Ancient Rock Art


-----Rock art in Southeast Alaska can date back over 10,000 years and is perhaps the oldest in North America. Such carvings can not be directly dated, but dates can be estimated by the degree of erosion, the growth of lichens, or by dating cultural artifacts thought to be in association with the rock carving.

----- The ancient art lead us back through the mists of time. They connect us to the existence of 'old ones' and their beliefs. They are a lithic bridge to our past.


-----A petroglyph is pecked or ground into a rock surface using sharp rocks or bone as tools. The artist is usually a religious leader, or shaman, who chips and grinds the rock for spiritual reasons. Thus the people paid respect to their ancestors or spirits with the hope that this would bring good fortune, health, or food to themselves or their clan. Some petroglyphs are said, by the living descendants of the ancient ones, to represent animal spirits; others to commemorate events or great leaders; and still others to symbolize spiritual beliefs about origins or totems.

-----TThe moist environment of Southeast Alaska chemically destroys rock surfaces, dissolving minerals and weakening the physical bonding between mineral crystals. Lichens, mosses, and algae often grow on the rock faces. They physically destroy rock as their rootlets wedge open cracks and pores. Also, when plants die, their organic acids increase the chemical decomposition of the rock.

-----Rock faces are also eroded physically by water during winter's freezing and thawing. Water expands as it freezes into ice and exerts incredible pressure on enclosing mineral crystals, wedging them apart. Petroglyphs exposed to the elements slowly disappear.

Ancient Petroglyphs, Eroded and Lichen-Covered

-----Perhaps the most universal symbols found as petroglyphs in North America are the circle and the spiral. Many Native Americans believe these are symbolic of the Origin.

-----Others believe the spiral represents the wandering of their tribe or clan from their place of Origin and the connection of a circle at the end of the spiral represents their current homeland. Thus, the petroglyph is a physical representation, in symbolic form, or the history of The People.


Circles and Spirals

-----The designs range from simple to incredibly complex. Virtually all are symmetrical, graceful and finely executed, reflecting the skill of the carver and the importance he placed in their rendition. They challenge our imagination and, like the finely carved totem poles of the earliest settlers of this coast, link us to those who have passed this way before us.

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