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The Forsyth Petroglyphs

This boulder has recieved many varying interpretations, but the most obvious is that of being a star map.
This boulder has recieved many varying interpretations, but the most obvious is that of being a star map.
Richard Thornton

The Forsyth Petroglyphs

The petroglyphs of the Highlands of Northern Georgia are very different than any other in the world.
Georgia Division Archives & History

Most of these rock carvings appear to be symbols of comets, galaxies, solar systems or stars. However, some are totally abstract glyphs. This boulder is one of many enigmatic petroglyph sites found primarily in the mountains and upper Piedmont of Georgia. The question still remains today . . . “Who made these petroglyphs?”

Shortly after Native Americans were forcibly relocated from northwestern Georgia to Oklahoma in 1838, early settlers found an 8 ½ feet long – 2 ½ feet wide boulder in Forsyth County along side a wagon road between Cumming and Dahlonega, near Mt. Tabor Baptist Church. On the three-sided rock were carved seventeen glyphs. The carvings appeared to be ancient and did not correspond to any immediately recognizable forms. Circles predominated on the rock, but there were also some abstract glyphs that were not recognizable to any scholars of the day.

The most recent Native American occupants of the region, the Cherokees had arrived in the late 1700s. They had no knowledge of either the meaning of the carvings, or who made them. The Creeks had lived in the region for at least 2000 years, but the symbols didn’t correspond to any religious symbols they used in the 1800s. The symbols on the boulder were ultimately interpreted as being from an ancient unknown American Indian culture; perhaps the same ones who built the mounds. In the early 1800s it was not known that the ancestors of the Creeks had built the mounds in Georgia.

Charles Jones, one of the pioneers of American archaeology, viewed the boulder around 1870. In 1873 he included a description of the boulder in his landmark book on the Southeastern Indians. At that time the figures on the boulder were incised ½ to ¾ inches deep. On one end of the boulder, running vertically was a line of 18 drilled dots, interconnected by an incised line. The largest set of concentric circles was 8 inches in diameter. Jones also assumed that the petroglyphs had been carved by the mound builders, but was not certain of their meanings.

None of the petroglyph boulders in northern Georgia are directly associated with Native American town sites. Their locations also are located on top of natural features, which are visible from a distance. What the boulders do share in common is association with ancient trading paths. They would have been landmarks for travelers in ancient time. That does not necessarily mean that these rocks were originally carved by the indigenous inhabitants of the lands near them, though. They could have been carved by travelers passing through the region, who wished to leave a record of their presence.

Through the decades, the boulder was vandalized by sight-seers and eroded by the elements. In order to protect it from further damage, in 1963 it was relocated to the new Georgia State Art Museum on the campus of the University of Georgia in Athens. Thousands of students and visitors have briefly glanced at the boulder since then, but strangely enough, it has received very little attention from the university’s anthropology and art history programs.

What do the symbols mean?

Through the years, interpretations of the Forsyth petroglyphs have varied. Throughout the late 20th century, many tourist brochures and books described them as the work of Cherokee hunters or maps of Cherokee towns. However, the Cherokee presence in Forsyth County was very brief and did not include any settlements of significant size. The Creek Indians did occupy the Etowah River Valley for at least 2000 years, but the locations of the major towns were along the river. The Forsyth boulder does not seem to portray a linear arrangement of towns, nor rivers.

Many of the symbols on the boulder, however, do appear to be representations of heavenly bodies. The most obvious are the ones with a single circle and two lines angling off on one side. These are obviously either comets or meteorites. Single dots or circles could be interpreted as stars or planets.

The concentric circles have several possible interpretations. The concentric circle logo is currently believed by archaeologist to have been the symbol of a large Bronze Age city on the coast of Iberia that was destroyed by a tsunami. The same logo turns up in central Spain after the destruction of the mother town. A circle surrounded by rings is a common symbol today for a solar system consisting of a star surrounded by planets. To the Yuchi Indians, who were indigenous to the Southern Highlands, the concentric circles mean a “time portal” or “star gate.” That same logo appears on many of the boulders of the Highlands in Georgia.

On the edges and ends of the Forsyth petroglyph boulder are carved symbols which do not have forms like any animal, plant or natural feature. In fact, they are quite similar, if not identical, to letters in the medieval Georgian script. This was a form of writing used by Christians in the Caucasus during the early Middle Ages. They were cut off from the main body of Christianity by the expansion of Islam. In the Caucasus the Christians original Aramaic and Cyrillic letters evolved over time into a cursive form of writing, as writing with a quill pen replaced stone inscriptions as the primary means of conveying words.

The similarity between the Forsyth glyphs and medieval writing forms may be totally circumstantial. The glyphs may be from an unknown Native American writing or have an entirely different interpretation other than being a form of writing. The Creek Indians DID have a sophisticated form of writing that was lost in the early 1700s, and has yet to be rediscovered. These glyphs may be from that lost language.

Most of the petroglyph boulders in the Southern Highlands seem to differ somewhat from each other in content and symbolism. It may be that each boulder was inscribed at different times. It is also possible that symbols on the boulders accrued through the centuries and therefore, do not necessarily represent communications from one ethnic group.


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