A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.Marcus Garvey
When I travel I am always curious about the people who inhabit the places I visit. I seek to understand their way of life and observe how it differs from, or is similar to, my own. But there are other people who populate my travels, the people who ONCE lived in these lands.
Those who were here most recently are easy to find. But even those from distant times have left messages for us; signs that tell their stories. Donna, of the wonderful Wind Kisses blog, has joined the Lens Artists team and this week takes messages as her theme. I’ve chosen to focus on those messages from the past that I’ve been able to ‘read’ on my travels.
Note: some of these images have featured in other posts looking at their location more generally. I’ve included links to those posts for anyone interested in seeing more of the settings for these messages
Twyfelfontein means ‘doubtful fountain’, so-called because the natural spring in this valley proved too unreliable for the farmers who settled here in the mid 20th century. To the indigenous Damara this place is Uri-Ais, ‘jumping fountain’.
Today the valley is famous for its many rock paintings (pictographs) and rock engravings (petroglyphs). Most of the engravings and probably all the paintings were made by Stone-age hunter-gatherers, some as much as 6,000 years ago. Later the San people (also known as Bushmen) occupied the valley and added more petroglyphs.
Most of the images are either of animals or are hunting scenes, with the hunters using bows and arrows. Other images are of geometric shapes, and these are the ones added by the Bushmen. They may relate to their herder groups or to shamanist rituals. Some of the animal images too are thought to be related to such rituals. They appear to depict the transformation of humans into animals.
At the Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico we saw pictographs left by the Mogollon people who once inhabited these caves.
Elsewhere in the state, in the Tsankawi section of Bandelier National Monument, it was the Anasazi who had left their messages for us to read, in the form of petroglyphs.
The trail leaflet explained more about them:
‘Today through consultation with San Ildefonso Pueblo descendants, we know that these marks upon the rocks have deeper meanings than mere art. They may someday even be classified as a written language. The meanings of some petroglyphs are known to many present-day Pueblo people. The exact significance of others may have been lost through time.’
Newspaper Rock, Utah
The petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock were carved by Native Americans. They date from both prehistoric and historic periods, reaching back as far as 2,000 years ago. The images include various animals such as deer, buffalo, and pronghorn antelope.
There are also human figures and symbols. Some depict riders on horses, while others describe past events as in a newspaper, hence the name. The Navajo call it Tse’ Hone’, the rock that tells a story.
In Uzbekistan our driver stopped the bus on the road that runs from Karmana to Nurata, near its highest point known as Black Crow Pass. A short scramble up the rocks brought us to several rocks where we saw these Bronze Age petroglyphs. They are reasonably well-preserved considering their proximity to the road.
There are better ones, and many more, in the Sarmysh Gorge but unfortunately that wasn’t on our itinerary.
Register Cliff, Wyoming
Of course it wasn’t only ancient peoples who left their marks on the rocks. In Wyoming, just south of the small town of Guernsey, we found Register Cliff. Pioneers travelling west on the Oregon Trail would regularly stop here as it was a convenient day’s wagon ride (11 miles) beyond Fort Laramie. At Register Cliff they would carve their name and town of origin in the soft sandstone. Many of these carvings are well-preserved to this day.
I found it moving to read all the names and to imagine who these people were and what brought them here on such a difficult and dangerous journey.
On a rocky islet across the bay from the oldest part of Muscat sailors would traditionally paint the name of their ship. The names today form an unofficial log book of visiting ships.
Legend has it that Horatio Nelson, when a young midshipman, himself scrambled up these rocks to leave the name of his ship here. Although most of the ‘signatures’ are old, a few are more recent. The name RELUME on the rocks just above the small fort which guards the entrance to the bay is that of an offshore supply vessel that has helped in a number of recovery operations in the Gulf. Others in that photo may be harder to make out but include several from New Zealand including HMNZS Canterbury.
Other names I spotted included HMS Perseus, painted just above the water line in the middle of the island with the added detail of a Union Jack. This is probably the signature of HM Submarine Perseus which was built in 1929 and struck a mine off Italy in 1941.
Also HMS Falmouth which visited Muscat in 1974. This ship was built at the Swan Hunter yards on Tyneside in the 1950s. I guess Chris can claim some connection to it, having been born just a couple of miles away in the same decade!
And so my messages reach almost to the present day. What is it that drives us to leave our mark on the world in this fashion? And will markings that today we consider vandalism become tomorrow’s historic record?