Monday, September 26, 2005

Monday, September 19, 2005

Superstition Rock Writings

September 19, 2005 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The subject of rock writing in the Superstition Wilderness Area conjures up tales of lost gold or buried treasure. Treasure hunters of the American Southwest are constantly searching for clues or signs that will lead them to a bonanza of buried treasure, and many books have been written on the topic of treasure signs. Hundreds of business ventures have been launched due to the misinterpretation of petroglyphs. Actually, few, if any treasures, have ever been found from the direct use of treasure signs carved in rocks.

Most of the stone markings found in the Superstition Wilderness were placed there several centuries ago by the early inhabitants of the region. Their culture was most likely related to the Hohokam or Salado. The petroglyphs (rock writings) found in the Superstition Wilderness and many other parts of the Southwest are so numerous and sometimes so complex it is difficult to analyze them in any scientific manner or order. Our knowledge and research involving ancient stone writings in the Southwest is so superficial it is almost impossible to find any sound consensus of agreement among contemporary researchers.

The novice finds these writings to mean little and usually having no real significance to anything they are familiar with. Treasure hunters have used these stone writings to support preposterous claims about hidden treasure in the Southwest. Archaeologists and anthropologists have not found any consistent linguistic key among the thousands of stone writings found in the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Rock writing in the American Southwest has been considered by many to be nothing more than an attempt by early inhabitants of the region to pass idle time. Lavan Martineau, author of the book “The Rocks That Speak,” believes it is unforgivable for any scholar to believe ancient petroglyphs were carved by a people who had a surplus of time. The ancient inhabitants of this desert region lived a life of gathering and subsistence. Food gathering was their only means of survival and there was no such thing as idle time.

The ancient occupants of various settlements throughout the Superstition Wilderness were like all people of the period. They spent most of their time gathering food for survival and then protecting it from their enemies and predators. They did not have idle time to “scratch on rocks with stones.” It is believed the petroglyphs we find throughout the Southwest, Arizona and the Superstition Wilderness were carved as a vast communications network or for religious purposes. Each design, no matter how simple or complex, had a meaningful function or purpose.

Within the boundaries of the Superstition Wilderness there are thousands of markings on rocks which have witnessed the eons of time. There are two major examples of these writings that can be found in the wilderness. One is located in Hieroglyphic Canyon (Apache Springs Canyon, see “History of Arizona,” Robinson, 1912) and the other is near Charlebois Spring in La Barge Canyon. Many isolated examples of petroglyphs are found throughout the Superstition Wilderness at such locations as Circlestone, Rough’s Canyon, Garden Valley, Black Ridge and Black Mesa. Most of the petroglyphs located within the Superstition Wilderness Area are found on basaltic-type rocks and are usually near old springs or water sources. Another interesting group of petroglyphs are often found near the tops of towering peaks or ridges.

The rock writings in the Superstition Mountain area can be attributed to a variety of groups. Native Americans, the Spaniards, the Mexicans and the Anglo-Americans all left their markings behind. Proving the source of these rock writings is an almost impossible task.

Since the turn of the century we have been faced with the treasure hunter who alters, defaces or makes new markings. This group of rock markings would also include those carved by dubious treasure hunters for the purpose of fraud. The origin of these questionable markings is an endless topic. The confusion they have caused among serious interpreters of ancient stone writings is sometimes irreversible.

[Part II, September 19, 2005]

The Superstition Wilderness contains thousands of petroglyphs, stone markings and stone writings of which many are from an unknown source. Let us examine one of the best known sites in the Superstition Wilderness.

On the south side of Black Top Mountain (Mesa) there is a set of stone writings that suggest they are Spanish in origin. The drawings are of a sunburst and the Spanish word “oro.” These markings have been the source of much controversy over the past eighty years or so. Thousands of dollars have been invested in a variety of schemes and scams to find gold on this mountain because of these stone markings.

Barry Storm, an early writer of Dutchman’s Lost Mine lore, may have been responsible for much of the interest expressed in these markings today. He claimed they were Spanish markings and many people believed him. Even the USGS printed the Spanish Hieroglyphics on one of their 7.5 minute topographic maps of the area. Only a handful of people before Barry Storm were aware of the markings on the south end of Black Top. William A. Barkley, owner of the local cattle ranch, said the markings had been there since he bought the ranch in 1907. My father visited the ranch in 1933 because Barkley told him about the petroglyphs at [the] south end of Black Top. Barkley and my father recalled the “oro” being on the rock prior to Storm. Did Storm mark the rock? I don’t know and I doubt if anyone knows for sure.

Other well-known petroglyphs are located in La Barge Canyon above its confluence with Charlebois Canyon. This stone marking is known as the “Master Map” in the world of the treasure hunters. Most archaeologists agree these petroglyphs were left by an ancient hunting culture who probably hunted sheep in the area a thousand years ago. The markings were later altered by contemporary man. Although the perpetrator of this alteration is unknown, his reason was to convince someone these petroglyphs were [of] Spanish origin.

Another very similar set of petroglyphs can be found in the desert south of Superstition Mountain. This set is not altered in any way, but identical to the La Barge group except for the contemporary alteration. It is apparent the same individual made both of these petroglyphs or maybe two different individual[s] made representations of stellar constellations. Archaeologists believe the markings in La Barge are in celebration of a successful hunt by ancient people who lived in this semi-arid environment several centuries ago.

One of the most fabulous stone marking galleries in the Superstition Wilderness is located in Hieroglyphic Canyon north of the old 3R Ranch in what is known as Gold Canyon today. The markings in this canyon represent a variety of mammals, reptiles and birds found in the Sonoran Desert. The craftsman who pecked out the outlines of these animals with another stone was a true artist. This canyon is certainly one of the finest examples of petroglyph art in the region.

Since the times of Caesar and Imperial Rome men have climbed to the top of mountains and left their monograms. After the turn of the century many hikers who climbed to the top of Superstition Mountain left their initials and the date to basically say to future generations, “I was there.” To remind us of this, at the top of Summit 5024 there are several names and dates.

The stone markings in the Superstition Wilderness range from contemporary man to ancients of several centuries ago. I suppose our markings are worth preserving in some manner. Over time they become a small part of our written history. However, the real historical value is in the ancient petroglyphs left more than a thousand years ago by the early inhabitants of this desert wilderness. It is important we become stewards of these stone markings and protect them for future generations to enjoy and study.