Time eroding pictograph heritage of Churchill River

Ancient aboriginal pictographs — some of them thousands of years old — are slowly disappearing in Canada's North, the victims of time and erosion.

Ancient aboriginal pictographs —some of them thousands of years old — are slowly disappearing in Canada's North,the victims of time and erosion.

Cree canoeing the Churchill River created the rock paintings along their traditional water routes.

Now archeologists are racing to record the images before the red ochre used to paint them disappears altogether.

Saskatoon archeologist Tim Jones, author of The Aboriginal Rock Paintings of the Churchill River, has recorded the images with a camera and on full-sized panels, as well as in his written works.

"These are full-size reproductions, using the red ochre, the iron oxide pigment, and fish glue," he said ofpanels which have toured northern Saskatchewan in an exhibit meant to draw attention to this rich piece of local heritage.

There are more than 100 pictographs along the Churchill River route, many of them in the remote northern reaches of the river, he told CBC News.

"To the archeologist, a picture of the artifact is a good record of an artifact … such as a picture, and measurements and so on, is — from a research and understanding point of view —just as good as the original," he said.

The pictographs are meant to be seen from the water, but that doesn't mean they're easily spotted.

Tom McKenzie, who grew up on the banks of the Churchill as part of the Lac La Ronge First Nation, says he knows every sacred spot along the river.

Thered markings etched on the granite walls are figures of buffalo, bears, thunderbirds and people, some encased in big red circles.

"The circle could be symbolizing a dream, dream spirit — appears to be a buffalo again,"McKenzie said.

The full meaning is still unclearand open to interpretation. Even the age of the paintings is uncertain, though archeologists believe they have been there for centuries.

"I think they wanted us to learn many things from the rock paintings," McKenzie said of the original artists.

"To enjoy the journey of life, I guess, to learn from stories and share stories and pass on stories for future generations."

Butcenturies of exposure to rain and snow have faded the pictographs, so they are in danger of being lost altogether.

Archeologists estimate there are about 700 pictographsites that need protectionacross the huge granite outcrop known as the Canadian Shield, which stretches from Saskatchewan to Ontario.