Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to observe it close up. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics of photography to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

The Dark Horse Region

The Dark Horse Region
A View into the center of the Milky Way

Friday, January 8, 2016

Ancient Native American Effigy - Or - Just a Rock

Effigy or a Rock

Even from an early age I was fascinated with ancient history. I remember when I was, oh...maybe eight or nine years old back where I grew up in southeastern Oklahoma, I found a thin oval shaped rock sitting in the bottom of my grandfather's filing cabinet behind the cash register in his store. It was about eight or ten inches long and maybe six or eight inches wide and maybe slightly more than an inch thick. I began to examine its smooth surface, at first it simply looked like a typical flat river rock, but as I examined it more closely, I noticed some weathered etchings on one side. My fingers rolled over the indentations and I turned it one way and another trying to make out what was there. I asked my grandmother, "What is this?"

 "Just an old river rock your grandfather found on Caston Creek a long time ago with maybe some kind of Indian markings on it," she said.

Indian markings? What could they mean? As my adventurous boyhood mind played with that idea, I began to see what I believed to be a man on a horse holding a spear. Probably fancyful wishful-thinking mind images, but that is what I remember. Even at that age I knew a little about history and understood that in the late 1500's and early 1600's, Spanish and French explorers had indeed traveled through that part of Oklahoma.

 "Looks like someone riding a horse carrying a spear. I wonder if someone with Coronado or La Salle stopped by here and one of them made these marks on this rock," I asked.

My grandmother, stopped what she was doing and took the rock from me to carefully examined it.

"Maybe", she said, "Just looks like an old river rock to me."

I never knew what happened to that old rock. Too many more important things came about in the years following that discovery and somewhere during all the changes it was lost or tossed out, or seems like I remember my grandmother saying she thought she gave it to the curator of the county museum. No telling where it is now. But, that single moment of mindful intrigue triggered a lifelong fascination with people and events from the past.

A few days ago I left my camera at home and drove over to a fishing creek just to walk around and get out of the house. The water flowed with a rapid pace, clear and cold, like the air that day. As I walked methodically along the gravel bank I glanced here and there hoping to find an arrowhead. After a while with no luck, I was just about to leave when I decided to walk along a much smaller feeder stream that angled along the bottom of a bluff to merge with the main creek. I was getting a bit tired by then and worked my way along the narrow channel more quickly than I should have. When I came to where the two joined together, I decided to give up, turned and took a few steps when I noticed lying face up what appeared to be a large spear point. Its color and shape blended with the background gravel so well I almost missed seeing it. I picked it up and checked for the tell-tell signs that someone had hand worked the flint of which there were good indicators of flint napping and edge working. It looked like it was a rather crude point, roughly made and not pristine with the tip broken and almost had the appearance of being discarded before it was finished, but definitely hand worked.

For a few moments I pondered on who that person was, what was he doing there, and how long ago it might have been. Amazing really if you think about it. Possibly thousands of years ago someone sat near this creek and made this stone artifact and somehow it ended up lying embedded amongst the gravel of this small feeder stream for me to eventually discover. What was life like for him? Was he alone? Did he have a family? Did he live in a village or was this just a hunting campsite? Was this flint spear point ever used to kill an animal, and if so, what kind?

I was encouraged by the find and continued my exploration working my way a bit further down the gravel bank along the main creek. Nothing new presented itself so once again I headed back to my Jeep. About ten yards from where I found the spear point I noticed partially buried in a muddier part of the bank an unusual looking rock. It just looked out of place there. Its color, a rusty reddish brown, and its shape were not typical of the river rocks found in that area. I picked it up and my first thought was...hum...what is this? Certainly it is not a naturally weathered rock. It looked to be made out of a type of sandstone, but felt like it was of a harder substance and indicated signs of having been hand worked. 

Front View - See the arched area across the front right bottom and the notch on the bottom left.
Right Side View
Top View ( See the drilled half holes, one on the left run straight down thru the figure and the one on the right side was drilled at an angle in the opposite direction. The overall appearance looks to be squared off with various right angle polished surfaces.
Hand Held angled view - A stylized bear purhaps

There were what appeared to be two unique half circle holes about 3/4 of an inch in diameter drilled at opposite angles to each other, two flat polished surfaces at right angles to each other that formed a triangular blocked surface on the left side with one of the half circle holes drilled through it.. Another curved area that appeared to have been honed down arched across the bottom and connected with one of the drilled half holes. A smaller notch on the bottom left created what looks like a leg, and a flange on what appeared to be the top looked like an ear protruding. The outer edges appeared to be squared off for the most part and the back and bottom look like they were still in a natural state. When holding it from what appears to be the front, one can see that just possibly it could be some kind of Native American effigy. 

A boy's imagination running away...again?  Maybe, but I've seen and held a lot of rocks in my day and I have never seen a naturally weathered rock to have all of these features on the same rock. Those polished squared off sections are pretty rare I would believe in the natural world, and for it to also have what looks like 3/4 inch wide drilled holes, to me, it looks like it was purposefully carved. The photo's do not do it justice for it is a very striking figure and when held at a certain angle, I can see a stylized bear.

I do know that many prehistoric Native cultures created stylized art work, some more detailed than others. This particular piece, although probably buried for who knows how long, having been found along a creek bank was subjected to at least some wear and tear from sand and water flowing on and around it. It could quite possibly have had part of it broken off as a result. The area where this piece was discovered would have been an ideal location for an ancient tribe to have lived; plenty of clean water, protection from the elements, fish and wild game in the area.

Is this find really an ancient artifact? I've certainly never seen anything like it before. Only an expert could truly determine if it is, but, for now, I'll let the nine year old boy's imagination that still resides in me believe that it is.

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