Ohio hidden gem: Ancient artwork and carvings

Located in the northwest corner of Jackson County, Leo Petroglyph State Memorial is one of only two sites where Ohio History Connection preserves rock carvings made many hundreds of years ago. The other is on Kelleys Island north of Sandusky.

“Petroglyph” is often confused with “pictograph.” A petroglyph is an image created by carving into the rock; a pictograph is painted on the rock’s surface.

A beautiful wooden shelter — a 1930s WPA project, and itself a work of art — protects a large sandstone slab on which scientists have identified about 37 different carvings. Although erosion and vandalism have made some of the images difficult to make out, others are still visible. The largest and most intriguing petroglyph is a horned head with bird claws — perhaps it depicts a shaman or mythical creature. Other carvings include a stick figure, footprints, a fish and a bird.

Archaeologists attribute the rock carvings to the Fort Ancient culture, which flourished in southern Ohio from 1000 to 1750 CE. The carvings likely predate the arrival of Europeans in this part of the New World, because they make no depiction of explorers or objects they would possess.

Close to the petroglyph in the 12-acre park is a scenic gorge with a stream. A loop trail leads up to a ridge overlooking the gorge; plus, several interpretive signs along the trail provide information about plants and erosion patterns of the Black Hand sandstone that is found in no other part of the world.”Black Hand” refers to a large petroglyph in The Blackhand Gorge in Licking County that was destroyed in 1828 during the construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal.

The Leo Petroglyph trail is quiet enough to focus on the trickling stream, bird calls and squirrels scampering through leaves and brush. The park also offers several picnic table, but there are no restrooms, so plan accordingly.

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