The “sculptured rock from Forsyth County, Georgia” is a petroglyph that currently sits in front of Baldwin Hall at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. It was moved there in the late 1990s from its location next to the President’s Building.[i] It was originally located in north Georgia and was “found near Mt. Tabor Baptist Church in the Northwestern part of Forsyth County.”[ii] It was first described in White’s Statistics of Georgia in 1849:
“On the road from Canton to Dahlonega, 10 miles northwest from Cumming, is a very remarkable rock. It is an unhewn mass of granite, eight and a half feet long, and two and a half feet wide. It is three-sided, with irregular converging points, upon which are characters, seventeen of them varying in shape. The largest circles are eight inches in diameter. From its appearance, it must have been wrought at a very remote period. The designs are very irregular, and it is probable that they were executed by the same race of people who constructed the mounds in this and other sections of the State. What the characters on this rock mean, the oldest inhabitants cannot tell. The oldest Indians could give no account of it.”[iii]
It was next mentioned twenty-four years later in the book Antiquities of the Southern Indians, Particularly of the Georgia Tribes by Charles C. Jones, Jr. originally published in 1873. Jones referred to the petroglyph as the “Sculptured Rock from Forsyth County, Georgia.” I will refer to this petroglyph as the Forsyth Petroglyph throughout this paper for brevity’s sake. In his book Jones states:
“In Forsyth County, Georgia, is a carved or incised bowlder of fine-grained granite, about nine feet long, four feet six inches high, and three feet broad at its widest point. The figures are cut in the bowlder from one-half to three-quarters of an inch deep….As yet no interpretation of these figures has been offered, nor is it known by whom or for what purpose they were made. It is generally believed, however, that they are the work of the Cherokees. On the eastern end of the bowlder, running vertically, is a line of dots, like drill-holes, eighteen in number, connected by an incised line.”[iv]
It was next mentioned in an 1888 Smithsonian Bureau of Ethnology Report entitled “Picture-writing of the American Indians.” This report noted that “the characters in it are chiefly circles, including plain, nucleated, and concentric, sometimes two or more being joined by straight lines, forming what is now known as the ‘spectacle shaped’ figure.”[v]
The report goes on to compare the petroglyph to so-called cup-and-ring sculptures around the world, especially in the Middle East, British Isles and India, which have supposed astronomical interpretations. Sir James Simpson who developed a classification system for these types of petroglyphs notes that “occasionally four or five or more of [these symbols] are placed in more or less regular groups, exhibiting a constellation-like arrangement.”[vi] In Palestine and Jordan similar designs are said to be “reasonably suggestive of the sun, moon, and stars.”[vii] In India these designs are “correlated with the worship of Mahadeo, one of the many names given to Siva, the third god of the Hindu triad, whose emblem is the serpent.”[viii]
The Forsyth petroglyph was next mentioned in 1950 in an article by Margarett Perryman entitled “Hunting Petroglyphs in North Georgia” in the second issue of Early Georgia, the journal of The Society for Georgia Archaeology. [ix] In this article she notes:
“My general reading on North American Indians naturally included, Antiquites of the Southern Indians, by Charles C. Jones, Jr., and it was there I found the first reference to rock writings in Georgia. One of the stones he described and pictured was said to be in Forsyth County. So at long last it became possible for me to actually examine a genuine Georgia petroglyph.
But finding even that well documented stone was not so easy. It took a good bit of detective work and much pussy-footing around the Public Library to find out in what section of Forsyth County the stone was located.
The first hunt was ready to start but we had to make some rather careful plans, for these were the days of gasoline rationing. We had to do a lot of round about town walking and weaning of the car to save up enough gas coupons to make the first expedition up into Forsyth County.
The favorable day finally arrived and after losing our way innumerable times on the backwoods roads, some miles west of Silver City, we were able to locate the stone. There on the wayside of a little dusty country road was my first Georgia petroglyph. Totally neglected and forgotten and practically obscured from sight by brambles and looking somewhat like a fat grey granite whale, was the most beautiful carved stone I ever saw. The elements had been kind to the stone, for most of the symbols were still discernible, although grey-green lichens had grown into most of the markings.
On that Sunday afternoon this petroglyph was given a most thorough examination. Our fingers traced every concentric circle until they were roughened and grimy. We admired the perfect symmetry which the ancient stonecarver had achieved in his well proportioned designs. We marveled how every symbol had been carved with such precision and how deeply cut. We counted the little nut size holes that were spaced so neatly and carefully down the entire backbone of the rock.
Luck was with us that day for the owner of the land on which the stone lay was our guide and companion. He valued his ‘old Indian rock’ very much and he was quite elated to have us admire his prize possession. His name was Mr. Corn and I shall never forget his genuine friendliness and his twinkling eyes as he told us exciting tales about the old stone.
He told us how folks had come in the dead of night and dug under and about the stone in quest of the forty pony loads of pure Indian gold; how many a brawny copper colored lad had skulked about the stone at dusk to study the inscriptions; how old and bearded tramps with tattered treasure maps had appeared in the evening mists and disappeared after much pacing around the stone; of the quaint old men that appeared often with weird treasure finding gadgets to prod and poke the ground about the stone; of the vandals that attempted to dynamite the stone, believing it to be hollow and hoping to find the treasure inside; of the law suits and land fights that had taken place in years gone by.
Mr. Corn gave us the information that there were other rock writings on his farm and was interested in showing them to us that day. But night was falling fast, so we promised that we would be back soon and bring our camera and take photographs of all his stones.
Alas and alack! Well laid plans often go astray and it was many months before we could get back to Forsyth County with our camera equipment and then Mr. Corn was gone.
The new owner of the land was considerate enough to let us take photographs of the petroglyph and he grudgingly consented to let us search for the stonecarvers ancient cutting tool. The only thing he was interested in was seeing that we did not get the treasure for our own.
He knew absolutely nothing about there being other carved stones in the vicinity. But he did show us a large purposely shaped, obviously imported piece of rock with a rather recent and crudely carved letter N on its top side. He claimed that this rock was the key that would unlock the whereabouts of the, ‘hundred pony loads of Indian gold,’ and he knew exactly where it was buried almost…
After getting home and developing our pictures we compared them with the drawing of the stone as shown in Jones book. The shape of the stone was identical, measurements agreed, but the symbols as shown in our photographs would not match those of Jones. Some of the symbols were alike but placement of them was entirely different and we found many symbols that Jones had not shown.
Then the question arose had Jones actually seen this stone? Or had he seen it and waited until a much later date before he drew the picture from memory? Or had he acquired the drawing from some other person who had been careless? Or had symbols been cut at a later dater after Jones had examined the stone? Apparently here was just another one of the baffling mysteries that always seem to pester and torment a petroglyph hunter.”
Later in this article Perryman compared the Forsyth petroglyph to the Track Rock petroglyphs and noted:
“The Forsyth County stone and the stones in Union County have symbols totally dissimilar, the rocks are of a different geological nature, the topographical placement of the petroglyphs varies, and it appears to me that the two stones were carved for somewhat different purposes. But there is one important feature that is almost identical; the fact that both have nut size holes carved upon them of a similar diameter and depth.”
When I first discovered the illustration of this petroglyph in Jones’ Antiquities, I immediately assigned it an astronomical interpretion based purely on its appearance, not yet having read the Smithsonian report. I stated in 2004 on my website LostWorlds.org that at first glance it appeared to be a star map.[x] This is the first known attempt at interpreting the Forsyth Petroglyph.
To the above potential interpretation, I add the proposal that designs on the Forsyth Petroglyph include astronomical representations of stars, the constellation Draco, the Pleiades asterism or constellation Scorpius, a comet, and meteors or comet fragments.
Two Georgia pottery traditions, Weeden Island and Swift Creek, have designs similar to those that appear on the Forsyth Petroglyph and have been interpreted as astronomical symbols. David Allison has argued that astronomical phenomena are portrayed on “sacred” Weeden Island pottery including “constellations, the Milky Way, the annual movements of the sun and moon, solar equinoxes and solstices, and the paths of the planets Venus and Mercury as ‘morning stars.’”[xi]
Frankie Snow has argued that some of the motifs found on Swift Creek pottery are astronomical in nature. He suggests that concentric circles and circles with a central dot (nucleated circles) are motifs that represent the sun.[xii]
Both the Weeden Island and Swift Creek pottery traditions coexisted in Georgia between 20 BC and 805 AD.[xiii] Since similar motifs are found on the Forsyth Petroglyph, it likely dates from the same time period although no tests have been done to prove this. Other researchers have suggested it is “roughly contemporary to… dated ceramics [from] AD 700 to 1400 (i.e., Late Woodland Swift Creek and Middle Mississippian Savannah.)”[xiv]
Analysis and Interpretation of the Forsyth Petroglyph
The most numerous features on the Forsyth Petroglyph are a series of concentric circles and nucleated circles (circles with central circles/dots) known in petroglyph studies as cup-and-ring[xv] designs and elsewhere as circumpuncts or circled dots[xvi]. Most of the circles on the Forsyth Petroglyph are nucleated although a few of the smaller circles are not.
|Figure 2: Side by side comparison of a detail from the line drawing with photo of same section on the actual rock||Note: The circles on the actual petroglyph are closer together than the drawing conveys. Also, line drawing doesn’t accurately reflect thickness of circles.|
David Allison found two sets of concentric circles on C.B. Moore’s Vessel No. 17 from the “Mound Near The Warrior River, Taylor County. Mound B.” and proposed they were solar symbols. On the same vessel Allison also found circles with central dots and proposed a solar interpretation for them as well.
Frankie Snow found concentric circles with central dots on several Swift Creek pots. He interpreted these as solar symbols based on known historic accounts of Native Americans using similar symbols to represent the sun.
So far we have established that concentric circles and nucleated circles (circumpuncts) may have astronomical associations as symbols for our day star, the sun. Is it possible that Native Americans also used concentric circles to represent night stars? Due to the multiple instances of concentric circles and their scattered arrangement on the Forsyth Petroglyph it is doubtful that each and every one of them represents the sun. I propose that in this particular case, based on their quantity, arrangement and context (i.e., the other design elements that surround them), they represent stars in the night sky. Evidence below will further support this contention. (For further proof that ancients used concentric circles with central dot as a symbol for stars, see the ancient Sumerian image “Kudurru of King Melishipak.”)[xvii] [Continues...]