Peterborough Mysterious Petroglyph

During the summer of 1924, Charles Kingam, a Peterborough Historical Society member, was hiking through the beautifully wooded lands along the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, about 35 miles northeast of Peterborough, in Ontario, when he unexpectedly came upon a huge out-cropping of brilliant white stone that was alive with hundreds of fantastic illustrations. There were representations of snakes, birds, boats and human shapes interspersed with geometric designs and inscrutable figures. Around 900 examples adorn the rock face. They were carved on a stone surface ground smooth and flat by glaciers over 12,000 years ago. But the great stone languished in obscurity for the next thirty years, until it was accidentally rediscovered by a trio of geologists. This time appreciation was intense.

As an interim protective measure, fences were erected around the site while the vicinity was established as a provincial park and a specially designed building was constructed over the main body of the petroglyphs. Filled with light and featuring a walkway that allows visitors to observe the carvings closely, the structure preserves the images, preventing any further erosion or deterioration. To reach the site, visitors drive 55 kilometers outside Peterborough, turn off Northeys Bay Road, then proceed about 11 kilometers from Highway 28.

The petroglyphs were first thoroughly recorded in 1967 and 1968 by Joan Vastokas of the University of Toronto and Ron Vastokas of Trent University in Peterborough. Their book, is considered by rock art scholars the most definitive study and interpretation to date.

The crevices at Peterborough rock-art site

According to the Learning Center aboriginal tour guides and teachers, while the glyphs are important they are not the primary spiritual significance that make this site sacred. The rock site itself is a sacred place, today a place of pilgrimage for pious Ojibwa people in the neighborhood. The deep crevices in the rock are believed to lead to the spirit world, as there is an underground trickle of water that runs beneath the rock which produces sounds interpreted by Aboriginal people as those of the Spirits speaking to them. From the crevices that section the surface of the site, over two dozen abraders (scrapers) and hammer stones were found. These implements were made from granite, comfortably fit the human hand and were used in making the glyphs. They stand out as brilliant white images against the rock matrix of crystalline limestone, known as “white marble.”

The inscribed area occurs in an oval 180 feet long by 100 feet wide, the largest single concentration of petroglyphs in Canada. In size, the glyphs range from about 15 centimeters to 1.5 meters and, in depth, they vary from a barely perceptible impression to a centimeter- deep groove. Archaeologists have filled in the figures with a non-destructive black wax crayon to better highlight them.

The petroglyphs were not made by a single artist, but are probably the result of many persons over the course of decades or even centuries. The northern end of the rock face appears to have been used first. As it was filled up with carvings, the artists made their additions toward the southern end. Later, as it too became over-crowded with glyphs, the carvers shifted back to the north. Archaeologists guess the petroglyphs were created between A.D. 900 and 1400 But rock art is usually impossible to date accurately for lack of any carbon material. They could be thousands of years older than the experts allow, if only because the extensive weathering of some of the glyphs implies more than 1,000 years of exposure. Indeed, the local Ojibway Indians knew nothing about the petroglyph rock, although they honor it today as an important sacred site. The late epigrapher Dr. Barry Fell claimed to read a wild story from the glyphs, which told of a Norse chieftain he called “Wodan-lithi,” who arrived in the area about 37 centuries ago.

There are some disturbing images among the mass of figures that suggest outside influences in the very deep past. The most notable examples are the exceptionally fine illustrations of ships. Interestingly, the Algonkian-speaking peoples who inhabited the region (the Ojibway, along with their relatives and ancestors, the Cree, the Mississauga, etc.) never produced anything more seaworthy than a birch-bark canoe or a dugout. Yet, the vessels depicted in the petroglyphs are large ships with banks of oars and figure-heads at bow and stern. Even the reluctant archaeologists admit that the portrayed craft “do not look like real Algonkian canoes.” They try to weasel out of any uncomfortable conclusions about pre-Columbian visitors from the Ancient World by speculating that the vessels are simply a shaman’s idea of mythical or magical canoes that travel the universe.

But a close look at the petroglyphs in question reveals too many details of an actual ship, such as the large steering oar at the stern, something unknown to the Algonkians, yet the necessary feature for a vessel 100 feet or more in length. The vertical lines rising from the glyph comprise a stylized representation of a bank of propelling oars. But the figure-heads of birds at the bow- and stern-posts are especially remarkable, because the same design may be seen in Etruscan repousse gold work of the ninth century B.C. The bird-headed ships were portrayed 200 years earlier, when Egyptian artists carved their images into the walls of Medinet Habu, Pharaoh Ramses- IIIs “Victory Temple,” at the Valley of the Kings, in the Upper Nile. These peculiar ships were manned by the “Sea Peoples,” a maritime nation of pirates with overtones of lost Atlantis.

The Sea People’s chief deity, appropriately enough, was Poseidon, the god of the sea, whose emblem was the trident. Curiously, a trident was inscribed on Canada’s petroglyph rock beside the image of the bird-headed ship. Whatever the real identity of the petroglyph ship, it was obviously incised by someone who actually saw such a vessel and commemorated it in art.

The site was chosen by some prehistoric geomancer, who read or intuited in the sacred landscape all the elements for a sacred center, where the focused energies of nature could interact with human beings for their enlightenment and empowerment. The presence of a subterranean stream, its rumbling perhaps interpreted as the voice of the Earth Mother, could have been among the determining factors for choosing the spot.

The surface of the petroglyph rock slopes gently towards the sunrise at 10 degrees, thereby allowing the images to glow with an eerie luminosity in early morning light. There is, of course, the “white marble” beauty of the stone itself, and its curious location in the transitional zone between the Great Lakes—St. Lawrence lowlands forest region and the arboreal forest of northern Ontario, as though the stone were poised between two dimensions. Members of the Ojibway Anishinabe Nation refer to the stone as the Kinomagewapkong, or “the rocks that teach.” They believe the wisdom that the petroglyphs contain may only be obtained by direct experience, through meditation and ritual.

Sources :

Atlantis Rising Magazine vol.44 : “Canada’s Undeciphered Rock Art” by Frank Joseph;

Pic Sources :
Atlantis Rising Magazine vol.44 page 32 & 64

Peterborough Mysterious Petroglyph Peterborough Mysterious Petroglyph Reviewed by Tripzibit on May 24, 2011 Rating: 5

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