Saturday, March 13, 2010


I've always known that this corner of the state was interesting from a historical perspective. Most places you don't pick up arrowheads willy nilly, nor do you turn over every rock and find a fossil.

What is here though, in places, is wondrous.

From a complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton found near our distinctive, and dormant, volcano (now displayed in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science) to the well hidden fossil imprint of a whale in the wall of a canyon. From stick figure horses, warriors, and prey painstakingly scratched into the rocks near natural springs to the startling parallel markings that appear beside them, that certain experts say are clearly a coded written language first discovered in Ireland.

Picture Canyon is the most accessible, and most famous, place to view the Native American carvings and paintings, and the most famous instance of the ogam.

Crack Cave contains possibly the most agreed upon example of ogam in the country. There is some scholarly discussion, since the examples found in this area are, as far as I know, universally missing vowels. But there is very little argument about the Crack Cave carvings, considering their translation and the event that happens there at sunrise every equinox.

On the north wall of the cave behind the narrow fissure in the canyon wall there is a knob of rock, the ogam following it's contours. Among those who accept the idea of ogam in the United States, it's fairly well agreed upon that the inscription translates as "Sun strikes (here) on the day of Bel" with the parenthetical here being assumed, since every equinox, for a few minutes at the moment of sunrise, the light caresses that bulge of rock.

Those who have seen it say that it is an amazing sight, watching the first rays of the sun sweep across markings that were made so long ago.

There are actually three examples that read "Grian," meaning "Sun," in that cave. The inscription on the north wall, another at the back of the cave that stands alone, and one on the south wall, reading "Aois Grian"- "People of the Sun."

There is another site, on private property, that the authors of Ancient American Inscriptions- Plowmarks or History? called the Sun Temple.

In addition to having a circle inscribed at the back of a depression in the rock, indicating where to put your head on cross-quarter days at sunrise to see the sun framed as it crests the horizon by an outcropping in a canyon wall, it has another ogam inscription. This one reads "Noble Twins" and around it are scattered markings, shaped like plus signs. Based on similar carvings they assumed they were meant to indicate stars, and seemed to show a very specific alignment of Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus.

So, the authors of the book went to a cosmologist who had a program that modeled the movement of the universe, and found that, according to the program, that alignment, and the placement of the stars around it, also shown on the carving, happened before sunrise on the cross-quarter day, August 8th, 471 AD.

471 AD. Whether it was a traveler's documentation of something that happened before he arrived, placed there because of the site's relation to the cross-quarter days, or something that an observer documented as he saw it, we may never know, since at this time there is no reliable way to date the carving, but it is a wondrous thought, isn't it, that someone may have seen something he considered so amazing that he had to carve it into a rock wall for those who came after him.

Yet another inscription, this time in Central Colorado, is one of the longest translated inscriptions I found in my research. It is found along what seems to be a commonly traveled path, among rock shelters and some evidence of ancient fires.

"May be used for shelter. This is a sheltering place for travelers... Route sign to the west is the frontier town with standing stones as markers." (Translated by Leanord and Glen, 1981)

To the west of that site is a town that did indeed have standing stones as markers.

Some of the translations seem to be mostly guesswork. Not only is the written language dead as a doornail but it's like trying to translate snippets of a journal, written in a language you barely know, by a man who couldn't really spell, and who had really poor penmanship.

There isn't any commonly accepted explanation for the lack of vowels in ogam in the United States. It hasn't been found common anywhere else. Personally, I think perhaps the people who came here were mainly here for trade. At that time, to my understanding, only scholars had knowledge of the written word. Perhaps the people who carved these marks were traveling with traders, who would probably not wait their travels on a single man making marks in rock. In which case, dropping the vowels in a written language in which each letter took multiple marks would be a time saver, and the consistency of the dropped vowels would allow those who came behind to be sure to understand the messages.

It doesn't seem so far fetched to me, considering the way people today drop vowels and substitute letters for whole words online, or in text messages, to save time.

Srsly, it sounds plausible to me.

Of course, I'm not a scholar. If you'd like to know more, read the book I mentioned earlier. If you'd like to see Crack Cave for yourself, make your way to Southeastern Colorado. My county seat holds a festival spring and fall for the Equinoxes, and there are guided tours of Crack Cave to see the mystery in action.