Diver finds petroglyph submerged in Connecticut River since 1909

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Photo Gallery | Diving for a missing petroglyph

Video | Annette Spaulding, a master diver, has spent roughly the past 25 years looking for the petroglyph located at the mouth of the West River

BRATTLEBORO — Around the time Annette Spaulding started SCUBA diving in the Connecticut River nearly 30 years ago, she came across an old article referencing a petroglyph along the river in Brattleboro.

The article included a description by Edward Augustus Kendall, a translator, social campaigner and miscellaneous writer, who had observed the rock carving in 1806 and 1807.

"A single dot or hollow is made to serve for both the nose and mouth," he said. "No ears are given to the human heads." The petroglyph had "two distinct feathers or antennas" atop its head.

But exactly where was it? And could she find it? The mystery piqued Spaulding's interest.

Since the river was dammed downstream in 1909, it was likely the petroglyph had been submerged for more than 100 years.

Since then, she has spent her spare time diving the river in search of it.

After a dive this month, Spaulding emerged from the water.

She located the petroglyph.

Marks of mystery

Petroglyphs are rock carvings made using a stone chisel and hammerstone. When the darker "varnish" of minerals on the rock's surface was chipped away, the lighter-colored rock beneath was exposed, creating the petroglyph.

Locally, petroglyphs are attributed to early Native Americans who lived in the Connecticut River valley. Geologists consider the markings geological wonders.

"It could be possibly Abenaki but no one knows exactly because there's no documentation of how old it even is," said Spaulding, who lives in Rockingham. "Nothing verifies what Indian tribe carved it, but it's very similar to the ones in Bellows Falls. That's the big mystery."

Spaulding, who serves on the Keene Mutual Aid dive team, has searched for missing people, planes and other items locally and internationally. In her off-time, she spent weekends and early evenings diving the Connecticut searching for the elusive petroglyph. She logged and documented hundreds of hours of exploration, using locations described in other accounts of the petroglyph before 1909 to guide her.

Each sweep, Spaulding said, brought her closer to the petroglyph.

"Since 1979, I have done hundreds of dives searching for this," she said.

Through silt, sand

On Aug. 9, Spaulding was investigating a submerged, sand- and silt-covered ledge near the confluence of the Connecticut and West rivers.

Clearing inches of sand and silt off the ledge by hand, Spaulding worked the ledge when she uncovered a carving looking back at her. It matched Kendall's description.

At first, she said she couldn't believe she had found the petroglyph. The swirling silt made it difficult to see, but the carving — roughly 6 inches in circumference — revealed itself. She took photographs of it.

The petroglyph Kendall described so long ago has been submerged for more than a century.

"It has been underwater unnaturally due to the completion of the Vernon dam in 1909, which raised the water level of the rivers many feet more than expected. This rock used to be above water," Spaulding said.

Whether the petroglyph represents a tribal chief or extraterrestrial life or something different altogether is an ongoing mystery.

"Nobody really knows what they signify, but they know they've been here a long time," said Spaulding, who planned to share her find with a state archaeologist on Aug. 13.

This was not her only local historically significant find. She had helped to find a bridge used by a traveling circus for elephants back in the 1800s.

Spaulding, a trustee on the Connecticut River Watershed Council, hopes to inspire younger generations to explore. She said she wants kids to see there is still plenty to find.

"We have so much rich history here," Spaulding said.

"This river is one of my favorite places to dive in the world," said Spaulding, sitting on her pontoon boat looking out on the Connecticut River. "Probably the reason is that it's one of 14 heritage rivers. It has history going back, everything from Native Americans to Captain Kidd."

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@benningtonbanner.com or 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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