Inscription Rock State Memorial

E Lakeshore Dr.
Kelleys Island, OH 43438

866-921-5710   |
Open daily during daylight hours

The Native People of Kelleys Island

Inscription Rock State Memorial is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of Ohio’s few remaining rock art sites showcasing the work of the island’s Erie Indian population who lived there during the Late Prehistoric period.

In 1833, Inscription Rock was discovered partially covered on the south shoreline of Kelleys Island. It is one of the few remaining examples of pre-contact era Native American landmarks.(Pre-contact is an archaeological designation given to the period A.D. 900 to 1650, or before European settlement. During this period, Erie Indians lived on the south shore of Kelleys Island, and archaeologists believe that the petroglyphs carved into Inscription Rock can be attributed to them. The exact year of its inscription is unknown, but based on the condition of the carvings on the soft surface of limestone, they are believed to be less than one thousand years old. By the second half of the fifteenth century, the Iroquois had moved into the Ohio region along Lake Erie, and essentially wiped out the Erie people. Those who survived are believed to have assimilated into the Iroquois, Seneca, and Wyandot cultures. Petroglyphs, art that is carved, cut, pecked, or chiseled into a surface, and pictographs, images that are painted or drawn, are viewed as forms of cultural expression distinguishable between different Native groups. However, it is impossible to know what the impetus for creating these symbols was. Archaeologists believe that the location of the carved rock could help to interpret its meaning. For example, its location along the shoreline could mean it was used as an important landmark for the Erie people. In Ohio, few petroglyphs and pictographs still exist because the perishable materials on which they were carved or painted have disintegrated, and the inscriptions made on native sandstone and limestone have worn away. At one time, another limestone boulder with petroglyphs existed on the north shoreline, but it was destroyed by workers quarrying the island’s limestone in the nineteenth century. Today, Inscription Rock is one of two remaining examples of Native American petroglyphs in Ohio.

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Notes for Travelers

Inscription Rock's preservation provides a link to an overlooked portion of Kelleys Island history before European settlement. After its discovery in 1833, it was preserved, but for over a century little was done to protect the rock from erosion. It wasn’t until 1969 that the Ohio Historical Society constructed a roof and a viewing platform to prevent natural erosion from weather and the lake. In the 1850s a small plaster replica of the rock was created and now sits at the site showcasing what the inscriptions looked like over a century ago.

Additional Resources

Ohio’s Early Peoples, James H. O’Donnell III.