by Dave Yanko
ST. VICTOR -- Rock carvings located just outside this village are
worth a visit when travelling in the Big Muddy Badlands region of
south-central Saskatchewan. They're one of the most interesting,
if puzzling, examples of petroglyphs on the northern plains.
of a grizzly-bear paw at St. Victor
The St. Victor Petroglyphs were carved into horizontal sandstone
at the top of a cliff. They include representations of animal, bird
and human tracks -- foot and hand prints -- as well as several symbols,
and a few human and animal figures.
No one knows who carved the 'glyphs', or why. Saskatoon archaeologist
Tim Jones, who has co-authored with his wife Louise a report on
the topic, can't offer a good guess as to how old they are, either,
except to note that the subjects carved show no evidence of being
created in any other than prehistoric times.
"It's almost as though (the St. Victor site) is hiding the secret
of its age and authorship," says Jones, who's the executive director
of the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society.
Since some of the images overlap and reflect varying styles, Jones
suspects they were created at different times by different artists
-- perhaps some were made by the ancestors of present-day Dakota (Sioux)
peoples. One of the largest, most prominent and, maybe,
one of the newer glyphs is a face that seems similar to those observed
in artifacts from northern plains burial mounds. The mounds are
believed to be 300 to 600 years old.
How old, then, might the oldest carving be?
In style and subject matter, St. Victor bears similarities to
some of the rock-art sites found in the woodland regions of central
Canada and the U.S. But while archaeologists were able to date some
of the Lake of the Woods sites at 5,000 to 6,000 years old, for instance, Jones
says "that doesn't answer the St. Victor question".
than a foot diameter, this stylized human face is one of the
largest figures at the site.
Similarities between the south-central Saskatchewan petroglyphs
and those found in Ohio and Pennsylvania suggest some sort of connection
between the two areas, "whether it's movement of people or movement
of ideas", he says. People currently living in southern Saskatchewan might be interested to know the eastern woodlands carvings
show black bear tracks, while the St. Victor ones depict grizzly
Jones says there several theories as to why someone would sit
down and carve hoof prints into a rock. The St. Victor Petroglyphs
might be associated with 'hunting magic', he says, pointing out
a good number of the pictures appear to be bison tracks heading
towards the edge of the cliff.
turtle images, as well as hoof and paw prints.
Shamanism is another possibility. The site features some eight
stylized grizzly tracks, and the grizzly was a very important figure
in early aboriginal mythology. Two turtles carved into the rock,
may be fertility and longevity symbols.
Unfortunately, the turtles aren't doing the St. Victor Petroglyphs
The sandstone is wearing away and a sizable chunk of the carved
rock appears ready to slip down the cliff face, says Jones. In spite
of this, there's no plan to stabilize the cliff or protect the rock
face from people or the elements.
human hand (bottom left) and other images.
David Munro, an Assiniboia resident who's president of a group
called Friends of the St. Victor Petroglyphs, says several native
people who visited the site asked that it be left alone to disappear
naturally. The Government of Saskatchewan, responsible for the provincial
historic site, has adopted this wish as policy.
"Nature will take its course," says Munro.
While the Friends' mandate to 'preserve, protect and promote the
site' sounds a little ironic under the circumstances, the group
is working to insure the glyphs don't disappear any faster than
Nature intends them to. The Friends worked with the provincial government
to create and maintain a wooden walkway that allows easier access
to the site while greatly reducing the amount of foot traffic on
the carved rock -- for years the cliff top was a favorite picnic
Members are also involved in recording the petroglyphs and establishing
an interpretive centre in St. Victor. They're also involved in plans to publish a
book based on the Joneses' report.
helps control foot traffic at the site.
Munro's favorite carving happens to be one that's vanishing faster than most.
It depicts a man standing with his right hand reaching up towards a
circle and his left one towards a large footprint. He believes it
carries a message.
"The man is obtaining knowledge from within the circle of life,
and then he's handing it, through himself, to his people. That's
what I get out of it. . . This site should be given the same respect
as the interior of our church."
Many of the carvings are difficult to see. They're best observed
and photographed in the morning or evening of a clear day, when
the angle of the sun is 45 degrees or less. Jones says they also
show up well after a rain. Those who care little for things archaeological will find a great
view, a pretty picnic area and wildlife aplenty in the vicinity. For more information on aboriginal rock
carvings, to inquire about the book, or for general information
about archaeology in Saskatchewan, contact The Saskatchewan Archaeological Society at #1 - 1730 Quebec Ave., Saskatoon, SK, S7K 1V9, or phone
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