Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Flying head petroglyph, Leo Petroglyph Site,
Leo, Ohio. Photo: 1985, Peter Faris.

Among the mythology of many Native American tribes can be found an unlikely monster consisting of a gigantic flying head with large horns or antlers.

An Assiniboine version of this myth mentions two travelers (brothers) who were exploring the new land and after a long while came to the Rocky Mountains. From there they were carried eastward by a whirlwind to the seashore. They met an old woman who fed them. She sacrificed some corn to the water and invoked the appearance of the Wan-wan-kah. Immediately afar off appeared an object moving over the surface of the water, approaching with great rapidity, which soon arrived at the place where the travelers stood. The being thus conjured up had the head of a man, though of monstrous size, and out of which projected two horns as large as the largest trees.

This Assiniboine legend of a monstrous flying creature with an emphasis on the gigantic horned head echoes the flying head mythology of other peoples. A petroglyph has been reported at Paint Lick Mountain in Tazwell County, Virginia, consisting of a shape “with two feetlike appendages”. This petroglyph has been connected with the Flying Head myth of the Cherokee, Iroquois, and others.

At the Leo Petroglyph site in southern Ohio one of the petroglyphs on the horizontal ground level rock surface is a round head with horns and other appendages. It is easily identified as a head by facial features including two eyes with eyebrows and a mouth. The head wears two large curved bison-like horns with another pair of spike horns between them. Under the head appears an apparent dewlap under the chin (directly below the mouth) as from an old bison bull of great power and dominance. The suggestion of flying ability is given by the presence of a pair of small bird feet appended under the head (remember the feet mentioned in the Flying Head myth). Normally one would assume that flying ability would have been indicated by wings but as the myths of the flying head do not mention wings the image would be incorrect if equipped with them. After wings, however, perhaps the second most identifiable feature of a bird may be its feet and adding them to the head image confers bird-like powers on the head – the ability to fly. Given its particular features this figure would seem to be an unequivocal representation of the mythical flying head.

The petroglyphs at the Leo Petroglyph site in southern Ohio are carved on a ground level flat rock surface of what appears to be gray limestone. A large kiosk-like roof has been erected over them to protect them from weathering but there were no provisions for lighting when I visited there. To make the petroglyphs more visible in the dim light someone had painted them in with black paint, a terrible practice to those concerned with rock art conservation, but in this case it was what made photographic recording possible.