The Lake Cumberland Petroglyph site sits on a bluff overlooking the Cumberland River. The image consists of a series of eight human footprints. It was recorded in the 1960s by several interested lay persons who documented rock art sites throughout Kentucky.
Petroglyphs are distinguished from pictographs by how the artist drew them. Petroglyphs are designs pecked, carved, engraved, incised, or abraded into a rock's surface. Pictographs, on the other hand, are designs painted on a rock's surface. Dendroglyphs are designs carved or painted into the bark of a living tree.
In Kentucky, the vast majority of Native American rock art sites are petroglyphs; only a few pictographs have been documented in the state. This marked difference is probably due in part to environmental factors - the wet, humid climate of Kentucky quickly obliterated pictographs in all but the most ideal locations.
Human footprints are a fairly common Kentucky petroglyph design. To date, more than 25 separate footprints have been identified at eight different sites. At most of them, the footprint designs are lifelike, often with an indication of an arch. At one site, there is even a representation of a bunion on the large toe, and a toe deformity on the fifth toe. Most of the footprints have been abraded, in addition to (or instead of) being pecked into the stone.
At the Lake Cumberland Petroglyph site, researchers documented an altogether different style of human footprint. Here, Native artists pounded and pecked the designs - with no abrading - and the footprints are generally more elongated and stylized than at other Kentucky petroglyph sites. The significance of these differences is currently unknown.
Number of Toes
Of the eight feet on the Lake Cumberland Petroglyph, one has three toes, two have four toes, and five have five toes. Those with fewer toes tend to be smaller than those that have five, but the significance of this difference is not known. Nor is it known why most of the feet point down toward the earth, but two point up toward the sky.
Undoubtedly, petroglyphs were important symbols for the Native people who created them. The designs may have held special significance or meaning for communicating with the dead, important spirits, or perhaps for solving family or tribal problems.
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