Rock of Ages

An archival photo of Judaculla Rock from the State Archives

Editor's Note – In the summer of 2012, Ansley Wegner, a historian with our Research Branch, wrote a series of blog posts highlighting various historical destinations around the state. This is the fourth post in that series. You can see all Wegner's posts on this page

In a state so rich in American Indian history it should be no surprise that there are prehistoric rock carvings in the mountains. Next time I am near Cullowhee, I plan to use the modern highway (and some less modern back roads) to see Judaculla Rock.

Judaculla is the anglicized pronunciation of Tsul Kalu, who was a legendary giant considered by the early Cherokees to be master of all game animals. The large soapstone Judaculla Rock has glyph carvings that date from about the year 500 on up to the 1700s. As recently as the late 1800s, Cherokees held ceremonies there. In the 1930s, the Parker family, who owned the land prior to donating it, filled the carvings in with chalk so that the images would show up better.

In 2007 the rock underwent extensive study and conservation. At that time the archaeologist and rock art specialist who completed the work declared that Judaculla’s petroglyphs are the most extensive and complicated of any found east of the Mississippi.

The rock, and a one-acre parcel of land surrounding it, is now owned by Jackson County. The Eastern Band of the Cherokee has partnered with the county to protect the sacred site and to erect interpretive signage in English and Cherokee. There is an observation deck, and the site is open, free of charge, during daylight hours.  

Explore the Mystery of Judaculla Rock In Person

There is also a Highway Historical Marker about the rock. The idea of an object so primitive that still exists in our modern landscape strikes me as extraordinary. If you search for the rock around the Internet, you will find all sorts of interesting stories and theories. 

While we may never know the meanings of the carvings, it is incredible to see them and ponder their significance.

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