Indian Well Petroglyph 17 - Passport in Time

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Indian Well Petroglyphs

Lassen National Forest, California, 2017
by Jake Martin, Archaeologist
The Lassen National Forest - Eagle Lake Ranger District (ELRD) held a Passport In Time (PIT) project where volunteers from all over the country came to help record petroglyphs. This two week effort involved two separate groups of ten volunteers. Funding for the project was obtained by Forest Archaeologist Linn Gassaway. The project was organized and led by ELRD archaeologist Jake Martin. Jake was supported by Eagle Lake District Archaeologist Robert Gudino and fellow ELRD archaeologists Justice Fife and Megan Veach. Further help came from Almanor archaeologist Laurel Owen, BLM Eagle Lake Field Office archaeologist Marilla Martin, and Hat Creek archaeologist Jennifer McCrary. However, archaeologists were not the only Forest Service employees to take part in getting this magnificent petroglyph site recorded. Hydrologist Tyanna Blaschak, wildlife biologists Mia Larrieu, Daralyn James, and Dana Reid, timber markers Nathan Dueck and John Lester were among those many helping hands whose hard work made it possible to record this extensive site. It was a true ELRD team effort and many thanks to the PIT volunteers who joined us!

Petroglyphs are a form of Native American rock art or expression where the darker outer layer of a boulder or cliff face is pecked away. This pecking provides a color relief which provided Native Americans the ability to etch out many different shapes and figures which can be found throughout the Great Basin. Initially, there was expected to be approximately 150 petroglyphs scattered about a boulder-field which sits below a hill-top prehistoric habitation area. After closely inspecting the boulder-field there turned out to be just over 300 petroglyphs experiencing various levels of preservation, throughout the site. This is now the largest known petroglyph site on the Lassen National Forest. Petroglyphs, in general, are a very unique, rare, and mysterious cultural resource. Deciphering the true meaning of each glyph is highly problematic given their presence among many different culture groups spread across various geographic localities. Cracking the code relevant to each shape/design similar to hieroglyphic studies may not be possible. However, archaeologists have conducted studies which suggest the purpose of constructing petroglyphs could be associated with hunting magic rituals, puberty and fertility rituals, astrological mapping, constructing petroglyphs to interact with light differently to mark seasonal transitions, and much more.

Throughout recording this site workers experienced a lot of great memories largely pulled from the trials and tribulations experienced. During the first week, it became quite obvious that nothing was safe from the ravenous chipmunk, golden-mantled ground squirrel, and pika population that is flourishing within the site. As these little creatures prepare for winter, paper-work would be harvested for bedding and completely destroyed if left unattended in a short amount of time. They didn’t stop there. Backpacks, chairs, tool-handles, and padding were all munched up. Volunteers travelling from those cozy warm climates, such as Los Angeles, were shocked to experience a bit of hail and snowfall as they had to brush it off their field documents. Also, many of the petroglyphs have been impacted by the growth of various plants. Removing a lot of this brush was a tough battle. The brush even fought back at times claiming the life of one of our loppers. At one point, after work, volunteer Steve Braden showed off his flint-knapping skills with a demonstration and even gifted many examples of his work.  All in all, everyone had a great time while volunteering a lot of hard work to accomplish fully recording the Indian Well Petroglyph site. We could not have done it without everyone who pitched in, thank you!       
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