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South Hegman Lake Pictograph site: Authentic or not?

Monday, September 28th, 2009
submitted by: Bob Evans

When we were in Ely, summer of 2008, I had a conversation with Steve Piragis, owner of Piragis Northwoods Company and the Boundary Waters Catalog.  I was introducing him to our fledgling series of Northwoods Pictograph bulletins.  In the course of the conversation he asked me about the South Hegman Lake site and if I thought it was real.  While the North Hegman Lake site is well known and authentic, we had not heard about the South Hegman Lake site.  He had recently heard of the site and he had visited it and taken some pictures.  He offered to send me the pictures from the site and references to the site location.

His account with pictures was printed in Boundary Waters News, their on-line newsletter, Fall of 2008.  He sent me the pictures and I reviewed them.

Then in May of 2009, Edwina and I visited the South Hegman Site on an easy day trip.  During that same week in Ely, we crossed paths with Steve again when we were eating at the Chocolate Moose.  He asked me about my opinion of the Island River Site.  He wondered if the very large green and gray images were authentic.  We visited briefly about them before moving on to breakfast.

In June of 2009, after a trip to Ely, I wrote Steve passing on information I had gathered based on some research and our visit to the South Hegman site.  In it I also included the Island River site but that will be covered in another blog post in a few days.

In July of 2009, Steve reprinted the original article from the previous Fall and my letter to him about the two sites.  Following is the approximate text of part of that publication.  I have edited it slightly from what was published to try to clarify some of the points in my original writing.  In the interim I had visited with Walt Okstad, Historian/Heritage Program Manager for Superior National Forest and he had provided some relevant information which I included.

Here is my assesement of the South Hegman Lake site.  I must say, that my opinions expressed are only that, opinions. 

First, I talked with Walt Okstad, Historian/Heritage Program Manager for Superior National Forest who does a lot of archaeological work.  He sent a team to evaluate the site when they were told of it.  These were people with much experience evaluating other pictograph sites.  The team concluded the site was not authentic based on several factors.  He stated that had the site been authentic, in this well traveled area, and so out in the open, references would have been made on one or more of the many old maps archived in their historical documents collections.   He did add that, as with informaton on all pictograph sites, these were only the opinions of the people evaluating the information.

Second, when we looked at the images, they are distinctly brown in color.  While there is some red to the pigment, the color is not even close to any of the shades of red on the many other sites we have studied.  There are known red and white images in canoe country.  If you accept the authenticity of the Island River site then there are green/gray images.  We know of no images that are very brownish in color.  While this does not specifically make them fake, it does make them “out of the ordinary.”

Third, the canoe on the site is unusual.  Images of canoes, of which there are many in canoe country, are of two kinds.  One, the “stick figure” type, is painted with single stokes of the brush (i.e. the finger, probably), and all the lines are the width of a single stroke of the finger.  This kind of canoe image is very common in canoe country.

The other kind of canoe image has a “thicker” canoe as in “more freeboard,” and elaborate figures in the canoe.  An example is the image on the East side of the entrance to Kawa Bay, Kawnipi Lake.  Interestingly, the island site in Lake Agnes north of the S-Chain turn-off (Agnes Site 5 in our series), has one of each of these types of images.

In the image at  South Hegman, the canoe is “thick” and the figures in the canoe are “stick figures.”  Oddly, they are thinner than would be drawn with an average adult sized finger.  I know of no other image in the area that is drawn like this.  That observation does not make it fake, but it certainly is unusual.

Forth, the other lines in the panel are of widely varying widths.  The cross on the panel is of thicker width than the three vertical lines, which, in turn, are thicker than the figures in the canoe.   In the vast majority of sites, all lines are of the same thickness unless there is a figure that is “filled in.”  This would presumably be due to painting them with a single finger, probably the most common “brush” used.

Fifth, as Mr Okstad said, the location is very unusual.  The rock face is very small, and the rock itself is a small bolder.  Location of this isolated bolder in a clearing away from the waters edge is unusual.  I know of no other site where the images are on a bolder instead of part of a cliff.  But since the discovery of the Montgomery Creek site, off-the-water sites are certainly possible.

Sixth, as related by Mr. Okstad, it is hard to believe that an authentic site in so commonly traveled an area would not be reported much earlier and referenced on much earlier maps.  The known authentic sites on commonly traveled routes in the area are referenced on many maps drawn by the Native Ojibwa and by the fur traders that entered the area.   While some recently discovered sites are not recorded on these maps, they are either on less commonly traveled routes (McVicar Bay) or in ususual locations (South Lake Agnes, which is very high off the water).   While Mr. Okstad did not say when they first heard of this site, he implied that it was very recently.

Based on all this information, we have decided not to include the South Hegman site in the series of Northwoods Pictographs bulletins.  We carefully say that the opinions expressed here are only that, our opinions.  The best references, the Ojibwa elders themselves, to our knowlege have not expressed any opinion on this site.  If we are incorrect in that respect, we hope to be referred to any opinion they may  have expressed.

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