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Indian summer: Ironton resident documenting lost art in Ohio River

GREENBOTTOM, W.Va. (AP) - Low water in the Ohio River this summer has exposed petroglyphs that are rarely seen.

With the evening's sun glowing orange one day last week, Steve Shaffer waded out barefoot into the clear, shallow water. His feet moved across the sandstone to a carving of a foot.

''I think these are a lot more exciting than even Indian mounds because this is specific communication,'' Shaffer said of the art work in a horseshoe bend in the Ohio River between Huntington and Point Pleasant, one of more than half a dozen known American Indian rock art sites located along the Ohio.

The site includes a geometric design and animal drawings on the sandstone.

The lack of rainfall this spring and summer is letting Shaffer, an Ironton, resident and author, get a good look at the petroglyphs for the first time in more than three years.

''If we are going to find anything else, this is going to be the summer,'' said Shaffer, who wiped away the silt from the old etchings. ''They will be in and out for the rest of the summer.''

The site is believed to have been left by ancestors of the Shawnee.

Shaffer said some of the petroglyphs in the area have been found by accident. A giant rock filled with art of birds and human and animal stick-figures, as well as geometric designs, was found in Ceredo in 1975 about 40 feet from the Ohio River shore. At the time, it was covered with about 15 feet of silt kicked up when a crew was dredging for a barge mooring.

That petroglyph, thought to be one of the largest and best preserved in the United States, now is at the Ceredo Historical Museum.

Shaffer has spent the past five years and his own money researching and writing in preparation for his first documentary film, ''Written in Stone: A Documentary Exploring the Prehistoric Native American Rock Art of the Ohio River Valley.''

His work already has unearthed video documentation of the once-famous Indian's Head Rock, a landmark for steamboaters that had not been seen since 1920 when the Ohio River was dammed. The rock is now 14 feet below the river's surface.

''We have all of this art 400, 500 and 600 years old,'' Shaffer said. ''What kind of value can we put on it? I think it's priceless, and I want to save the best of these so your grand kids and my grand kids can come and see them.''