Little Indian Rock Petroglyphs

Overview | Little Indian Rock | Big Indian Rock

Little Indian Rock

Little Indian Rock has arguably the best panels of petroglyphs east of the Mississippi. Located approximately a half mile below the Safe Harbor Dam, the 38’x32′ boulder is covered with a multitude of carvings. Here is a LiDAR scan of the upstream side of the rock.


Comparative Interpretations

The following are comparative interpretations of symbols found at Little Indian Rock, according to Cadzow. The figures on this rock are likely contemporaneous with those on Big Indian Rock. I have reorganized and updated some of the information from various sources and tried to include modern photographs when possible. I will continue to update the document as new information is found.

Updated image of Donald Cadzow’s Little Indian Rock diagram highlighting modern water levels.

Click here for a printer-friendly version of the Little Indian Rock petroglyphs descriptions.

1. A human figure with right arm raised

A human figure with right arm raised.
Among certain Algonkian groups, the raising of the right hand was the sign for peace. The left hand indicated treachery.
Supplication to the Great Spirit.
Indicates a beggar.
Indicates a hermit.

2. A great feast

A collection of petroglyphs, including several animal tracks, an infant-sized human footprint, and a serpent, all contained by a circle
Double lines indicate supernatural.
An enclosure.
Symbolical of a great feast.
A feast dish.
A hole in the ground or a cache.

3. Thunderbird

The Thunderbird is a widespread figure in Native American mythology. Described as a supernatural being, the enormous bird symbolized power and strength that protected humans from evil spirits. It was called the Thunderbird because the flapping of its mighty wings sounded like thunder, and lightning would shoot out of its eyes. The Thunderbirds brought rain and storms, which could be good or bad. Good when the rain was needed or bad when the rain came with strong destructive winds, floods, and fires caused by lightning.

They were said to have bright and colorful feathers, with sharp teeth and claws. They were said to live in the clouds high above the tallest mountains.

In Algonquian mythology, the Thunderbird controls the upper world while the underworld is controlled by the underwater panther or Great Horned Serpent, from which the Thunderbird protects humans by throwing lightning at it. According to their legends, the Thunderbirds were ancestors of the human race and helped to create the universe.

4. Turkey Tracks

Turkey tracks.

5. Bear tracks

Bear tracks are indicated by pronounced big toes and a short foot.

6. Turkeys

These may be totemic but probably indicate that this bird can be found to the east. Most Algonkian tribes associated themselves with certain animals, and the custom still survives among living groups. Among the Lenape, there was one powerful group called the Unalâchtigo, meaning “the turkey.”

7. Individual animals of various kinds

Two long-tailed animals and two short-tailed ones. The upper figure may indicate a fox or a skunk, and the one just below is either an otter or a panther.

8. A human face with two ears or horns

A human face with two ears or horns. This shows superiority in rank, as a chief or a shaman who is the meditator between the world of spirits and men. This particular figure is probably a shaman as it has what appears to be an arrow or spear projecting from the left side of the face, indicative of supernatural power.

9. Composite Group

This is a composite group partly obliterated, destroying the possible meaning of the whole. The animal, probably a wolf, standing upon the head of a human with a bow in his left hand might represent a proper name. It may also show that this hunter, identified by the destroyed part of the figure, is a member of the Wolf Clan.

10. Head of a human who has supernatural power

Very close to the waterline. May be underwater.
The head of a human who has supernatural power, the latter being indicated by the double line around the head and the circle a short distance to the right of the face.

11. Human figure with a bow in its left hand and half the body of a wolf

Very close to the waterline. May be underwater.
A group consisting of a human figure with a bow in its left hand and half the body of a wolf as its right hand. At the left is a dog and at its right is a wolf with its head turned to face the figure.

The interpretation of this group of symbols means: This man belongs to the Wolf Clan; he can change himself into a wolf as his arm transforms into the head of a wolf. He is a mighty hunter and is protected at all times by the great ruler of the wolves shown at his left.

12. Horned Being

Figure 12 represents the form of a horned being and could be interpreted in several ways. The large object near the right hand might show that this chief or shaman was well supplied with worldly goods, or it might mean that he kept his medicine in a large bag. The large short-tailed, long-eared animal, together with buffalo, turkey, and bear tracks closely associated with this figure, however, suggests that whoever it is, is supposed to be a mighty hunter.

13. Thunderbird or eagle upon a pedestal

A thunderbird or eagle upon a pedestal. This might commemorate some unusual occurrence. What appears to be a pedestal may be intended to represent a tail. The Ojibway occasionally depicts a thunderbird or an eagle perched upon a medicine pole near a shaman’s structure. This is supposed to show that the shaman professes to have the power of flight equal to that of the bird.

14. Manitou

The spiritual and fundamental life force among Algonquian groups in the Native American theology. It is omnipresent and manifests everywhere: organisms, the environment, events, etc. Perhaps inspired by the appearance of a comet?

15. Human footprint

Human footprint.

16. Two serpents or the banks of a river

Two snakes or the banks of a river. This carving lines up with the equinox sunrise.

The snake appears in Algonkian mythology as an evil spirit. It symbolizes stealth, but when a feather is attached, it represents bravery.

A powerful evil spirit that was supposed to live under the water is often represented with the body of a snake.

17. Four panthers or otters

Represents four panthers or otters facing a short-tailed animal which is either a wolf or a dog.

18. Hunter with a bow

Very close to the waterline. May be underwater.
A hunter with a bow in his left hand.

19. Long-nosed, short-tailed animals

Typically underwater. Group 19 has one large, long-nosed, short-tailed animal with a similar but smaller figure in front of it and another in the back. Among the Bungi Indians, this figure is used to indicate the brown bear who leveled the earth at the beginning of life so that it could be lived upon by the Indians, and it also represents the earth mother who taught the Indians how to use roots for food and medicine.

20. Human head with horns

Typically underwater. A human head with horns. It shows superiority in rank as a chief. The double line around the head indicates supernatural power.

21. Deer tracks

Deer tracks.

22. Human figure with large hands

A human figure with unusually large hands.
A human figure carrying two packages.

23. Snake within an enclosure

A snake within an enclosure?
A turtle that has conquered a snake?

A snake devouring a turtle? Interestingly, the Unami (a group of the Delaware within the Algonkian linguistic family) had a turtle as their totem. They have also been called the Turtle Tribe by some authorities. Meanwhile, the Iroquois, originally called “irinakhoiw” by the Algonkians, means “real adders” or “snakes.” Could this be detailing the defeat of the Delaware by the Iroquis beginning sometime before the 10th century?

24. Indeterminate and partially destroyed figures

Typically underwater. Indeterminate and partially destroyed figures.

25. Bear tracks

Bear tracks. Bear tracks are indicated by pronounced big toes and a short foot.

26. Panther or otter

Very close to the water line. May be underwater. Represents four panthers or otters facing a short-tailed animal which is either a wolf or a dog.

27. Long-legged, long-tailed animal

A long-legged, long-tailed animal. It may belong with group 7. If it does, the circle below the nose indicates that it has certain magical powers that the other animals do not possess.

28. Indeterminate and partially destroyed figures

Indeterminate and partially destroyed figures.

29. Fox or skunk

May indicate a fox or a skunk.

30. Thunderbird

Described as a supernatural being, the enormous bird was a symbol of power and strength that protected humans from evil spirits. It was called the Thunderbird because the flapping of its powerful wings sounded like thunder, and lightning would shoot out of its eyes. The Thunderbirds brought rain and storms, which could be good or bad. Good – when the rain was needed or bad when the rain came with destructive strong winds, floods, and fires caused by lightning.

31. Thunderbird

Described as a supernatural being, the enormous bird was a symbol of power and strength that protected humans from evil spirits. It was called the Thunderbird because the flapping of its powerful wings sounded like thunder, and lightning would shoot out of its eyes. The Thunderbirds brought rain and storms, which could be good or bad. Good – when the rain was needed or bad when the rain came with destructive strong winds, floods, and fires caused by lightning.

32. Thunderbird

Described as a supernatural being, the enormous bird was a symbol of power and strength that protected humans from evil spirits. It was called the Thunderbird because the flapping of its powerful wings sounded like thunder, and lightning would shoot out of its eyes. The Thunderbirds brought rain and storms, which could be good or bad. Good – when the rain was needed or bad when the rain came with destructive strong winds, floods, and fires caused by lightning.

33. Indeterminate and partially destroyed figures

Indeterminate and partially destroyed figures.

34. Indeterminate and partially destroyed figures

Indeterminate and partially destroyed figures.

35. Turkey tracks

Turkey tracks.

36. Indeterminate and partially destroyed figures

Indeterminate and partially destroyed figures.

37. Indeterminate and partially destroyed figures

Indeterminate and partially destroyed figures.

38. Thunderbird

Described as a supernatural being, the enormous bird was a symbol of power and strength that protected humans from evil spirits. It was called the Thunderbird because the flapping of its powerful wings sounded like thunder, and lightning would shoot out of its eyes. The Thunderbirds brought rain and storms, which could be good or bad. Good – when the rain was needed or bad when the rain came with destructive strong winds, floods, and fires caused by lightning.

39. Indeterminate and partially destroyed figures

Typically underwater. Indeterminate and partially destroyed figures.

40. Otter tracks

It is impossible to determine whether these ideographs are supposed to represent the animal as a totem, a track, or a personal name. They do not indicate any particular direction and may be interpreted as symbols of hunting feats. At one time, some of them were combined with other figures that had been destroyed.

41. Elk tracks

Elk tracks.

42. Serpent

A serpent or the banks of a river.

These carvings line up with the winter solstice sunrise and the summer solstice sunset.

Little Indian Rock Diagram

Click here for a printer-friendly version of the Little Indian Rock petroglyphs descriptions.

Updated image of Donald Cadzow’s Little Indian Rock diagram highlighting modern water levels.

Overview | Little Indian Rock | Big Indian Rock

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