One of the world's most extraordinary collections of petroglyphs, made by the ancestors of today's American Indians, is found in southwestern Minnesota on a rock outcropping surrounded by restored and native prairie. These rock carvings include images and symbols of humans, deer, elk, buffalo, turtles, thunderbirds, atlatls, and arrows. More than 5,000 individual petroglyphs have been inventoried, and they tell a story that spans more than 7,000 years.
Since 1966, the Minnesota Historical Society has been the steward of this sacred place. During the last decade, MNHS has initiated several conservation measures at the Jeffers Petroglyphs Historic Site to increase long-term preservation, documentation, and accessibility to this living sacred place. In 2006, the Jeffers Conservation Project was initiated to address the possible degradation of the petroglyphs due to lichen growth on the rocks. The lichen reduced the carvings’ visibility for visitors, and reduced access to American Indian people, their elders, and traditional practitioners interacting with the site. The conservation work conducted during this project not only improved environmental conditions for the petroglyphs but also resulted in the exposure of thousands of additional glyphs.
MNHS partnered with the University of Minnesota’s Evolutionary Anthropology Lab to obtain baseline conservation documentation and thoroughly document individual existing petroglyphs. The process – white light scanning of the Jeffers Petroglyphs rock face – also created three-dimensional (3D) reproductions of a large portion of the carvings, helping to preserve an important cultural heritage that is susceptible to physical erosion.
“What's the most important thing to take from this site? We were here for thousands of years. And the spirit that we believe in, the Great Spirit – our creator – left here his marks, here... that's why, to us; it’s a very sacred area. These markings that are left here are the survival of the people – the spirit of the people... the markings here are what they used to survive. This place is an encyclopedia of American Indian ways of being, put here by elders to teach us.” - Joe Williams, Dakota Elder, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, South Dakota