Petroglyphs Designs, Motifs and Symbols

Designs, Motifs and Symbols

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The designs that were used on clothing, on canoes, furnishings, and perhaps as body paint or tattoos have been preserved in Mi'kmaq rock art. The petroglyphs are one of several "design-banks" which show us what traditional artwork once looked like. The other design-banks are the collections of porcupine quillwork on bark, beadwork, ribbon appliqué, and carving on items made of stone, bone, and wood. Of these, the petroglyphs, quillwork, and beadwork are the largest and most important records.

Designs, Motifs and SymbolsA very common design in Mi'kmaq art is the "double curve" motif: a pattern formed from two crescents back to back. According to the Reverend Silas Rand, creator of a Micmac-English Dictionary in the 1800s, the double-curve motif was so ancient that even the oldest among his Mi'kmaq informants could not remember what it meant. It was described first in the writings of Marc Lescarbot, a Parisian lawyer who spent a year in Nova Scotia, 1606-1607. He calls it a lace-like design, and records that it was painted on clothing.

Designs, Motifs and SymbolsSeveral of the designs represent plants, either as simple drawings or as complex floral patterns. The petroglyph image at left represents a floral motif that is itself based on double curve motifs.

Designs, Motifs and SymbolsOther designs represent more decorative symbols. The image at left shows a central sun figure surrounded by scalloped lines and crosses, with projecting triangles around the edge. It is similar to trade silver brooches of the 1700s and 1800s.