Earlier this month, under a dozen feet of water and 28 inches of sand, Annette Spaulding found something she had sought for more than 30 years. It was the outline of an eagle wing. An unknown Native American had etched it into a rock slab on the West River an unknown number of centuries ago. The rock formed the river’s bank until 1909, when construction of a dam at Vernon, Vt., raised water levels on the Connecticut River and its tributary, the West River.
Along with lowlands and barns and houses, the rising water submerged at least three Native American petroglyph, or rock carving, sites near the confluence of the two rivers, according to Spaulding’s research.
The largest one is said to depict nine figures — five eagles, a person, what looks like a dog and two wavy lines with small heads, which Spaulding suspects are lampreys. It’s known as Indian Rock. A handful of 19th-century accounts and depictions reference the site, including a drawing by a 10-year-old boy from Chesterfield, Larkin Mead, who grew up to be a renowned sculptor. But then the river rose, and the location of Indian Rock became murky.
Robert McBride’s Everyday People video series on FACT – Falls Area Community TV – featured a recent episode with personnel from VTrans and the VT Dept. of Historic Preservation, along with guests who had an interest in the proceedings. The crew was in town to document and map the Vilas Bridge and the ancient petroglyph site at Kchi Pontekw on the Kwenitekw, using newly acquired LiDAR equipment. A non-intrusive technology, LiDAR uses a rapid, rotating laser sending and receiving unit to record a highly detailed 3D image of terrain, objects, and surfaces. This record can then be used for reference and analysis. With the possibility of a future repair or removal of the deteriorating Vilas Bridge (owned by the state of New Hampshire, and now closed), it is important to record the current situation so that proper care can be taken as plans may be developed. For indigenous people, respectful protection of the sacred ancestral rock carvings above the falls are of special concern. Several people were in attendance to oversee the work on September 22, 2017; the Brattleboro Reformer covered the story that day as well.
One cannot care about that of which you are ignorant.
Charity begins at home.
Education, awareness, understanding. #respect#indigenous
State officials saw in the Vilas Bridge and nearby petroglyphs an opportunity to try out their latest gadget.
“LiDAR,” Vermont State Archaeologist Jess Robinson said, referring to a terrestrial Light Detection and Ranging unit, “creates very detailed three-dimensional models. This is becoming very popular in archeology as a form of virtual curation; to preserve things in three dimensions and in real space and be able to broadcast them when the actual artifacts or, in this case, the petroglyphs are not available to people.”
Last Thursday, the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation and the Agency of Transportation tested out the equipment specifically purchased for documenting the Vilas Bridge. One of the officials had suggested scanning the petroglyphs to get “a very detailed record of them at this point of time,” said Robinson.
Eva McKend of Burlington’s WCAX Channel 3 News spoke with Vermont State Archaeologist Jess Robinson about the significance of petroglyph sites in Vermont, and specifically the fledgling effort to conserve those at Wantestegok – the West River in Brattleboro. Click on the first link for the video interview.
When Donna Morris looks at the Mi’kmaq petroglyphs at Kejimkujik National Park, she sees history. “There’s a picture of a caribou. There’s a picture of a little missionary man that goes back to the French era which would be the 1700s,” Morris, 65, explains. “So when I look at that, I think mostly of history. When I look at the caribou, I think about (a time) before the caribou and moose had disappeared.”
Morris, originally from the Indian Brook First Nation, has been working as an interpreter/coordinator at Kejimkujik since 2000. Part of her duties include offering tours of the Mi’kmaq petroglyphs, one of the park’s main attractions, to visitors and campers several times a week during the spring and summer months.
“Right now, the images are starting to fade a bit,” Morris explains. “We only have one particular area where we show the public and the other petroglyph sites are a little inaccessible due to the water and the distance of where they are.”
There are more than 500 Mi’kmaq petroglyphs at Kejimkujik. Some of them are estimated to be 800-1000 years old. All but one of the sites are blocked off from the general public. Park guides patrol the paths around the petroglyphs to make sure visitors obey the signage warning visitors not to enter and disturb the protected areas.
Vandals are destroying ancient indigenous pictographs throughout Canada at an alarming rate and activists are trying to call attention to the desecration and its consequences.
As of late July vandals had defaced, and in some cases destroyed, indigenous pictographs in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Manitoba, British Columbia and Montreal in the last six years including some recent dramatic incidents.
“We are talking about indigenous heritage, oral traditions, cultural memory,” [Zawadzska] told CBC. “The sites are associated with sacred places, traditional territories, and traditional knowledge. They are living sites.”