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Arbor Glyphs: Biggest little secret of the American West


Last updated 4/10/2008 at Noon

The carvings on these aspen trees, called arbor glyphs, were made by Basque immigrants who herded sheep in the American West.

Anyone who has never heard of aspen tree carvings, or arbor glyphs, is not alone. Bits and pieces of a century of sheepherding tradition in the American West are recorded on the trunks of aspen trees. The San Diego Archaeological Center presents Visiting Scholar Dr. Judy Berryman, archaeologist and historian, to share information regarding the arbor glyphs and their significance in providing a slice of localized history on May 10, 2008 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

These carvings are spread across the landscapes of ten or more states, including California’s High Sierra. A few date back to the 1890’s and beyond. They stand witness to the ranchers and Basque immigrants from Europe that passed through Riverside and other areas to the north and recorded their lives, loves, and dreams. In addition to the glyphs, archaeological remains include bread ovens, camp sites, and historic trails.

Dr. Berryman notes that the arbor glyphs provide a “limited window of time” for recording and interpretation. Vandalism, disease, and encroachment of conifers are taking a toll on these silent witnesses of the settlement of the West.

Warning: while most of the carvings are names, dates and narrative sentences, some carvings depict human anatomy; please consider this when attending the lecture.

This lecture is free for Center members; suggested donation for non-members is $5. The San Diego Archaeology Center is located at 16666 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido. All are welcome to attend the meeting and discover the other “American Cowboy.” For more information, call (760) 291-0370 or visit


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