Despite the lack of rock surfaces on the Prairies, petroglyphs and pictographs are an important prehistoric art form of southern Saskatchewan (SASKATCHEWAN ROCK ART) and Alberta.The Herschel Site in Saskatchewan contains petroglyphs that could pertain to the oldest rock art tradition in North America, whereas the black paintings of the Swift Current Creek Site are unique in the country.While the tradition of rock art was no doubt brought into Canada by its earliest occupants during the last ICE AGE, it is most unlikely that examples of great antiquity will ever be found.Rock art in much of Canada is linked with the search for helping spirits and with shamanism - a widespread religious tradition in which the SHAMAN's major tasks are healing and prophesy, along with the vision quest.For instance, the battle between Thunderbird and the Horned Snake is often depicted as the bird killing the reptile with lightning, which is materialized in the composition by a seam of quartz.
Moreover, the use of crevices, cracks or mineral seams (mostly quartz) shows an organization of space and a composition that stage the different mythological elements.
Radiocarbon dating at the Nisula site along Lac Cassette, Québec, indicated that the paintings were made about 2000 years ago.
The geographic distribution of rock art sites and the iconographic themes that are represented seem to indicate that carvings and paintings on the rocks of the Canadian Shield were produced by the ancestors of Algonquian populations (eg, OJIBWA, CREE, INNU).
They depict spiritual icons such as Thunderbird or shaman figures.
Some narratives have also been illustrated: this is the case of a complex, four-metre long battle scene showing a camp circle, mounted warriors, tipis, guns, and shot.