Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Carved Aspen Tree Art and History

The next time you may be hiking out west through an aspen grove - take a closer look at the carvings and writing on their surfaces. There is a rapidly disappearing history of migrating sheepherders carved into them.

According to the National Parks Service website,

"[Carved] Aspen trees ... bear the marks of those who came before. Known as arborglyphs, dendroglyphs, or aspen art, the carvings provide an important record of the area's history.

The practice was started by Basque sheepherders in the late 1800s. Basque sheepherders were replaced by Peruvian sheepherders in the late 1900s adding yet another style and mix of arborglyphs. Recreational campers and cattlemen also left their marks, some of which date from the early 1900s.

The Basques, who call themselves Euskaldunak, are from the Pyrenees Mountains located on the border of Spain and France. Basques have their own language known as Eusk but since the majority live in Spain, they also speak, read and write in Spanish. This explains why some of the carvings contain a mix of both Eusk and Spanish."

The Hispanic roots of Colorado and New Mexico carved Aspen trees is explained by Arborlyphs.com writer, "Particularly intriguing about the carvings of Colorado and New Mexico is that they were not carved by Basque shepherds, but by Hispanics, whose forefathers had been in the area for generations. Among these herders were descendants of early pioneer families, settlers that came north from Mexico when this part of country was known as Nuevo Mexico and controlled by Spain. There was some Basque immigration to the Grand Junction, Colorado area but little if any to the south San Juans. These carvings are culturally different from the Basque carvings making them even more significant to Colorado and New Mexico’s history."

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