While earthworks, or “mounds,” are the most widely known fixed monuments of Native American history in Ohio, the state shares with the rest of the upper Ohio Valley a widely dispersed collection of smaller monuments. The animal, mythical, and human designs scratched into soft rock faces throughout the region constitute a fascinating, enigmatic, and fragile record of the world of the late prehistoric peoples of the American Midwest. Unlike the larger monuments, many of which have long been recognized and set aside for study and preservation, the rock art of the state has, because of its scale and location, been known only to professional archaeologists and, perhaps, a few local observers. In Petroglyphs of Ohio, James Swauger provides a comprehensive account of all recognized petroglyphs in the state.
For each of fifty–six locations, Swauger provides maps, photographs and line drawings, a summary of historical accounts, and discussion of the figures involved, their possible significance, and methods of creation. Based on comparative studies and interpretation of site records, Swauger suggests that the majority of Native American petroglyphs in Ohio were created between A.D. 1200 and 1750 by an apparently peaceful, proto–Shawnee tribe which spoke an Algonquian tongue. Such evidence also enables Swauger to isolate numerous later rock carvings, some of which masquerade as Native American, and advance theories as to their origin.
Swauger’s examination of many of these sites reveals the comparatively rapid deterioration to which the petroglyphs are subject. Because natural forces and man have combined, over the last century, to obscure many of them, Petroglyphs of Ohio will provide a much-needed record, serving for the forseeable future as the authoritative study of rock art of Ohio.
James L. Swauger is research associate, rock art, at the University of California, Los Angeles, and curator emeritus of anthropology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.
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