An Overview of Minnesota Rock Art
To date, only 55 prehistoric to protohistoric American Indian rock art sites have been identified in the state and many of these, since destroyed, were first identified at the turn of the century. Reported rock art sites in Minnesota include petroglyphs (images produced by incising or pecking the rock surface) and pictographs (painted images) appearing on exposed outcrops or in caves, as well as open-air petroforms (boulder outlines). Not surprisingly, the distribution of rock art parallels the distribution of rocky outcrops in the state
Minnesota's aboriginal rock art appears to have been produced from Archaic (ca. 6000 - 1000 BC) through Protohistoric (ca. 1600 AD) times, and was probably produced in PaleoIndian (ca. 10,000 - 6000 BC) times as well. Reflecting diverse style and content, design elements associated with these sites parallel those observed in neighboring states and provinces, and include a variety of zoomorphic, anthropomorphic, geometric and abstract forms, with human and animal forms almost universally represented. The iconography of rock art has a unique potential to yield insights into the character and evolution of prehistoric and protohistoric American Indian ideation, subsistence practices, technology, aesthetics and other cultural elements which are difficult or impossible to elucidate by other means.
Although the function and meaning of rock art is unclear, it seems apparent that it was produced for a variety of reasons and served a variety of purposes. It is evident that some rock art sites were revisited recurrently through time, with new figures being added to certain sites intermittently over thousands of years. As the sites were revisited, it is likely that older images acquired new meanings both in and of themselves as well as in the context of the more recent additions. It seems reasonable to suggest that an aspect of the meaning of individual sites or images may have been left somewhat undefined. A specific glyph's full meaning might lie solely in the eyes of the beholder, changing through time, a dynamic meaning rather than a static one. Hence, it may be impracticable to search for an absolute meaning associated with individual figures, groups of figures or specific sites.
Statewide, these generally unprotected sites are increasingly vulnerable to destruction as a consequence of vandalism, natural processes and construction. At the same time, the potential for identifying numerous other, unrecorded rock art sites in the state remains quite high.