Saturday, April 14, 2018


Public domain.

In part one of this I presented the earliest human date - so far - in North America, obtained from human-made cut marks on a piece of a horse mandible dated to 24,000 years ago. This was recovered from excavations between 1977 and 1987 at Bluefish Caves in the Yukon, by archaeologist Jacques Cinq-Mars. This location is in the area defined as Beringia, the portions of the Bering Strait exposed during the last glacial maximum, and adjoining portions of Siberia, Alaska, and Canada that were not covered by glaciation. I closed that column with the statement - "but this is RockArtBlog - what does this have to do with rock art? Well, we know people make rock art, and people from 24,000 years ago might well have made rock art too. As Eamer stated Beringia is now "mostly underwater" but, in the portions remaining available to us there is the possibility of rock art as old as 24,000 years. What a find that would be, what might it look like?"

With the end of the Ice Age and the melting of the glaciers the portion of Beringia that is now the Bering Strait was submerged, but portions of the land on continental North America that had been exposed at that time (and included in the boundaries of Beringia) are still exposed, and it so happens there are examples of rock art on those portions that might give us clues to what Beringian rock art would have looked like.

To begin, I must confess that my sample is woefully small, but from a very wide area. I have samples of petroglyphs from Petroglyph Beach at Wrangell, Alaska, and a carved rock from Shemya Island in the Aleutians, a small rocky island way out by the western end of the Aleutian chain.

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska.
Peter Faris, August 2001.

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska.
Peter Faris, August 2001.

"Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site is an Alaskan beach and public historical site with the highest concentration of Native American petroglyphs in the southeastern region of Alaska. Located on the shore of Wrangell, Alaska barely a mile out of town it became a State Historic Park in 2000. At lease 40 petroglyphs have been found to date. The site itself is about 8,000 years old." (Wikipedia) The predominate motifs seem to be concentric circles and masks, although a few recognizable zoomorphs are found such as birds and an orca.

"Seal Stone", Shemya Island,
Alaska. Public domain.

Shemya Island, Alaska.
1944, Public domain.

Shemya Island is located 1200 miles west by southwest of Anchorage, Alaska. This very "small island is in the Near Islands group of the Semichi Islands chain in the Aleutian Islands archipelago. - It has a land area of 5.903 sq mi (15.29 km2) and is 2.73 miles (4.39 km) wide and 4.32 miles (6.95 km) long." (Wikipedia) An island that is this small would never have supported a large population, but prehistoric population did exist, and we have a carved stone to prove it. The "Seal Stone" (so-called for the resemblence of one end to the head of a seal) weighs approximately 250 pounds and was found on Shemya during World War II by an American airman who shipped it home on an Air Corps cargo plane. It has since been recovered and returned to the Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska (McLain 2015). 

Seal stone, one analysis of motifs
(I disagree with most of these identifications
except the face, there are also faces
that he did not identify).,
Public domain.

The carvings on the "Seal Stone" are very reminiscent of many of the petroglyphs found on Petroglyph Beach at Wrangell, consisting of circles and masks, suggesting that they were made by members of the same culture.

We find motifs in both examples of masks, and multiple circular elements, showing considerable similarity. Having two examples of similar rock art found in areas that were included in old Beringia, and 1200 miles apart, seems to indicate a widespread culture that might have once included the rest of Beringia. Unfortunately we do not have reliable dates for these petroglyphs and the only way of estimating dates that I can imagine would be by measuring the depth of the weathering rind in the carved lines and comparing that to the rind of an un-carved surface. This would be a destructive technique so we should eschew any such attempts. If the published estimate of age for the petroglyphs at Wrangell is correct, then their creation was much closer to the time of Beringian exposure than to the present. That could suggest that this common culture is, indeed, very old and may well date back to Beringia. I fear, however, that we may never know unless more rock art is discovered in datable contexts.

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the originals at the sites listed below.


Eamer, Claire
2017 Archaeological Find Puts Humans in North America 10,000 Years Earlier Than Thought, January 13, 2017,

McLain, Allison Young,
2015 The Seal Stone Enigma, 16 March 2015,

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