Northwoods Memories Multimedia Productions


Island River Pictograph Site: Authentic?

Sunday, October 18th, 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 Island River Pictograph site.  During this same visit he had asked me about the South Hegman Lake Pictograph site.  His account with pictures of his trip to the South Hegman Lake site was printed in Boundary Waters News, their on-line newsletter, Fall of 2008.

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 Island River site.  In it I also included information about  the South Hegman site, and that information was included in my blog post on September 28, 2009.

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.

I have several unanswered questions about this site:

1.  The images are very large.  As you know, there are no other images in the Quetico and BWCA that are more than a part of a foot in size.  We have researched the known images in New England, where nearly all are petroglyphs, not pictographs, and images this large are very rare.  I am now studying the Navajo area in the southwest looking for images this large

2.  The pigment color is unusual.  Green and black pigments appear to have been mixed, and photographically they do not match any other pigment on the rock.  I conclude that whatever or whomever made the images brought the pigment from elsewhere.  We are not authorities in photo analysis, though we are getting a little better with experience.  In the Quetico and BWCA, only red and white pigments are used other than here.  But I will not yet rule out the possibility of green and black pigment use, as both colors are found in mineral washes on many cliffs in canoe country.  Black washes are probably iron based and green pigments could be copper based or from other materials, perhaps biological.  The pigments were certainly available.

3.  Of note, to the left and below the three figures are the initials JWC.  The initials are quite large but can be easily overlooked, as one tends to focus on the large images.  The initials appear to have been made by scratching plant coverings from the rock.   But the initials are not void of plant life.  The surface of the initials has plant life growing on the rock and it is of a kind found elsewhere on the rock.  I am not a botanist and not an authority on lichens, though I know their basic biology.  If the plants in the base of the initials are lichens, these are very slow growing plants, and the initials had to have been there for at least the growth time of the lichens.  But they could be other types of plants, like mosses, which grow faster.  I would like to find a botanist to examine the plant life on the rock face.  Are the initials those of the painter?  If so, the images are most probably not Ojibwa.  Are they graffiti added some time after the images were painted?  There probably is no way of telling.  Hopefully, folks traveling to any of the known pictograph sites will refrain from anything that damages or desecrates the images.  The initials only add to the confusion surrounding this site. 

4.  On the other side of the projecting rock where the green images are, is a red filled-in circle that we looked at.  Based on the “eye ball” look and photo analysis, we think it is painted.  With a high resolution photo taken tangentially across the surface of the rock, in some areas, red can be seen on the elevated parts of the surface and none can be seen in the depressions of the rock. If this red were geologic, I would think the red would be in both the “highs” and the “lows” of the rock surface.  Saying that it is painted, does not, however, say who painted it and when.  Superior Forest lists it as a recognized site.  The red image might lend credence to the other side of the rock (with the green images) having some social or religious significance.

In my opinion, the jury is still out on this one.  I don’t understand it at all.  We are still researching it.  As I said above, I would like to find a highly trained botanist with knowledge of the lichens and mosses and similar plants to examine the initials and the plant life within and around them   We will include this site in our series of Northwoods Pictograph bulletins, since it is recognized by the Superior National Forest officials.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply