24 January 2004
Mystery shrouds ancient petroglyphs in North Carolina
Judaculla Rock is more boulder than rock; shaped something like a giant fan, it is relatively flat on one side. But on this rock are markings, scribbling and dribbling, spidery lines, that were put there perhaps 10,000 years ago. As it sits now on the edge of a pasture, protected by Jackson County (Western North Carolina, U.S.A.), Judaculla Rock is a mystery wrapped in mythology and shelled over with stories.
Scott Ashcraft, staff archaeologist for the U.S. Forest Service in Asheville, has been studying and photographing the rock for several years now. He and other volunteers in the state are tracking such monuments in the North Carolina Rock Art study since 1998. When the study began, only about seven such rocks were known. Today, the study has pinpointed more than 50, and the list is growing, especially along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Ashcraft calls them rock art "clusters." It is hoped, said, that the border clusters will render great insight into rock art.
"Native American was everywhere," he said. "And rock art was a lot more prevalent around here than we thought in years past." Important finds in East Tennessee, he said, have been uncovered in caves. "The archaeology in East Tennessee is some of the best in the U.S.A. because the mudglyphs are undisturbed. About 60 to 65 percent of the rock art in North Carolina has been disturbed." In some cases, said, whole boulders have been toted off or destroyed.
Ashcraft has mapped the Judaculla Rock, meaning he has divided it into quadrants to get an idea of how many carvings there are and the many designs. From this, he has come up with some unusual findings. For example, he thinks some of the carved patterns are not exactly what they seem to be. Something that looks like two large circles next to each other are more than just circles. He thinks they may represent owls. He said the carvings obviously represent humans, animals and combinations of man and animal. "But Indian art is almost always abstract and highly stylized," he said. "It is not immediately recognizable."
That is not the only strange thing about the rock. Its name is more than a little interesting. It is out of Cherokee Indian mythology, only it was spelled much differently, as the word comes out Tsulkalu, which translates into 'slant-eyed giant,' a mythic figure who ruled over game. The name became corrupted when white Europeans tried to wrap their tongues around the word. It became Jutaculla and Tulicula and eventually evolved into Judaculla.
The rock lies atop a deposit of soapstone, and it is speculated that the Indians of several thousand years ago dug around the rock to get soapstone for utensils and ornaments. Ashcraft said a good guess is that the rock carvings are roughly 4,500 years old. But some estimate the carvings are as much as 10,000 years old.
Judaculla Rock is fairly soft and can be easily damaged when it is "chalked" to make the glyphs stand out. Over the years, people have chalked the rock or even whitewashed it in order to see the carvings. Chemicals in the whitewash and chalk have reacted with the rock to damage the carvings, Ashcraft said.
Jeff Carpenter, director of Jackson County Parks and Recreation, said the county is thinking of creating an interpretive area around the rock. "This is really a unique site," said Carpenter. "And it needs to be preserved."
Source: KnoxNews.com (18 January 2004)