The Rock-Art of Eastern North America: Capturing Images and Insight

By Dye, David H. | Southeastern Archaeology, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

The Rock-Art of Eastern North America: Capturing Images and Insight


Dye, David H., Southeastern Archaeology


The Rock-Art of Eastern North America: Capturing Images and Insight. CAROL DIAS-GRANADOS and JAMES R. DUNCAN (eds.). University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2004. 426 pp., 175 illus., 7 tables, preface, acknowledgments, introduction, biblio., contributors' biographies, index. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-8173-1394-X; $34.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8173-5096-9.

Reviewed by David H. Dye

The Rock-Art of Eastern North America is a welcomed addition to the growing literature on prehistoric and historic rock-art. Long overlooked by professional archaeologists, the study of petroglyphs and pictographs is rapidly becoming an important and integral part of current archaeological discussions. Due to the persistence of researchers such as Carol Diaz-Granados, James R. Duncan, and their colleagues, the study of rock-art clearly is a mainstream focus for eastern North American archaeology. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this genre of rock-art investigation is its association with Native American ritual, art, and iconography. These topics, until recently, were often avoided by archaeologists because of difficulties in establishing chronological controls; understanding rockart from the perspective of its environmental, social, and ideological contexts; and incorporating rock-art interpretations/discussions within traditional or current archaeological paradigms. The Rock-Art of Eastern North America impresses upon us that these interpretive problems are not insurmountable and that the study of rock-art can be integrated as one facet of our understanding of eastern North American prehistory.

The Rock-Art of Eastern North America comprises 20 chapters divided into seven major topics: dendroglyphs; ethnography; patterning of sites and motifs; gender; survey, recording, conservation, and management; historic; and dating methods. The well-written and thoughtful chapters are authored by active rock-art researchers and well-known scholars and avocationals. Illustrated with 175 photographs, line drawings, and maps, the 426-page volume covers a large geographic area, ranging over 12 states and four Canadian provinces in the eastern North American woodlands. Of course, this area generally is in the interior of the continent which contains rocky terrain suitable for rock art.

In the opening section which covers dendroglyphs, Fred E. Coy Jr. discusses Native American carvings and paintings on trees that are found throughout much of the Eastern Woodlands. He argues that the relative lack of pictographs on rock surfaces is a result of the more frequent use of tree boles as communicative devices, especially in the upper Eastern Woodlands. The three articles in the second section cover rock art and ethnography. Lori A. Stanley offers the account of the Ratcliffe Sacred Rock in the upper Iowa River Valley and the oral history of the modern Winnebago tribe of Nebraska, while Mark J. Wagner, Mary R. McCorvie, and Charles A. Swedlund outline the ritual landscape and associated rock-art at the Mississippian Millstone Bluff Site in southern Illinois. Kevin L. Callahan follows with a discussion of pica and geoghagy as an explanation of cup-marked boulders in the Eastern Woodlands.

In the second section, six chapters deal with the patterning of archaeological sites with rock-art motifs. Charles H. Faulkner, Jan F. Simek, and Alan Cressler describe their long-term research on prehistoric rock-art in Tennessee, with emphasis on open-air sites. Richard Edging and Steven R. Ahler examine rock-art sites and Late Woodland settlement locations in the northern Ozarks of south-central Missouri and Robert Alan Clouse documents the patterning of human activity and possible functioning of the Jeffers Petrogylphs, located at the eastern edge of the Great Plains in southwestern Minnesota. Jack Steinbert identifies elemental forms of rock-art at the Lake-of-the-Woods petroglyph sites in Ontario, Canada, and offers interpretations about the peopling of the Americas based on randomly pecked cup marks on boulders.

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