In the wake of the Ancient

The photo below might have been taken in the Boundary Waters, but in truth it is of a rock outcropping much closer to the Twin Cities– on the St. Croix River between Taylors Falls and Osceola. It looks like a cousin to the Boundary Waters because it is. Both areas lay bare the underlying basalt bedrock which was formed over a billion years ago by a rift down the middle of North America. Tom and I paddled this lovely stretch of the St. Croix last week on a quest to find the pictographs marking this very rock. Who knew that ancient pictographs could be found 12 miles from our home?

We located the reddish figures on a face of this rock. They were barely discernible under the glare of a mid-day sun. At home, a Google search turned up a photo that had been manipulated to make the artwork pop out, revealing a bison head, two hand prints– the three figures together possibly a shaman-image, and one obscure figure of a half-circle enclosing a full circle.

Minnesota’s pictographs are not very old, as far as aboriginal world art goes–archaologists date them between 1000–1500 c.e. (common era). But they are the mysterious traces of a people who once called this place home and who left an intimate reminder– their handprint– of their presence. Many of the pictographs and petroglyphs created in what is now southern Minnesota have been obliterated, so we are fortunate to have these. They remind me that a culture of people I scarcely consider paddled sparkling waters, basked in summer sun, harvested the fruit of the forests and endured bitter winters. Our life is both very different from theirs, and very much alike.

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