Tree Carvings

Published on May 7, 2013 by Casey

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Native American Tree Carvings
Native American Tree Carvings

Tree Carvings

Native American Tree Carvings are a traditional form of Native American tree art, especially associated with aspen trees. They are pictorial and graphic carvings that are made into trees by using sharp thin knife blades to carve into soft bark. Unlike Rock Art, tree carvings have a limited life span. Beech trees can live for several hundred years whilst birch trees and aspen trees rarely survive for more than one hundred years. Depending on the skill of the artist creating the tree carvings, the images can remain clear over the years, or become distorted and blurred. The art of creating tree carvings is also referred to as Tree Scaring.

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The Purpose of Tree Carvings

The meaning of tree carvings did not always convey a complete record and were often only used as a memory aid to those who knew about the story and understood the meanings of the symbols that had been used. The purpose of Native American Tree Carvings include the following:

Practical – Tree carvings were used as a message system to following tribe members and created by using various images, symbols and signs

Records – Tree carvings were used to create records of important events that were important to the tribe

Healing – Tree carvings were used to engrave powerful symbols to assist in medicinal and Spiritual Healing

Religious – Tree carvings were used in the offering of prayers and also to indicate that a burial had taken place

Creating Tree Carvings – Types of Trees

Tree Carvings are created by stripping the outer layer of bark from a tree and carving, or etching, an image on the lighter, softer bark on the under surface. The types of trees suitable for tree carvings include:

  • Aspen trees
  • Birch Trees
  • Beech Trees

These types of trees have a smooth bark and possess a light color that makes a ready made canvas for carving.

Tree Carvings – Terminology

Tree art and in particular tree carvings are referred to by modern archaeologists as Culturally Modified Trees (CMT’s). Terminology used in relation to culturally modified trees and tree carvings are as follows:

Arborglyphs: Carvings on trees. From the Latin word ‘arbor’ meaning tree and ‘glyphic’ meaning to carve

Arborgraphs: Paintings on trees. From the Latin word ‘arbor’ meaning tree and derived from Pictograph from the Latin word ‘pictus’ meaning painted and the French word ‘graphie’ meaning to carve

Dendroglyphs: Another name for tree carvings, associated with New Zealand tree art. From the Greek word ‘dendron’ meaning tree and ‘glyphic’ meaning to carve

Silvaglyphs: From Latin ‘silva’ meaning forest trees and ‘glyphic’ meaning to carve and often used to describe tree carvings of historical and cultural importance

Source: warpaths2peacepipes Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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