Yesterday, the internet imploded when The Sun published photos of Taylor Swift, very famous musician, and Tom Hiddleston, very famous actor, canoodling on rocks along the Rhode Island coastline. This is the first apparent evidence of a romance between the pair—who are both, as I may have mentioned, very famous.
Swift—who recently added DJ Calvin Harris to her long list of ex-lovers—owns a home in Westerly, Rhode Island, where these photos were taken. Upon the release of these images, Twitter (including Fusion's own Aleks Chan) was quick to take notice of an unusual third wheel in the foreground of many of the shots: an oddly stacked pile of rocks.
Weird, right? Were these just… there, because nature? Had Hiddleswift (Twiddleston?) constructed the pile together, as a monument to their tiny infant baby love? Or was this, like most things, the unmistakable handiwork of the Illuminati?
I reached out to Rhode Island state archaeologist Timothy Ives—marking the first and probably only time in my life I will write "Rock pile identification in celebrity photo" in a subject line—in the hopes that he could clarify what was happening with those stones.
Ives explained that this is a familiar sight in Rhode Island. These rock piles, also called cairns, are "carefully positioned, by hand," he told me in an email, noting that "there has been a dramatic upsurge of this practice on New England beaches in the past twenty years or so." (It’s also worth noting that the practice of building cairns, for both practical and ceremonial reasons, has a very, very long history around the world.)
Ives said that cairns are so common on Narragansett's Point Judith and Block Island's Mohegan Bluffs—where the beaches are "dominated by the naturally occurring cobbles, which offer building material"—that these locations have become "informal galleries," hosting hundreds at a time. Some builders aim to stack their cairns as high as possible; others are content with smaller piles, as pictured here.
"Though built of rocks, these anonymous monuments are ephemeral," Ives wrote. "They only survive until the next major storm, when their cobbles will be scattered across the beach for the next ambitious visitors to enjoy. I suppose that’s part of their poetry."
Sounds exactly like something out of a Taylor Swift song.
Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.