WVa petroglyphs get overlooked, could be lost due to erosion

By Zack Pettit
Hurricane, West Virginia (AP) 5-08

A quirky piece of local folklore is in danger of deteriorating in Hurricane.

In a corner of a parking lot along Main Street, halfway hidden behind an unused police cruiser, is a giant petroglyph with a storied past.

The “Water Monster’s Daughter,” as it’s known, once was a tourist attraction, and it’s still a stop on preschool tours of Putnam County’s historical sites.

The rock turned up in the early 1990s, right off the Interstate 64 exit, when land was being turned for a new automobile dealership.

Back then, no one was quite sure what it was, and rather than risk ruining a potential historical landmark, developers paid to have it moved to the center of town, right behind the fire station on Main Street.

Since then, theories about the stone have been swirling.

The 77-inch image carved in the rock resembles a profile of a woman in a long, creased gown.

Some believe the carving dated back centuries, and was the work of early American Indians.

Others argue it’s just the scrawling of some local kids who were playing in the woods.

Bob Maslowski, a retired archaeologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a professor at Marshall University, believes both theories are partially correct.

“Part of it is an ancient artifact and part is contemporary graffiti,” Maslowski, 61, said.

When the stone was first uncovered, amateur archaeologist Dean Braley labeled it as an authentic piece of American Indian artwork, dating back to the 1830s. He theorized the stone was carved by Shamans, who were the dream analysts and leaders of tribes.

In his 1993 book, “Shaman’s Story,” Braley used the text of the Walam Olum, the purported history of the Delaware tribe, to interpret the meaning of the Water Monster’s Daughter – his name for it – and several other West Virginia petroglyphs.

But since the publication of that book many experts have challenged the Walam Olum, finding it to be a hoax, according to the Council for West Virginia Archeology.

That casts doubt on Braley’s theory about the Putnam County petroglyph, some say.

Braley could not be reached.

Maslowski said he had always been skeptical of Braley’s interpretation, but he believes at least part of the carving was done by American Indians.

Maslowski said the head of the glyph is authentic, but the dress merely is an addition.

After Braley’s theories began circulating, several people in Hurricane came forward claiming that as children, in the 1940s, they added a dress to the original carving.

“They said they did it with coal chisels,” Maslowski said. “The whole thing with the Water Monster’s Daughter kind of fell apart.”

Regardless of its origins, the rock needs to be better preserved, he said.

“I was there about a year ago, and (the marking) was very faint,” he said.

The image on the stone is faded, and the entire rock itself is mostly obstructed from public view. But it’s out in the open, susceptible to the elements.

A Hurricane brochure designed in 2002 still lists the Water Monster’s Daughter as a tourist attraction.

It also is still a featured stop for area preschool tours, along with the Chessie “caboose museum,” said Brenda Caldwell, Hurricane’s planning and tourism director.

Caldwell said she’s not sure how tour guides explain the stone these days.

According to the state Division of Culture and History’s Web site, the Water Monster’s Daughter was supposed to be placed in a Hurricane museum when it was discovered.

But Maslowski said that like several other ancient petroglyphs in West Virginia, it got lost in the shuffle.

Now the stones are fighting a losing battle against nature and the elements.

Many other old carved rocks lie unprotected in streams or hillsides where they, too, are slowly fading away, he said.

“There’s not too many of these around anymore. “I think (this one) is still partly visible and should be protected.”