Historic indigenous petroglyphs to return to region


Mike Chervinko

Chervinko photographs different historical objects throughout the region. The bear petroglyph is one of the pieces of art returning to Southern Illinois after being kept in Kansas. This particular petroglyph is from Peter’s Cave in Jackson County.

Francesca Messerschmidt, Staff Writer

After years of being passed around, a pair of rock panels containing indigenous art is returning to Southern Illinois. The panels feature glyphs of what are thought to be bears among other things.

The panels came from a cave near Murphysboro, but they have been kept in a museum in Kansas for many years. On May 13, a ceremony will be held at the Saline Creek Pioneer Village and Museum to unveil the art in its new home.

“These panels are thought to be around 1,000 years old,” author and photographer Mike Chervinko said. “They originally sat in a rock shelter in what is now Kinkaid Lake. They were removed in the 1930s for reasons unknown.”

English teacher Cathy Wall is excited to see the pieces. 

“I read about them during our Native American Literature unit this fall and shared the information with my English 3 students,” Wall said. “I was very excited to hear that the art will be displayed here. I think this presents an amazing opportunity for teachers who cover Native American literature or history to show students examples right here in town.”

The panels are a special type of art known as petroglyphs. 

“Petroglyphs and petroglyph sites are some of the most sacred places from our prehistoric past,” Chervinko said. “To this day, many Native Americans still feel a great connection to these places.”

Chervinko has a strong interest in historic pieces like these.

“I became interested in these kinds of places 13 years ago,” Chervinko said. “I liken them to visiting a church or sacred places.”

The effort to return the panels to the area began in 2021. 

“In May of 2021, Lawrence Conrad of the Western Illinois Archaelogical Research Center gained the panels with funds from the Upper Mississippi Valley Archaeological Research Foundation (UMVARF),” Facebook page Southern Illinois Unearthed said. “UMVARF desired that the panels not fall to private hands and return to Southern Illinois.”

Chervinko had a large involvement in the returning of the panels to the region.

“I learned of this happening through social media,” Chervinko said. “They wanted them on display for the public here, and I helped to coordinate that move.”

Getting the panels back to southern Illinois proved to be no easy feat though.

“The panels weigh hundreds of pounds each and it was a challenge to find a suitable location,” Chervinko said. “I helped plan the exhibit at the Saline County Historical Society.”

Despite the struggles that came with the panels leaving the area, there was some benefit to the decision. 

“It saved the panels from the lake which was built in 1968,” Chervinko said. “It has (also) created a unique opportunity to easily share them with the public.  Most sites are remote, and difficult to  access.”

There will be an unveiling ceremony at the Saline Creek Pioneer Village and Museum May 13 at 2:00 p.m. Chervinko will be present for book signings.

For more information on Chervinko and the petroglyphs, visit this link for another interview.