Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Smoky Mountain Mystery

Judaculla Rock isn’t the only petroglyph in Western North Carolina. But you don’t hear much about the other ones. I’ve paid a couple of visits to another nearby rock carving that couldn’t be more different from the well-known Caney Fork landmark.

Sadly, what I will call “Mystery Rock” has been the victim of vandals, but much of it remains.

The photo that I took doesn’t reveal the carved lines very clearly, so I’ve enhanced them in this illustration.

As with Judaculla Rock, nobody REALLY knows what it means, but I’ve heard one plausible explanation based on Mystery Rock’s location near the confluence of two rivers.

Although I’ll admit that my personal theory is more far-fetched, to the point that I don’t put much stock in it, I’m still partial to it.

Shortly after observing Mystery Rock for the first time, I learned of Ogham, the Celtic Tree Alphabet, an Early Medieval alphabet used to represent the Old Irish language and also the Brythonic ancestor of Welsh. Hundreds of Ogham inscriptions can still be found on stone monuments across Ireland and Britain.

Ogham consonants

I was struck by the similarity between the Ogham characters and the marks on Mystery Rock. But what might link the Ogham of the British Isles with the rock art of the Smokies? Two words:



As one writer has explained:

Many of our American visitors will be familiar with the story of Madoc, a prince of Wales who, in the twelfth century, is supposed to have discovered America. The story first appears in A True Reporte, written by Sir George Peckham in 1583…. In 1810, John Sevier, one of the founders of Tennessee, wrote about a belief among the Cherokee Indians that there had been a Welsh-speaking Indian tribe. Their chieftain was supposed to have told Sevier that he had heard his father and grandfather speak of the people called the Welsh, and that they had crossed the seas and landed at Mobile in Alabama.

You can read more about this in a story posted in March 2009, Blue Eyes and Petroglyphs.

Often, you’ll see Prince Madoc’s name connected with Fort Mountain in Georgia. That’s a place I have yet to visit, but I understand it features a stone wall 800 feet long and up to seven feet tall and twelve feet wide. According to legend, Madoc sailed across the Atlantic in 1170 with a number of colonists and landed near present-day Mobile, Alabama. As they migrated inland through the Southeast they built a series of forts. One of those, near DeSoto Falls, Alabama is said to have been nearly identical in setting, layout, and method of construction to Dolwyddelan Castle in Gwynedd, Wales. Along those lines, some people attribute the construction at Fort Mountain to Madoc.

Most traditional archaeologists dismiss the work of retired Harvard professor Barry Fell. That said, Dr. Fell has examined petroglyphs in Wyoming and Boone Counties, West Virginia and believes that they are examples of Ogham text, the “longest Ogham inscriptions recorded from anywhere in the world.”

In Fell’s article, Christian Messages In Old Irish Script Deciphered From Rock Carvings In W. Va., some of those inscriptions are translated.

In my humble opinion, the carvings on Mystery Rock more closely resemble Ogham than do the West Virginia inscriptions, but I have no idea what they might mean.

Could it be evidence of Prince Madoc’s journey through the Smokies?


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