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Sunday, April 4, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Did Rock Carvings Mark The Seasons?

The (Bremerton) Sun

BREMERTON - When the sun came up, some 12 hours past the vernal equinox, amateur astronomer John Rudolph was looking toward the Cascade Mountains from the northeast corner of Agate Point on Bainbridge Island.

Hundreds of years ago, aboriginal Americans may have stood in full ceremonial garb at the same spot, welcoming the season we call spring and perhaps inviting a renewal of the earth's quarterly cycle of change.

Rudolph was hoping to witness what those still unknown tribes witnessed, and what he believes will be another piece of the jigsaw he's been putting together for more than 10 years. It's a puzzle in the shape of a dense sandstone boulder known as Haleets Rock.

The rock is 5 feet tall and 7 feet long. It sits about 100 feet offshore, often submerged at high tide. It presents to each morning's rising sun a chorus of bizarre and sometimes barnacle-covered faces, carved by an unknown hand at an uncertain time.

Rudolph's first clue to the possible purpose of the carvings, which are Native American, came on the autumnal equinox in September 1997.

On a hunch, he decided to watch the sunrise from behind the rock, "and, by golly, here comes the sun, right out of the deepest notch in the Cascades."

It was the sort of geographic alignment - the notch was actually the Skykomish Valley running up toward Stevens Pass - that suggested seasons were being marked, and on that basis Rudolph began to look at the stone in a new light.

"In my investigations at other sites in the Northwest, I've found that there are places that are embellished with petroglyphs where you can stand and the sun will rise from or set on significant features on the horizon," said Rudolph, who believes that is the purpose of Haleets Rock.

A year and a half from that first discovery, the series of faces makes more sense. Not only can Rudolph point to what he believes are a series of representative markings keeping track of the three full moons that make up each season, but also notations counting off the eight 45-day solar months that make up a year.

He has summed up his findings, in part, in this way: "Near the center of the composition on the rock we have what looks like a sunburst with eight rays. To the right are three faces. There are three full moons from the summer solstice to the equinox. The face at the far right has above it an arc with a round object at each end and at the center. This may represent the sun moving along the horizon from summer solstice to equinox to winter solstice."

The Suquamish Indian tribe claims the rock and the carvings as part of its heritage.

"It's definitely Suquamish - it's right in the middle of our territory," explained Suquamish Museum curator and archivist Charlie Sigo. "It's a sacred site and it's something to be protected."

As for theories on the meaning of the carvings: "You read a lot in books about the petroglyph and what could be happening in it, but I've never really been satisfied with what's been put forward," said Sigo, who added that because the carvings face the water rather than the land "it could perhaps be a boundary marker, I'm not real sure."

He doesn't rule out the celestial-calendar stone theory, but neither does he endorse it.

Not that Rudolph is claiming the final word.

"A lot of people will spout theories on very slim evidence. I like to approach these things cautiously," said Rudolph. "Even though I think I have a handle on what these figures represent, it takes a real arrogance - which I hope I lack - to absolutely state: this is the way it is, folks."

Rudolph describes himself as "an investigator and amateur archaeo-astronomer" and, in addition to his professional life as an architect, works with the Battle Point Astronomical Association as vice president and facilities director.

Although he is searching for further clues to the mystery that is Haleets Rock, he does not expect that he will ever figure it all out.

"These were not planetary bodies (to the people who made the carvings) but deities and mysterious personages, powerful beings who inhabited the sky.

"Will I figure out what it all means? I doubt it."

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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