WHAT DO THESE SYMBOLS MEAN? A CRITICAL REVIEW OF THE IMAGES FOUND ON THE ROCKS OF THE CANADIAN SHIELD WITH SPECIFIC REFERENCE TO THE PICTOGRAPHS OF THE LAKE OF THE WOODS by Alicia J. M. COLSON *
“Conway (n.d.a and 1978) considered three morphs, from various pictograph sites in Northeastern Ontario, which occurred in conjunction with each other: an open armed man, his canine companion, and an animal pelt. Another morph, which Conway identified as a beaver, existed above the man and his animal companion. He identified these images as specific star constellations. Rajnovich (1980a:35) asserted that Conway’s (1978) identification of Orion and Canis Major (see discussion page 64ff) at different sites across the Canadian Shield was problematic. Bear images, she asserted, either occurred alone or in pairs as she had observed in the pictograph sites of both Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods. Pairs of images also existed at Cuttle Lake (Rajnovich 1980c). She did not discuss canine images although Conway had identified a canine image existing with a human figure. She also observed that images described as a “canoe-with-passenger” motif existed throughout the Canadian Shield but that two styles of this shape existed at Pukamo Island and Jackfish Lake, two sites in the Rainy Lake region. She (ibid.) contended that the image from the site on Pukamo Island had “stick” passengers while a similar image on the pictograph site at Jackfish Lake, had “open armed passengers.” Unfortunately Rajnovich did not provide any photographs of either of the images under discussion. She (ibid.) posited that the differences occurred since the passengers in the canoe were men in one canoe and Maymaygwayshi in the other (Maymaygwayshi (Vastokas & Vastokas (1973:48), may-may-gway-shi (Redsky 1972:36), or memenowéciwak (Hallowell (1992:64) are small hairy creatures, spirits, who living in rocks alongside lakes and are fond of fish, travel in canoes, and occasionally stole fish but when they met humans they hung their heads because they “had a soft part to their nose, only a hole” (Hallowell 1973:48)…” (page 39)
Inspired by a red-painted pictograph site in the heart of canoe country in what is now known as the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, it is speculated by some that this image is that of a Maymaygwayshi. They are the "little people" that reside in the rock faces. Sometimes mischevious, sometimes helpful, it is said an offering of tobacco, and perhaps a word of respect, will find favor as you pass their way.
Wheeler (1977a and b, 1979, n.d.) stated that attention should be paid to studies of the structure of the Cree and Ojibwa languages where the May May Quah Sao (often called Maymaygwayshi), who were spirit helpers, were associated with stones in the sacred stories told by Algonquian-speaking peoples (n.d.:1). The word “stone” belonged, Wheeler asserted, “in an animate grammatical category in Algonkian languages” that was “linguistically distinguished as that which interacts with man and that which does not” (ibid.). Wheeler (n.d.:5) recorded a rock image site on the Semple River near Oxford House in northeastern Manitoba including the legend connected to this site by informants. Information existed, Wheeler noted, regarding the relationship of these spirit helpers and rock image sites in the ethnographic and anthropological literature such as that produced by Dewdney and Kidd (1962; 1967) and Landes (1968), while others (Stevens 1971) had recorded stories that connected these spirit helpers to rock image sites (page 66).
Above and below: http://albinger.me/2014/06/08/selwyn-dewdney-norval-morrisseau-the-ojibwe-pictograph-tradition/
The collection and interpretation of data are intergenerational processes in which each new generation of scholars amplifies, and modifies the work of its predecessors. This is clearly a truism; the implications of this are rarely understood and developed. On the one hand most investigators work within their own paradigm. This does not render them immune from criticism, set in aspic. This article surveys the publications of researchers working on the pictograph and petroglyph sites in the Lake of the Woods area. I establish the approaches which have been the most popular, previous findings on pictograph sites, and the way materials were examined. A standard of comparison emerges, to become a yardstick against which new data can be examined. Much of this article is specifically concerned with the analysis of the pictograph sites of the Lake of the Woods area, but references are made to studies of sites elsewhere on the Canadian Shield.
The intuitive (narrative, constructivist, or so called ‘humanist’) approach associated with post-processual archaeology developed as a reaction against the positivism of the processual archaeologists during the 1970s and 1980s. The intuitive or narrative approach is popular among petroglyph and pictograph scholars because it enables them to address the issue of the meaning of an image, even when there is a paucity of detailed textual records. This is of questionable utility. The strong relativists load their theoretical discussions with tortuous vocabulary. They claim a great deal but fail to advance beyond the subjective. Though authoritative and assertive in tone, their interpretations are exercises in “navel gazing”. The readers, finds themselves at the whim of each scholar’s intuition. The applications of this approach cannot be duplicated, since researchers rarely explain how they reached their findings. A scholar interested in establishing the meaning of rock images in a more rigorous and persuasive fashion cannot stay there, and should adopt the analogical or homological approach (see Figure 1) pages 4-5
The analogical approach, associated with processual archaeology, was a reaction by positivists to the culture-history which dominated the post war era. Its proponents argued that behaviour could be inferred from material culture because many uniform connections exist between the various components of socio-cultural systems, material culture, and human behaviour. Scholars who practice this approach argue that it is only worth employing universal regularities in human behaviour. Biologists define analogies as similar features of different species without close evolutionary relations. The similarities have resulted from natural selection operating to adapt different species to a similar environment (Abercrombie, Hickman and Johnson 1985:20). An archaeological analogy is a likeness or partial likeness assumed to exist as a consequence of convergent development under comparable conditions. Interpretation using analogies allows scholars to use strong cross-cultural regularities between behaviour and material culture in systemic contexts to attribute behavioural correlates to material remains recovered from archaeological contexts. This assumes that correlations can be argued between past and present day cognitive and behavioural capabilities of human beings. So, if similar behavioural characteristics can be established between specific aspects of material culture and behaviour in the contemporary world, scholars can extend them to cover the same or similar aspects of material culture in the archaeological record (Binford 1981). Scholars adopting analogical approaches use universal generalisations, rather than concepts specific to individual or historically related cultures. This has one major drawback. For if they deem only universal correlations to be relevant then it is difficult to deal with the idiosyncratic facets of a single image
The homological approach might offer an alternative to this bleak picture (. An archaeological homology is a similarity in two or more cultures occurring as the result of shared historical origin unobscured by adaptation to different cultural environments. Archaeological homologies result from diffusion as well as common descent (page 6)…
Page 8 Revista de Arqueología Americana No.25
‘Rock Art’ and Its Study - Some Preliminary Thoughts
I think that the images that exist on the surface of rocks should be termed rock images, or petroglyphs and pictographs instead of rock art. I realise that the term ‘rock art’ is applied world-wide to images that are placed on the surfaces of rocks. It occurs in many different places and settings: Australian rock shelters, the surfaces of boulders in the Jordanian desert, vertical rock faces or rock outcrops on the Canadian Shield, the sides of the stone passages of New Grange in Ireland, and the walls of deep caves in France and Spain. ‘Rock art’ also covers features created using rocks of different sizes to produce ‘rock,’ or ‘boulder alignments.’ I think that the term ‘art’ is problematic because it suggests that these images have primarily a decorative value and no intrinsic value or meaning of their own. It also implies classification of these images according to Western notions of high or low art, or, perhaps, a craft. These terms have loaded meanings, since they impose the analyst’s conventional values. Rock images should not be considered within such a perspective, since, evidently, the cultural context of the ‘reader’ or ‘viewer’ influences perception and classification. This prejudgement affects how images are understood (Blocker 1994; Conkey 1987; Price 1989).
Rock image sites cannot be studied using the same techniques as are applied to other archaeological sites. The theoretical approaches used and the questions asked may be the same but the data sources are radically different and generally far more limited. These images cannot be excavated using the techniques for recovering, cataloguing, and analysing data that archaeologists apply to ‘conventional’ archaeological sites. The area surrounding such images may be excavated but the physical context of the site often provides little or no information about the meaning(s) of the images themselves. The subjective beliefs and ideas held by the people who created these images did more to shape them than technological processes or the economic or political systems in which these people lived. Therefore, the archaeologist must rely to an unusual degree on a range of nonarchaeological sources in order to establish the meaning of the images. It is very difficult to access this information for a group whose past is available only through the archaeological record. The difficulties in accessing the symbolic knowledge of a group of people through the inherent attributes and physical location of such images may explain why these sites have often been ignored, or merely described, in contrast to similar images found on birch bark scrolls. Fieldwork and archival work must be considered as equally important in this study, since information must be drawn from a wide range of disciplines, including archaeology, anthropology, history, art history, geology, and geography.
What Do These Symbols Mean? 8-9