Long before emojis became common texting vernacular, prehistoric man was pecking stick figures into stone. These ancient examples of human expression, known as petroglyphs, can be found in the Upstate along the rugged Blue Ridge Escarpment.
Scattered on remote mountain tops across steep, sometimes dangerous rock formations, most of South Carolina's petroglyphs have traditionally been hard to access and see. But that changed when a large group of carvings was accidentally discovered in Pickens near the old Hagood Mill.
For nearly two centuries, the petroglyphs lay hidden under a historic dirt road that once connected Pickens to Rosman, NC. A volunteer with the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA) found the carvings in 1993 while visiting the site on a rainy day. Wet with water and under the subdued light of overcast skies, several eroded figures came into view on the sloping granite rock.
It wasn't until the site was excavated and cleaned that archaeologists realized the rock was covered with little people. Of the 32 carvings that were revealed, 18 are human figures. Only one other site in the state features petroglyphs of people-and it has just two.
Today, the public can study this fascinating rock art at the South Carolina Petroglyph Site. Built over the rock face, the center features a climate-controlled viewing room with a wheelchair-accessible elevated walkway, allowing visitors to get a close look at the Native American carvings.
An automated light show, narrated by retired SCIAA archaeologist Tommy Charles, explains several of the most interesting petroglyphs, including three male stick figures, each enclosed in a square box or "dwelling" with a small dome-like cupola on top.
Another, affectionately dubbed "the refrigerator man," is simply a rectangular box with a head and legs. There is also a figure with antenna-looking sticks coming out of its head, causing some to speculate it's an alien.
Along with the human figures, the rock face includes a number of abstract petroglyphs and two historic carvings: a set of initials and the name "Thoma." Several "portable petroglyphs" found in other areas of the state are on display in the lobby of the center.
Here, you'll also find a series of large, wall-mounted excerpts from Tommy Charles' book, "Discovering South Carolina's Rock Art," offering information about petroglyphs and where they have been found in the state.
Outside the building is another ancient artifact-a soapstone boulder with two partially carved bowls made by Native Americans 5,000 years ago. The bowls were rough shaped on the rock using flint chisels and then broken off for the final shaping. Newly inherited to the South Carolina Petroglyph Site a private collection of Native American artifacts and art.
The South Carolina Petroglyph Site is located on the property of the Historic Hagood Mill, 138 Hagood Mill Road, Pickens. It's open from Wednesday through Saturday, 10am-4pm, each week – all year long. Admission is free. Find more information at the center's website or by calling 864.898.2936.