Piece of ancient Wheeling history on display at Grave Creek Mound Complex
MOUNDSVILLE — Centuries ago, a Native American living near what is today Elm Grove in Wheeling carved drawings of people onto a slab of sandstone overlooking Wheeling Creek.
That rock carving, called a petroglyph, can now be viewed at the Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex in Moundsville after the museum added a display featuring the relic last week.
The petroglyph is one of 27 documented in West Virginia, and one of only a few viewable in a museum, Curator Hank Lutton said. The stone was found in Clifton Heights near Elm Grove in the 1970s.
“This one is very, very local to the area,” said Jeremy Kohus, site manager.
Visitors of the museum can now see the piece of ancient Wheeling history for themselves.
Petroglyphs can feature carvings of people, animals and mythical creatures, Lutton said, such as a sandhill crane or the mythological water panther. The central figure in the Clifton Heights petroglyph appears to be a shaman, bending his knees and possibly dancing, he said. “Petroglyphs are very interpretive,” Lutton noted.
The date that the rock carving was created is hard to determine, he said, but most petroglyphs were likely made between 1200 and 1671. Some records show that early settlers encountered natives working on petroglyphs in West Virginia, Lutton said.
In 1976, Wheeling resident Ralph R. Brill donated the petroglyph to the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey after he found it in Clifton Heights. The relic, among many others, was studied by James L. Swauger, a noted expert of rock art in the Ohio Valley who worked for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.
For many years, the carved rock resided in the museum at Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park. The Grave Creek complex realized last year that Brill originally intended it to be at their museum, and the Blennerhassett museum agreed to give it to them.
Lutton added that most West Virginia petroglyphs aren’t in museums because they’re attached to rock faces at sites, such as one carved on Browns Island in Hancock County.
“Most of them are on private property, so to be able to see one without trespassing is good,” Lutton said.
The Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex is located at 801 Jefferson Ave.