Two Ogams

The second artifact I will discuss, I refer to as the “Willits Rock.”  Its existence and location are no secret.  Anyone can go and look.  Personally, I have spent many a long, hot day in the countryside peering at rocks, looking for possible ancient writing.  The only reason I did not “discover” this one earlier is that no one told me it was there.

The Willits Rock is located outside the front door of the Willits Museum, in Mendocino County.  A plaque next to it acknowledges that it was donated to the museum in 1972 by the Hansen Ranch.  The museum itself was opened in that same year. 


The Willits Rock

Willits is a small town located about fifty miles from Solstice Rock, in the neighboring county.  Originally both Lake and Mendocino Counties were territory of the Pomo Indians.  The plaque referred to above identifies the rock only as “Pomo petroglyphs.” 

This stone is somewhat smaller than Solstice Rock, but appears to be composed of the same type of hard andesite – or so I thought at first.  At some point in its history it has broken through the middle – probably decades ago, judging by the degree of erosion. 

The Willits stone has prominent Ogam style script, but only on one side.  The other side is occupied by a large number of cupules, small round depressions which are a typical trademark of West Coast Native Americans.  No one knows the meaning of these shallow depressions, except for the fact that they probably had some ritual purpose.  (To me, the surface of the rock resembles a large, pock-marked meteorite, but I’m assured it isn’t one!)

I asked the museum curator for any information regarding this stone.  She could tell me only that it came from the Hansen Ranch, which is located somewhere to the east of town. 

It was at this point I encountered another annoying but ubiquitous obstacle to scholarly research – lack of public funds.  I asked the curator if I could examine any documents relating to the stone’s original location and position – with photographs if possible.  I was told the museum would be happy to oblige, but I might have to wait several months for an appointment to use the document files.  This delay is due to shortage of staff and impending reorganization. 

Nevertheless, I did fill out an application for an appointment.  (You have to complete the paperwork to see the paperwork!)  I am interested in learning if the Willits rock had any particular astronomical orientation – bearing in mind the functions of our Lake County rock.  Information may or may not be on file somewhere – archeology is often more a matter of digging through files than digging through dirt. 

I found this rock extremely difficult to photograph.  This is because of a shade tree which blocks the sun and casts speckled shadows all over the rock’s surface.  In fact, my first observation was on an overcast day, and due to poor contrast I failed to note a number of important details.  For example, I at first failed to see the baseline of the three prominent vertical strokes at the front. 

You will recall that one of my criteria for identification of Ogam is the presence of a baseline.  In this case, the line is eroded and faint, but definitely present.  This fact identifies those three strokes as the letters “L-B,” in Ogam.   


Dr Barry Fell has pointed out that this is the Semitic form of the name Baal, an ancient sun god, written right to left. 

Another interesting detail, and one that makes me suspect an astronomical meaning, is one of the round cupules located near the edge of the Ogam area.  This one has three vertical lines extending from its lower edge, giving it the shape of a comet – or the sun with descending rays.  Just to the right is the letter “L,” inscribed vertically.  

The three lines below the cupule form the letter “L-B,” turning it into a rebus.  A rebus, of course, is a picture formed with letters which spell the name of the picture.  In this case we have the ancient sun god Bel, or Baal, spelled right to left, in the Semitic style.  The circular cupule therefore represents the sun.  And just to the right is the prominent letter “L.”

There is only one word in modern Irish or Old Gaelic which can be spelled with the single letter “L.”  (The older form of Ogam usually included no vowels.)  This word is “la,” written with an accent in English letters. 

“La” turns out to be an Indo-European cognate related to a Sanskrit word, “latha”; the most common meaning in several different languages is “to shine.”  In modern Irish the meaning is “day.”  “La” is related to English “light.” 

Thus, our unknown rock writer did his best to make sure we understand his meaning.  He draws a picture of the sun, with the name of Bel.  So that we don’t miss it, he repeats the name “Bel” above, and the word “shine” to the right.  Thus, the three glyphs have the meaning “sunshine!”

Unfortunately, it seems that most of the thousands of people who have looked at this book in stone have missed its meaning.  The bronze plaque on the ground reads simply, “Pomo petroglyphs.”

There are other glyphs here which I do not understand.  There is, for example, a vertical line with a curve starting from its top and descending to the right.  I suspect this may have some astronomical meaning, or it may be a map. 

I find all these ancient glyphs extremely difficult to study.  I have found that photographing a particular glyph from two slightly different angles may reveal different details.  Often I may miss something with the naked eye which later appears obvious in a photograph – or I may find it nearly impossible to photograph something I can easily see. 

I’m not sure of the mineral composition of the Willits rock, but some parts of the surface look like marble or possibly obsidian.  It’s an extremely hard type of rock.  Given its advanced state of weathering it must be quite old.  How did Ogam writing arrive in California in some remote past age?  I have no idea.  It is a mystery.  I can only hope that with further study by qualified scholars, it may not remain a complete mystery forever. 


For my final  (?) word on Solstice Rock, look here.

horizontal rule
[1] Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications, Volume 13, 1984.

[2]  The alignment is not quite exact, a problem which I will address in the following article.