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  • Boulder on a pedestal bears many meanings

    A photograph provides an instant of a phenomenon, not the essence of the phenomenon. Representation is unapologetically interpretive.   -Scott R. Hutson, in Past Presented, 2013.

    During road building along the Klamath River in 1948 a petroglyph boulder was re-discovered.  Immediately moved from Gottville 20 miles south to the then-new Fort Jones Museum and placed on an outdoor pedestal, the boulder was the focus of an influential and oft-cited 1953 paper by Robert Heizer, Sacred Rain-Rocks of Northern California. The boulder is generally referred to as the Gottville rain-rock (Heizer 1953), or as the Gottville rock or boulder, or the Shasta rain rock.  Dixon (in The Shasta 1907) did not see it and does not name it or speculate on its purpose. 

    Alongside the dozens of cupules and the four or more deep linear carvings appear several  pairs* of carefully-placed, well-articulated and deeply grooved “bear paws” petroglyphs, very rare west of the northern Sierra Nevada. It so the only cupule or rain rock boulder I am aware of that includes bear tracks.  The distinct images disrupt, suggesting multiple traditions over an expanse of time.  (*Heizer notes three pairs, but examination reveals several, even with the extensive weathering.)

    As with many labels, “rain-rock,” has a certain ring and takes on a life of its own as a convenient, albeit limiting, functional category. And as with most labels and namings contains as a drop of truth.  However, anthropological interpretation and the popular culture have a way of exceeding label-limits regardless of whatever purposes governed the original makers’ intentions. Citing Goddard’s early 20th century Hupa ethnology, Heizer notes the Sugar Bowl valley boulder, connected with influencing weather, “is called by white people the rain-rock.” The Hupa name for it translates as "Thunder's Rock." The Hupa occupy the lower Trinity River area, above its confluence with the Klamath.

    Recently a local writer offered a sweep of speculations: the stone was used to “entice the Great Spirit to give rain” or, by filling the cupules with mud, to “politely ask the Great Spirit to stop the precipitation.” She continued, “Some Native Americans claim these were made by bears. Others say the scratches were made to produce a white powder which represented snow. …  others say the scratches were a plea for food.”   She concluded, “The mystery of the rock is left to an individual’s beliefs. But the massive boulder is loved and revered by most visitors as a symbol of earlier residents of Siskiyou County.”

    The three selected photographs via lighting, camera angle, cropping, and the inherent flattening, intentionally abstract - as instants of a phenomenon - the two-ton, richly dimensional boulder and its carvings.  Asking, where do we look?  How do we see?   For more photos of the boulder in present context:  Rain-Rock