Archaeology & Conservation

According to Dr. Daniel Arsenault, an archaeologist with the University of Quebec at Montreal, " . . . this site is the biggest rock art site known in the Quebec part of the Canadian Shield...and among a few with paintings reproduced on such a huge outcrop within the Canadian Boreal Forest." With respect to Oiseau Rock, there is much more to learn about the pictographs.

In the late 1970's, another archaeologist, Gilles Tasse and the late Selwyn Dewdney, Canada's foremost authority on pictographs, visited Oiseau Rock. They published a report which depicts some of the 15 to 20 recorded images on the rock. Since then, some of those images have been covered with graffiti. There are other The images on the rock which include fish, canoes, arrow heads, a bear and several anthropomorphic or human-like figures with a weapon.

Since the late 1990's, Dr. Daniel Arsenault, University of Quebec at Montreal has been studying the Oiseau Rock pictographs. Possibly more paintings at the site await his discovery. Each time he visits the site, he finds more pictographs. He has found 77 paintings to date. He and government officials are currently consulting with conservation specialists to determine the best method to conserve the pictographs. Dr. Arsenault and several of his students have started to document the pictographs.

Municipal and provincial officials are actively involved and supportive of conservation and further archaeological studies of the site. They are committed toward the protection of what Dr. Arsenault calls "a non-renewable cultural resource." In a recent report by Dr. Arsenault on the Rock, he has made several recommendations concerning documentation and preservation of the pictographs. Documentation entails the systematic photographic recording of the pictographs. He advocates that a program of conservation be arranged with the Canadian Institute of Conservation and a monitoring programme be established in order to safeguard the pictographs. Efforts to date the pictographs were unsuccessful.

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Rock Face - Sacred Site

As one approaches the rock, one will notice an accumulation of graffiti. Some of it is 50 to 60 years old. Unfortunately, it covers rock paintings (pictographs) which were done by First Nations Peoples. These pictographs are picture writings which were put there by Algonkian-speaking peoples. The paintings were done with red ochre, a mineral that is found in many places across the Canadian Shield. Not far from Oiseau Rock is at Morrison's Island in Ottawa River, near Pembroke, Ontario, archaeologists found a site which is 5000 years old where ochre was sprinkled around the buried. For picture writing on rocks, ochre was mixed with oil from an agent such as sturgeon fish, blood, animal fat, egg yolk or even honey. The picture writer usually used his/her finger to apply the ochre to the rock. After this paint is applied to the rock surface, it lasts for a long time often outliving the house paint used in the graffiti.

graffitti defacing pictograph shown below
Oiseau Rock possesses many of the typical attributes of a sacred site: a vertical rock wall immediately beside the water. Here, the sky, land and water meet so the Manitous (spirits) can travel from this world to the next. First Nations People also believed that spirits dwell in creatures, people and animals, and even in the components of the land, such as rocks.
Pictographs were created at a place that was the home of the Manitous. It is believed that an image is a testimony to ones' spiritual experience whereby a powerful healer documented his entrance into the rock seeking medicine. The place where rock paintings occur often share common characteristics. Archaeologists are also finding that these sites may be chosen for the way the light falls on the rock or for the acoustics of the rock. Another view of graffitti defacing Oiseau Rock
This is one pictograph that has all but been completely defaced by the grafittti shown above
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Future of Oiseau Rock

Unfortunately, ignorant vandalism has covered many of the sacred writings on the rock face and severely degraded Oiseau Rock's appearance. The Quebec Government has protected the Rock and the area behind it from logging. Mike Sullivan, the former Mayor of Sheenboro, the councillors of Sheenboro and the Municipal Regional Council (MRC) of Pontiac County have been very supportive of efforts to protect the eagles, the pictographs, and the aesthetic beauty of Oiseau Rock. These government officials will continue to work together to protect the Rock.

In the meantime, the experts on pictographs advocate public education as a means to protect such this unique heritage. Regardless of the reasons why one may appreciate Oiseau Rock, all we ask is that people refrain from painting on the Rock and that they advise others not to do so. We have created a stewardship program "Friends of Oiseau Rock" to document and conserve the pictographs. Several artists, local residents, governmental officials, and wilderness guides have joined us in these efforts.

Removal of the graffiti is a costly, technical process and at this point, we do not know if it is feasible at Oiseau. In August 1998, two conservators from the Canadian Conservation Institute inspected the site to determine if the graffiti can be removed. Unfortunately, they found this site to be one of the worst cases of graffiti on a pictograph site. They did stress that removal of all the graffiti would take several years. They do advocate an "all or nothing" removal of graffiti as its presence invites future graffiti. As noted earlier, Dr. Arsenault, Archaeologist has made several recommendations considering the preservation of the pictographs and these are presently under consideration by municipal and provincial officials.

Sharon Girdwood, an award-winning artist has drawn the following image entitled  Visions of the Shield.

"Visions of the Shield" by Sharon Girdwood ©1998
"Visions of the Shield" by Sharon Girdwood ©1998
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Art of Oiseau Rock

Sharon Girdwood, a wildlife artist, website: www.hiddenwildlifeart.com and her email: info@hiddenwildlifeart.com

Hap Wilson, self-taught artist, photographer and wilderness guide has illustrated Oiseau Rock, contact him at www.sunriseadventures.com , Sunrise Studio & Gallery, Rosseau, Ontario (7105) 732-7854.

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