By DAVID GREEN
Dr. John Norder agrees that he leads a very interesting life, but that includes experiences such as the recent situation when he had to dig his car out of three feet of snow in the Upper Peninsula.
It includes the argumentative days when the archeologist wants one thing for the preservation of old Native American art and the tribe owning the piece wants something else.
But all in all, the trips out of his Michigan State University classroom and into the field in search of petroglyphs, pictographs, geoglyphs and more add an exciting element to his career as an archeology professor.
Dr. Norder is scheduled to speak at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Stair Public Library to discuss Great Lakes archeology, and rock art in particular.
“There’s rock art all over the place,” Norder said about the Upper Great Lakes, but that statement doesn’t include Michigan.
There are four documented sites in the state, and the Sly Petroglyph is not among them.
A large boulder west of Morenci shows markings that a University of Toledo archeologist documented as petroglyphs—engravings in rock—in the 1970s. The rock is on property formerly owned by Don and Grace Sly. Norder looked at photographs of the boulder and decided the artist is probably the well-known Mother Nature.
He’ll take a look at the rock before his talk Thursday, but he’s quite certain the unusual markings are the result of glacial action as the boulder made its way down from the north.
“Mother Nature inspires people to see art in rocks,” Norder said.
He’s visited dozens of sites that were actually made from natural actions, and he’ll discuss the differences between those and real petroglyphs when he visits.
His field work generally takes him northeast into Ontario—one of the leading rock art regions on the planet. He studies the culture of the Anishinaabeg people—Odawa, Ojibway and Potawatomi of this region—and the Cree to the north.
As a landscape archeologist, Norder studies why rock art was placed in a particular place.
“Only certain places were chosen,” he said. “There are patterns to how humans modify the landscape.”
For example, the sites are generally near water and often accessible only by boat.
Norder also works as an applied archeologist in the field of cultural heritage management. He assists several Native American tribes in reviewing the history of centuries old art, often to help balance preservation with tourism. The process evolves into a situation similar to national park management.
His doctoral thesis and continuing research considers the social and sacred landscapes of the northern Algonquian people of Ontario.
The challenge for archeologists is to verify rock art and attempt to understand what it means—the way it reflects how people viewed the world around them and interacted with it.