In 1914, a rancher just outside Hemet, California was surveying his property and discovered a boulder with a strange maze-like image carved into it. Archeologists later determined – based on some artifacts found near the stone – that the carving is at least 500 years old, if not even older. However, even today archeologists are not sure who made the carving, or why.
Part of the mystery comes from the design itself. The maze-like design is quite different from other petroglyph designs in the United States; most petroglyphs are stylized pictures of animals or people, or designs representing rivers, trails or other natural features. The carving on the Hemet stone, however, is an intricate maze in a swastika-like shape -a design more commonly found in Buddhist tradition. It’s also rare – since 1914, only 50 other similar carvings have turned up, all of them within 150 miles of each other.
The design’s Buddhist symbolism, and the proximity of other such stones, sparked a theory that they were all carved by a crew of Chinese sailors shipwrecked in California as early as 500 CE. However, the swastika is also found in Native American art – to the once-nomadic Hopi, for example, the swastika represents their wanderings, while among the Navajo it represents the movements of the tsil no’oli, or “whirling log,” a canoe which a legendary hero rode during a quest. Native American swastika designs turn up on textiles, pottery, and sand paintings more so than in petroglyphs, but their prehistoric use does at least suggest a more local source for the maze carvings.
Unfortunately, today the swastika is more often associated with the German Third Reich, and the Hemet Maze Stone has suffered some damage as a result. The stone and its surrounding land became a California state landmark in 1956, and sometime thereafter a vandal added a left-facing swastika – the kind favored by the Nazis - to one corner of the carving. The stone is now protected by a pair of chain-link fences, and the surrounding park has since been closed. But the carving is still an official California Historical Landmark, receiving occasional visits from intrepid and curious guests.