In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mystery inscription at Cape Roseway Lighthouse

There's plenty of mystery to be found at Cape Roseway Lighthouse, especially if you use your imagination.The lighthouse grounds are distinguished by large wide outcroppings of rock.
The rock is weathered and lichen-covered and criss-crossed with intriguing folds and creases.
Just north of the light, you can see a line of symbols carved into one of the rocks. Over the years many people have wondered about those hieroglyphics. It was thought to be an ancient Mikmaq inscription, translated "Inscribed and left behind as a memorial to (or by) Chief Kese." It has also been thought that the hieroglyphics might be evidence of an ancient Carthagenian presence on the island. These ideas have been repeated over the years in books and newspaper articles and local histories.

But now it is thought that the markings are fairly recent -- a kind of gentle hoax. That's because of the type of rock they are carved into. The Cape Roseway rock is a soft Meguma rock, of the type called Goldenville Formation. The rock itself is quite ancient -- over five hundred million years old. The rock at Cape Roseway is very high in feldspar content. That is important, because it means that the rock disintegrates when it is exposed to weathering. It has a thick and soft patina, or outer layer of skin. So it's relatively easy to carve initials and other graffiti into it. But its softness also means the carvings wear away in the face of continued weathering. When feldspar is exposed to weathering it decomposes. So any carvings that we are able to see today are likely to be fairly recent.

You can find other names and initials and dates carved into the rocks around the lighthouse. They are from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Even the ones that were carefully incised are difficult to read today because the rock has decomposed under the harsh weather conditions that exist at the lighthouse. In comparison, the hieroglyphics are still deeply carved and easy to read.

But the hieroglyphics do reveal some knowledge of Mikmaq symbols. There is one complex symbol within the inscription that is identical to a rare Mikmaq symbol. So these aren't just random markings. A common theory among people with archaeological or scientific expertise is that a Mikmaq soldier stationed at Fort McNutt during the Second World War may have made the inscription.

My pen pal Frederic Cross of Oshawa Ontario (in the middle of the above photograph, taken c. 1940 below the gun site at Fort McNutt) was a young soldier at Fort McNutt. I asked him whether there were any First People among the soldiers stationed here. He wrote back that there were several among their company. He wrote, "They came from all over Canada, and all I know about them is they were good soldiers mainly, kept quiet, did their duty, and were liked by everybody."

It's possible that one of those quiet soldiers wiled away his spare time by carving the inscription.

We know that at least one other soldier carved an inscription on the rocks near the lighthouse. While he was stationed here, Augustus Joseph (Gus) Gough took beautiful photographs of Fort McNutt and Cape Roseway Lighthouse which you can see in earlier posts. He carved his own initials and those of his future wife, and then took this photograph of his handiwork, in 1942. So maybe it was a common pastime for soldiers on a lonely island.

Photograph of Frederic Cross courtesy of Mr. Cross. Photograph of Gus Gough's initials courtesy of his family. You can read more about Frederic Cross and Gus Gough in the post entitled Fort McNutt. Gus Gough's photographs are posted there and also in the post entitled Cape Roseway Lighthouse.

Thanks to Terry Deveau for information about the type of rock at Cape Roseway. Terry lives in Herring Cove, and is a Senior Scientist-Ocean Acoustics for Jasco Research in Halifax, specializing in computer models of underwater sound and sonar performance. Over the past nine years Terry has devoted much of his spare time to learning more about Nova Scotia history and geography, and he is particularly drawn to the odd bits and puzzles that still remain. His main research project currently is an archaeological survey of the Chain Lakes watershed area on the outskirts of Halifax. He has visited McNutt's and looked at the rocks and the carving.

Ashley Lohnes is a digital graphic artist who has had a life-long interest in exploring Nova Scotia and her many mysteries and puzzles. He is a founding member of NS Explore and has collected fossil specimens on display at the NS Museum of Science. He became interested in the inscription on McNutt's Island when he first read about it in the Bridgewater Bulletin as a youth. Over forty years later he discovered a rare Mikmaq symbol which is identical to one of the symbols in the inscription.

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