The Jeffers Petroglyphs: Native American Rock Art on the Midwestern Plains

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The Jeffers Petroglyphs: Native American Rock Art on the Midwestern Plains. By KEVIN L. CALLAHAN (with an introduction by Alan R. Woolworth). Prairie Smoke Press, St. Paul, Minnesota. 2001. 115 pp., figures, glossary, notes, bibliography. $16.95 (Paper, ISBN 0-9704-482-1-X).

Minnesota's Jeffers Petroglyphs site (21CO3) is one of the premier aboriginal rock art sites in the world. It consists of thousands of images pecked into a ledge of red quartzite in the prairie lands of northern Cottonwood County in southwestern Minnesota. Jeffers is one of the few archaeological sites in Minnesota that is not only accessible to the public but also surficially visible. Furthermore, it is one of the few archaeological sites that is understandable without extensive interpretation. Art, religion, hunting, and graffiti are all part of modern lives.

Theodore Lewis first mapped the Jeffers site in 1889, but for almost a century its isolated location and private ownership made it a site visited only by archaeologists and rock art enthusiasts. In 1966 the main concentration of petroglyphs was purchased by the State of Minnesota and given to the Minnesota Historical Society. The Society began active interpretation at the site in the early 1970s and has recently built a new visitor's center.

The first and only detailed archaeological examination of the site was undertaken in 1971 under the direction of Gordon Lothson. Five years later, Lothson's study of the site was published as the twelfth volume of the Minnesota Historical Society's Prehistoric Archaeology Series. Lothson illustrated almost 2,000 individual glyphs in 218 clusters. Most of the glyphs were located on MHS property, but he noted 11 clusters off the property in the immediate vicinity.

Lothson suggested that the glyphs were carved during two periods: an early period documented by representations of atlatls and large projectile points and a later period documented by images similar to those used on the hide paintings of ethnographically known Plains Indians. Lothson saw four basic types of images at Jeffers: animals, hunting tools, human figures, and geometric designs. He interpreted their purpose to be associated with hunting magic, sacred ceremonies, and records of events.

Kevin Callahan has long been interested in Native American spirituality and archaeological attempts to gain insight into the deeper meanings of past cultures. Rock art sites are one of the few archaeological resources where this type of insight is a natural avenue of research. Callahan's book on the Jeffers site is an obvious extension of his previous research interests.

The 114-page book is a relatively quick read with its double-line spacing and wide margins. After a brief introduction and a series of ethnographic quotes about the power of rock and the color red, Callahan's book is divided into three major sections. A glossary or rock art terms is found at the back of the book, along with an unbound foldout site map. The book is extensively illustrated in black and white with assorted examples of the Jeffers rock art, as well as ethnographic images and artifacts that help us understand what may be depicted.

The first section presents what Callahan interprets as "frequently asked" questions about the site. Most of the questions posed by Callahan probably are frequently asked by visitors or prospective visitors to Jeffers, but a few are out of place such as "What pigments were used to make pictographs?" (the Jeffers glyphs are not pictographs). The glossary also includes some irrelevant entries (e.g., mammoth).

The second section focuses on common motifs and symbols found at Jeffers. The descriptions are interspersed with bits of information that may help us interpret the glyphs. Some of Callahan's categories are descriptive (e.g., sun-headed figures, bison with darts in their back), some are speculative (e.g., ear spools), and some are largely intuitive (e. …