Interpreting the Pictographs of North Hegman Lake, MN


The arrangement of figures at the main panel of the North Hegman Lake, Minnesota rock art site appears to have been carefully composed at one time by one rock artist. Its present excellent condition suggests either that it may not be especially old or that it is a site where an older pictograph has been repainted. The rock art appears to represent Ojibwe meridian constellations visible in winter during the early evening, knowledge of which may have been useful for navigating in the deep woods during the winter hunting season. Support for a suggested multi-layered interpretive model comes from a review of various culturally specific ethnohistorical sources. The inclusion of elements from widely known Ojibwe legends and references to constellations with cosmological or religious significance make it an intriguing scene with many interesting culturally specific referents. This panel is perhaps the most visited and photogenic pictograph within the State of Minnesota and it possesses remarkable artistic merit.

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Interpreting the Pictographs of North Hegman Lake, MN

Kevin L. Callahan

Department of Anthropology

University of Minnesota


Some of the best known and most photographed pictographs in the Upper Midwest are located at North Hegman Lake, northwest of Ely, MN, in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on a granite cliff overlooking the water. This rock art is located within the "northern woodlands" stylistic rock art region of Campbell Grant (1983) and Klaus Wellmann (1979).

The panel shows a human figure in an outstretched arms posture standing near a quadruped animal with a long tail, possibly a dog or wolf, and a remarkably well drawn bull moose with splayed hooves and dew claws. (A dew claw on a moose is a reduced hind toe or the false rudimentary hoof above the true hoof .) Beneath these figures is a long horizontal line, probably representing the ground or horizon, and above the human figure are two vertical rows of short horizontal lines or dashes. One set has 4 lines and next to it are 3 lines. Above and to the right are what look like three canoes. The top two canoes have two paddlers and the third has a faint single one in the middle. Above the moose's rack is a single mark. Above all of these figures is a large cross like a "plus" sign.

Several feet to the left of the scene are other much more faint pictographs including 6 horizontal lines, one above the other, three crosses above each other, and a "Y" shaped figure with a "C" shape to it with diagonal strokes. There may also be a spiral and grid-like figure near the water.

The arrangement of figures at the main panel of the North Hegman Lake, Minnesota rock art site appears to have been carefully composed at one time by one rock artist. After examining the pictographs from about a foot away, it appears that the application of the red ochre was relatively recent, since it hardly looks weathered compared to other similar red ochre pictographs in northern Minnesota. It is also possible that someone has carefully reapplied ochre to a much older pictograph.

Although experiments have shown that red ochre on a rock face can become sealed through natural processes and remain quite bright even when very old, I saw no particular indication from looking at the panel up close that it was naturally encapsulated or sealed; however, I have not viewed it under magnification nor conducted any sort of microscopic examination of the surface.

The most likely candidates for the cultural groups who were making red ochre pictographs with these kinds of figures during the historical period were the Ojibwe and Cree. Other similar sites in the region have been investigated by researchers like Thor Conway (1993), Selwyn Dewdney and Kenneth Kidd (1973), Henry R. Schoolcraft (1851), Grace Rajnovich (1994) and others. Most of the other recent red ochre pictographs in this area appear to have been made by Ojibwe individuals who were recording shamanistic dreams and visions and Ojibwe leaders who were recording their biographical exploits.

The panel's anthropomorphic figure is painted with an "outstretched arms" posture rather than an "upraised arms" posture. Henry R. Schoolcraft, an Indian Agent whose wife was half Ojibwe and whose mother-in-law was a full-blood Ojibwe, authored a multi-volume work called Historical and Statistical Information . . . of the Indian tribes of the United States published in 1851. According to Schoolcraft, in pictographic inscriptions used in hunting, an anthropomorph with upraised and outstretched arms "depicts a Meda [shaman]. He is about to open his performances, and appeals to the candor and sympathy of his fellows.

. . . Behold me, Medas, my friends. Unishenauba (or the common people.) Question me my friends (Schoolcraft 1851:vol.1:383-384).

According to Schoolcraft, in Ojibwe birch bark scroll pictography "friendship [is shown] by an open hand" (Schoolcraft 1851: vol.1:420).

An upraised arm posture was a widely known position of prayer assumed by Native Americans in many areas of North America. According to Albert Reagan (1958), the Indian Agent at Nett Lake, Minnesota from 1909-1914, it was also associated with a dance posture of Ojibwe medicine men and women, especially when the legs were slightly bent. It also can mean supernatural being.

Selwyn Dewdney and Kenneth E. Kidd (1973) in their book Indian Rock

Paintings of the Great Lakes described a huge, detached slab of granite below the Hegman Lake pictographs, which produced a dull hollow sound when tapped with a rock.

Sound may have been a component in the selection of rock art sites in Minnesota. For example, in describing the petroglyphs at Nett Lake in northern Minnesota, Albert B. Reagan reported that Spirit Island or "Picture Island," where the petroglyphs were located, was also sometimes called "Drum Island" by the Ojibwe because "the polished rock area is hollow beneath; and, on walking over it, it gives out a hollow drum-like sound" (Reagan 1958).

A review of culturally specific ethnohistoric sources, analysis of the rock art, and specific information about the night sky suggest that this panel probably represents an accurate drawing of the Ojibwe winter constellation. Like the Ptolemaic system of constellations, Ojibwe constellations had many rich associations with stories, myths, and legends.

As more fully discussed below, according to both Henry R. Schoolcraft and anthropologist Sr. Inez Hilger, the cross or "plus" sign in Ojibwe pictography meant "star." Relative to the size and position of the Ojibwe constellations represented, and looking at a modern star chart, the very large cross or "plus" sign at the Hegman site is in the same relative position as the North Star.

In the summer the echo at the Hegman Lake site is remarkable. The Ojibwe have a legend that two close brothers separated and one went up to the sky and became the "Star of the North" and the other stayed on earth and became Echo.

As Grace Rajnovich (1994) has pointed out, in stories of Nanaboujou, the creation of the earth, and Ojibwe stories of the Great Flood, Wolf is an important figure. Wolf was sent by Nanaboujou to the world of the dead to be their chief. She suggests that rock "paintings, like the stories, have many meanings" (Rajnovich 1994:156)

Michael Furtman (2000), in his book Magic on the Rocks: Canoe Country pictographs has also noted out that Nanaboujo (or Nanabush)

. . . had been befriended by the wolf, Myeengun, who not only taught him to hunt moose (the knowledge of which Nanabush then shared with the Ojibwe), but also gave Nanabush the first arrowhead (one of Myeengun=s teeth). The power of flint is symbolized by the wolf. In some versions of this tale, the "flinty" wolf was responsible for teaching Nanbush how to make fire (sparks can be made by striking flint). . . . Nanabush sends [Myeengun] back to the "other side" to await all Ojibwe who die so that Myeengun can show them the way to heaven.

Finally, in some versions of this tale, Nanubush=s fight with the evil manitous leads to the flooding of the earth, after which the world is reborn in its present form. Of the different versions of the Nanbush-Wolf legend I have read, there are constants: all three involved the use of the wolf=s sense of smell to find moose, all three demonstrated the importance of the human-wolf teamwork to successfully hunt moose, and all three Myeengun drove the moose to Nanabush, who hid with his bow and arrows in ambush (Furtman 2000:148-9).

Carl Gawboy, an Anishinaabe artist from the Bois Forte Reservation and Associate Professor of Indian Studies at the College of St. Scholastica, whose father was a Nett Lake Ojibwe, was the first person to propose that the meaning of the panel was linked to a series of Ojibwe constellations in the sky. In a newspaper article in the Duluth News-Tribune (April 6, 1992) entitled "Ely Pictographs Linked to the Heavens" Gawboy suggested that the man with the outstretched arms is the Ojibwe version of a constellation in the area that we think of today as the constellation Orion. This figure is the Winter-maker and Gawboy suggested that the position of the pictographs on the cliff is oriented towards viewing the constellations in the winter sky. Gawboy also recognized later that the canoes are probably paddlers on the Path of Souls or Milky Way.

German ethnographer, Johann Georg Kohl, wrote that "the Indians [call] the milky way 'the path of the dead,' or the 'path of the souls.' Among the Ojibbeways, the milky way is called 'Jibekana,' which word has that meaning" (Kohl 1985::213).

In The Island of the Blessed; or the Hunter's Dream (Schoolcraft 1851:pp.321-3) Schoolcraft described an Ojibwe hunter's dream of paddling canoes of white shining stone with shining paddles on the path of souls to get to heaven with his beautiful girlfriend. When the hunter awoke "he was still in the bitter land of snows and hunger, death and tears" (p.323).

I agree with Carl Gawboy's early insight that this appears to be a star chart of Ojibwe constellations, with Winter-maker the near equivalent of Orion, and the Three Canoes as paddlers along the Path of Souls. Unlike Gawboy's early reconstructions, I suspect that the Dog (or Wolf ) constellation and the Moose constellation shown in the panel were most likely composed of stars directly below Orion. In my view the best fit for the Ojibwe Dog or Wolf constellation is the combination of the modern Canis Major (large dog) and Columba constellations, the Moose constellation is a combination of the modern Eridanus, Caelum, and Fornax constellations and the passengers in the Three Canoes are bright first magnitude stars in the constellations Gemini, Auriga, and Taurus.

The panel is remarkably accurate as a representation of the positions of the stars and constellations relative to each other in the winter night sky. Its accuracy would be sufficient for it to be used today for navigation through the deep woods in winter without a compass. The same kind of care and detailed attention that this rock artist put into accurately drawing all of the features of the bull moose (our word comes from the Ojibwe "mooz"), also apparently went into carefully laying out the correct positions of the surrounding figures. It could not have been easy to have drawn these figures on uneven granite using red ochre, and this does not appear to be the work of an unskilled or beginning artist.

The way that the ground line was drawn at the bottom of the panel may also have been important. It deliberately slopes down a bit on the right where the rock artist apparently wanted to make sure to show that the feet of the wolf and the moose were slightly above the horizon. The artist was careful to include the dew claw or the rudimentary hind toe of the moose, which is also an important star grouping in the Ptolemaic constellation Eridanus. The star that is the dew claw used to mark the end point of the Ptolemaic constellation. This constellation however was revised in modern times to extend far below the horizon. The distance above the horizon of the dog=s front paw and the height of the moose=s dew claw above the horizon are important because like a sextant in the sky, they could tell you the latitude and how far away you were from home e.g., if you were traveling south from Canada or north from Mille Lacs or Fond du Lac, Minnesota.

According to Schoolcraft, in Ojibwe pictographic writing horizontal dashes piled vertically are "chronological and arithmetic devices" (vol.1: p.407). For example, the number of days of a woman's vision quest or the number of enemies a warrior killed could be pictographically recorded using horizontal dashes.

There are many possible "chronometric or arithmetic" referents for the horizontal marks above Winter-maker's shoulder. Arguably the most important chronometric object for tracking the passage of time in Ojibwe culture was the moon, which also travels on the ecliptic above Orion's shoulder. The Wabenos or members of the Ojibwe "Society of the Dawn" kept track of the moon and periodically added an unnamed thirteenth moon to keep the calendar congruent with the sun. One possibility then is that the four horizontal marks could represent something like the four moons that make up the winter season (December, January, February, and March) and the three horizontal marks could mean along the lines that this is "the winter sky in February."

Another possibility is that, like the moon, the planets also follow the path of the ecliptic above Orion and below the Three Canoes. The Ojibway called the planets the "wolves" and the ecliptic was known as "the path of the wolves."

The Path of Souls or Milky Way, which the souls of the dead paddle on in Ojibwe folklore, also passes between the three canoes. There are star patterns that seem to fit the Three Canoes. The canoe with the two passengers on the left are probably the two brightest stars in Gemini. These equally bright first magnitude stars make up the two heads of Gemini; there is even a series of small stars in the shape of a curve underneath them.

The other canoe with two passengers above it may be the two brightest stars in Auriga, which includes the star Capella. In winter, Capella is the second brightest star in the sky (after Sirius -- the "dog" star) and it is directly over a viewer=s head any time that Orion is in the south and upright. Capella is very useful at night in the deep north woods because you can more easily find it overhead than the North Star, which is off at an angle.

The North Star at Ely's latitude is 48 degrees above the horizon and the view of it is frequently blocked by trees. Knowing the seasonally important zenith constellations (those directly overhead) is very useful for navigation through deep woods in any landscape where the landscape is such that it would be easy to get turned around in.

The canoe with one star is most likely Aldebaran, (the bright red "eye" of Ptolemy's constellation Taurus). Aldebaran has a series of small blue stars in the shape of a curve underneath it.

As has been mentioned, if a star chart for February, such as regularly appears in Astronomy or Sky and Telescope magazine, is overlaid with the Ojibwe constellations, the cross above all of the others is probably a representation of the AStar of the North."

The cultural context for the site

Sending dogs out to pick up the scent of a moose and drive it back towards the hunter is a hunting technique called "coursing" and is specifically described as being used in moose hunting in Kohl's ethnography of the Ojibwe from the late nineteenth century. The moose was admired by the Ojibwe for its wariness and ability to hear, and the acoustics at the Hegman site would probably have been excellent for a hunter if a moose was being driven towards him from the north or south by a dog.

The ledge probably overlooked a wildlife travel corridor since North Hegman Lake is shaped like a very long hourglass and this cliff face is at the narrowest part of the hourglass. It may have been a yearly hunting stand. The moderate height would have allowed a hunter to ambush game, either with a bow and arrow or gun, by firing down on it. The stone ledge is high enough to be out of reach of a rack of antlers and no wounded bull moose could knock it over.


Ojibwe astronomy

I would like to review here, in some detail, some of the culturally specific ethnohistorical sources regarding Ojibwe starlore, navigation techniques, and the winter moose and deer hunting season that I think further support this model of interpretation. Like most interpretive research models, later reconstructions are an approximation of the original meanings, and in Ojibwe culture there may be additional personal layers of meaning to pictographic images that sometimes were not intended to be generally known.

Since Ojibwe constellations represent stories, myths, and folklore, there are several iconological associations beyond the iconographic meaning of these pictographs as a straightforward star chart. In other words, these images were most likely symbolically "rich" symbols with multiple referents. They would have been more than simply a literal representation of the night sky in February that could be useful as a memory device to avoid getting lost in the deep woods.

In February in northern Minnesota it is night much longer than it is day, and the moon, stars, and planets were used by the Ojibwe to accurately tell the time and to schedule times to rendevous with others.

German ethnographer, Johann Georg Kohl, visiting the Ojibwe of northern Wisconsin in 1855, collected some of the Ojibwe starlore. Kohl wrote about the topic as follows:

The Ojibbeways have paid some attention to the heavens. They all know the polar star, have noticed its fixedness, and call it "Giwe danang," or the star of the north. A much-traveled Voyageur assured me that even the most savage Indians know the star by this name.

In the same way they all know the morning star, which they call "Wabanang." I often sat with them before my hut, and they pointed out to me the planets they knew. They showed me the following: the "Bear's-head" (Makosh-tigwan), the "Bear's-cross" (Mako-jigan), and the "three traveling kings" (Ada womog). Unfortunately, I am not able to say which of our constellations these signify, for the Indians seemed to form theirs of different stars from ours.

The Pleides they call Madodisson, or the "sweating stones." In their vapour-baths they employ red-hot stones arranged in a circle nearly in the shape of the Pleides.

Not far from the polar star they showed me three stars, which they called Noadji-manguet, or the "man who walks behind the loon-bird."

They have various expressions for the phases of the moon, or, as they term it, the night sun. The full moon they call the round night sun, and they employ phrases similar to ours to express the crescent and decrescent moon. They have also special terms for a halo, double suns, and other apparitions in the sky, which proves that they have paid considerable attention to the firmament.

Nearly every at all intelligent Indian can throughout the year tell the time of day, when the sun will cross the meridian, and mid-day. For the other hours they have expressions like this; "It is half-way to mid-day," or, "It is now one half from mid-day to sunset."

But they tell the time even better at night if the stars are bright. They appoint the time for a nocturnal foray most accurately, and they will arrange to meet after the declension of this or that planet, or when the star is at such or such a point.

Like all nations of the world they regulate the greater division of the years and the months by the movements of the sun and moon. I have heard the Ojibbeways speak of the moon where they throw off vice (la lune, où ils rejettent le vice) [the moon, where they reject the vice]. The first time persons, especially young men, see the moon in February, they say: "Je rejette ma mauvaise manière de vivre." [I reject my bad manner to live (of life?)] This was, unluckily, all I could learn on this interesting subject. Many assured me the commencement of the year was typified by this.

They also divide the year into twelve moons, and have their regular names for them. It is hence probable that this division is very ancient among them, for they add every now and then a thirteenth nameless moon in order to get right with the sun again. Among the Ojibbeways on Lake Superior the months have the following names:

[December--The moon of little spirits]

January--The moon of the spirits.

February--The moon of the suckers, because those fish begin going up the riveres then.

March--The moon of the snow-crust, because then the sun covers the top of the snow with a firm crust, and it is a good time to travel.

April--The moon for breaking the snow-shoes, because then the snow disappears and the snow-shoes are often broken. . . . (Kohl 1985: 118-120).

According to Henry R. Schoolcraft in a chapter entitled "Algonquian Mythology and Superstitions:"

The evening star, it is fabled, was formerly a woman. A small boy became one of the planets. Three brothers, traveling in a canoe were transformed into stars. The fox, robin, the mouse, and numerous other animals, retain places in Indian astronomy. It is a coincidence, worthy of note, that Ursa Major is called by them the Bear" (Schoolcraft 1851:vol.6:p.662).

In an earlier volume he also noted that in the Ojibwe language Aurora Borealis meant "dancing ghosts" ((Schoolcraft 1851:vol.5:p.569).

Edward Benton-Banai, relates a story about Original Man who "kept sight of the Sun and the Moon and the Gi-way'-din ah-nung' (North Star) to help him travel in a straight line" on his fourth attempt to cross the great water in a dugout canoe (Benton-Banai 1988:12-13).

The Evening Star (or the planet Venus) was also used in navigating at night. In one war song described by Schoolcraft the lyrics are:

1. I am rising to seek the war-path.

2. The earth and sky are before me.

3. I walk by day and by night.

4. And the evening star is my guide (Schoolcraft 1851:vol.1:402).

The pictographic symbol for walking at night under a moon was a circle with human legs. The symbol may also have meant the moon. (Ibid. at 408).

Some modern deer hunters are very aware of the moon phases and calculate the position of the moon in the sky before hunting season begins. Mark Drury, a modern deer hunter who writes for the magazine Outdoor Life believes hunters should always hunt during a rising moon because "deer move early into feeding areas with a rising moon. . . . [H]unt feeding areas and travel corridors on a rising moon and bedding areas during a falling moon" (Drury, 2002:52).

According to Benton-Banai in the Star World there is a lodge with Seven Grandfathers who gave instructions to an Ojibwe boy during a vision quest on how to do the purifying ceremony of the sweatlodge. The doorway to the star world was through the crescent moon. (Benton-Banai 1988:83-85). [This may be an indirect reference to the Pleides which consists of seven stars next to the path of the ecliptic that the sun, planets, and moon follow.]

Michael Wassegijig Price, Wikwemikong First Nations, is the founding president of the new Red Lake Nation College in Red Lake, Minnesota. He is the author of a website about Anishinaabe Star Knowledge.

"Because stars move from east to west, the Anishinaabe believe that when we die, our spirits travel to "Ningaabii'anong;" the Western sky. The Anishinaabek also believe that new life and knowledge emerge from "Waabanong ; " the eastern sky. . . .

Knowledge was generally passed down through the "Midewiwin, " a society of healers and spiritual leaders, or the "Waabanowin," the Society of the Dawn. . . .

The Anishinaabe constellation, "Bugonagiizhig --Hole in the Sky," is the star cluster known as Pleiades. The seven stars represent the opening between the Earth and the star world. This "Hole in the Sky" leads to the spirit world. These seven stars also represent the seven poles used in the construction of the "Jiisakaan--Shaking Tent Ceremony. " "Bugonagiizhig," a winter constellation that rises in the northeast sky in October and makes its way across the winter sky, sinks below the northwest horizon in late March, becoming invisible from April through August. Other Anishinaabek communities refer to Pleiades as "Madoo'asinug--Sweating Stones." The seven stars in this constellation represent the seven stones used in the sweatlodge ceremony.
The "Madoodiswan," or "Sweatlodge," is the constellation also known as the Corona Borealis. Characterized as a group of stars in a circular pattern with the door of the lodge opening to the north/northeast, it rises in the northeast sky in March and disappears on the horizon in September. The "Sweatlodge" constellation is directly overhead during the early evenings of June, yet is not seen for six months throughout the winter.
The most wellknown constellation is the Big Dipper or Ursa Major. To the Anishinaabe, the Big Dipper is part of the constellation "Ojiig'anung--Fisher Star." "Ojiig'anung" lies just above the horizon from October to December. In December, it emerges in the northeast sky. Throughout the long winter, the Fisher makes its way across the night sky. The Anishinaabek knew that spring was close when "Ojiig'anung" was directly overhead in the early evenings. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1793-1864) had recorded the story of the "Ojiig'anung (The Fisher)," but did not make the connection between the story and the rise of the constellation in early spring. The rise of "Ojiig'anung" was also an indication that it was time to prepare for "Aninaatig ozhiga'igewin --tapping of the maple trees." . . .

"Mishi bizhiw," or the Great Lynx, is another constellation that emerges in the late winter skies. Because the lynx is known to be a somewhat dangerous animal, this constellation is a reminder that the north woods, especially during the transition time between winter and spring, can be dangerous. Thinning ice on the lakes and rivers, hard crust on the snow, flooding, and unpredictable snowstorms are characteristic of the Great Lakes region during this time. The constellation, "Mishi bizhiw," consists of the two constellations of Leo and Hydra. The head of Leo makes up the long curled tail, while the head of Hydra makes up the head of the Great Lynx.
Polaris, or the North Star, is known as "Giwedin'anung--Star of the North." "Giwedin'anung" was used in determining the four cardinal directions as well as navigating through the Great Lakes region at night. "Giwedin'anung" is part of the constellation known as "Maang‚The Loon." The Loon constellation comprises the stars of the Little Dipper. "Giwedin'anung" is located at the tip of the tail feathers of the Loon constellation.
According to the Dictionary of the Ojibway Language (1878) by Frederic Baraga, the Anishinaabek word for Milky Way is spelled "tchibekina." I had asked several Elders in the area what that word meant, but no one knew. Finally, George Goggleye, an Elder from the Leech Lake Reservation, said that Baraga had spelled it wrong. It was actually pronounced "jiibay kona" (jiibay--spirit; kona--path), which meant "Spirit Path." The rock pictographs at Hegman Lake in Canada, which show three canoes traveling in the same direction, may indicate the "jiibay kona" or Milky Way" (Price 2002).

Shooting the Wintermaker

In her 1993 book Portage Lake: Memories of an Ojibwe Childhood Maude Kegg, recounted the following story which described an Ojibwe winter custom for bringing back the Spring:

Shoot the Wintermaker

Again what the old lady told me.
She talked about everything with me.
It´s long ago and the Indians are cold
because the winter is too long.

They make bows for the children. They tell them:
"Go and shoot up in the sky. Shoot the Wintermaker."

The children go outside and aim skywards.
They shoot the Wintermaker.
And sure enough it warms up (Kegg, 1993).

Other Native American sources describe a somewhat similar belief that shooting into the sky during an eclipse will bring back the sun.

The Meaning of the Cross or "Plus" Sign in Ojibwe Pictography

and Ojibwe Navigation in the North Woods

Anthropologist Sister M.Inez Hilger, a professor at St. Benedict's College in St. Joseph, Minnesota, traveled to nine Ojibwe reservations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan in the 1930's and described the use of the sky and pictography for Ojibwe navigation through the deep woods:

"Chippewa who were acquainted with the locality of their habitat and with the country surrounding it relied on the position of the sun or of the North Star to find directions; when not well acquainted with a locality, they marked the trail in order to make return possible. "When men went hunting in those early days, they didn't need to mark the way; they always found home without difficulty. However, if some families were moving and expected others to follow them at a later time, the first ones chipped bark off trunks of trees or broke branches along the way. If the direction changed en route, the tree was chipped on two sides, one chip in line with the direction from which the family came and the other in line with the direction to which they had turned. If the distance to be traveled was long, and no chances were to be taken of having the second detachment lose its way, a small piece of birch bark was fastened to a tree at turns in the trail: a +, "a star," engraved on the birchbark indicated a turn toward the rising sun; a -, one one turning toward the setting sun. This was done in addition to chipping the tree" (Hilger 1992:105).

Ojibwe Pictography was used for many purposes including maps designed for travel

Sr. Inez Hilger described Ojibwe pictography in general terms as follows:

"A form of pictography, consisting of symbolisms that represented numbers, directions, days, hills, lakes, sky, and earth, and of crude delineations that represented men, birds,, animals, and material objects was known to a few persons in every band. Those who were well versed in it could combine these delineations and symbols into ideographs that represented progressive action. Such ideographs, if used in messages, records of time, directions, or maps designed for travel, could be interpreted by many, but only members of the Midewiwin could read the ones related to their lodge. . . . Picture writing was done with a bone on the inner surface of birchbark, or occasionally on slabs of cedar or ash. In order to give the pictures some relief, charcoal or colored soil was rubbed into the markings" (Hilger 1992:108).

The Rarity of a Ground Line in Rock Art

The portrayal of a ground line is quite notable for rock art researchers. For example, Jean Clottes, of the French Ministry of Culture, who is responsible for preserving and interpreting Upper Paleolithic caves, has observed that in the European Upper Paleolithic:

Generally figures were painted or engraved without any understandable reference to one another; explicit "scenes" . . . are exceptional. The art is not an accurate depiction of the artist's world; for example, the sun, stars, and moon are never drawn, nor is the ground line (emphasis supplied) (Clottes 2001:464-465).


The presence of the ground line suggests that what is above it may be objects up in the sky, particularly where, as here, the feet of the animals are not shown connected to the ground, there are canoes above the figures, and also a star symbol. Unlike most other Ojibwe pictographs, which seem to be related to medicine men and women's dreams and visions or to the recording of biographical exploits, this panel appears to be devoted to accurately depicting of the rock artist's physical world. A need for accuracy would be self-evident to the maker if it was to be used as a schema for winter navigation. Contrasting Clottes observations with the Hegman Lake panel one can appreciate how significant this panel could be to international rock art studies generally.


The Ojibwe Winter Hunting Season

Winter was moose and deer hunting season for the Ojibwe. In the 1830's, George Catlin made a painting of the Ojibwe Snowshoe Dance which was performed when the first snowfall occurred (Catlin 1973: vol.2:plate 243).

Many were the dances given to me on different places, of which I may make further use and further mention on future occasions: but of which I shall name but one at present, the snow-shoe dance (plate 243), which is exceedingly picturesque, being danced with the snow shoes under the feet, at the falling of the first snow in the beginning of winter; when they sing a song of thanksgiving to the Great Spirit for sending them a return of snow, when they can run on their snow shoes in their valued hunts, and easily take the game for their food (Catlin 1973:vol.2:p.139).

Inez Hilger indicated that with regard to the winter hunting season: "Families set out for their hunting grounds soon after the cold weather began, about the beginning of November, and returned to the winter camp only after severe weather set in. They hunted moose, elk, and deer;bear, wolf, and fox; beaver, ducks, and other fowl; and buffalo, if they resided near the prairie lands" (Hilger 1992:120).

According to Schoolcraft also hunting was seasonal and by June 1st the forests were deserted (1851:367). Winter was the time when animals put on their heaviest fur--which was what was valuable for the fur trade. According to the records of the fur trade at Grand Portage, moose hides were not a particularly valuable item in the fur trade and so we can assume they were hunted by the Ojibwe primarily for food rather than trade.

Nicholas Perrot, a Jesuit, "entered the fur trade among the Ottawa Indians in 1665" and "became well acquainted with the tribes of the upper Mississippi valley and Great Lakes region. Perrot's Memoir on the Manners, Customs, and Religions of the Savages of North America, written in French about 1680 to 1718" provides valuable ethnohistoric information from this period (Blair 1996: back cover).According to Perot:

The moose are hunted [[by driving them towards snares]], especially when the savages are in a region where these animals are numerous; or else they endeavor to take them by surprise and kill them with guns or arrows. But in the winter, when the snows are deep, they have sharp blades on long handles for killing the moose by coursing them [[running after them or pursuing game with dogs]]. . . .

The Kiristinons [or Cree], who often frequent the region along the shores of Lake Superior and the great rivers, where moose are more commonly found, have another method of hunting them. First they embark on the water, two men in each canoe, and keep at a certain distance from one another; their dogs are on the land, and enter a little distance into the depths of the forest to seek their game. As soon as the dogs have found the trail, they never quit it until they have found the moose; and the wonderful instinct which they possess of remembering in what place their masters are leads them to drive on the game directly to that quarter, continually pursuing them until the moose are constrained to dash into the water. The savages, who are [now] on the shore listening intently for the barking of their dogs, at once enter their canoes [again], and attack and slay the moose (Blair 1996:107-108).

The use of Hunting Platforms and Shining Deer in the 1930's

Both Hilger and Kohl in their ethnographies describe the Ojibwe hunting deer at night from canoes with torches (Kohl 1985:311-2). According to Hilger:

"Flashlights have replaced lanterns and torches, especially among the younger hunters today. . . . Deer are easily caught at artificial salt licks deposited by hunters in the deer's watering places. La Pointe Indians (1935) watched at night in one such area on lumber laid in the crotch of a tree and in another from a platform constructed of saplings. When a noise was heard flashlights were played upon the space, the deer being easily discerned because of the glare of their eyes."

Dogs in Ojibwe Culture

According to Benton-Banai dogs are an important animal to the Ojibwe.

"If a man was to get lost in the wilderness, his dogs could lead him back home. The joining of man and dog was also important because it continued the teaching of the close bond that once existed between Anishinabe and the wolf in their journeys around the earth. The number seven, obtained by joining the six dogs to the one man with the [dog] sled, was to become a very special number to the Earth's people as their spiritual ways developed" (Benton-Banai 1988:27).

The Relationship of Wolves to the Wintermaker

According to Schoolcraft, the Dakota had a very similar God of the North to the Ojibwe Wintermaker called Wa-ze-at-ta We-chas-tah. Wolves are "the soldiers of the northern god, who fight his battles" (Schoolcraft 1851:vol.4:496). In the drawing of the Dakota spirit he is depicted with outstretched arms bent legs and a horned headdress. A wolf is drawn to the left of the pictographic figure.

The Association of Pictography with Ojibwe Medicine Men and Women

As Schoolcraft keenly observed:" The idea and the picture representing the idea are too intimately connected to allow the one to be well understood without a knowledge of the other" (Schoolcraft 1851:412). The Meda (or medical magicians) and the

Oracles or Prophets called Jossakeeds . . . are the leading influences in war and hunting . . . They furnish objects of remembrance upon graves, they animate the arcana of the mystical societies, and they constitute no small part of the pictorial matter recorded on trees, on rolls of birch bark and skins, and even on the hard surface of rocks. Whenever a sheet of Indian figures, or a piece of their symbolic writings is presented for examination, it is important to decide, as a primary point, upon its theological or mythological characteristics; for these are generally the key to its interpretation (Schoolcraft 1851:413).

Although artist George Catlin often unfortunately did not identify which specific tribe he was describing, he wrote during the first half of the nineteenth century that the dog feast was a "religious" event and dog images were carved into rocks as a symbol of fidelity (Catlin 1844:230). Dogs were also offerings to the underground spirit that caused illness and were sometimes drowned in lakes with tobacco as an offering (Copway 1851).

Pictography as a mnemonic device

In Ojibwe Pictography pictographs were often mnemonic devices and sometimes there were songs associated with the signs. Rock art is a subclass of pictography which was apparently quite widely used within the landscape. Messages were chalked on rocks. Images were carved into trees. Birch bark messages were left for others. Maps were made. Birch bark scrolls were used in Midewiwin ceremonies.

The imagery at Hegman Lake may be a simple memory device

and a way to remember the meridian constellations used for navigation.

Some pictographs had regular and well understood meanings e.g., clan symbols.

In Ojibwe the subclass of pictography on rock was called "muzzinabikon" and usually recorded clan symbols and the dreams and visions of medicine men and women.

As with other areas of archaeology there is differential preservation of rock art. Chalked pictographs and carvings on soft sandstone or trees tend not to be preserved. The accounts that indicated that the caves all along the Mississippi River were covered with petroglyphs have for the most part eroded away over time or been destroyed by road construction and the railroads.


The research model described here suggests that the Hegman Lake panel represents the Ojibwe meridian constellations visible during the early evening in winter. These were useful for navigating in the deep woods during hunting season. The arrangement of figures at the site appears to have been carefully composed by one rock artist.

In the future it may be useful to photograph the panel using infrared film and a red and two neutral density filters since Loendorf (1999) suggests that infrared photography can sometimes surprisingly "see through" red ochre and produce an image of what is underneath it. This could generate stratigraphic information if there is an earlier pictograph with a different set of pigments or impurities in a binder. Sturgeon cartilage was sometimes rendered as a binder.

It also might be useful to photograph the panel under high magnification to attempt to resolve if natural processes have encapsulated the red ochre paint. To the naked eye its present relatively unweathered and excellent condition appears to mean either that it may not be especially old or it may be a site where an older pictograph could have repainted.

The inclusion of elements from widely known Ojibwe legends, and references to constellations with cosmological or religious significance, make it an intriguing scene. Its location and artistic value have made it popular with visitors to the north woods.


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