Minnesota's oldest stories, etched in stone
"Jeffers Petroglyphs is where Minnesota's recorded history began," writes nominator Tom Sanders, Jeffers Petroglyphs Historic Site manager for the Minnesota Historical Society. There are more than 2,000 petroglyphs, or rock carvings, made between 5,000 and 250 years ago, on a 150-by-1,000-foot expanse of quartzite in Cottonwood County, in the southwestern part of the state.
The carvings "represent the prayers of people seeking spiritual guidance and record their parables and historic events," Sanders continues. They document the perseverance of the people, including the Cheyenne, Dakota, Arapaho, Otoe, and Iowa, who thrived on this prairie for thousands of years because of their deep understanding and intimate relationship with their physical and spiritual world."
Some of the symbols carved at Jeffers depict weapons, such as an atlatl, a hand-held tool that was used by hunters to propel a spear. There are also images of spear tips used by hunters, as well as a range of symbols from thunderbirds to dragonflies, turtles to buffalos. Why were the carvings made? No one is completely certain, but it's likely that they were used to record events and to accompany prayers and ceremonies.
"Today American Indians visit and pray at this sacred place. In fact, Jeffers Petroglyphs may be one of the oldest continually used sacred sites in the world. It provides a rare and profound experience for non-Indians seeking to understand American Indian culture and history."
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