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"What men or gods are these?"
-- Ode on a Grecian Urn, John Keats


  1. Being a short history of how I came to be fascinated with rock art
  2. Being a formal outline regarding rock art
  3. The art itself
  4. Being about Amateur Archaeology
  5. Being Works Cited & Further Reading on Northwest Coast Art and Culture

1. Being a short history of how I came to be fascinated with rock art

My own interest in the prehistoric art of the Northwest Coast was no doubt influenced by growing up in the Pacific Northwest, but I did not begin actively studying it until quite a few years after graduating college. It was not exactly a coincidence that I had majored in anthropology. Although at college I had the opportunity to study economics, government, biology, geology, and many other useful and practical disciplines which could have led to a productive and even remunerative career, I instinctively chose a major which would keep me from such a path, choosing instead to take my chances on finding more interesting if less economically rewarding work as a minimum concession to the inevitability of entering the adult world.

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Figures 1-4

On new years day of 1969, just before my last term in college, I had hiked out to the western-most point of land on the Olympic Peninsula with a couple of friends, and we literally stumbled over the petroglyphs located a few miles south of the old Ozette village site. Being out on the coast in January with nothing between us and Japan, and a major swell running was indeed impressive to three young fellows more used to the sheltered waters of Puget Sound, but it was the petroglyphs, whales, human figures, faces, and designs that were part human, part animal, that filled us with wonder [figures 1-4]. We spent an hour or two searching for additional designs and discussing how they were made, when they might have been carved, and what they might have "meant" before continuing down the beach and back to civilization.

Upon graduation, I spent a few years of living in the Alaskan bush, working summers on fire lookouts. I moved to British Columbia in the early 70s, and spent the next few years learning everything I could about small boat construction, coastal navigation and boat handling, and with a 32' sailboat nearing completion, I expanded my reading to include Northwest Coast ethnography, archaeology, and rock art. By the late 70s I had begun working at an unorthodox approach to a career studying rock art on the coast. I spent about ten years living aboard my boat, visiting (and when possible, documenting) rock art sites for the British Columbia Provincial Museum, but this was a labor of love. I was given access to site data before setting off in the spring, and thanks for the new data (drawings, rubbings, photographs, and field notes on site condition) I returned with in the fall. I soon realized however, that paid employment in this specialized field was not likely without “biting the bullet” and entering graduate school, a career move that I could never quite bring myself to make. I did make some cursory inquiries about possible grants from private foundations, but in the end simply began working in the yeomanry of archaeology as a "shovel bum". I began this phase of my "career" as a volunteer worker at the Namu project for a few weeks, did some survey work on Banks Island while still upcoast, and then landed a job on a fairly large archaeological project in eastern Washington. I spent that summer and fall working in the vicinity of Nespelem, mostly excavating sites which were to be inundated by the Columbia River when Chief Joseph Dam was raised another 12 feet. Although I spent a lot of time digging square holes and filling out level forms in 100+ degree heat, as part of my duties I also documented 12 pictograph sites (Leen 1984) many now under the surface of Rufus Woods Lake, the reservoir formed by Chief Joseph Dam. On weekends I visited additional pictograph sites in the Okanogan Valley for comparative data. Some of these sites were very impressive, partly because I was now in a different culture area (the Columbia-Fraser Plateau) and the style of rock art there was new to me. It differed from coastal rock art as much as the ethnographic cultures of these two rock art style areas differed, but interestingly, as I digested more and more information on Northwest Coast and Plateau rock art, I came to understand that much of Plateau rock art was probably made for reasons very similar to those involved in the creation of some Coast Salish sites.

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Figures 5-7

Back on the coast, I continued my interest in rock art by spending the following winter documenting petroglyphs in Puget Sound. This fieldwork I later published as a short monograph on rock art in western Washington (Leen 1981). After sustaining injuries in a traffic accident, I then spent a summer and fall working as a volunteer at the Ozette Archaeological Project. While volunteer work would not build up any cash reserves to fund future rock art documentation projects, the Ozette expreience did give me the opportunity to visit and photograph many of the petroglyph sites in the area. I would routinely spend all week hosing the mud and clay away from the waterlogged artifacts at the "dig", and on the weekends some of us "Ozetters" would then visit and make rubbings at the well known "Wedding Rocks" Petroglyphs [figure 5] located just down the beach to the south. Interestingly, most of these petroglyph designs were also found carved into the waterlogged wooden house planks and other artifacts from Ozette [figure 6] (McClure 1979). One small comb for example, featured a thunderbird design virtually identical to a petroglyph found further to the north. At this site we mapped, photographed, and sketched all the designs we could locate between high tides after climbing down a trail steep enough to require ropes and ladders in places. At night we used a gasoline lantern to illuminate time exposures taken with cameras on tripods, thus bringing out the otherwise faint designs that are virtually invisible during daylight hours [figure 7]. I left copies of my field notes, sketches, and rubbings at the Makah Museum, and two of the rubbings I made at this site were given to a local family to be presented as gifts at a wedding potlatch.

Although I found that working with prehistoric art as a field archaeologist never equated steady employment, I have been fortunate enough to conduct a few additional rock artdocumentation projects over the years. In 1981 and 1982 I collected data on over 50 sites in the Harney Basin of eastern Oregon (Leen n.d.), conducting this fieldwork during my weekends off while working as a field archaeologist in the timbered uplands for the U.S. Forest Service. In 1984 and 1985 I worked on the northern British Columbia coast, spending the greater part of a summer and fall documenting sites from my sailboat-- "drive-in" archaeology. In the late '80s and early '90s I spent three summers in Hells Canyon, documenting about 200 rock art sites along the Snake River between Oregon and Idaho, and also in the '90s I conducted a rock art field school for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry with Dr. James Keyser. This was a program for high school students from all over the U.S. funded by the National Science Foundation, and was primarily intended to inspire the “young scholars” (as the program was called) to follow careers in some field of science. We collected a great deal of field data (mostly tracings of pictographs) over three summers, some of which was very ably interpreted by Dr. Keyser in later publications on Plateau rock art.

This website is a small collection of some of my favorite rock art sites, an attempt to make this relatively unknown art more accessible to the public. In 1987 I worked with Leonard Forsman at the Suquamish Museum to put together an exhibition of Northwest Coast petroglyph rubbings with notes on about 50 images, and in conjunction presented a slide illustrated lecture concentrating on rock art in the Puget Sound area. Here I have tried to comment in greater depth on some of these sites and images, but this “publication” is still far from a comprehensive analysis of any aspect of Northwest Coast rock art. I have included here some images from east of the mountains and the north coast, but the bulk of these images are Coast Salish rock art.

Although this "art" was originally made for reasons only partially understood by modern day observers, it can nevertheless be appreciated both as an aesthetic experience and as it adds to our understanding of the prehistoric peoples who created it. Perhaps some day the definitive work on Northwest Coast rock art will be written, but a great deal of fieldwork remains to be carried out, particularly in southeast Alaska. For now, by far the best book on this area is Indian Petroglyphs of the Pacific Northwest by Beth and Ray Hill. This is the only book on the subject attempting a well thought out analysis of petroglyphs found throughout the entire Northwest Coast, from the Columbia River to Yakutat Bay at the northern end of the culture area. Unfortunately the Hill’s book has been out of print for some years. A condensation of the larger work (Hill 1975) is available in most local bookstores and is a good basic introduction to the subject. A comprehensive work on Northwest Coast pictographs has also yet to be written, although Lundy's (1974) thesis, The Rock Art of the Northwest Coast does contain a significant amount of information on this form of rock art. Covering the style and culture area immediately to the east, James Keyser's Indian Rock Art of the Columbia Plateau (1992) is the first relatively complete analysis of Plateau rock art. Further refinements of Keyser’s work are to be found in Hann, et al. (1996) and Keyser and Whitley (2006). With these sources, the interested lay person in the Pacific Northwest can develop a good basis for understanding rock art found in southeast Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. Sources have been cited in the text, and additional annotations in the bibliography have been included to help the serious student of rock art in the Pacific Northwest. While I hope to provide an accurate picture of what is presently known about rock art in this part of the world, I am casting my net rather widely for comparative examples used to illustrate my own speculations. It is hoped that these “educated guesses” might stimulate a rock art scholar of the future to write that “definitive” work on Northwest Coast rock art.

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2. Being a formal outline regarding rock art

What is Rock Art?

Rock art is divided into two basic categories: petroglyphs and pictographs. Both are non-portable and originally had some symbolic meaning. Petroglyphs are carved (hammered, abraded, incised, scratched, or drilled) and include cupules (pits), scratches and grooves. Petroglyphs on the Northwest Coast are often found on exposed boulders and bedrock, sometimes in the intertidal zone. Pictographs are painted, often on vertical cliff faces of light colored rocks on the coast, and just as commonly on the walls of rockshelters on the Plateau. Perhaps it should be pointed out here that rock art is not "art" as we would define modern art. If it is to be compared to art of the western tradition, it seems more comparable to traditional religious art. Rock art is "art" in the sense of having symbolism, but not art to entertain or merely appeal to a viewer's aesthetic sensibilities.

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Who made rock art in the Pacific Northwest?

Although some "modern" rock art can be found in the area and some historic inscriptions have been documented as well, most petroglyphs were made by the ancestors of present day Native Americans. Due to prehistoric population movements, it can difficult to assign authorship to a particular group. Suggestions made by various authors that prehistoric rock art was made by wandering groups from other continents are simply not supported by the evidence, and are the result of a lack of application of the scientific method if not an unconscious racism. A glaring example of this anti-scientific "school" of rock art interpretation is Barry Fell's attempt to link the "dragon" petroglyph at Nanaimo River with a prehistoric Celtic image from Ireland, ignoring the former's similarity with other rock art, not only in the Nanaimo area, but on the entire Northwest Coast. Some clear examples of stylistic parallels between rock art and modern Northwest Coast art (e.g. formline, semiangularity, visual puns) are noted below for some petroglyphs on the northern Northwest Coast.

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How old is rock art in the Pacific Northwest?

The short answer is from a few hundred to a few thousand years. One approach to estimating the age of any rock art is assume that it is as old as the culture that produced it. Archaeological evidence indicates that the economic patterns forming the basis of what we would recognize as "ethnographic" Northwest Coast culture began to develop ca. 3-5000 B.P. The most recent coastal rock art includes historic images such as sailing vessels, indicating that Northwest Coast cultures were still producing "prehistoric" art in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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Why was rock art made, what did it "mean"?

Most researchers agree on a short list of possible explanations of the function of rock art in the Pacific Northwest. For a more detailed discussion the reader is referred to Hill and Hill (1974), Lundy (1974) and Keyser (1992, Keyser, et al. 1998, Hann 1996). Briefly summarizing, some rock art may have been made as part of a guardian spirit "vision" quest, often as part of an adolescent rite of passage into adulthood. Although few of these novitiates are likely to have carved petroglyphs, the case seems otherwise for shamans; as discussed below, many of the petroglyphs in Coast Salish territory were likely made as a formal part of such activities. The acquisition of supernatural power by shamans was related to the adolescent vision quest; the spirits so obtained were all shamanistic, separated by a difference of degree, rather than of kind (with some exceptions as noted below).

The execution of rock art for "hunting magic" and weather control are closely related to the above, more general acquisition and use of shamanic power. Hill and Hill (1974) and Lundy (1974) also note examples of records of important events, although these events occurred during historic times. Researchers have also noted ethnographic sources indicating that some rock art was made (or at least used) as territorial markers. That rock art was executed for cartographic purposes, while a popularly held belief, does not seem to be supported by any concrete ethnographic sources for any sites on the Northwest Coast.

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Where was rock art made?

On the Northwest Coast, many petroglyph sites are located on intertidal beach boulders and bedrock. In the Nanaimo area some sites are found in more isolated locations, well away from the water (Leen 1983). Coastal pictographs tend to be found on vertical granite cliffs facing salt water (Leen 1985), whereas Plateau sites tend to be located on the back walls of rockshelters, generally associated with perennial streams and rivers (Boreson 1976). Lundy (1979) discusses the petroglyphs on the Fraser River, noting that many of the larger sites are on boulders inundated by the seasonal fluctuations of the river. Some interesting examples of pictographs in caves have been recently documented in Southeast Alaska.

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Why does anyone study rock art?

Going beyond the obvious motivation of basic curiosity generated upon an initial encounter with the art, deeper reasons are there for religious scholars. The central symbolism of Christianity is shamanic. Scholars of today study shamanism to better understand the modern religions that all grew out of this first religion. For anyone serious about broadening their understanding of their place in the cosmos, the symbolism of death and rebirth as represented by the trance experience must be taken as seriously as a Jesuit takes the resurrection. The added value of studying the culture of a preliterate society includes reducing some aspects of the human experience to less complexity, thus enabling the student of life to more easily get at the essence of what is important. Our place in the local environment can be better appreciated when we add to it the perspective of another culture's experience in the same environment. Since much shamanic art is inextricably bound up with the relationship of people to their environment, delving into the meaning of this art may help us to come to terms with our place in the world today. As archaeology is inherently ecological in outlook, developing a sense of place will help coming generations to live in a sustainable manner.

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3. The art itself

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Figure 8

A. Puget (Lushootseed) Salish sites [figure 8]

The Puget Sound sub-style of Northwest Coast petroglyphs roughly coincides with Lushootseed Salish linguistic subdivision boundaries [figure 9] (Leen 1981, Suttles 1987). Since linguistic evidence tends to indicate that the Coast Salish have been on the coast for a very long time, the petroglyphs in the Lushootseed Salish area are likely also of considerable antiquity. Nearly all the sites are found on intertidal beach boulders with the designs facing away from land (Leen 1981, McClure 1983) with one confirmed and a few reported sites on major rivers.

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Figure 9

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Halelos, or Haleets (Suquamish) 45 KP 15 (figures 10 and 11)

This group of faces is typical of Lushootseed or Puget Salish rock art, although non-outlined faces are even more common in the southern Puget Sound (Lushootseed) sub-style area. The face image on the far right appears to have some kind of headgear, possibly representing a headband or hat of cedarbark. The star-like design above the face near the center of the panel may represent a starfish, the sun, or possibly some abstract concept now unknown. The face immediately to the left likely represents a woman wearing a labret [figure 12]. Because the archaeological record indicates that labrets (lip plugs) were no longer used in the Puget Sound area after ca. 400 A.D., the pendulous lower lip on this face design indicates that it was probably carved before that time.

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Figure 12

Continuing to the left, the composition on the extreme left of the panel appears to represent a face, but the lower portion of the design seems ambiguous at best. Perhaps this is an example of a "visual pun"; the lower area appears to emerge from the mouth of the face immediately above, but turned upside down a face with arms can also be imagined. Although no evidence of repatination differences is present at this site, Hill and Hill (1974) discuss conflicting evidence of when the designs might have been carved; it seems that while some may be of considerable antiquity, others were apparently carved in the last century. This large petroglyph boulder is situated in the vicinity of the aboriginal Suquamish village site, and most or all of the designs were likely carved by the ancestors of the Suquamish people. The entire boulder is inundated at high tide.

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FACES AND SPEAKING IMAGE (Lushootseed Salish) 45 MS 49  (figures 13-18)

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Figures 19 & 20

This site features the largest group of petroglyphs in Puget Sound. The central composition appears to represent a face and shoulders, possibly with something emerging from its mouth, with arms extending down to two lower face designs. Is this a chief giving a speech, or merely a "family portrait"? Other designs on the panel, faces, eyes, and circles, seem to have been added later, with less attention to placement and design integration. What appears to be an unfinished design located in the upper left part of the panel might possibly represent a salmon, but if so, one that will forever remain just a tantalizing hint of what was in the mind of the artist. Although faces are by far the most common motif at sites in the Puget Sound Basin, it is interesting to note the similarity of a face petroglyph located at a site near Waglisla (Bella Bella) [figures 19 & 20]. Similar face designs are found as far north as Kodiak Island. Perhaps the most significant feature of this impressive site however, is its overall structure; the central portion of the panel as described above is clearly not a hodge-podge, randomly created group of faces, but a well organized design indicating a greater artistic or conceptual complexity than found at other sites in Puget Sound. The massive scale of the carvings at this site and the similarity of designs with the most common and widely distributed design to be found on the Northwest Coast would seem to support the possibility that this site may have been originally begun quite a few thousand years ago. The area along the base of the panel has been polished by wave action moving beach gravel.

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FACES, Hartstene Island 45 MS 28 (figures 21-24)

The large boulder with these face designs was located on the foreshore on the west side of Hartstene Island near a large shell midden until 1964 when it was moved to Tumwater Falls Park in Tumwater. Besides these non-outlined faces, the boulder also has some Plateau style animal images, an outlined face, and what appear to be footprints or tracks. What appear to be the initials “HW” and “CW” were likely carved during historic times. Some differences in patination of the prehistoric carvings are present, indicating that some of the designs at this site were made much later than others.

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SUPERIMPOSED FACES, Eld Inlet (Lushootseed Salish) 45 TN 6 [figures 25 & 26]

This petroglyph boulder originally faced west across the waters of Eld Inlet, but was moved in 1970 to the Washington State Capitol Museum in nearby Olympia. The two faces are unusual in that the smaller face was probably made somewhat later than the larger one, and appears to have been partially superimposed on the earlier design. Whether or not this was done intentionally will never be known. Superimposed designs are fairly rare in Northwest Coast petroglyphs.

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SCHWA-SUB (Skagit) no site number [figure 142]

This is a “lifting stone”, originally from the Skagit village at Warner Prairie. It was considered to be “alive like a person” and a guardian of the Skagit people according to Frank Bob (Leen 1981). Sampson (1972) also mentions an association with weather control, and that it was used in weight lifting contests by the young men of the tribe (Duff 1956).

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B. Straits Salish Sites

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Figure 9

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Figures 48-51

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Figures 27 & 28

This linguistic area is bounded by Halkomelem Salish to the north, Nooksak and Lushootseed Salish to the east and south, and the Makah and Nitinat speaking peoples to the west [figure 9]. Additional petroglyphs sites are located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island (Hill and Hill 1974) and in the White Rock-Crescent Beach area [figures 48-51] (Leen 1979b) and Cherry Point. Designs at a number of these sites are cupules, also termed the pit and groove style. These simplest of pecked petroglyphs may be examples of a widespread and archaic tradition, although cupules were made in California up to the ethnographic present (about 200-300 years ago). Large petroglyph sites with cupules are also found in the Fraser River canyon (Lundy 1977) and at numerous sites along the Columbia and Snake Rivers [figures 27 & 28] (Leen 1988, Keyser 1992). They may have been made as part of the same tradition exemplified by the Straits Salish cupules, possibly associated with fishing sites. Another hypothesis regarding the function of such sites involves fertility and is based on ethnographic data from sites found along rivers in southern Oregon and northern California.

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FACE, Lummi Island (Straits Salish) 45 WH 92 [figure 29]

While faces are the most common petroglyph designs found on the Northwest Coast, this face is unusually large. It may be the largest face petroglyph found on the west coast of North America. Another interesting aspect of this site is the very deep cupules which form the "pupils" of the eye; without the rest of the face design, they would appear to be mere cupules, similar to those at other Straits Salish sites. This site was documented by Richard McClure and myself in 1979, following up a vague reference in Lundy's MA thesis. According to a nearby resident, local lore connects this petroglyph with the control of the weather (Leen 1981). Similar ethnographic references to weather control have been documented for sites in northern California and southwest Oregon cupule sites, and as far north as Saint Lawrence Island (Murie 1977).

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SEAL FACE, Saltspring Island (Straits Salish) DeRu 45 [figures 30 & 78]

Located on an intertidal mudflat near a winter village site, the design on this five ton boulder may have been intended to protect the village. The present day Saanich people believe it represents a seal face.

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C. Central (Halkomelem) Salish Sites

The presence of major runs of salmon on the Fraser River during the past few thousand years made significant concentrations of population possible all along the lower Fraser River, but most of the petroglyphs found in the Coast Salish area are in the Gulf Islands, particularly near Nanaimo. This is likely due to the presence of abundant areas of relatively smooth sandstone bedrock and boulders on the western side of the Strait of Georgia compared to the lower Fraser River area, where granite erratics are the commonly available "canvasses" for rock art. Specific religious beliefs (discussed below) may also explain the high concentration of petroglyphs in the Nanaimo area of the Gulf Islands. Numerous pictographs sites are found on the vertical granite cliffs forming the sides of glacially sculpted inlets and lakes on the mainland coast north of the Fraser River, while pictographs are rare in the Gulf Islands. Some petroglyphs are found on isolated beach boulders on the east side of the Strait of Georgia, but nowhere near the quantities found near Nanaimo. For more background on the prehistory of this area, the reader is referred to a monograph on Gulf of Georgia Culture Types (Mitchell 1971).

The Coast Salish Guardian Spirit Quest and Shamanism That much of the rock art in the Island Halkomelem area is of a shamanic character seems obvious. The tradition of Coast Salish youths gaining a "spirit helper" as the major step in becoming an adult has been well documented by numerous anthropologists (Amoss 1978, Barnett 1955, Jilek 1982, Elmendorf 1960, 1993, Hill and Hill 1974, Newcombe 1931, Suttles 1987). The situation of many of the large petroglyph sites in the Nanaimo-Gabriola Island area, located well away from village sites and saltwater, also tends to support the assumption the rock art at these sites was not for secular appreciation (Leen 1983). Although not in Halkomelem Salish territory, McIlwraith (1948) also refers to petroglyph sites near Bella Coola (a Coast Salish group which moved into the head of Dean and Burke Channels) made by Kusiut (secret society) initiates. Should an uninitiated person visit such a site he would have been killed unless he could be initiated into the society. In the Island Halkomelem area, many of the petroglyphs at these sites appear to represent fantastic creatures, clearly not depictions of any real animals inhabiting the Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands area, but very possibly depictions of the spirit helpers which appeared to the would be shamans who then made the petroglyphs to commemorate their encounter with the spirit world. Barnett (1955) mentions a number of mythical beings which “gave power almost exclusively to shamans”. One such spirit is described as a serpent having scales, sometimes small feet, wings, horns, or a mane. Others related to shamans almost exclusively were thunderbird, fire, and the land otter. Spirits which might be obtained by anyone included goat, wolf, orca, seal, brown bear, grizzly bear, and hornet (for success in hunting or making war), the spirits of any fish, some fishing birds, and other local spirits (for success in fishing), the woodpecker (for canoe making and carving in general), and the spirits of dead people and owls (for clairvoyance and prophecy). Jilek (1982) also stresses the distinction between shaman’s spirit powers and those available to lay persons for Puget Sound groups and the Nanaimo of Vancouver Island. Perhaps it was the combination of these specific beliefs about the exclusivity of shaman’s spirit powers and the numerous available areas of smooth metamorphosed sandstone in the northern Gulf Islands that resulted in the Nanaimo petroglyph complex.

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Petroglyph Park (Halkomelem Salish) DgRx 6 [figures 31 & 32]

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Figure 33

This site has some of the most visually impressive designs in the Island Halkomelem area. Numerous fantastic animal figures, human figures with vulvaforms, some visual puns, and even a signed and dated modern petroglyph can be seen at this site. To the south of the upper panel there is a small crypt exposed in the side of the sandstone outcropping, large enough for an adult to sit or lie [figure 33]. Very possibly this was a place initiates or shamans used to seek shamanic power.

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SPIRIT HELPER [figure 34 & 35]

This design is clearly not a real animal, and likely represents a sklalikum (spirit helper) of the shaman who carved it. The long proboscis or muzzle is similar to a number of carvings at this and other nearby sites, indicating that it represented a recognized mythical being.

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SPIRIT HELPERS [figure 36 & 67]

The turned up nose of these designs is a trait shared with a number of animal profiles at sites in the Nanaimo area.

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These designs are good examples of the curvilinear style of many Northwest Coast petroglyphs, and probably represent starry flounders because of the distinctive banding patterns on the edges of the designs. They may have been carved in an attempt to increase the catch of some prehistoric fisherman. One rather unusual image appears to be comprised of a face above a body which also represents a starry flounder. Found at a site where numerous spirit helper images occur, perhaps this design is an artist's depiction of a spirit helper which specializes in success fishing for bottom fish.

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HORNED BIRD [figure 41]

This design is believed by some to represent a deer, but it may represent a mythical horned bird (called "ayahos" by Puget Salish) which caused earthquakes. It was believed that should one look upon this supernatural being one’s head would twist off of one’s neck. Elmendorf (1993) also describes Tahuya and Skokomish (Twana) men encountering a’yahos power, thereby acquiring wealth and wives; with proper training it was possible to avoid disaster and turn the power of a’yahos to one’s advantage.

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I interpret this image as a human figure, head down, feet in the "air" with a line emerging from his midsection which runs into a profile of an animal head. This could represent a shaman or initiate's own view of their experience seeking shamanic power. If so, this would be the quintessential example of a Coast Salish petroglyph, and one of the most dynamic petroglyph designs on the Northwest Coast. The parallel curving lines next to the head of the animal profile may represent a mane (as mentioned above), thus being associated with a shaman’s spirit power.

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SKAMICHANS OR OTTERS [figures 43-47]

Based on their similarity to carved designs of mythical fishers (skamichan) on some Coast Salish spindle whorls, I believe these petroglyphs represent skamichan. A member of the mustelid family, the skamichan was a spirit helper of a shaman which was used for ritual purification. These animals are sometimes confused with otters, which were also shaman’s spirit helpers. There is an interesting reference to “the whole secret of shamanism” residing in the tongue of a land otter in Krause’s The Tlingit Indians (1956). Although this is a long way from Coast Salish territory, it is worth keeping in mind as a possible interpretation of what may be a depiction of power emanating from the mouths of these mustelids.

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SXWAIXWE [figure 52]

This complex, interlocking group of bird or serpent images seems to be a "visual pun". If the smaller head images represent birds, the structure of this petroglyph has obvious similarities with the spirit being known as sxwaixwe. The sxwaixwe is the only image used as a mask by the Coast Salish people and represents another kind of purification or cleansing power.

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"ALFY BOB" [figure 53 &54]

This roughly pecked design is unique among Northwest Coast petroglyphs-- it is a signed and dated work of art. Although not as fluidly curvilinear in style to the prehistoric images at this site, the structure of this rather large petroglyph is similar to some modern "totem poles" in Coast Salish territory. The inscription "ALFY BOB 1940" can be plainly seen to the right of the design.

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Nanaimo River (Halkomelem Salish) DgRx 8

Another large site located well away from any other prehistoric habitation site, this site features one of the largest petroglyph designs on the Northwest Coast, a large monster image with a human head neatly wedged inside of the fangs of a huge mouth, the entire figure being approximately 11 feet in height. This image is strikingly similar to a sea monster or "wasgo" drawn by Charles Edenshaw and illustrated in Boas' Primitive Art (1930). Numerous other designs, many of them unique, are carved into the sandstone bedrock at this site.

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"DRAGON" [figures 55 & 56]

Found at a large site near the Nanaimo River, this dragon-like design presumably represents a shaman's spirit helper. Unlike most individuals' spirit helpers, details of the specific powers of shamans' spirit helpers may have been at least partiallyunderstood by people who had occasion to seek the shaman's help. The artistic complexity of this design, it's relatively large size, and the presence of similar "dragon" images on nearby Gabriola Island all tend to support the supposition that this petroglyph represented a shaman's spirit helper, the mythical serpent described as a “single-headed lizardlike monster” by Barnett (1955). Of interest are the subtle "power lines" emanating from the lower left area of this zoomorph, strikingly similar to lines associated with the large "dragon" petroglyph on nearby Gabriola Island.

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ANTHROPOMORPH [figures 57 & 58]

Although not featuring the flexed arms and legs of many dancing figures found further north on the Northwest Coast, this human figure may represent a spirit dancer or an individual in a trance. The lines radiating off of the top of the head may represent the experience of contact with the spirit world, and the priapic condition of the figure may also be a result of the trance experience.

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This rubbing is only a portion of the entire design, which measures approximately two by three meters. A human figure can be seen crouched inside of the teeth of the large monster, a stylized ear above to the left, and part of the shoulder of the monster below to the left.

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HERMAPHRODITE DgRx 9 [figures 60 & 61]

Located on a high, exposed area of glacially striated sandstone, this site features a view of the Strait of Georgia to the north and east, and is far removed from other prehistoric sites in the area. Numerous designs are found at this site, but the hermaphrodite figure is the most deeply carved and has been executed with more artistic care than any of the other designs at this site. Some researchers believe that this striking image represents a hermaphrodite. Glacial striations in two directions give the background rock a distinctive texture. Its meaning may have been known only to a few or even a single individual. The split forehead design is a stylistic form found in numerous depictions of human faces at Coast Salish petroglyph sites. Possible hair depicted on one side of the head, a possible breast, and genitals that are ambiguous at best are features that may indicate a hermaphrodite.

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SALMON PANEL (Halkomelem Salish) DgRx 7 [figures 62 & 63]

Originally located on a massive boulder at the point forming one side of the estuary of the Nanaimo River, this boulder was relocated to a public park when some nearby petroglyphs were reported to have been destroyed by blasting. Ethnographic sources indicate that this site was probably used by shamans to encourage the salmon to ascend the Nanaimo River, as part of the "first salmon ceremony". There is also a story involving Xaelt, the "changer", wherein the shaman who fought with Xaelt was changed into stone (Hill & Hill 1974). As well as four fish images, there is a small sea monster (similar in structure to a much larger one on nearby Gabriola Island) in the lower right hand corner, and a great blue heron in the lower right portion of the panel.

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ORCA (Halkomelem Salish) DhRx 5 [figure 66]

Located on one of the smaller Gulf Islands, this petroglyph is of interest as it was located below a deposit of organic shell midden. This midden was excavated in the 1970s, yielding a C14 date of ca. 1675 AD, indicating that the carving was made before that date (McMurdo, 1977). The style of the carving shares some features with modern Coast Salish carved art including the eye design and the laterally folded down dorsal fin, features not shared by the bulk of presumably much older Coast Salish rock art.

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Gabriola Island Sites (Halkomelem Salish)

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Figures 75 & 76

For an up to date and comprehensive look at the rock art of Gabriola Island, the reader should get a copy of Petroglyph Island by Mary and Ted Bentley. Upcoast Summers by Beth Hill also has some very intriguing speculations about many of these sites. I have commented above on the significance of the higher concentrations of petroglyphs in remote locations (well away from the salt water and winter village sites), but will add some additional observations. Many of the zoomorphic designs at one site on Gabriola Island have lateral banding on the torsos [figures 75 & 76] This may be related to (but does not seem to be the same as) the depiction of ribs common on many Northwest Coast petroglyphs. One design in the vicinity of "mouse woman" and the "wolf" profile has a complexity of detail that is strikingly similar to contact period carved designs on wooden spindle whorls, thus indicating that it may have been made during the late prehistoric period or early contact period.

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This interesting portable petroglyph was found on a boulder strewn beach on the south shore of the island and taken to a private residence where it was kept for years. Eventually the finders attempted to sell it, prompting efforts on the part of some rock art researchers to have the Provincial Archaeologist to prohibit the sale. Once the finders realized that they probably would be prevented from selling the rock they decided to give it to the local Nanaimo Band. When I inquired about it years later I learned that it then resided in a band member’s back yard. Regarding the design, one can see a small fin shaped design above the head, possibly representing a hat or headdress, thus recapitulating the message of a fin, possibly a synecdoche representing the killer whale.

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DANCING MAN DgRw 192 [figure 69]

Like the anthropomorph at the Nanaimo River site, this design is evidently a dancing male, the lines radiating from the head of the figure similarly indicating possession of spirit power. Although this design is somewhat eroded and originally of shallow relief, the eyes appear to be distinctly different, another possible symbolic indication of a trance experience.

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SEAWOLF DgRw 192 [figures 70 & 77]

One of the larger petroglyphs in the Nanaimo area, this sea monster may have been a shaman's spirit helper, but may have also had a socially recognised symbolism with the local inhabitants as well. It has virtually the same structure as a small carving located on the lower right corner of the "salmon panel" found at Jack Point on nearby Vancouver Island.

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ZOOMORPH DgRw 192 [figure 71]

This small, fragmentary animal profile may be some imaginary animal, a spirit helper or sklalikum, or perhaps even a known animal such as a coyote. Note the lateral banding on the body, characteristic of other designs at the same site.

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ORCA DgRw 2 [figures 64 & 65]

This design is located at the head of a small bay adjacent to a large shell midden site (and likely a winter village site), indicating that it may have been well known to the prehistoric inhabitants of the area. It is often referred to as an orca, due to the pronounced dorsal fin, but the "bottlenosed" profile is more reminiscent of a dolphin, possibly indication a supernatural being sharing traits from these two animals. This carving is found on bedrock which is inundated daily by the tide.

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ZOOMORPH DgRw 193 [figures 72 & 73]

This very large petroglyph is similar to the "dragon" figure at the Nanaimo river site, and also shares the fairly rare double outlined legs crossing the body outline with the "wolf" profile located elsewhere on Gabriola Island. Like other large, stylistically complex designs in the area, this is likely a shaman's spirit helper. The lines radiating from the head of this "dragon" figure may represent some sort of spirit power; interestingly, a very similar set of "power” lines can be seen on the Nanaimo River "dragon". In Wishram Ethnography (Spier and Sapir 1930) there is a reference to a mythical being “resembling an alligator, provided with a rattle like a rattlesnake” that would seem to describe this petroglyph aptly. The rubbing does not show the “rattle” because the cloth used was not long enough, but it can be seen in the photograph of the carving.

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SPIRIT BEING DgRw 193 [figure 74 & 89]

This unusual image of a face with apparent legs and feet protruding from the chin has no known significance today, but enough of these designs are found at petroglyph sites on southern Vancouver Island to indicate that they probably had a socially recognised meaning when they were originally carved. Similar to designs at Kulleet Bay, these designs may represent some kind of spirit being with no body. John Fornsby (Collins 1949) refers to a kind of “guarding” power used by shamans that is “all head and no body”.

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SPIRIT BEING DgRw 193 [figures 89 & 90 (fig. 90 Canadian National Museum photograph Neg. No. 72786)]

Although the anterior portion of this animal figure is quite eroded, it features a number of striking parallels with a carved wooden grave marker photographed in 1929 in Mainland Halkomelem (musqueam) territory. The animal appears to have a quadruped’s body, but with a fish’s tail.

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Possibly representing a wolf, this impressive animal profile is similar to some other designs in the area, but it is unique in having the mouth formed around a natural declivity on the side of a large sandstone boulder. Unfortunately fragments of the posterior portion of this profile and the adjacent bird figure have exfoliated, so parts of the original designs are now missing.

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MOUSE WOMAN [figures 81 & 82]

Although the specific intent of the artist who created the design is lost forever, some researchers believe it may represent a bear woman (Hill 1994). Noting what appear to be whiskers on one side of the face, I wonder if it might represent mouse woman, a character often appearing to help people in trouble in the oral tradition of the Northwest Coast.

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BIRD [figure 83]

Although nothing is known regarding the specific meaning of this powerful image, it may represent the spirit helper of a shaman, used to help cure ailing individuals. This design has been easily visible to anyone walking by the boulder it was carved on, but although located on a populated island, it was only discovered in 1985. The “ear” on the bird is an feature found on some thunderbird designs.

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FEMALE FIGURES [figures 84 & 85]

Although three complete human figures are readily identifiable in this panel, other face profiles are less obvious, as is the relationship of the smaller figures to the central female figure. Face profiles for human figures are very rare in Northwest Coast petroglyphs, suggesting that the three profiles may represent zoomorphs or spirit beings (as opposed to human beings). The depiction of breasts on the central figure of this panel is likewise a very rare example of such a motif in Northwest Coast rock art. Part of the confusion in comprehending this group of designs may be a result of superimposition of different designs executed by different artists at different times.

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RATTLESNAKE WOMAN [figures 86-88]

Although no rattlesnakes are found on Vancouver Island, examples of stone carvings with rattlesnake imagery have been excavated on the island, making me think that this unusual design may represent a mythical being termed “rattlesnake woman”. A version of the myth recorded by Teit in the early 1900s is discussed by Duff (1975), and an interesting bone amulet is illustrated by Stryd in Carlson (1976) that represents this being. The petroglyph has obvious notches around the edge of a vulvaform placed below the torso of this carving, giving the appearance of a toothed vagina; a very striking image indeed.

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SPIRIT BEINGS (Halkomelem Salish) DgRw 36 [figures 91-93, 143-145]

Newcombe (1931) noted that the designs at this site were believed to be depictions of beings seen by shamans in their trances. The Hills also noted that the site, which fills with water during the winter, was being used during the 1970s by the initiates of the "spirit dancers", who would bathe in the chilly water of the "shaman's pool". In the summer the designs may be seen, neatly arranged along the level of the winter water level, also indicating that the carvings were likely carved by initiates while immersed in the water. Another feature of these carvings are the lack of bodies, i.e. a head and just feet (or hands and arms?) for some of the designs, possibly another indication of spirit beings. A Skagit shaman describes a kind of “guarding power” that is “all head and no body” (Collins 1949). Some of the faces have “tear” lines extending from each eye. Jilek mentions weeping as an integral part of getting one’s spirit power, as well as numerous associations with bathing in or diving into pools to obtain spirit power. A similar design is found on Gabriola Island.

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HOWE SOUND PICTOGRAPHS (Squamish) DjRt 2 [figures 94-97]

This group of red paintings on a vertical granite outcrop has designs representing two styles: the coastal style is exemplified by the large anthropomorph with ribs while the small schematic figure and enclosing rayed circle is similar to pictographs found throughout the northern Columbia-Fraser Plateau. I have another section of the website with more examples of coastal pictographs.

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D. Northern Salish Sites

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MOTHER AND CHILD (Comox) EdSk 1 [figures 98 & 99]

This is part of a group of designs on a large boulder located in an inlet near the northern end of the Gulf of Georgia, on the mainland side. Other designs found on the rock include large cupules and a fish-like design, reminding us of some of the Straits Salish petroglyphs.

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E. Makah sites

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LIGHTNING SNAKE (Makah) 45 CA 219, 45 CA 228 [figures 100-102]

The "lightning snake" or hahektoak of Makah myth is closely associated with the thunderbird. When the thunderbird would become hungry, he would throw the lightning snake at a whale, and then carry the harpooned prey off into the mountains to be eaten (McClure 1979). A similar mythical cosmology is described by Olsen (1936) for the neighboring Quinault (also a whaling people) to the south:

[the whale spirits] “showed him the lines, harpoons, floats, etc., to use in whaling, and gave him the lightning power which is used in whaling. (That is why there is thunder and lightning when a man harpoons a whale. The whaler calls for his helper, who gives him superhuman strength. Without such help no one could kill a whale.)”

These two examples are located at two closely adjacent sites on the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula.

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THUNDERBIRD 45 CA 228 [figures 7 & 103]

This representation of the thunderbird is found near the above lightning snake petroglyphs in the vicinity of the summer village site of the Ozette people. A number of similar thunderbird designs have been excavated at the Ozette winter village site (Kirk 1974).

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WHALES, SUN AND MOON 45 CA 31 [figures 2, 5 & 104]

These petroglyphs are located about a mile south of the Ozette village site, and were likely part of ritual preparations for harpooning whales.

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WHALE WITH LIGHTNING SNAKE 45 CA 31 [figure 1 & 109]

Although referred to by some as a pregnant whale (Ellison 1977), this eroded carving more likely represents the inverse of the large lightning snake found to the north near the summer village site (i.e. the lightning snake inside the whale).

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FERTILITY FIGURES 45 CA 31 [figures 4 & 105]

Carved on rocks located near a winter village site, this pair of anthropomorphs have been carved with vulvaforms (female fertility symbols) used in many parts of the composition, thus giving the designs more than one level of meaning. I have been told by a hiker that the boulder this carving was carved on has been split in two, evidently a result of a large drift log battering it during winter storms.

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SAILING VESSEL 45 CA 31 [figure 3]

According to a nautical historian, this sailing "ship" is actually a "hermaphrodite brig", a sailing vessel with square sails on the main mast, and fore-and-aft gaff rigged sails on the mizzen mast (Ellison 1977). A vessel of this rig was constructed at Nootka Sound by John Meares in 1788 and subsequently used to trade along the west coast, the first of its kind to be built on the Northwest Coast.

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F. Bella Coola/ Nuxalk Sites

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FACE (Bella Coola/Nuxalk) FcSq 1 [figures 106 & 107]

This face design is from a site believed to have been created by initiates carving spirit designs while composing their songs for the winter dances. The isolated location of this site is similar to many Halkomelem Salish petroglyph sites, not surprising considering that the Nuxalk language, while situated between Kwakwala speaking peoples and Athapaskan speaking Chilcotin or Carrier, is closely related to Coast Salish languages further to the south. A number of features in this design are also found in a Heiltsuk (Bella Bella)mask representing the “personified moon” according to McNair (1998).

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ANTHROPOMORPH (Bella Coola/Nuxalk) FcSq 1 [figure 108]

An interesting feature of this large anthropomorph is the slightly attenuated left foot. We are left to wonder if the carver simply didn’t leave enough room for the carving, or if it was worked on over a longer period of time, with another smaller petroglyph being inserted where the foot was intended to be carved. This site in the vicinity of Bella Coola is well known, and has the face design mentioned above.

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DANCING FIGURE (Bella Coola/Nuxalk) FdSr 1 [figure 146]

This dancing figure probably represents a shaman. The two arms oriented up and down may represent the attempt to connect the sky and earth, or metaphorically speaking, the spirit world and the natural world according to MacDonald (personal communication). There are a few more human figures carved at this site, which is situated at a striking location, a large creek pouring through a very narrow and deep slot worn into the granite bedrock on one side of a large fjord.

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G. Northern Wakashan sites

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HAMATSA (Bella Bella/Heiltsuk) FcSu 2 [figures 110 & 119]

The hamatsa is the name of the cannibal spirit dancer and the associated secret society of the winter stetseka ceremonial season. The crouching posture of this figure indicates a dancer, and the large number of fingers on the hands are possibly a representation of a somatic hallucination. To the side is a small face with hands and arms attached but no body and another face immediately below the dancer. (This face has another crouching body below it, which I was not able to include in this rubbing due to an incoming tide.) The final design on this panel is a copper, the shield like object that represented the wealth and generosity of its owner. This site is located near the westernmost point reached by Alexander MacKenzie in 1792, and was fortified by the Bella Bella people.

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SALMON SPIRIT (Bella Bella/Heiltsuk) FbTa 3 [figures 19, 20, 111 & 112]

This superb design is located at a site adjacent to a salmon stream and associated fish trap or weir. Additional petroglyphs at this site include a series of salmon “swimming” toward the land carved into the rock, some face designs including one with the different eye motif, a bullhead or sculpin, a human figure, vulvaforms carved around natural crevices in the bedrock, and a two headed salmon, hinting at an understanding that the salmon went both ways to complete their life cycle. There is also a reference to a double headed salmon as a manifestation of supernatural good luck for the Nuxalk (MacIlwraith 1948). The positioning of the face just above the neck of the salmon is presumably connected to a belief that salmon had a small bone in their necks that contained their soul (Boas 1895).

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ORCA (Haisla/Kitimaat) FlTd 4 [figures 113-115]

This petroglyph is carved on another fin shaped rock, with rows of dots along the edges and down the center of the fin, and a face design below the whale. The whale design also has two dots carved into its dorsal fin, recapitulating the idea of dots on fins. What does this mean? One theory has been proposed involving the association of the orcas following the salmon runs and the first observance of the constellation of Pleiades rising in late summer when the salmon are preparing to spawn.

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FROG ANTHROPOMORPHS (Northern Wakashan) FdTd 5 [figures116-118]

The little dancing anthropomorph has three fingers, possibly indicating a “frog-man”, and is located near another, larger frog-like dancing figure (Leen 1979a). The site is situated at a tidal narrows at the southern end of Princess Royal Island near a winter village site. The symmetry and formline in these designs exemplifies a more formal northern art style when compared with petroglyphs on the southern Northwest Coast.

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H. Tsimshian sites

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LARGE PANEL (Kitkiata Tsimshian) FjTh 1 [figures 120-123]

This large group of carvings is located at a winter village site and is one of about 200 boulders with carvings on them. It was reported as stolen in 1983, and in 1984 I was able to spend a couple of weeks documenting the site, finding it still intact. Some boulders have been removed from the site however, and a few of those I was also able to document during the recording project (Leen 1985). The designs on this boulder include three face designs, one with a possible labret, a number of cupules, the head of a bird, a complete bird, and a small spouting whale with a cupule placed at the tip of the dorsal fin, again hinting at some kind of symbolic meaning that will likely remain unknown.

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DANCING FIGURE (Kitkiata Tsimshian) FjTh 1 [figures 124 & 125]

This frog like image is similar to a frog design on a Tlingit button blanket illustrated in Holm’s Spirit and Ancestor (1987). Other designs at the petroglyph site are believed to represent crest figures by the local Kitkiata Tsimshian people.

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DANCING FIGURE (Kitkiata Tsimshian) FjTh 1 [figures 126 & 127]

Another dancing figure, this one is more basic, with no interior detail, and also with a tall hat or perhaps some sort of frontlet.

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ANTHROPOMORPH/MERMAID (Kitkiata Tsimshian) FjTh 1 [figure 128]

This anthropomorph seems close enough to the mermaid of western tradition to think of it in that way. It is clearly some sort of mythical being, a human face on what appears to be some sort of sea creature’s body.

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According to Smith (1936), this unusual carving has three stories associated with it. One as proof that an important shaman had gone to heavon; it being where he landed, the second that he merely made it while in hiding and then told the first story, and the third that it was carved at the location of a drowned Indian.

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I. Tlingit sites

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WHALE (Tlingit) [figure 130]

This rubbing was made by a friend of mine on a trip to Wrangell. The Wrangell narrows site is well known, with many tourists visiting it every year. The rather formal stylization of this design may indicate that it was made in the last few hundred years. Four boulders with carvings removed from this site in the 1920s were kept in a yard in Sequim in the 1980s. [figures 131 & 132]

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J. Non-Northwest Coast sites

The Columbia Plateau

We are now leaving the Northwest Coast. The rock art on the east side of the Cascade Mountains has a very different look to it, although many sites were made in the process of acquiring shamanic power, either by shamans or adolescents seeking a personal spirit helper.

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HUNT CHIEF (Salish) 45 KI 40 [figure 133]

This group of small carvings is notable because it is located on a river, rather than on the shore of Puget Sound. It is the only such site documented in the Puget Sound basin, although there is one carving on a boulder near Lake Whatcom. Another unusual aspect of this site is that although it is located in Western Washington, it is executed in a Plateau style; small “stick” figures rather than larger, outlined, curvilinear figures with interior detail, or faces or eyes. A human figure, a deer or elk, three small cupules, and a fish comprise this petroglyph panel. The human may represent a shaman responsible for the success of hunting or fishing activity. It may have been carved by a Muckleshoot shaman, or an Interior Salish relative using the ancient trail leading east of the mountains that passes near this site.

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MOUNTAIN SHEEP PAIR (Sahaptin) 45 KL 14 [figure 134]

A common design in the intermontain west, these mountain sheep are a good example of a naturalistic style petroglyph from the Cloumbia Plateau. Sheep petroglyphs are believed in many cases to have been made as part of ritual preparations intented to ensure a successful hunt. Mountain sheep petroglyphs are often found in groups. These petroglyphs were moved from their original location along the banks of the Columbia River to a small park above the reservoir formed by a dam built during the 1960s.

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HUNTING SCENE (Interior Salish) EbRn 4 [figures 139-141]

Part of a large boulder covered with detailed designs, these three animals appear to represent two dogs and a mountain sheep with spears or arrows protruding from the back and neck, indicating that this petroglyph may be an example of hunting magic. The schematic “stick figure” style of these carvings are dramatically different from the larger, more curvilinear petroglyphs found on the coast. This boulder was placed near the grave of Pauline Johnson in Vancouver’s Stanley Park for a time, but has since been moved again. It was originally located in the Fraser River canyon in the vicinity of Lone Cabin Creek.

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The Great Basin

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These designs are a good example of a style called Great Basin Curvilinear Abstract. Found in Hells Canyon on the Snake River, the single identifiable design at this site appears to be a human or human-like figure. Many of the abstract images surrounding it however, probably did represent specific objects or ideas to the artist who created them. On one edge of this stone is a small cross carved by a surveyor, and another image which may represent the letter C, which, if so, was likely carved by one of the ranch hands or its owner, as the name of the ranch was the Cache Creek ranch.

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4. Being about Amateur Archaeology

One of the encouraging aspects of rock art fieldwork is that it is relatively easy for interested amateurs to become involved. Because it is possible to photograph and map pictographs and petroglyphs while leaving them in pristine condition, archaeological permits are not likely to be required in most states. Making rubbings of petroglyphs is less clear cut, but on durable rocks making rubbings does not create measurable wear. Rubbings of petroglyphs on friable rock should only be done by experienced archaeologists, and then only for documentation purposes. Rock art photography can be a challenge, but using polarized filters, and controlled light sources during night it can yield satisfying results. I have always been in favor of documenting the sites in as many ways as possible in order to preserve the images, particularly in light of the possibility of site damage. Regarding natural forces, there are many sites where weathering, wave action, wind blown sand, and freeze-thaw cycles are causing severe damage. I have seen a site in eastern Oregon where the entire pictograph I had recorded in 1981 had been destroyed by heat spalling caused by range fires. On the coast, most intertidal petroglyphs have barnacle growth and mentioned above is one petroglyph that was broken in two by driftwood battering. Damage by human action is unfortunately also common although I believe that graffiti is less of a problem that it was 50 years ago, largely due to a gradually more educated average citizen [figure 147]. I suppose that is part of the reason I have spent the time to create this virtual gallery of prehistoric art. Ultimately, the best protection that rock art has is a knowledgeable general public.

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Figure 147

Opportunities to get involved in rock art fieldwork can be found at the US Forest Service’s Passport in Time program. An organization dedicated to the study and preservation of rock art is the American Rock Art Research Association, and a good source of rock art publications is the Piedra Pintada website. For those readers who live in the Puget Sound basin, there are a number of sites that are “lost”. Reported petroglyphs at Kamilche, Utsalady, and near the mouths of the Skokomish and Ozette Rivers might possibly be rediscovered by dedicated seekers. At worst, this is a great excuse to go hiking on the beach, assuming you won't mind people occasionally asking you why you are examining all the smooth surfaces on the rocks you pass. Other missing sites were located in Seattle near the mouth of the Duwamish River (now presumed buried under industrial fill) and a similar site in Tacoma. These are described in The Rock Art of Western Washington (Leen 1981). To become familiar with rock art images and styles, there are some well known sites worth visiting in the Pacific Northwest: Nanaimo’s Petroglyph Park on Vancouver Island, as well as a number of related sites on nearby Gabriola Island. On the Olympic Peninsula the Ozette petroglyphs at Wedding Rocks are visited by many hikers (a long drive from Seattle and approximately 8 miles round trip hiking is involved). The Hartstene Island boulder described above is now located at the Tumwater Falls Park in Tumwater, Washington, just across the river from the old Olympia brewery. For Columbia Plateau sites, Keyser (1992) mentions a baker’s dozen that are worth visiting, the best of these being at Horsethief Lake State Park, Cowiche Creek, Long Lake, and the Little Spokane River.

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5. Being Works Cited & Further Reading on Northwest Coast Art and Culture

(I am including a lot of general works on NW Coast art here, as well as the specific citations in the above text, with comments to inspire the lay reader to dig deeper.)

Amoss, Pamela

If you are interested in the subject this is probably the best single published source.

Ballard, Arthur

A collection of Puget Salish stories including mythical sites in the Seattle area.

Boas, Franz

A very thick collection of stories collected in 1910, not exactly light reading.

Rather tedious descriptive work with a lot of NW coast art, but some valuable information.

Bentley, Mary and Ted Bentley

About the only recent book dealing with NW coast petroglyphs. Not intended as a definitive scholarly work, but very good recording work and some good insights on possible stylistic patterns. A “must read” for anyone visiting the Nanaimo area.

Brown, Steven C.

An excellent historic analysis of the development of NW coast art, highly recommended.

Brown, Steven C. and Bill Holm

Imagine someone taking snapshots of historic events (circa 1800) in western North America and the NW coast, the paintings have comments by Bill Holm as well, highly recommended.

Carlson, Roy L.(ed.)

A collection of papers on prehistoric art of the NW coast. If you are interested in the old stuff, this is highly recommended.

Collins, June

This is a short biography of the life of a shaman from the upper Skagit, very important data for understanding Coast Salish spiritual concepts.

Another ethnography



Corner, John

A large collection of images, no analysis, out of print.

Drucker, Philip

One of the basic overviews of NW coast cultures.

Another one of the basic overviews of NW coast cultures.

Duff, Wilson

Another ethnography

Some very interesting illustrations of small stone sculptures, mostly Coast Salish, a bit more scientifically rigorous than his later Images Stone BC.

As the title states, a basic history of Native life during the last 200 years.

Highly speculative but very interesting with lots of (B&W) photos of portable stone artifacts from the NW coast.

Duff, Wilson, Bill Holm and Bill Reid

A catalog of NW coast art, color photos, good commentary.

Ellison, Jeffrey

Most of the designs at 45CA31 are (poorly) illustrated, some good ethnographic information linking the petroglyphs to the Ozette people, some minor errors, hard to find.

Elmendorf, William W.

An excellent source for understanding Coast Salish concepts of the spirit world, but read the basic ethnographies first.

Ernst, Alice H.

This also is an important work on the winter ceremonial, but is not for the beginning scholar.

Garfield, Viola and Lin A. Forrest

A basic text on SE Alaska poles.

Garfield, Viola and Paul S. Wingert

Another ethnography

Gunther, Erna

One of the basic Coast Salish ethnographies.

Good illustrations and commentary.

Another catalog with good explanatory text.

A collection of accounts of initial European encounters with NW coast peoples, with illustrations.

Gunther, Erna and Hermann Haeberlin

A short ethnography

Halpin, Marjorie M.

A good introduction, mostly B&W photos.

Hann, Don, et alia

Hill, Beth

This is the only good general guide to NW coast petroglyphs in print, rather brief.

An interesting account of the Barrow’s fieldwork in the ‘30s and ‘40s documenting B.C. pictographs.

A coastal travelogue with thought provoking speculations about specific rock art sites.

Hill, Beth and Ray Hill

The basic text on NW coast petroglyphs, unfortunately out of print. If you really get “the bug”, find this at a library and make two copies, one to use at home and one to take on glyphing trips.

Holm, Bill

The book to read first to understand the structure of NW coast art.

A catalog of artifacts from Kwakiutl territory, B&W.

An excellent collection of NW coast art and commentary.

Another collection of NW coast artifacts from the Burke Museum with excellent commentary.

Holm, Bill and Bill Reid

Commentary by the authors on 102 masterworks of NW coast art. I particularly like this one.

Jacobsen, Johan Adrian

Nice travel account, with B&W line illustrations.

Jenness, Diamond

Another source for understanding Coast Salish shamanism, not for the beginning scholar.

Jewitt, John R.

A great adventure story from the west coast of Vancouver Island, this edition lavishly illustrated.

Jilek, Wolfgang G.

An important work relating to Coast Salish spiritual beliefs.

Keithan, Edward L.

A bit dated but lots of information on Alaska poles.

Kew, Della and P.E. Goddard

Based on an earlier manuscript by Goddard, a good overview of the NW coast.

Kew, Michael

A short paper on Coast Salish art but worth finding.

Keyser, James D.

Washington Press, Seattle

The only good work on a synthesis of Plateau rock art, although some later writings by the same author have refined and expanded some of his ideas.

Keyser, James D. et al.

Expanded thoughts on Plateau rock art; read his basic synthesis first.

Keyser, James D. and David Whitley

More analysis of the hunting magic hypothesis in Plateau rock art.

Kirk, Ruth with Richard Daugherty

A nice overview of the Ozette Archaeological Project on the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula.

Krause, Aurel

Another basic ethnography.

Leen, Daniel

A descriptive paper on Puget Sound petroglyphs and other unpublished rock art in western Washington.

unpublished manuscript on file at Heritage Conservation Branch, Victoria

This has about 100+ pages of rock art illustrations from a documentation project I did in 1984 &1985, including many pictographs.

A brief account of the above documentation project.

Another 100+ pages of illustrations, mostly pictographs, with some analysis.

n.d.An Inventory of 56 Rock Art Sites in the Harney Basin, unpublished manuscript on file at the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office, December 1981, Salem

Loring, J. Malcolm and Louise Loring

This is a major collection of rock art images from Oregon and southern Washington state, low quality illustrations but useful data nonetheless.

Lundy, Doris

Includes data on pictographs, unlike Hill & Hill’s book, but unfortunately unpublished.

McClure, Richard

An important analysis of the Dalles area rock art.

MacDonald, George F.

A short monograph on a remote village site which now has the largest number of pre 1900 poles.

McFeat, Tom

This is a collection of shorter papers on various topics of interest to scholars of Northwest Coast cultures. Read the basic ethnographies first.

McIlwraith, T.F.

One of the more detailed ethnographies of a Salish speaking group, with important references regarding rock art.

McMurdo, Ann

CRARA ‘77 is a collection of papers on rock art presented in Victoria in 1977.

MacNair, Peter, et al.

Another catalog of a museum show, as the title indicates, masks only, with scholarly commentary.

Meade, Edward

Not as good as the Hills’ book, but worth a look.

Meany, Edmond S.

One of the basic source texts.

Mitchell, Don

and Its Culture Type, Syesis, 4:1

Murie, Margaret

This fictionalized account of St. Laurence Island life is based on fieldwork undertaken by Otto Geist.

Newcombe, C.F.

Niblack, Albert P.

This may have been reprinted, otherwise it will be hard to find outside of a library. Some nice line drawings.

Olsen, R. L.

One of the basic ethnographies of Coast Salish culture.

Sampson, M.

Smith, H. I.

Smyly, John and Carolyn Smyly

A well crafted description of one village’s poles, with excellent illustrations.

Snyder, Warren A.

Spier, Leslie and Edward Sapir

Another ethnography.

Spradley, James P.

A great read, you will learn a lot about the culture in the process.

Stewart, Hilary

Copiously illustrated, fine for the beginning student of NW coast cultures.

Sturtevant, William C. et al.

Another museum show catalog, B&W illustrations, good text commentary.

Suttles, Wayne

This collection of writings on Coast Salish culture is required reading for anyone attempting to understand the art and its place in Salish culture. Read the basic ethnographies first, then be sure to read at least some of these essays.

Wingert, Paul S.

This has a lot of data on Coast Salish carvings; mostly not available elsewhere. It is hard to find and not light reading.

Wright, Robin K.

An extremely detailed history of the Haida carving tradition, excellent but perhaps not for the beginning scholar. Nevertheless highly recommended.

Wyatt, Victoria

Fascinating photos of Alaska Native life and art, mostly before 1910 with text.

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