No other rocks in the area have similar markings, although there are many other boulders in the vicinity. Some of the pictographs on it appear to be animals and animal tracks, while others appear to be human figures, suns, and geometric figures.
Judaculla—or Jutaculla— Rock is one of the greatest archaeological mysteries in the United States. The largest petroglyph in North Carolina, and one of the largest in the Southeast, is named for a Cherokee legend about its formation. Judaculla Rock sits in the Caney Fork Creek valley in Jackson County, outside of Cullowhee. The details of the petroglyph’s formation, as well as its origin and purpose, are unknown to scientists.
The soapstone slab is about sixteen feet long by eleven feet wide. The designs on it appear to have been produced in a variety of manners, including incising, pecking, and smoothing. These methods are evident upon close examination, but are becoming more difficult to identify with the continued erosion of the rock.
In the late 19th century, Cherokee groups were known to hold ceremonial assemblies around the rock. Additional outcrops of soapstone, used by Cherokees then to sculpt pipes, beads, bowls, and bannerstones, are located near the Judaculla Rock. Archaeologists think the Cherokees camped at, or near, the rock when they came to quarry soapstone. Furthermore, due to recent excavations of the areas surrounding Judaculla, scientists now postulate that the rock was part of a larger grouping of soapstone creations.
James Mooney, a researcher at the Smithsonian Institution, recorded the Cherokee legend of Judaculla Rock in the 1880s. According to Mooney’s story, a being named Judaculla (called by the Cherokee Tsul-ka-lu or Tsu’ Kalu— the Great Slant-eyed Giant) was the greatest of all the Cherokee mythical characters, a giant hunter who lived on the southwestern slope of Richland Balsam Mountain at the head of the Tuckaseegee River in Jackson County.
Judaculla was very powerful and could control the wind, rain, thunder, and lightning. He was known to drink whole streams down in a single gulp and stomp from mountain to mountain as one might over ant hills. (In fact, according to Sequoyah’s Cherokee translation of the Bible, the word ‘Goliath’ was renamed Judaculla.)
One legend claims that the markings are hunting laws that Judaculla ordered. Another has it that Judaculla jumped from his mountaintop farm and landed partially on the rock, producing scratches, while running a band of American Indians off his land. The seven-toed foot at the lower right hand side of the boulder is said to depict Judaculla’s footprint.
The rock was once thought to depict a map of the 1755 Cherokee victory over the Creeks at the battle of Taliwa in what is now Georgia, or perhaps a victory over another enemy, the Catawba.
Archeologists now know that the Judaculla Rock predates the Cherokee habitation of western North Carolina, but its exact time of origin is unknown. It is currently dated from the late Archaic Period, between 3000 and 1000 BCE, when evidence first appears of Native American societies forming mound societies.
The North Carolina Rock Art Survey has organized a Judaculla Advisory Committee composed of site owner Jackson County NC, members of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Tribal Historic Preservation Office and Tribal Elders, the Office of State Archaeology, professors from nearby Western Carolina University, and members of the surrounding community. The Advisory Committee agreed to pursue a formal recording of the petroglyphs along with a condition assessment and conservation plan. You can read about their progress so far in the Winter 2008 issue of the North Carolina Archaeological Society newsletter.
Footsteps of the Cherokees, by Vicki Rozema, John F. Blair, Publisher, 2007