adventures in nature

petroglyphs in my backyard [+ new species of human ID’d!]

petroglyph rock IN MY YARD(?!)

petroglyph rock IN MY YARD(?!)

I’m always fascinated to see evidence of people from the past – to hold an arrow head in your hand is a direct connection to the person who made it, a physical and energetic connection to another time. We tend to think of these past times and people as having occupied a space that is very removed from our present reality, and in some ways that is true. It’s hard for our minds to grasp this, as to many of us the early 1900’s seems as long ago as when the pharaohs ruled Egypt (OK maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but maybe not – both are just abstractions in our minds if we haven’t lived it). But when you consider the brief amount of time that each of our lives is here in this incarnation, it’s possible to feel how close we actually are to our ancestors despite our mind’s perception.

And of course this is especially true when we see direct evidence of our primitive past living out in our congress and politicians today!

[Perhaps there actually is another species of human that survived to present day, and merits a new branch on our family tree – hiding in plain site, somewhere between Neanderthals and Cro Magnon man – he/she looks like modern day humans and has survived in our midst despite retaining the brain size and primitive behaviors of long gone primate species … I hereby propose the addition of “Homo politico ineffectus!!!”]

Homo politicus ineffectus

Homo politico ineffectus

(photo meld courtesy of Smithsonian’s MEanderthal app – evidently the MEanderthal app is considered critical and not subject to government shutdown)

Enough of that though, I am getting off topic.

The other day a woman was combing through the neighborhood where I live looking for ancient petroglyphs – rock art. That’s right, looking for rock art in the metropolitan area of the East Bay of San Francisco. Evidently petroglyph sites have been found all along coastal California and into Oregon that are attributed to people who lived here anywhere from 8000 to 3000 year BP (Before Present)! Amazing when it is thought that humans only occupied this land at most 12,000 years BP. It is suspected that these are the predecessors (and possible ancestors) to the Native People who live here now and have been living here for many centuries prior to contact with Europeans. This woman was excited to reveal that one of the rocks in our yard very likely holds some of this ancient art.

Pecked Curvilinear Nucleated shapes (PCN's)

Pecked Curvilinear Nucleated shapes (PCN’s)

What prompted her search, besides a peculiar calling and possibly that she already did her annual tree burl assessment for the area, is the fact that there is a site not far from where I live (approx 1/2 mile) that is a park, and within that park a playground was built around some rocks. Turns out those rocks hold a large number of petroglyphs. Fortunately someone finally realized the significance of the markings on those rocks and now they are protected (Canyon Trail Park in El Cerrito). This is one of less than a dozen sites that has been found though, so it is remarkable. But all throughout the neighborhoods of the East Bay are many rocks that protrude out of the earth into people’s yards – some as big as passenger vans or larger. Many palettes for the prehistoric-artist.

According to research and analysis regarding this topic (which is scant, at best), a type of rock art was all the rage in those times composed of shapes now called “pecked curvilinear nucleated” petroglyphs (PCN’s). They generally consist of a circle inscribed in the rock, which then allows the center to stand out in relief. Sometimes there are variations to this theme, and sometimes they are accompanied by cupules (small cups ground into the rock). Not only that, they have almost always been found carved on blue/green chlorite schist rock and often near a water source. The chlorite schist only occurs in fault zone areas, so it is found in isolated regions especially in California.

close-up of PCN's

close-up of PCN’s

close-up of PCN

close-up of PCN

Who carved these? And why? And when? Evidently those exact details are a bit of a mystery, but it is theorized that they are related to fertility or weather rituals by the people I mentioned above, sometime between 8000 and 3000 BP (though not to be confused with some petroglyphs created later, in the same areas, by Pomo People for fertility rites – or mortar stones for grinding acorns by other various Native Peoples – see pictures below).

mortar rock hole (hole diameter approx 8")

mortar rock hole (hole diameter approx 8″) / Solano County

mortar rock with multiple mortar holes / Solano County

mortar rock with multiple mortar holes / Solano County

Really an amazing treasure to be living by such a piece of history – it will be exciting to see if anyone analyzes the rock further (and if there are more petroglyphs buried under ground level).

Another site that is open for viewing to the public in addition to Canyon Trail Park in El Cerrito is Ring Mountain in Marin County. There are other sites, but many of them are on private land or are not publicized.

Luckily for all of you, I have decided to open a roadside museum to display this new find in my yard – look for me in full steam punk regalia with a bullhorn, standing on a soapbox by what will appear to the observer to be a modified child’s lemonade stand. I’ll also be selling my special tonics that are guaranteed to cure all.

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References (and for more information) check out these links:

1) Cultural Markings on the Landscape: The PCN Pecked Curvilinear Nucleated Tradition in the Northern Coastal Ranges of California – Dissertation by Donna Lee Gillette http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/1nh3898b#page-4

2) American Rock Art Research Association website http://www.arara.org/

3) Canyon Trail Park petroglyphs – http://www.arara.org/documents/LP-30-1.pdf

4) CA petroglyphs – http://www.arara.org/Background_RockArt_Calif.pdf

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