Saturday, December 1, 2012


Vision quest site and petroglyphs, Horsethief Lake State
Park, Washington. Photo: Peter Faris, 2000. Notice the
chipped edge of the rock face with the pictographs.

In the summer of 2000 I had the good luck and great privilege to be guided around Horsethief Lake State Park, in Washington State, by Dr. James Keyser, one of the great names in North American Rock Art studies. There is considerable Yakima polychrome painted style rock art in this area and it is also the site of numerous petroglyphs including the marvelous petroglyph known as Tsagaglalal, “She who watches”, which originally probably also included some paint.

Vision quest site and petroglyphs, Horsethief Lake State
Park, Washington. Photo: Peter Faris, 2000. Notice
the chipped edge of the rock face with the petroglyphs.

Along with considerable rock art, the vicinity of Tsagaglalal also contains some small rock shelters which seem to have been used as vision quest sites. The rock floors of these shelters show a considerable degree of butt-polish apparently acquired by frequent sliding in and out of place accompanied by long periods of sitting. The rock here is volcanic, apparently basalt, and naturally fractures in angular blocks. The rock shelters are located in low cliff and are the result of large blocks cracking loose and falling away leaving small, roughly rectangular openings. Many of the nearly right angled edges of the rock around these shelters have been chipped away in small flakes. Keyser suggested that the rock might have been chipped away for medicinal purposes because of the spiritual nature of the site (so near to Tsagaglalal). Additionally, the supposed vision quest shelters also usually contain petroglyphs as well.

Tsagaglalal (She Who Watches), Horsethief Lake
State Park, Washington. Photo: Peter Faris, 2000.
Native American beliefs in animism attributed a spirit presence to many of the physical features around them. According to Wikipedia animism “is a philosophical, religious or spiritual idea that souls or spirits exist not only in humans and animals but also in plants, rocks, natural phenomena such as thunder and lightning, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment.” The presence of Tsagaglalal would have added a strong spiritual attraction to the environment as well. I can picture that a young Native American undergoing a successful vision quest in this environment might well have wanted to take a chip of the rock with him, to include its power in his medicine bundle.

A pebble wedged into a crack on the cliff by a petroglyph.
Vision quest site and petroglyphs, Horsethief Lake State
Park, Washington. Photo: Peter Faris, 2000.

Another interesting phenomenon found in these rock shelters is the placement of small pebbles of stone into cracks in the rock face at these shelters, perhaps as some sort of offering. I think of this as the “Kilroy was here” motivation, the human urge to make some sort of visible change, to leave some record of their existence. Alternatively, the pebbles may have originally been jammed into the crack to hold some sort of organic offering in place that has since been lost to the elements.

Perhaps any study of a rock art location should include a much more detailed study of surrounding rock surfaces for such modifications as further clues toward the later interpretation of the purpose and significance of the rock art.

Note: I am deeply grateful to my friend Jim Keyser for taking the time and effort to guide me to these locations.

No comments:

Post a Comment