Saturday, January 24, 2009

Aligned rocks appear to be work of early native Americans

By R.D. Hohenfeldt
Managing Editor, Ozarks Almanac

It's tempting to say Brian Kridelbaugh stumbled over a couple of rocks on an Ozarks hillside and discovered a cache of prehistoric rock art not known to have existed in Missouri.
Sure, it would make a great headline: "Stumbling into the history books" or "An artful stumble."
But that wouldn't be accurate. Although Kridelbaugh found the site of the cache, he was more interested at the time in two ancient burial cairns he spotted, so he walked right past the alignment of rocks placed on the hillside and in the valley thousands of years ago by prehistoric Ozarkers.
He didn't see the rocks until the next day during a return visit with Nancy Bryant when she noticed them and pointed them out to him.
That was in 1998 and since then, Kridelbaugh and Bryant have mapped that site and scores of others and begged professional archaeologists to look at their findings.
It's taken more than five years, but the research of the amateur archaeologists is starting to be taken seriously by the degreed professionals. A scholarly paper written by Bryant and Kridelbaugh titled "Missouri Petroforms: An Introduction to the Native American Stonework of the Ozark Highland Region" was recently published in the Missouri Archaeological Society Quarterly.
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"It was an accident. They call it a chance discovery," says Kridelbaugh of the site.
Kridelbaugh was out hiking in the Kaintuck Hollow/Mill Creek area of the Mark Twain National Forest when he found the two stone burial cairns in a hilltop glade. These cairns are large piles of rocks, about eight feet in diameter.
"They're everywhere. The centers have been dug out of a lot of them, so a lot of people call them doughnuts," Kridelbaugh.
Although cairns are not unusual, they're interesting enough to tell someone about and that's what Kridelbaugh did. He called Bryant and told her she needed to see the cairns.
When they went to the site and started walking back down the hill, Bryant noticed something peculiar.
"I noticed a pair of vertical stones. It didn't appear natural," she said.
She pointed the stones out to Kridelbaugh. They looked to her to be two sandstone slabs, set on edge,parallel to one another
"In my mind, it was an interesting geological feature," Kridelbaugh said.
Then Bryant spotted another pair,and then they both started looking for more of the unusual rocks.
“It was: 'Wait, there’s another, and another,'” Kridelbaugh said.
That piqued their interest enough that they returned to the site with paper, pencils, measuring tape and a compass. They started mapping the unusual stones and they started noticing that some were lined up on an east-west configuration, some on a north-south alignment and some that appeared to be random.
They went to the Rolla Public Library and with the help of a librarian found several books about prehistoric rock art: petroglyphs, pictographs and petroforms.
One of the drawings in the book was a map of a petroform site that looked almost like one of the drawings they had made of the Ozarks site. The lines between the petroforms were summer solstice and winter solstice, as well as the compass directions.
“It got spooky then,” said Kridelbaugh.
“It was an eerie feeling,” agreed Bryant.
They never again looked at a rock as just an interesting geological feature.
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Petroforms, placements of rocks by ancient peoples for worship or astronomical calculations or other unknown reason, are found around the world. You've heard of Stonehenge, of course. That's a big petroform. The sculptures on Easter Island are another example.
But around the world there are thousands of smaller petroforms in stone circles and other arrangements.
In the United States, they can be found in New England, California, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Hawaii and some Appalachian states.
But there have been no records of petroforms in Missouri until Kridelbaugh and Bryant found the work of the ancient Ozarkers.
Have they really found an ancient construction site?
Kridelbaugh and Bryant have taken geologists and archaeolgists on tours of the site and they have confirmed that this is indeed a petroform.
The petroform really is a cache of rock art. It is a network of stones in various shapes and sizes. Bryant and Kridelbaugh have categorized them into nine "elements" of construction: triangular or pyramid stones, rectangular block, vertical standing stone and slab set on edge, elevated pointer, flat pointer, catcher, modifier (a smaller stone set next to a slab), four-in-a-row and ridge stone. Bryant and Kridelbaugh believe these elemental shapes were symbols for the ancient builders.
"An invisible sacred landscape" is perhaps what they symbolized, Bryant says. "They were used somehow for connecting earth and sky."
Kridelbaugh says he believes the building of the petroforms was a form of worship.
"We go to church on Sunday. They built these stone structures," he says. "This was a meaningful thing to them. The amount of work involved, the man-hours, indicates to us it was a religious endeavor. It was important to them."
The sacredness of the petroforms is also hinted at in structures that Bryant and Kridelbaugh believe represent a hawk, a bison and a serpent. For ancient peoples, these animals represented the Sky World, This World and the Lower World.
They’ve also discovered that the forms alone are not all that’s important; the shadows cast by the stones onto the ground and onto other stones also seem to be laden with symbolism and importance.
This is more than just sundial shadowing. Stones cast shadows onto other stones, and also shadows in combination with one another seem to form figures. Did these have religious meaning?
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That's not the only question. In their scholarly paper for the Missouri Archaeological Society Quarterly, Bryant and Kridelbaugh list several questions they'd like to have answered:
"What group of prehistoric people created the vast quantity of stonework?
"What was the depth of their astronomical knowledge?
"Was the stonework a tradition that survived decades, centuries or millennia?
"Were the majority of the stonework sites symbolic or funcitonal?
"Is the stonework largely a visual language communicating messages or primarily designed for ritural/ceremony purposes?
"How much of the stonework is directly associated with burial customs and the stone ciarns in the area?
"Were the stones believed to be sacred or did they only become sacred after petroform construction?
"What we’re wanting to do is get an inter-disciplinary team together to excavate and carbon-date the site," says Bryant.
"There's room for six or seven Ph.D.'s to work on this," said Kridelbaugh.
Until recently, Bryant and Kridelbaugh had trouble getting most scholars to take a look at their data.
"People were extremely skeptical," Bryant said.
"Part of that was our amateur status," Kridelbaugh says.
That's beginning to change.
"The MAS article gave us credibility," Kridelbaugh says.
Adds Bryant,"They're viewing us as peers. It's made a huge difference."
Bryant has been named newsletter editor for the Eastern States Rock Art Research Association.
In March 2003, they received the New Research Award from that same association.
They've received letters of support and encouragement from archaeologists.
The amateurs' attitude toward the site might also be helping to build credibility.
"Our position is we want minimal disturbance to the sites and we want no personal gain," Kridelbaugh said. "We are really just ambassadors. we want to keep the light on the builders, not on us."
Even though the professional archaeologists are starting to take interest in the amateurs' findings regarding petroforms, there's another problem: "There's just no money for professional research. There's no funding," Bryant said.
She encourages others to start looking for petroforms. They're hard to see. Remember, no one thought Missouri had any petrofroms and Kridelbaugh walked right past that first set of standing stones and didn't see them.
But they may be all over the Ozarks, hidden in the brush. Kridelbaugh and Bryant have found many more petroforms in addition to their original site. Most are on public land, but they've been invited by private landowners to take a look at unusual rocks, too.
"Petroform hunting is something you can do as family. Kids can do it, and if they find a petroform, they really are finding something," Bryant said. "They will never look at a rock the same way again.”

--Originally published in The Ozarks Chronicle, January 2005

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