Police, Scientists Say ‘Vandalized’ Aboriginal Petroglyphs Never Existed
Officials are poking holes in a man’s claims that vandals destroyed an archeological site in Alberta, Canada.
Stan Knowlton, a historian at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump heritage site and member of the Piikani First Nation, reported the vandalism on September 9. He told the media that someone had used acid, a pressure-washer and a drill to remove aboriginal petroglyphs from the side and top of a 16-foot tall boulder known as the Glenwood Erratic. Knowlton believed someone had purposefully removed the markings to erase evidence of Blackfoot heritage.
“This was a deliberate act to erase history and definitely not accidental,” Knowlton wrote in a detailed report published by the Pincher Creek Voice. “The world has been deprived of the ancient knowledge contained within these artifacts.” The Voice has since removed the page.
Knowlton did not respond to requests from Indian Country Today Media Network for photos of the rock before the alleged vandalism.
Now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are saying there is no evidence of willful damage and that no known art ever existed on the site. The police investigated Knowlton’s reports with the help of the Archeological Society of Alberta and the Royal Alberta Museum.
RCMP says the investigation is over.
“We are very pleased that there was no known willful damage to a historical site in our area,” Inspector Joe McGeough said in a prepared news release. “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police takes very seriously the history and heritage of Alberta, especially when one considers it ties so closely to our own.”
Knowlton, however, is sticking to his story. He told the National Post that the stone had been a sacred site for the Blackfoot people. He said he found syllabic writing on the rock face that was covered with lichen and carvings that formed a large face on the top surface of the stone, facing the sky.
When the lichen began to shrivel and flake off, Knowlton said that was a sign that the ancient writing was ready to be seen. Before he could return to the site to take photos and document the markings, vandals struck, he told the Pincher Creek Voice.
Knowlton speculated that someone wanted to destroy evidence that the Blackfoot Nations had a written language before European migration. He said he had been visiting the site for the last 10 years.
But when Lionel Jackson, an emeritus scientist with Natural Resources Canada, looked at the pictures of the damaged Glenwood Erratic, he said his team drilled the holes when taking rock core samples in October 1995.
“There’s no doubt about it. Our technique, we only take samples from the upper two centimetres of the rock and those rocks are about as hard a rock type as any rock that exists in the world,” he told the National Post. “Anything that shows any kind of archaeological or cultural value or whatever, we have the highest respect for the preservation of those things. There would never have been anything done to disturb them.”
Jackson showed the Post copies of his field journals and two Polaroids, one of the entire rock, the other of the top of it before it was drilled. The Post reported that it was covered in green lichen as Knowlton said, but that there was no sign of a red face.
Jackson wasn't alone in his assessment of either.
“Our experts visited [the erratic] and have now spoken to other archaeologists that have been there. None of our experts has ever seen rock art there,” Brian Ronaghan, the director of the Archaeological Survey, told the Post. “I’m sure [Mr. Knowlton] fervently believes what he’s talking about there. But it’s not anything that any of us on the scientific side of things can verify.”
Still, Knowlton is sticking to his story. He told the Post that his family is descended from what he called the "Sudana" tradition, which originated with a man named Sudana, who was trained in syllabic writing after a visit to the constellation Pleiades. His theory goes against historical record, which tells us that 19th century missionaries created syllabic writing to translate the Bible into Native languages. Knowlton also told the Post he's taken others to the Glenwood Erratic to see the petroglyphs, but they weren't able to see anything. “You have to be trained,” he said.
Knowlton has not returned repeated phone calls seeking comment from ICTMN.