Monday, April 20, 2009


Supposed Ogam inscription in Crack
Cave, Baca County, Colorado.

Yes Virginia, in spite of all the skepticism, doubt, and confusion, there is such a thing as Ogam. Originally a Celtic alphabet it was used from perhaps the 4th to 10th centuries A.D. in Britain, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. A few hundred inscriptions survive there on stone monuments, mostly comprising personal names. As a script ogam consists of clusters of lines related to a vertical or horizontal ground line, longer and shorter, perpendicular or angled, above, below, or all the way through the ground line. These clusters or groupings of lines serve as the symbols of the alphabet, thus any language could be written in ogam although the language used in the known authentic inscriptions is Celtic.

Is there ogam in North America however? Theories about ogam inscriptions in North America are usually based upon the "voyages of St. Brendan", an Irish monk who supposedly crossed the sea to visit a "paradise" with a group of brother monks from Ireland in the 6th century A.D. St. Brendan, who was born in 484 A.D. and died in 577 A.D., and his companions were believed to have made a seven year voyage to the west from Ireland. Theories that the "paradise" they found was North America have been expounded to account for the presence of ogam inscriptions in North America. Some inscriptions in the eastern United States have been explained as the work of St. Brendan and his party, while inscriptions in the western U.S. are attributed to diffusion of this method of writing to native peoples from the party of Irish monks.

The main problem is that the inscriptions found in North America appear to be a variant of ogam that was not used in the British Isles. It appears to consist only of consonants and to contain no vowels. Archaeologists point out that there are no traces of that ancient celtic presence in North America (although the true believers have a couple of sites on the east coast of stone arrangements that they claim are celtic). This is countered by the true believers that the inscription panels are themselves identifiable artifacts of the truth of the theory.

There is one other aspect of this question that needs to be considered; what about all the panels of groupings of lines that are not readable by proponents of North American ogam? I believe that the believers would answer this with the position that the unreadable panels were made later, after the period during which the "real" ogam inscriptions were made, and that they represent Native American attempts to capture the magic of writing by imitating it.

What is my position on this? Well, I for one do not believe in the Celtic connection or North American ogam. I turn out to be one of the skeptics who just need a whole lot more concrete evidence before that theory will look plausible. So what do I believe that these panels of arrangements of lines actually are? I do not have the faintest idea other than probably some sort of count or tally. I have tried to compare some of them to natural cycles such as days, weeks, or months that would indicate recording the passage of time but I have had absolutely no success in this. My best personal guess is that they must be a count or tally. Perhaps they are the number of buffalo killed in a tribal hunt?

A good and close friend of mine, Bill McGlone (now deceased), was one of the primary proponents of the theory of North American ogam inscriptions. He had the faith that I do not, and Bill could believe in it because he could read it. As some other proponents have done Bill had learned enough ogam and a little basic Celtic and could find words (without vowels remember) in some of the inscriptions. In a couple of instances he and his co-researchers actually found inscriptions that they could translate, and then use that to make a prediction that could be checked against their translation. At one location known as Crack Cave in Baca county, near Springfield, Colorado, Bill read one inscription that he said predicted a significant alignment of light at sunrise on the day of the equinox (illustration above). At dawn on one spring equinox I sat deep in Crack Cave and saw a spot of light from the rising sun hit and illuminate a symbol carved into the cave wall that can be appears to be part of a sun disk.

Did this prove the accuracy of his theories, or was it just a coincidence? Many people see proof, I fear I still find it to be a coincidence that light hit that spot at that time. I will admit, however, that was a coincidence that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck when I saw it. The basic difference in believing or not believing in this theory, as in so much of the study of rock art, seems to be based upon faith. You are either a believer or a skeptic. I am a skeptic. On many occasions Bill and I would sit up until late at night (early in the morning) debating all sides of these questions.
No, I am not a believer in the presence of authentic ogam in North America. I am, however, totally grateful for all of the people with more imaginative theories in the interpretation of rock art. They keep the field from being too staid and academic and add interest to the study, just like all the spice adds interest to the pan of lamb and sets a good vindaloo apart from a pan of sauted mutton. So keep those theories coming in folks, I, for one, am grateful.


  1. I am originally from Lamar, CO. I too have watched the sun move across the marks on the day of the equinox, with Bill and my mother actually. Perhaps you were one if the many with us that day. My mother is a firm believer. She also believes in the kensington rune stone that was found in Minnesota. I, on the other hand, don't doubt that people from those time periods could have traveled to north America, but to travel so far across such a large continent without a specific purpose seems strange. Maybe dear Bill, who I will always remember fondly, and my mother believe enough so you and I don't have to.

  2. The markings on this rock-face look like an attempt at the application of simple decoration to the area. It certainly does not look like OGHAM (note the spelling). There are quite a few Ogham stones near me here in S.E. Ireland, about eleven in just one place - DRUMLOHAN, County Waterford - which when discovered were found to line the walls and roof of a souterrain>

    "British Isles"!!! No, we don't come under that heading:

    A paragraph off WIKIPEDIA reads: The term British Isles is controversial in Ireland,[6][14] where there are objections to its usage due to the association of the word British with Ireland.[15] The Government of Ireland does not recognise or use the term[16] and its embassy in London discourages its use.[17] As a result, Britain and Ireland is used as an alternative description,[15][18][19] and Atlantic Archipelago has had limited use among a minority in academia,[20][21][22][23] although British Isles is still commonly employed.[18] Within them, they are also sometimes referred to as 'these islands'.

    Your blog is SUPERB!!!