Rock Art of the Inner Coast of BC
Part I: The Discovery Islands
The intrigue for me is the obscured stories they allude to. Little has been recorded either in oral traditions or by anthropologists. Speculation suggests they represent lineage myths and prerogatives. Some of the images–especially those found at a great distance from any known village sites–are thought to mark fishing grounds. Others wonder if these are the marks of shamans or the visualizations of those who entered the spirit world to gain new powers.
The richly imagined supernatural world of the Mainland Comox people, who once dominated this area, gives this notion credence. The other world, removed by a thin veil, was ruled by beings who inhabited the sky, land and sea. A mythic serpent and an eagle-like bird that brought thunder and lightening could wreak havoc upon humans or bestow incredible strength and prowess. It was possible to meet these beings during sleep, as the human soul traveled, or through the more determined effort of rigorous purification, fasting and bathing. However the encounter happened, it took tremendous courage not to flee or shun such a visitation, for there was much to fear. The serpent could knock its beholder unconscious and cause bleeding from every orifice. On the other hand, it could endow heightened powers as a hunter or fisher and give songs and other talismans of magic guardianship.
Obscure as these messages may now be, they were a common form of communication. There are many examples throughout the inner coast between Vancouver Island and the Mainland. Some are easily recognizable as humans, fish and birds. Others are more abstract, and to add to the intrigue some of the latter are repeated at sites many kilometers apart.
The pictographs shown in this photo essay were made from red ochre, a powdered iron oxide that was acquired through trade with people at Bella Bella area and in the Rocky Mountains at what’s now Paint Pot Park. The earth was mixed with chewed salmon eggs to create a smooth oily paint that can last from a century to up to 1,300 years, depending upon the site.
Pictographs are often found on particularly dramatic rock bluffs in remote areas away from the sandy beaches and clam beds of villages and resource sites. Some, like Walsh Cove in Waddington Channel, have many images that appear to have been created over a span of years.
British Columbia’s archaeology sites branch has a record of all known pictographs and petroglyphs but there are few books on the subject. The Campbell River Yacht Club has begun documenting pictographs available as a CD. They’ve completed a fairly complete record of those in the Broughton Islands area, off north Vancouver Island. Beth and Ray Hill’s book Indian Petroglyphs of the Pacific Northwest is out-of-print but available through book dealers and libraries.
Have you got some images or thoughts to add to the record?