Northwoods Memories Multimedia Productions


“Reading Rock Art” by Grace Rajnovich

Saturday, April 24th, 2010
submitted by: Bob Evans

The complete title to the book is “Reading Rock Art:  Interpreting The Indian Rock Paintings Of The Canadian Shield.”  It is an excellent resource for people wanting casual reading to learn more about the pictographs of canoe country but it is also a scholarly work with an excellent and extensive bibliography for those who want more intensive study of this subject.  We have used both the text and the bibliographic references extensively in our research into the Quetico and Boundary Waters pictograph sites.  This book is cited as a reference in nearly all of our publications.  The Northwoods Pictograph series of informational bulletins for use in the field (see pictograph pages on our website)  contains extensively referenced work by Dr. Rajnovich.

Grace Rajnovich is an archaeologist who spent fourteen years in field research before writing this excellent book.  Her academic preparation (B.A. from  York University, M.A. in English from University of Toronto, M.A. in Anthropology from University of Manitoba, and Ph.D. in Anthropology from Michigan State University) is excellent, but don’t get the idea that this is a hard-to-read book written in academic jargon.  Her well-rounded approach to the content not only presents interpretations of many figures found on the rocks of the Canadian Shield, but weaves the figures and their meanings into an overall discussion of the culture and religious practice of the Native Americans who painted these messages on the rocks. 

While the geographic area covered is much larger than Quetico and the Boundary Waters, the approach is general enough to allow easy application of the information to the specific sites in Canoe Country.  Many of the sites paddlers encounter are specifically covered in the book.  The value of the larger area is that many images seen in Quetico and the Boundary Waters are placed in the context of similar images found in other sites.  This generalization allows the reader to gain meaning from images that otherwise would seem too abstract to understand.  For example, the images on McKenzie Lake and Kawnipi Lake that seem to be representations of Nanaboujou, a very important Manitou to the Algonkian speaking tribes of the area, would not be recognized as such without the discussion by Dr. Rajnovich of several similar images on other sites outside Quetico and the BWCA.

Most, if not all, of the pictographs are believed to have been painted on the rocks by members of medicine societies that were cross tribal.  It is not possible to have any basic understanding of the images and their interpretations without an understanding of the people and how the medicine societies fit into the culture of the time.  Additionally, it is not possible to have any significant appreciation of the images without a concept of the Manitous, which may be very difficult to understand within the confines of the Judao-Chrisitan ethic.  Dr. Rajnovich, in the early chapters of the book lays a very solid groundwork for this understanding and carries these themes throughout the content of the book.   The reader develops an integrated idea of the images as they relate to many aspects of the culture and medicine practices of the people.

Expect enjoyable reading and an expanding understanding from this book.  We recommend it for readers with any casual interest in the pictographs and also to those who are interested in a more intense study of these prayers on the rocks.

Rajnovich, Grace.   “Reading Rock Art:  Interpreting The Indian Rock Paintings Of The Canadian Shield.”  Natural Heritage / Natural History, Inc.   Toronto.  1994.

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