Rock Art of the Inner Coast of BC
Part II: The Broughton Islands & Mainland Inlets
Here’s a photo collection that complements a previous posting about rock art, where you’ll find background information and photos:. http://thescribes.ca/is-it-abstract-art-or-an-obscure-message-from-the-past/. While that article featured a few of the many sites throughout the Discovery Islands, this one takes you north to the Broughton Archipelago, with its own distinctive styles and symbols.
While the pictographs (paintings on stone) of the Discovery Islands often feature fish, faces and highly abstracted forms, many of the Broughtons pictos record potlatches (a social, political and economic system orchestrated through gatherings where wealth was exchanged and displayed). The images here have “coppers,” a shield that represented great wealth, and other items—including cows, in one case—exchanged at potlatches. One pictograph features a stack of canoes, presumably to record how many were given away as the lavish gift of a potlatching chief.
A few pictographs in the southern islands have what appear to be tally marks, one of them in a neat row of ten. Some of the petroglyphs (carvings in stone) have dozens of seemingly random peck holes. The pictographs in the northern islands, by contrast, often feature painted circles—which perhaps served the same purpose, as a reckoning of some important events or achievements.
The pictographs are most often painted in an ox-blood red, a pigment that is not available locally but was traded from a site in the mid-coast around Bella Bella, at Princeton, BC (formerly called Vermillion) and in the Rocky Mountains at Paint Pot Park. The deep red earth, a powder form of iron oxide, was mixed with fish eggs and saliva to create a rich, oil paint that can last from several hundred years to about 1,300 years, depending upon how well protected the site is.
A Modern Pictograph Extraordinaire
In Kingcome Inlet, on the Mainland Coast, across from the Broughtons, there is a particularly striking assemblage pictographs, including a dated set from a potlatch in 1926. Others there—and elsewhere—suggest a more modern creation, depicting sailing ships and on one a horse and cart.
Inspired by these pictographs in her ancestral homeland, artist and linguist Marianne Nicolson painted a massive image on a sheer rack face near the head of Kingcome Inlet. It’s a striking image, both for the beauty of the rendering, and the inaccessibility of its locale.
Finding Hidden Pictographs From the Distant Past
Click on any of these images to see them in a larger format.
A participant on one of my heritage sites tours aboard the Columbia III, with Mothership Adventures / Museum at Campbell River, infused red into a photo of a striking pictograph on Berry Island—at what’s known locally as ‘the chief’s bath.” He used Photoshop to enhance the picture, infusing more red into it, which made older pictographs beneath and around the visible image pop out. I look forward to experimenting with my collection of photos in this way.
The Campbell River Yacht Club has an excellent collection of images and location maps gathered together in CD form, with particular focus on the Broughton archipelago. Perhaps this CD is available to non-members? Check with them at http://www.cryc.ca/
The fact that most signs of village life, dating back thousands of years, have rotted away in this raincoast environment, these pictographs form a very compelling link to the past.