Boulders with the Mona Lisa Smile by Daniel J. Wood
Artwork by Linda Godfrey
In the spring of 2002 Bessie Kmiecik entered the wilderness of central Wisconsin, near the Lemon Rind, to search for an historical legend--an ancient behemoth carved in stone. After a battle with briars and a struggle against verdant undergrowth, Kmiecik managed to overcome sentinels that for centuries enfolded the boulder in nature's arms along the upper reaches of the Black River. At last, she reached the object of her quest: a carved boulder about ten feet around and three feet high. Some cursory cleaning gradually uncovered an ancient face incised in ages past.
Using a tape measure, Kmiecik found that each almond-shape eye measured roughly six inches across, with a little more than a foot separating the set. The image's most distinctive feature, its silly looking grin, etched as deeply as an inch and a half and as wide as two, stretched twenty-one inches across the stone. Each side of the triangular nose Kmiecik measured to be more than a foot.Expert opinion on the giant stone face has varied. Dr. James Scherz, emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, examined Kmiecik's photographs, and posited that the object most likely served as an ancient calendar stone.
Noting that the image faced east, Scherz observed that the lines extending from the nose may indicate the position of the sun on the horizon during planting season. Kmiecik also consulted with Professor Robert Boazhardt of the Mississippi Valley Archaeological Center, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in May of 2002. Dr. Boazhardt admitted that he had never seen anything like it, and he was unable to offer a scholarly assessment of the find.
Future clues concerning the provenance of Wisconsin's Black River boulder might be found across the lake, in Michigan. There, in the 1980s, workers unearthed a similar boulder while excavating in the Saginaw Valley, in the area between Saginaw and Tuscola counties. A comparison of the boulders appears to establish a kinship between the images: both share shell-like eyes, triangular noses, and--yes--the Mona Lisa smile.
An anthropologist from Michigan State University examined the carving and estimated its age at around five hundred years, making itcontemporary with the Sanilac Petroglyphs, a series of carvings found to the northeast, in Michigan's Thumb. Like those who carved the smiling boulder, the rock artists at the Sanilac site worked in sandstone. Ultimately, the identity of the prehistoric artists remains a mystery. Did the same culture produce the grinning heads and the glyphs? Referencing the points of similarity between the Wisconsin and \Michigan boulders also suggests the possibility that an as yet unknown culture once ranged the Great Lakes before the arrival of our current Algonquian groups.
Daniel J. Wood 2005
Printed by permission of Weird Wisconsin, Your Travel Guide to Wisconsin's Best Kept Secrets and Local Legends