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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

No. 389: Hopi Rock art at Grotto Canyon,
Part One: The Discovery

It was a rainy day in 1992 when a young archaeologist named Michael Classen hiked into Grotto Canyon near Exshaw, just outside Banff National Park.

He was looking for traces of some native rock art discovered three decades earlier by two other archaeologists.

As historian Marty Magne of Parks Canada explains, rain washing over the rocks made the red ochre images highly visible.

What he saw was an image that we know archaeologically as the Flute Player. As well as some other images which are very clearly southwestern anthropomorphs, or southwestern depictions of people in ceremonial dress. And all this is very exciting because the Flute Player is part of Hopi mythology.

The Hopi live in Arizona, not Alberta. So how those images came to be painted on a rock wall so far north was a big mystery.

When Michael first called me saying he'd found the Flute Player. You know, I knew of Thelma's research, but we didn't really make the connection right away. We were very excited by this. And I went to a used bookstore right away and found "The Book of the Hopi," which is a well-known book that recorded Hopi mythology. I think anthropologists worked with 30 elders to record Hopi mythology.

So I was opening this book, and I looked for images of Kokapelli, and sure enough, there were images of the Flute Player, or sometimes known as Kokapelli, a certain cochina.

And in there I discovered the Flute Player was one of the main travellers among Hopi mythology.

I continued reading and found that the Flute Player, and the clans that went with Flute Player, travelled to the four directions. And when they went north, they went north to the land of ice and rock, and they left images of the Flute Player in the land of ice and rock, everywhere they went. They went all the way to the Arctic Circle, the myth says, and they went all the way to South America, and everywhere they left images of the Flute Player.

When I read this, the hairs went up on the back of my neck. I couldn't believe that we had actual evidence here of this myth taking place, with concrete evidence of this Flute Player image being applied, and there it was in Grotto Canyon.

Similar pictographs in the American southwest date between 200 and 600 AD, so the Hopi may have travelled through Grotto Canyon in Alberta about 1500 to 2000 years ago.

On the Heritage Trail, I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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