Uncovering the Sacred: 3,000 More Petroglyphs Identified at Jeffers

Minnesota Historical Society / Visitors to Jeffers Petroglyphs Historic Site near Comfrey, Minnesota can now view some 5,000 petroglyphs carved by Native ancestors.

Uncovering the Sacred: 3,000 More Petroglyphs Identified at Jeffers.

“The sacred is like rain.

It falls everywhere

but pools in certain places.”

— Dakota elders

For 7,000 years American Indian ancestors carved into the stones at Red Rock Ridge in what is today Minnesota—symbols that would leave proof of their lives, and a window into their beliefs, histories, and hopes for the future.

Visitors to the Jeffers Petroglyphs will see newly uncovered rock carvings this year, and can take a guided tour reflecting new discoveries revealed by those carvings, which are preserved by the Minnesota Historical Society at the Jeffers Petroglyphs Historic Site near Comfrey, Minnesota.

“Visitors often sense that Jeffers is a sacred place when they stand where American Indian ancestors carved their visions and truths for thousands of years,” Thomas Sanders, an archaeologist and Jeffers’ site manager, said in a press release. “In the oral tradition of American Indians, knowledge was sacred and passed on to elders. Elders and other spiritual leaders recorded this knowledge by carving the petroglyphs at Jeffers.”

Until recently there were about 2,000 identified petroglyphs—after an extensive restoration project that removed lichen growth, an additional 3,000 have been identified. The discoveries offer evidence that Native ancestors had advanced understanding of mathematics, geometry, astronomy, and medicine.

“The earlier carvings are of animals, who are the helping spirits,” said Sanders. For example, a carving of a wolf invokes social strength, being a great hunter and working together. As time goes on, carvings begin to include a type of spear called an atlatl, which predates the bow and arrow, thunderbird, pottery, items from agriculture and carvings that represent people, such as handprint carvings.

“Handprint carvings, or napé in the Dakota language, says they were here,” said Joe Williams, a Dakota elder who has helped discern the stories represented by the carvings at Jeffers. “For Indian people, the handprint says we are still here, that we have kept the spirit alive and survived the most disastrous things on this continent. Imagine that a vision, a spirit, guided him to make this carving. We shake hands as a gesture of friendship, to show that we believe what we say we will do, with honor. And so when you nestle your hand inside his hand carved here, it means a lot.”

The elders are working with archaeologists to bring the intent and understanding of the stories to light. “With so much knowledge lost, stories can have many interpretations. The elders have guided us with context, truth and meaning. They have helped us uncover and piece together narratives that are healing. Healing is important,” Sanders said.

For information about planning a visit to learn more about the Jeffers Petroglyphs, visit MNHS.org.

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