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  • Writer's pictureDan Wagner

Barnesville Track Rocks: Uncovering Ohio's Ancient Native American Rock Art

When most think of ancient Native American rock art, Ohio isn't likely to be the first, second, or twentieth place that comes to mind, but hidden on a hilltop in rural Belmont County, lies the artwork of a lost ancient civilization. Known as Barnesville Track Rocks, the site contains sixty-four distinct petroglyphs carved into a single sandstone boulder. The rock art is believed to have been crafted by the Adena, who inhabited the Upper Ohio Valley region from approximately 800 BC to as late as 100 AD during the Early Woodland Period. Primarily hunter-gatherers, the Adena were renowned for their mound building ceremonialism, most notably Serpent Mound, which is currently under consideration for UNESCO world heritage site status. Many other significant earthworks attributed to the Adena can still be found throughout the region, including West Virginia's Grave Creek Mound, the largest conical burial mound in America, and Ohio's Miamisburg Mound, the second largest. Today, more than forty Adena earthworks can be found throughout the Upper Ohio Valley region, however few examples of the culture's art remain. Despite the harsh conditions in the area for thousands of years, the petroglyphs at Barnesville Track Rocks have endured, and remain the largest collection of Adena rock art in the United States. Surprisingly, few know that they even exist.


Barnesville Track Rocks

History of Barnesville Track Rocks


Charles Whittlesey sketch
Charles Whittlesey sketch

The petroglyphs were first discovered in the mid-1800's by Thomas Kite, a Cincinnati bookkeeper, who made plaster casts of the petroglyphs. The whereabouts of those casts to this day are unknown and likely lost for good. In 1869 and 1871, archaeological surveys were performed by Charles Whittlesey, a noted geologist, historian, and investigator of Native American mound relics. During his survey, Whittlesey created a sketch detailing all of the visible petroglyphs at the site. Among those found are depictions of basic human faces, human footprints, animal pelts and tracks, snakes, and concentric circles.


Barnesville Track Rocks are also highlighted in other significant publications such as Pictographs of the North American Indian (Mallery, 1877), Journey of the Anthropological Institute of New York, Vol 1 (Ward, 1871-72), and Rock Art of the Upper Ohio Valley (Swauger, 1974).


The depictions of animal pelts and human faces at Barnesville Track Rocks are especially rare to the region. In fact, only one other site in the Upper Ohio Valley region contains such depictions (Leo Petroglyphs). However, the faces at Barnesville are distinguishably different from those at the Leo site. Both sites depict human faces outfitted with headdresses, but those at Barnesville are far more rudimentary. This has led researchers to believe that the artwork at Barnesville Track Rocks was likely crafted many centuries prior to that at the Leo site. The image below shows one of the Barnesville faces, as well as a stretched animal pelt (star shaped figure), bird track (left of face), snake (dark line between face and bird track) and concentric circles (right).


Barnesville Track Rocks

The concentric circles discovered along the southern edge of the largest boulder at the site is one of the oldest symbols used in human history. Native American cultures throughout time and across continents worshipped the Sun for its power to generate and sustain life. Like other cultures, the Adena paid homage to it by carving the symbol into stone.


Barnesville Track Rocks

The most abundant animal tracks at Barnesville are those of deer and birds, two of the most common animals that the Adena would have lived among. A third animal track, which most believe to be that of a bear and was once visible on the western edge of the bolder, is no longer distinguishable.


Barnesville Track Rocks

The human footprints depicted along the western edge of the boulder, like many of the petroglyphs at the site, are challenging to make out. The image below appears to be one large footprint beside two smaller, possibly those of a child.


Barnesville Track Rocks

Another face, small snake (left of face), several bird tracks, an animal pelt (mostly covered in lichen), and an indistinguishable figure can be found along the middle of the western edge of the boulder.


Barnesville Track Rocks

Today, Barnesville Track Rocks features a single boulder containing ancient petroglyphs, but when the site was first discovered there were at least two large boulders and several smaller containing Adena art work. Sadly, all but one were either stolen or reclaimed by nature over time. One notable theft occurred in the early 20th century when men disguised as museum staff hauled off one of the largest boulders, presumably for a personal collection. That boulder has never been recovered. Thankfully, the largest and most spectacular of the boulders remains on the hilltop, albeit a bit altered from its original state.


Sometime after 1984, then landowner, Robert Wood, carelessly filled in the petroglyphs with black paint, thus changing the appearance of the rock art forever and preventing any possibility of future carbon dating. The Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Archaeological Conservancy took ownership of the land after Wood's passing in the mid-1990s, but have done virtually nothing to preserve the site. It remains unprotected and largely overgrown in places.


Of the more than one hundred petroglyphs that were originally recorded at the site, only sixty-four are still visible, and of those, many are indistinguishable due to natural weathering and rampant vandalism. There is also several instances of modern day graffiti, as indicated below.


Barnesville Track Rocks

How to Access Barnesville Track Rocks

Barnesville Track Rocks is located roughly five miles west of downtown Barnesville, near 39°58′45″ N, 81°13′54″ W. If you were to plug those coordinates into Google Maps you'd end up at a gated driveway on private property four miles away from the site. Instead, set your destination to Eldon Cemetery in Quaker City, located on Barker Rd. Once you arrive at the cemetery, enter the above coordinates into Google Maps. From the cemetery, follow the gravel Barker Rd for approximately 2.3 miles until reaching the coordinates. Upon reaching the coordinates, park in the grass beside the road.


Barnesville Track Rocks

From there you'll want to locate the double track in the southwest corner of the field. It's fairly obvious, but a good visual marker is the exposed gas line in the photo below. The double track is just beyond this.


Barnesville Track Rocks

Roughly fifty feet into the double track you'll encounter a large, flat boulder on the left. Hang a left here and walk roughly one hundred feet to the boulder in the photo below.


Barnesville Track Rocks

In the above photo you'll notice the concentric circles towards the bottom right and two sets of deer tracks near the bottom left of the boulder. Most of the petroglyphs are concentrated in this area. The photo below shows the size of the boulder.


Barnesville Track Rocks

There are no permits or special permissions required to visit the site, but please take only pictures, leave only footprints, and allow others to enjoy the ancient rock art for as long as nature allows.

2 Comments


Guest
Jan 13

As the great grandson of Robert Wood. You should fact check this article. My grandmother said that a college university did wax castings of track rocks when she was a child. She says that her dad could have cared less about the rocks enough to even have wasted the paint. And the land was sold to coal company sometime in the 80's

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Dan Wagner
Dan Wagner
Jan 13
Replying to

Thanks for taking the time to comment. The Belmont County Historical Society and descriptions by archaeologist James L Swauger have documented the site well, including the applied paint. If you feel that they have the wrong information, it may behoove you to contact them.

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