Many of the enigmatic symbols in the petroglyphs are geometric shapes, composed of curved lines, dished hollows and diamonds. Some are concentric circles. One is a picture that some interpret as two fish swimming away from two straight lines. Perhaps the most intriguing is a recurring diamond- shaped symbol that some describe as a serpent’s head, a human face, perhaps a fish, or even a ceremonial mask.
The rich history of the Chesapeake Bay watershed does not begin with Captain John Smith’s explorations. Indigenous people who lived here long before the native tribes Captain Smith met made carvings into rocks along the Susquehanna River. The exact age of these petroglyphs is unknown, but they may be as old as 10,000 years, when the first people are thought to have inhabited the region.
Construction of the Conowingo Hydroelectric Dam in the 1920s and the subsequent flooding of the Susquehanna would have buried petroglyphs carved into Indian Rock at Bald Friar’s Ford. However, in 1926 a team from the Maryland Academy of Sciences traveled up the river to Indian Rock with a load of dynamite. They blew the petroglyphs out of the rock and collected as many intact specimens as survived the blast.
Over time these pieces of history have been moved around to various locations. In 2006, Charles Hall, Maryland state terrestrial archeologist, started a search to locate these ancient artifacts and protect them from neglect and vandalism.
The Chesapeake Conservancy has championed the preservation of these important cultural relics, and worked with the State of Maryland to move the petroglyphs to Susquehanna State Park, located close to the original location of Indian Rock along the Susquehanna River. Members of the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs and of the Haudenosaunee, the Indian nation that represents the seven tribes of the Iroquois, have shown support for this effort.
These historic treasures offer an opportunity to think about the people who lived along the Susquehanna long before Europeans arrived—to explore their past, visualize their landscape, and begin to restore their memory, their land, and their ancient petroglyphs, to an honored place.