The most noticeable traces left by the early Mi’kmaq are the engravings they created in the glacially polished slate outcrops found at several locations around the lakeshores. Referred to as ‘petroglyphs’ (‘carvings in stone’,) these images are an invaluable resource for understanding the history and lives of the Mi’kmaw ancestors. There are over 500 individual petroglyphs within Kejimkujik National Historic Site, making it the largest collection of such images in eastern North America. These petroglyphs are arguably the most unique and important component in the cultural landscape. They are, literally, history written in stone.

Petroglyph group

Perhaps some of the most important images portray men and women wearing the traditional clothing of the time. In some cases, these images show highly detailed double-curve designs decorating the clothing. Foremost among these images is the unique peaked hat traditionally worn by Mi’kmaw women. Over 60 petroglyphs depict these peaked hats, suggesting the importance of women in the matriarchal Mi’kmaw society. Since none of this clothing remains today, these images provide the only examples of the motifs used by the early Mi’kmaq, before they were influenced by the arrival of Europeans.

Peaked Hat

Another culturally-unique image depicts the distinctive Mi’kmaw ocean-going canoe. Built with raised sides, and sometimes rigged with a small sail, this type of canoe was designed for use at sea, and it is seen in several petroglyphs in pursuit of porpoises or small whales. Another remarkable group of images bear the signatures of the artists written in Mi’kmaw script. While theirs was primarily an oral culture, Mi’kmaw Elders tell of a seldom-used written language, and the Kejimkujik petroglyphs provide some of the only surviving examples.

Canoe with Mi'kmaw script



Spiritual images are also common. In earlier petroglyphs, we see images of mythical creatures, mixed with symbols of the spirit world. One can imagine a storyteller of old, attended by a young audience, patiently carving an illustration as he retells the legend of the Kulloo bird, which would grant magical powers to the hunter who caught him. Also present is Jipijka’m, the great horned serpent believed to inhabit the lakes. Appropriately, as water levels rise during the winter, these images return to their home beneath the waves. Many Christian symbols are also present, marking the transitional time when the Mi’kmaw people were converted to Christianity by missionaries. 

Kulloo and hunter




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Updated: 01 Apr 2016 Print Page