To Library Author | To Library Titles | To Library Catalog | Back to Index

The "Pig Pen" Ogam Rock Shelter

by Jim Leslie, FMES


This article appeared in the Midwestern Epigraphic Journal, Vol 14, 2000. The Red River Valley region of eastern Kentucky is the location of many ogam sites surveyed and documented by The Midwestern Epigraphic Society. One of these, "Pig Pen", was found by Dr John Payne, the MES Field Representative.

A decade passed after its discovery when a highly talented iconographer/epigrapher, Michel-Gérald Boutet of Québec, was contacted and translated the writing.

The Site

Five panels that comprise the "Pig Pen" site follow with Michel-Gérald Boutet's complete site translation and interpretation. Following that is his description of American Ogams, the Medawiwin Society and the Algonquin-type language of the ogam script.

Trace # 1

Panel 1 Translation:
"Say (about) Syrus (Hunting Dog Star), He comes (to) tell a story the way that it is."
[with a possible cross-reading]:
"Sound colour-strand the way that it informs"

Trace # 2

Panel 2 Translation:
"Great Hawk along with, in the company"
DA (enough)

             Panel 3 below, with four parts

Trace # 3             Panel 4 Below

Trace # 4             Panel 5 Below

Trace # 5

Complete Site Translation
"Say (about) Dog (Star), He comes (to tell a story the way it is). Great Hawk (star) along with (others). Thats all.
Say, talk about Odanol, the Settlement, (Village) come learn Ogam from (across) the Mist.
Be there at that place, someone there in former time.

American Ogams
Few Europeans admit to the existence of an American Ogam [the Ogam spelling is used to distinguish American Ogam from European Ogham, as proposed by the late Donald Cyr. The near absence of both stem lines and vowels are the main arguments. For the latter, Barry Fell proposed "ogham consaine" or vowelless ogham. This permitted him to use various medieval languages such as Old-Irish, Celtic, Arabic, etc. for translation. In many cases portions where Celtic was used yielded gibberish - Fell then re-interpreted the markings as tally marks or the influx of Libyan Arabic language. But as Boutet looked into it more it became clear to to him that the language was Old Algonquian - a language unknown to Dr. Fell.

The Language
The Old Algonquian language seems to be an evolved stage of Proto-Algonquian probably showing early differentiation of a form of Eastern Algonquian according to Boutet. It is more primitive than Western-Abenaki - for example, the name "Adia" (pl. Adiak) for Dog, dog star, is now obsolete in the Abanaki dialects. The next closest matches are Menomini and Fox languages.

Remarks on the Message
"Dog Star"
The Dog Star plays an important part in the cosmo-mythological cycles of the Algonquians. From what Boutet gathers from the ogams, the Hawk Star is to be found in the company of the Dog Star. Although he is not sure which star is the Hawk in Algic cosmology, it is nevertheless possible to conclude that if the Dog Star Sirius is to be found in the company of the Hawk Star - it could be possibly beProcyon in Canis Minor?
In the Chippewa tale, The Broken Wing, we are told that the Hawk constellation was composed of six stars, that is, a nest of six young hawks - most likely the Pleiades constellaton. The eldest of the six was called Gray Falcon and the youngest was called Pigeon Hawk. The Hawks are again assigned to the winter skies along with the Owl Star (Ella Elizabeth Clark, 1960).

"come learn Ogams from (across) the Mist"
This shows that the Medaws - the priests who wrote the ogam - were quite aware of a land across the Mist and that it was where ogam originated.

Medaws -The Secret Medicine Lodge
Medaws, the Algonquin priests, are like the Druids to the Celts - special, secretive tribe members who talk to the spirit world, ethereal or to Mother Nature using signs and special symbols. Transmission of the spirit lore from teacher to student was spread through the power of special icons, writings and engravings such as present in the "Pig Pen" shelter. This body of lore was no less greater than that of Homer's Odyssey, so it does not come as a surprise if some form of shorthand was used by the shamanic class. In all the ogam translation work that Boutet has done, he finds the content is generally meant for the Spirit World, contrary to what Fell gives as mercantile and mundate matters.

The Medaws were also story-tellers, informing and entertaining tribe members of their mythology, ethics, heroic exploits, histories and migrations. These story-telling sages wandered the woodlands, spreading the teachings that maintained the Algonquian identity.


"The Celtic Connection" by Michel-Gérald Boutet, 1996, Stonehenge Viewpoint, P.O. Box 30887, Santa Barbara, Ca 93130-0887. More ogam translations and Amerindian connections by Boutet, and related articles by other writers.

"Midwestern Epigraphic Journal, Vol 14, 2000"