OHIO’S BARNESVILLE TRACK ROCKS STUDIED BY ROCK ART EXPERT
Sketch of the Barnesville Track Rocks made by Charles Whittlesey (1872).
The Barnesville Track Rocks are a panel of rock art located in Belmont County, Ohio. They are owned and protected by the Archaeological Conservancy. According to the National Register nomination, the petroglyphs were carved by the Adena culture, but James Swauger, author of the definitive book Petroglyphs of Ohio, argued persuasively that all of Ohio’s rock art was carved “later rather than earlier during the eight hundred and fifty years of the Late Prehistoric Period, say during the five hundred and fifty years from A.D. 1200 to about A.D. 1750.” In recent years, there have been reports of depictions of mammoths, mastodons or elephants at Barnesville. This would be surprising for two reasons. First, these creatures would have been unknown to the American Indians of the Late Prehistoric Period so, if authentic, they must date to an earlier period — perhaps the Paleoindian Period when people lived alongside both mastodons and mammoths. Another reason they are surprising is that these elephant carvings were not noticed by Charles Whittlesey and James Salisbury, who investigated the site in 1869. Nor were they recorded by James Swauger who studied the site during the 1970s. It’s possible these rather faint petroglyphs simply escaped the notice of these scholars, but it’s also possible they were added by someone since then. It’s tremendously exciting to think that they could have been carved by Paleoindians, but a recent study reported in the Winter 2013-14 issue of the Archaeological Conservancy’s magazine American Archaeology indicates the elephant carvings have “a probable age of about one hundred years.” That means they fall into “the period of the other modern graffiti” at the site. So, Ohio does not yet have a confirmed example of Ice Age art, but this doesn’t diminish the significance of the Barnesville Track Rocks, which are one of the most elaborate and well preserved petroglyph panels in the state. Brad Lepper