Saturday, October 19, 2013


The pictograph panel below includes a fascinating example of a geological phenomenon illustrated in rock art - the earthquake.
York, Annie, "They Write Their Dreams on the
Rocks Forever," 1993, fig. 102, p. 153.

Here we have Annie York commenting on the pictograph panel at EbRk2. Co-author Richard Daley had asked her about the owl-like figure in this panel and she explained that it is not actually the owl, that this was a spirit figure occurring in the dream of the anthropomorph on the right. “Sometimes it’s the owl, but it should be more formed than this one - . Here it’s the same as the last one. These strong powers, when you stand in the mountains long enough they can take the form of a bird, or other forms.” (York 1993:153)

“The long slanting line is the earth, and the zigzag is an earthquake. He’s dreamed that too. And you can see it in the stars too. The legend time of Xwekt’xwektl was when they were forming people and animals. Then the earthquake ended that and devoured them. Afterwards the new people came up and they were smaller like today.” (York 1993: 154)

It is certainly worth noting that British Columbia is on the western part of the North American continent which marks the “ring of fire,” the circle of volcanic activity that outlines the Pacific basin, and causes large numbers of earthquakes at many sites along its length. In more stable areas there was probably no need for the mythologies to explain earthquakes, but the people of the Northwest Coast and associated Interior are intimately familiar with earthquakes and have to include explanations of them in their mythologies. One common cause of earthquakes is fighting between Thunderbird and the whales he preys on for food. Another mythological cause of earthquakes in parts of the Pacific Northwest is underground tunneling by the giant beaver(Castoroides ohioensis). Neither of these would seem to be involved in this instance because none of those protagonists are present in the rock art panel.

Additionally, we have to question as to whether or not the original creator of the pictographs meant that symbol to represent an earthquake, or whether that is a contemporary interpretation by local natives, and whether or not that matters. To a certain extent I have to state that it does not matter what the original intention was (because we probably could never know it anyway). What does matter is that in this time and at this place that symbol means “earthquake,” and that is good enough for me.


York, Annie, Richard Daley and Chris Arnett
1993    They Write Their Dream on the Rock Forever: Rock Writings of the Stein River Valley of British Columbia, Talonbooks, Vancouver, B.C.

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