Column: This land is our land. Let's check it out
By Ray Crippen
WORTHINGTON — An all-new, 365-day cycle looms. We must remember to begin writing 2014.
I came on some information lately for an afternoon outing here at home when fair weather returns. It is an hour drive from Worthington to Jeffers, half-an-hour from Windom. I learn that if you think you’ve seen the petroglyphs — the stone carvings at Jeffers — you are wrong. There is something to be seen which is very old but all-new. There was a discovery which, like most discoveries, happened by chance.
Some of the rock drawings on the spread of Sioux quartzite at Jeffers, the same pink rock which is found at Luverne — some the rock drawings are 7,000 years old, maybe 9,000 years old. Some are thought to be only 150 years old, dating to the time of the battle at Gettysburg. There are drawings of — you have to figure out some of these for yourself — turtles, bison, thunderbirds and darts, which Indian people used before they had bows and arrows.
We were into the 1960s before Minnesota began to take a serious interest in the petroglyphs. The visitor center was developed, brochures were made. A manager was appointed and there came to be arrangements for tours. About 10,000 people each year make a trip to the petroglyph site and, remember, this is a site rather far off the beaten paths of Highway 60, Highway 59, I-90.
The site manager, Tom Sanders, and an assistant, Chuck Broste, left some concrete pieces on a section of the lichen-covered pink rock that extends for a long distance beyond the site of the glyphs. Lichen: these are the plant masses we see on grave stones at cemeteries, sometimes covering names and dates. Lichen thrives on rocks.
Sometime later, when Sanders and Broste went to remove the concrete pieces they had left behind, they made the first discovery: lichen, covered and deprived of sunlight, dies. The stone on which it was growing was free of lichen once again. The Jeffers men got some rubber roofing membrane, some rubber-based sheets that cost less than $10 each. They laid the membranes over the lichen and waited for time to pass. When they lifted the sheets — second discovery — there are no fewer than 2,000 more petroglyphs that never had been seen by people in the time since European settlement began. The Jeffers petroglyph site is twice what anyone thought it was.
People of American ancestry — native people — have been seen coming to the petroglyph site to pray. They consider it sacred. More notable: as the Jeffers site is studied, it is appreciated that the drawings here in southern Minnesota are in the style of some ancient rock drawings found in Florida and in the Pacific Northwest. Figure this out: ancient people from — oh, the Portland, Ore., area — these people had contact with people in what is today Cottonwood County, Minnesota? And these Minnesota people had contact with people in Florida? How can this be?
Although European settlement in our region dates back only about 130 years, we think we know our own lands. I think we don’t. I think there still are wondrous things to be found here. You know, there never has been a modern foot laid on most of our land in southwest Minnesota. Those men and women and kids picking corn by hand in the 1920s, 1930s, came the closest. They were moving through those cornfields on foot. Still, even they did not press shoe soles on every square-foot of land. We have land that never even has been walked on by humans. There is no knowing what may be beneath it all, or ways it may have been used in long times gone by.
Well, we thought we knew the petroglyphs, and indeed the petroglyph site is a site which has been studied. Now we learn we scarcely knew half of what exists here. At least 2,000 more petroglyphs are uncovered.
This would be a thing to see in 2014.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.