One of Pennsylvania’s most significant archaeological sites lies along Lancaster County’s western border. Hidden in plain sight in the middle of the Susquehanna River, a half-mile below Safe Harbor Dam is the millennium-old petroglyphs of Little Indian Rock and Big Indian Rock.
These two boulders represent one of the two largest remaining concentrations of rock art in the northeast United States (the other site being the Machias Bay Petroglyphs along the northeast coast of Maine). Furthermore, Little Indian Rock has arguably the best panels of petroglyphs east of the Mississippi.
According to Kurt W. Carr, in his 2001 preface for the Petroglyphs in the Susquehanna River near Safe Harbor, these petroglyphs are “our only direct window into the minds of the prehistoric inhabitants of the region.” Donald Cadzow, in his landmark book on the Lower Susquehanna petroglyphs entitled Petroglyphs (Rock Carvings) in the Susquehanna River near Safe Harbor, Pennsylvania, says, “They are not idle scrawls made to gratify a passing whim. In their day, many of them played an important part in the social organization of the tribes.”
Current archaeologists believe, according to an exhibit at the Pennsylvania State Museum, “that these carvings may be directional markers for the location of nearby resources, as well religious and mythical symbols. We now know that they are not a form of prehistoric graffiti.” Still not convinced? Here are two examples that should put to rest any doubts you may have.
According to Paul Nevin, director of the Zimmerman Center for Heritage, these “serpent” sharped carvings “are aligned to the place on the horizon where the Sun either rises or sets on the first day of each of the seasons.” Nevin continues by saying, “The question mark serpent emerges from the Winter solstice sunrise and journeys towards the Summer solstice sunset. And the paired serpents emerge from the Spring and Fall equinox sunrise.”
Last week, I was able to visit the awe-inspiring rock art sites once again. One of the goals for this voyage was to perform a series of LiDAR scans on the two historic boulders. Since the only way to visit is via boat, I thought armchair explorers everywhere might enjoy the opportunity to survey the 1,000-year-old carvings from the comfort of their living room. I created four scans—one at Little Indian Rock (highlighted immediately below) and three at Big Indian Rock. Here is the scan of Little Indian Rock.
Be sure to click the following links for additional details on what the carvings at Little Indian Rock mean and for three scans of Big Indian Rock plus information on what these pictograms may mean.
Want to Visit the Petrogylphs?
Join me on August 2, 9, or 11 (2022) at 8 am for a fantastic adventure on one of the oldest rivers in the world to visit the enigmatic petroglyphs of the Susquehanna. This aquatic 3-mile expedition takes you from Safe Harbor to Pequea with time spent on Little Indian Rock and Big Indian Rock to view and photograph the millennium-old rock art. Do not wait to register! Each excursion is limited to only six tour members to ensure a personal experience in these magical locations. Click here for more information and to register.