Years ago – nobody knows how many – people of a long-forgotten culture carved symbols and human figures on a large creekside rock in upper South Carolina.
Now, the 30-by 40-foot section of boulder and the 32 symbols and figures it contains are the centerpiece of the new Hagood Creek Petroglyph Site of South Carolina, open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at Pickens County’s Historic Hagood Mill site.
It is probably the most accessible site for viewing petroglyphs (rock art) in the Southeast, according to Tommy Charles, the retired S.C. archaeologist whose S.C. Rock Art Survey discovered it in 2003. Around the rock, Pickens County has built a two-room museum, with one room explaining the rock art survey work, the other a darkened chamber where special lighting and Charles’ recorded voice highlight the drawings on the rock.
The special lighting is needed because erosion has partially erased the 18 human figures and 12 symbols thought to be prehistoric, plus a couple markings thought to have come later. Because of the erosion, these petroglyphs are not visible in broad daylight, and survey volunteers missed them the first time they searched the area.
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But one volunteer went back on a rainy day when the incisions stood out in bolder relief. “Tom, you’re not going to believe this,” he told Charles when he excitedly called him.
“That Hagood rock is covered with little people.”
The 18 little people average about 5 inches high, with stick arms and legs and sometimes, incredible sexual endowment. There’s one box-like figure with head and legs that researchers have dubbed “Refrigerator Man” (or “Refrigerator Woman”).
Who drew them – and when – is a mystery. Unlike the famed petroglyphs of the American Southwest, these cannot be carbon dated because the moist Eastern climate washes away the organic matter that carbon dating depends on.
Charles thinks the little people and a dozen of the symbols are prehistoric because they are patiently pecked with stones. Metal carving tools came later, with the Europeans. The pictures also show no sign of European culture, such as guns and clothes.
“They could be 400 years old. They could be 4,000 years old. We just don’t know,” he said. They do show, however, that “people have been stomping over these hills for a long, long time.”
Want to go?
Hagood Creek Petroglyph Site, 138 Hagood Mill Rd. Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday, Friday-Saturday. Cost: Free ($5 parking on third Saturdays.) Handicapped-accessible. No photography of rock.
Directions: Pickens, S.C., is 20 miles west of Greenville, S.C. From Pickens, take U.S. 178 north 3 miles; turn left on Hagood Mill Road to Historic Hagood Mill.
Details: 864-898-2936; www.visitpickenscounty.com.