Petroglyphs: The Reinhardt Boulder

Cherokee County, Georgia

The boulder is on display at the Funk Heritage Center at Reinhardt University

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

Georgia Institute of Technology ~ Georgia State University

Almost evenly distributed across the hills and mountains of northern Georgia are larger boulders, on whose exposed surfaces were carved geometric forms and abstract symbols. Generally known as petroglyphs, the rock carvings of this region are different than most in the United States, because the majority of the incised images are not humans, animals or plants. The boulders were originally located on relatively high points of the terrain and near major Native American trade paths.

Three of the boulders first noticed by white settlers in the 1830s were located on a knoll overlooking the Etowah River in Cherokee County, Georgia. Throughout the 1800s rumor persisted that Native Americans had hidden gold under the boulders and that the abstract symbols on the boulders were used to denote the locations of ancient gold mines. At the turn of the century two of the boulders were blown up with dynamite in an effort to retrieve the mythical gold caches. No gold or anything else of value was found in the rubble of these destroyed legacies of the past.

In the 1940s the Cline Family, owner of the land around the surviving boulder, donated it to Reinhardt Junior College (now Reinhardt University) in northwestern Cherokee County. The boulder is 11 feet long, 1 ½ feet thick and weighs approximately 5 tons. A larger wrecker transported the boulder to the college campus. It was originally placed outdoors between two oak trees and later moved inside the college’s library. In 1999 it was given a permanent home in the Hall of Ancients in the new Funk Heritage Museum on the college campus.

Symbols on the Reinhardt Boulder

The symbols on the Reinhardt boulder

Most of the carvings on the boulder are randomly spaced concentric circles, varying greatly in size and number of rings. One glyph has six rings, while the majority of glyphs have one or two rings. Two glyphs have crosses within them. There is at least one star-shaped glyph. There are also numerous points or small circles that could either be man-made or the result of lightning strikes. Some petroglyph specialists have interpreted several indentations in the rock as abstract, asymmetrical glyphs. However, these may actually be the result of natural erosion.

Interpretations of the purpose or meaning of the Reinhardt Petroglyphs have varied considerably. Most archaeologists, who have viewed the boulder, have felt that the carvings predated the arrival of European settlers and were the work of Native Americans. The general consensus is that the rock carvings were far too old to have been done by the Cherokees. The Cherokees lived the region from around 1790 till 1838. The Uchees lived in the region from at least 1000 BC. Ancestors of the Creeks living in the region from around 0 AD to 1794. Beyond the determination of the petroglyphs being quite old, there has been no consensus on their meaning or purpose.

A map of the sky?

Many observers of the Reinhardt boulder assume that it is a map of the night time sky above the boulder. The glyphs may represent stars and planets visible to the naked eye. The two largest glyphs have been interpreted as being the planet, Venus and Polaris, the North Star. This initially obvious interpretation of the petroglyphs being a star map has problems, when the effect of the movement of the earth on its axis and around the sun is considered.

The locations of stars and planets change for a viewer both during the night and during the year. The view of the stars and planets as portrayed on the boulder would only be valid for a brief period two nights a year. Why was the moon not portrayed on this boulder?

There is considerable variation of the size of the glyphs and the number of rings. The difference in size among heavenly bodies is not visible to a person standing on earth without the aid of a telescope and knowledge of astronomy. Rings do not appear around objects in the sky, viewed with the naked eye, except occasionally when suspended ice particles distort the light of the moon. Rings today are used by astronomical maps denote the number of planets orbiting a star; a solar system. If such was their symbolism when the boulder was carved, then it is a map of a section of the Milky Way, not of the night time Georgia star.

A regional map?

The location of the boulder next to a trade path has suggested to some viewers of the Reinhardt Petroglyphs that it was a regional map to guide travelers. The concentric circles were assumed to be towns and villages. Their relative difference in size was interpreted as indicating the relative difference in size among Native American communities.

The Reinhardt Boulder was originally located on a bluff overlooking the Etowah River. The Etowah River was an extremely important river transportation route. It the boulder was a map of communities and trade routes, why doesn’t portray the Etowah River as the most important trade corridor in the region? All of the large Native American towns in the Southeast were located on rivers.

Uchee ritualism?

Concentric circles composed the Uchee Indian glyph for a time portal or star gate. It is possible that the carving of concentric circles was part of a ritual used by Uchee priests to go into a trance, where they thought themselves traveling in time. Of course, it is always possible that there WERE such star portals set up by extra-terrestrials. This common theme of contemporary science fiction plots is a tradition of both the Uchee and the Creek Indians.

Bronze Age gold miners?

North Georgia contains the purest gold in the world. There were originally nuggets of pure copper and a natural brass alloy laying on or near the surface. Silver ore was mined near Fort Mountain during the Colonial Period. Gold and copper ores were mined commercially in Georgia until the mid-20th century. The Georgia Mountains also contain several precious and semi-precious stones such as diamonds, rubies, sapphires, garnets and quartz crystals. There would have been incentives for northern and western Bronze Age explorers to enter the region.

Glyphs in County Kerry

The fact is that several petroglyphic boulders in the Etowah River Valley are virtually identical to their counterparts in southwestern Ireland . . . in particular, the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. County Kerry is the most westerly point in Europe. In addition, its mountains have been Ireland’s most important gold mining region for at 3,000 years.

Recent archaeological studies in Spain have determined that a major city on the southwest coast of Spain during the first millennium BC was constructed in a marsh from concentric earth berms. Its location and plan seem to match surviving descriptions of the lost city of Atlantis. After this city was destroyed by a tsunami, its survivors moved to the interior of the Iberian Peninsula and built smaller towns in the same form; concentric circular earth berms.

Archaeologists have identified numerous boulders with concentric circle designs on them that they have interpreted as the logo of the lost Bronze Age city, and ultimately, the glyph for any town of their culture. There are petroglyphs on boulders in Spain that contain both concentric circles and abstract symbols that are quite similar to those found on the petroglyphs at numerous sites in the Georgia Gold Belt.

Petroglyphs, symbolizing Atlantis in southwestern Spain.

The ancient Iberian city that was destroyed by a tsunami was believed to have been a major center in the Bronze Age of maritime commerce and the copper industry. It is possible that some Iberian ships made it across the Atlantic Ocean and small number of Iberians colonized eastern North America. However, this possibility has not been accepted as a fact by the archaeology profession. If such colonization did occur, the boulder could have been a regional map in which the relative size of settlements was denoted by the number of rings.

The meaning and purpose of most of the North Georgia petroglyphs remain a mystery because their symbolism is so abstract that it cannot be linked to known natural features or man-made objects. Their interpretation will continue to be in the realm of personal opinion and scientific speculation until some New World version of the Rosetta Stone is discovered, which explains the intended meaning of these glyphs.  In the meantime, one cannot deny that they are identical to Bronze Age petroglyphs in Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Galicia and Asturias . . . which have been interpreted by European anthropologists.

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