Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Petroforms, Trade Routes and Proto-Algonquian

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Petroforms, also known as boulder outlines or boulder mosaics, are human-made shapes and patterns of rocks on the open ground. Petroforms in North America were originally made by Indigenous Peoples, who used various terms to describe them. Petroforms can also include a rock cairn or inukshuk, an upright monolith slab, a medicine wheel, a fire pit, a desert kite, sculpted boulders, or simply rocks lined up or stacked for various reasons…(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroform)
Above photo from Whiteshell Provincial Park in Manitoba. More nice photos to be found at: www.manitobaphotos.com/petroforms.htm and a search of google images will turn up many more.
Think about how similar are some of the things we "rock pile people" post up here and elsewhere.
Why are they petroforms there but not here??
Then think about the Ojibwe People most closely associated with the Petroforms: "The Ojibwe language... belongs to the Algonquian linguistic group, and is descended from Proto-Algonquian. According to their tradition, and from recordings in birch bark scrolls, many Ojibwe came from the eastern areas of North America, or Turtle Island, and from along the east coast. They traded widely across the continent for thousands of years and knew of the canoe routes west and a land route to the west coast...The use of petroforms, petroglyphs, and pictographs was common throughout the Ojibwe traditional territories. Petroforms and medicine wheels were a way to teach the important concepts of four directions and astronomical observations about the seasons, and to use as a memorizing tool for certain stories and beliefs...Birch bark scrolls and petroforms were used to pass along knowledge and information, as well as for ceremonies..."
From Wiki's Ojibwe entry ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ojibwe)
Petroforms video: petroforms


pwax said...

A key question for me, someone outside the Indian community, is what the Indians know about rock piles. I brought this up earlier. So in this article, Tim, you are shifting from "indigenous people" to "Ojibwe" and I am not clear if you are suggesting the Ojibwe DO know about rock piles. Such an important idea needs to be more explicity, if that is what is intended. Do the Ojibwe really know anything about rock piles? I read (but cannot now find) a statement that the Indians at Whiteshell stated clearly that they did not know the original reasons for the rock piles there. Am I mis-remembering?

Also, I recall asking a somewhat helpful Indian from the Mediwiwin society whether split-wedged rocks were known to him. He asked around and came back with the answer that - they had seen them but did not know what they were about.

Another way to approach this topic is to ask whether chrnonology is meaningful in the study of Native Americans? I think it is obvious that not all Indians are the same at this moment in time or compared with other moments of time. So are the Ojibwe identical with the makers of the rock piles at Whiteshell? They say: no. The chronology is wrong.

Chris Pittman said...

I think what we are talking about here might be somewhat akin to asking a modern-day Scandinavian about the pre-Christian religious customs of the Vikings. I believe that at least some rock pile sites are quite old and it seems the oral history does not go back that far on this subject. Looking at the archaeological record, it is clear that indigenous populations changed over time and that cultures changed as well in the centuries before the arrival of European explorers. I believe that the age and cultural origin of rock piles are both important and I have not seen any evidence to suggest that Indians living in New England today can answer this question based on their traditions.

Norman said...

And a key question for me is who wrote the entry on petroforms for Wikipedia? From my conversations with Jack Steinbring and Herman Bender, petroforms are boulder outlines on the ground. Period. I'm not sure who added the other stuff, but it actually distorts the meaning.

Tim MacSweeney said...

We could probably have a contest to see who can find the most definitions of the word petroform. The language link is interesting to me, supporting the tradition that DID survive among the Ashinabe that they came from the east coast, the salt water. Could that also suggest that the stone building travelled, like the language, to there rather than originating from there???? That might mean there was alot of Native Stonework here in the more densley populated east coast and we should keep our eyes open...