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The book:
The Aboriginal Rock Paintings of the Churchill River

by Tim E H. Jones

About the Book

At least 70 aboriginal rock painting sites are known in Saskatchewan north of the 55th parallel and perhaps two dozen more occur in northern Manitoba. The Churchill River, a major historic waterway, spans this northern area and possesses an important series of rock art sites. Rock art is a special kind of cultural record which was left intentionally as an interpretation of some aspects of prehistoric and early historic life by persons who lived it. Although many of the paintings have survived, much of their meaning has been lost. In this book Tim Jones examines the Churchill River paintings and finds some answers and some reasonable guesses to the questions: Who painted them? Why? and How long ago?

The following excerpt from the Introduction to the book explains the terminology used here and the importance of rock art.


The term rock art refers to drawings or figures on rock surfaces created in one of two ways (or rarely, by a combination of both): pigment may be applied to the surface of the rock, or part of the rock may be removed by pecking. scratching, grinding or incising. Rock art thus refers to twodimensional depictions on vertical or horizontal rock surfaces. In many areas unusual natural configurations such as protrusions, hollows and cracks were incorporated as integral features of the artist's drawings, but in the rock art of the Canadian Shield this practice was virtually nonexistent.

Rock art which involves paintings has sometimes been called pictographic. Many scholars simply call it rock painting, because pictograph also refers to drawings done on various media other than rock, like animal skins, wood and bone. Rock engraving is often used outside North America to refer to art involving removal of part of a rock face to make figures, but petroglyph is used by North Americans for the same phenomena. Rock carving is commonly used as an alternative to rock engraving and to petroglyph. Following well established North American usage, I will use the terms rock painting and pictograph interchangeably in this study, both referring to symbols painted on vertical rock faces.

The rock art of the Churchill River belongs to the class called rupestral or parietal art by European scholars, distinguishing it from portable art. Parietal art occurs on immovable rock surfaces, while portable art is that found on small stones or utilitarian objects made of stone or any other materials which can easily be carried or moved about.

At the first meeting of the Canadian Rock Art Research Associates in Thunder Bay, Ontario, December, 1969, a session was held dealing with terminology as applied to rock art sites in Canada. Regarding individual paintings, various terms were suggested, such as design element, figure, element, motif, pictograph, and painting. For the sake of making a narrative more creative or varied, it was proposed that any of the terms be used interchangeably, as long as the meaning was clear (Dawson & Taylor 1971: 13-14). This is the practice followed here.

The Importance of Rock Art

All art involves a selection from life experiences of the artist and a symbolization of this in a manifest form, such as a song, painting, dance, or some other artifact. Where strong social or religious strictures are placed on the behaviour and beliefs of the artist we may see rigid, highly stylized productions which are immediately identifiable as belonging to his group and none other. Where there are few cultural dicta, each work may be totally unique, and the cultural group from which the artist comes may not be apparent. Most commonly, art in a certain medium in a particular region bears many internal similarities. The most important questions then to be asked are: what ethnic group or groups made the art; when was it done; how long did the tradition last; and why was art created at all?

World literature on rock art provides abundant evidence that almost all rock art contains cultural meaning. Even in the case of doodling (Leechman et al 1955:39), it is useful to ask why certain symbols were made and not others, and why particular cultural groups or individuals chose those particular visualizations. Ritter and Ritter (1976:138) contend that a large portion of the petroglyph and pictograph sites in western North America have "medical" significance (using the concept in both its aboriginal and modern senses). Thus, interpretation of rock art, if done in a careful and logical manner, promises information about nonmaterial aspects of prehistoric people's lives. Even if we gain only a little secure insight into the reasons why paintings were made along the lake and river shores of the Canadian Shield, we will achieve a broader perspective on how man has related to his diverse physical and social environments.

About the Series

The Anthropological Series is an outlet for original research on the human occupation of Saskatchewan. The studies emphasize prehistory and early history of the province, an extensive and complex subject. This emphasis corresponds to the research interests of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum (formerly Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History), whose responsibilities are provincial in scope and cover the period beginning with first human occupation some 11,000 years ago and ending with the advent of large scale agricultural settlement about 1880 A.D. Our series will accommodate technical papers by museum staff, research associates and any others whose work relates to museum interests and is of professional quality.

About the Author

Tim Jones is a former Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society in Saskatoon, a non-profit organization dedicated to public archaeological education and conservation of Saskatchewan's archaeological heritage. He has studied at the University of Saskatchewan, earning a B.A. in biology and an M.A. in anthropology and archaeology.

His studies in rock art and other aspects of archaeological art have involved him in considerable field work throughout Saskatchewan, in northern Manitoba, and northwestern Ontario.

He is listed in `Who's Who in Rock Art', published by the Centro Camuno di Studi Preistorici in Valcamonica, Italy.

Ian G. Dyck
Supervisor of Archaeological Research
Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History
The book is available from the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society through their Den of Antiquity.
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