History Written in Stone

Mi'kmaq petroglyphs Mi'kmaq petroglyphs
© Parks Canada

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 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 one of the largest collection of such images in eastern North America. These petroglyphs are a unique and important component in the cultural landscape.

Petroglyph image of peaked hat Petroglyph image of peaked hat
© Parks Canada

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 Mi’kmaw society.

Petroglyph image of porpoise hunt by canoe Petroglyph image of porpoise hunt by canoe
© Parks Canada

Several culturally unique images depict 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 and other large mammals in the ocean. 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.