Archaeologist Says Rockart Found at Local Paleoindian Site

The site of a possible Paleo-Indian solstice site recently discovered in Clarke County, Virginia gained new interest among members and guests who attended the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Archeological Society of Virginia (NVCASV) during its monthly meeting in January. Lead archaeologist for the site, Jack Hranicky, announced new findings to include what Hranicky reportss are stone art carvings located in rocks near the area of the initial discovery.

Clarke County resident Chris White points out rock indentations that he discovered near his Blue ridge Mountain home - Photo Edward Leonard

“A new major feature is a shelter on the site that contains Indian rockart including geometric ‘glyphs’ and one of two sets of right-hand prints,” Hranicky briefed the 32 NVCASV members at the Falls Church James Lee Community Center, who attended to hear his results of this three-year investigation into Northern Virginia’s archeology.

“Glyphs” or petroglyphs, are rock engravings created by removing part of a rock surface with carving, picking, incising or abrading. The human hand is one of the most common rockart elements found around the world. Petroglyphs are found worldwide, but few are found in Virginia. There are 17 known rockart sites in Virginia, all recorded by Hranikcy.

Hranicky has two other rockart sites containing concentric rings, altar and hand glyphs. Hranicky reports that the Clarke County Spout-Run complex pre-dates all of his previous discoveries.

Hranicky explained that the Spout-Run “petroglyphs” should not be confused with “pictographs” –  images drawn on rocks. “These petroglyphs were cut out of the stone” Harnicky said.

Hranicky says that further studies would be needed to reveal when, why and by whom the petroglyphs were created.

“We began with rock rings, now we have a 2-mile complex with 15 above-ground features including two sets of hand prints,” reported Hranicky. He went on to describe the early people who roamed the area approximately 12,000 years ago as “Virginia’s first Engineers.”

During his one-hour presentation Hranicky explained the Spout Run site’s defining characteristics including direct alignment with both solar solstices, alignment east-to-west with the seasonal equinoxes, the site’s lunar focus, stone concentric rings and fire hearth as well as the site’s major feature, a stone altar which also aligns with the summer solstice.

Jack Hranicky says that indentations near a site he believes is an ancient solstice calendar could be Indian rockart - photo Edward Leonard

When Hranicky announced finding heat-treated jasper near the surface, excitement buzzed through the room. He also revealed finding a bolder set which appears to have stood more than 40-feet tall at one time.

Hranicky told the group that the Spout-Run site served Paleoindians in a number of ways, such as a calendar for the annual seasons and where social and spiritual ceremonies were conducted. Hranicky also said that the location also was used for ceremonies in connection with flint-knapping activities at the famous Thunderbird Paleosite in nearby Warren County, Virginia.

Spout-Run land owners Chris and René White attended Hranicky’s presentation and received recognition from NVCASV members for their contributions. When asked what he planned to do with the site Chris White said, “Preserve it for future generations.”

At the conclusion of Hranicky’s presentation, NVCASV Chapter President John Kelsey opened the floor for questions and discussions. Topics ranged from concerns about assigning current cultural meanings to accurately explain paleo-culture; and how the degree of repatination on the rockart may also indicate relative dating.

Hranicky is scheduled to deliver his Spout-Run brief at the Mid-Atlantic Archeological Conference in Virginia Beach, Virginia on March 22-25 and then again for the Society for American Archeology’s 77th annual meeting in Memphis, Tennessee on April 20.

Hranicky plans to publish a final paper on the Spout-Run site before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Chris and René White, both Native American descendants, aim to return the site back to the way the Paleoindians left it. They and Hranicky are exploring appropriate ways to study the site, such as ground penetrating radar and advanced stone technology. The Whites are also studying the feasibility of establishing a sacred retreat that they have named “Sanctuary on the Trail,” a faith-based neighborhood and community outreach-initiative where spiritual leaders across denominations can meet to create possibilities for communities, churches and tribes on challenges and issues facing them.

Last year, White and Hranicky coined the name Spout-Run for the site after the creek that runs through it. Hranicky has since described the complex as the oldest, extant, above-ground site in North America.

Hranicky says that the human hand was a favorite rockart subject (chalk lines added for clarity) - Photo Edward Leonard

Due to its location in some of the roughest terrain in Northern Virginia, Hranicky said, the Spout-Run site laid open on the ground just as the Paleoindians left it 12,000 years ago. Over the years, while trees have grown and been harvested across some of the site, there is no sign trees grew inside the concentric rings. The complex is remote, isolated and appears relatively undisturbed, other than by climate affects.

After discovering the site in 2010, landowner Chris White brought it to Hranicky’s attention that same year. Hranicky immediately recognized it as a possible Paleoindian site and with a 5-foot x 5-foot excavation in 2011, Hranicky established the site as Paleo Indian.

Later in  2011, Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources added the Spout-Run site to the state’s inventory of archaeological sites.

Hranicky, a resident of the Washington, D.C. area for 51 years, has been practicing archaeology for over 40 years in Virginia and is the director of the Virginia Rockart Survey. He has found, recorded, and published five prehistoric solstice sites in the Mid-Atlantic region and has published 32 books on Native American pre-history.

Jack Hranicky presented his research findings about a possible Paleo Indian site in Clarke County, Virginia to the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Archaeological Society of Virginia. (l-r) Site owners Chris White and Rene' White, Chapter President John Kelsey and Jack Hranicky

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  1. Humans are capable of seeing all kinds of shapes and patterns in nature – go out and look at the clouds, or the images of the “face” on Mars – it’s called pareidolia. Either Dr. Hranicky has an amazing ability to find these sites, or he is seeing things. Strange coincidence, too, that a site with no diagnostic artifacts is getting so much attention while the owners are planning on building a retreat there.

  2. Land Owners Point of View says:

    Perceived images of faces in clouds and on Mars are called “pareidolia.” However, carvings in stone are not illusion –they are physical, tangible evidence. Thus the phrase, “carved in stone.” All of the features of the site and the rockart were discovered by land owner Chris White. Jack Hranicky is the Archaeologist who verifies the validity of the findings. Through 40 years of experience, collaborating with other professionals in the field of archaeology, geology and anthropology, along with analyzing cataloged displays at the Smithsonian and other museums, Hranicky uses these sciences to determine time period, culture and techniques of tool-making. As for the retreat, land owners have been holding ceremony on the property and initiated plans for the Sanctuary on the Trail since 2007, before the site was discovered. Could it be “providence” that the Native Spirit has returned to this ancient ceremonial site? We understand where Science and Spirit converge, there is skepticism.

    • It remains to be seen whether what you are calling carvings are anything more than natural shapes in the rock. Many people really want to see things that just aren’t there, especially in archaeology – this claim is just one of many examples out there:

      Unfortunately for Dr. Hranicky and the landowners, the evidence presented so far is not likely to stand up to the rigors of the peer-review process. Calling it a Paleoindian site based on the presence of a lithic material that outcrops nearby and that was used throughout prehistory is not going to cut it. Nor is the fact that there is another Paleoindian site nearby. Even if there were diagnostic projectile points and radiocarbon dates pinpointing an occupation to a specific window in time, you would still have to prove that all of these other “features” were human-made AND associated with that Paleoindian component. This is unlikely considering the fact that the large rock features are all currently exposed on the surface, while Paleoindian materials should be buried. Not to mention that these stones would make it the only Paleoindian rock art OR ceremonial site like this known to exist – not impossible, but the odds are astronomically low.

      As far as providence, Native Spirits, and Mother Earth are concerned, I’m not here to try and change people’s beliefs – whether you believe in a God, or a pantheon of gods and goddesses, or a flying spaghetti monster is your business. The idea that American Indians felt that “every inch of Mother Earth is Sacred” as James WFE Mooney states below, however, is ridiculous New Age BS, and buys into the noble savage concept. Check out “The Ecological Indian: Myth and History” by Shepard Krech for more information.

  3. From ‘all’ American Native indigenous cultures that I have studied and/or are familiar with, these cultures acknowledge that every inch of Mother Earth is Sacred and it behoves all people to walk upon her in a respectful and honored manner, especially area’s that it has been shown to have some type of ceremonial significants.

  4. Jane Richards says:

    It is a shame that Barry Fell, (author of “AMERICA B.C.) could not have lived long enough to read about these new ideas and opinions concerning petroglyphs, and pictographs, as well as the mounds), which have, and are, being found on the East coast of the U.S.
    They are not only quite common on the W. coast, but are also being connected to migrations of peoples/cultures from the S. Pacific….and in the Pacific N.W. , to a very early migration of peoples from the Siberian migration routes (ie: Kennewick Man and Spirit Cave Man in AZ.)……
    Fell was decried by skeptic as an ‘alternative archaeologist’. (among other names),…but he may not have been far wrong in his opinions. New, young Archaeologists are now shaking off the old, ethnocentric ideas