramatization of Moundbuilder sites mixed with the medicine wheel sites. European settlers in northwestern NY, the Ohio valley, and most of the Mississippi drainage found complex earthworks, often centered around burial mounds. Mound Cemetery in Chillicothe, OH is probably the most famous -- and a US Army training camp was built on top of it -- but others are marked by geometric boundary walls that likely led to the confusion with medicine wheels. – Rob Crawford Oct 22 at 23:26

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