Native American rock art

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The Rochester panel.


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The Sego Canyon panel.


Detail of the Sego Canyon panel.
Detail of the Sego Canyon panel.


These beautiful photos were taken by Kirk Robinson, who writes this about them –


The pecked images, such as the Rochester panel, are called petroglyphs; and the painted ones, such as the Sego Canyon panel, are called pictographs.  Originally, many of the petroglyphs were also painted.  They may have also been decorated with feathers and other natural materials.


There is obviously a lot of meaning in these interesting figures, but it is hard to know what they mean.  Sometimes you can tell what individual images represent – desert bighorn sheep being the most common of the petroglyph figures in most of the West, but also deer, bears and birds, etc. – but other times they are mythical creatures or spirits that combine body parts from more than one animal.  Some look like images of prehistoric animals.  Others are what we call anthropomorphs, because they have a generally human shape with a torso and head, and sometimes hands and legs.  They might represent spirits or shaman.  Some images appear to be shields. However, most of the panels are more than just a set of images. They tell a story, or multiple stories, and are not simply representational. Some Indians might have more insight into their meaning than we foreigners. We tend to be too literal, whereas their traditions involve a lot of symbolism.


Unfortunately, vandalism is a big problem for Native American rock art. The easier it is for people to get to rock art panels, and the more well-known they are, the more likely they are to be vandalized.  A lot of folks think they are just graffiti, which is not true.  That belief is a reflection of ignorance.  Many of them required great skill and a lot of time to make, and were used for important religious ceremonies.  They are like murals and the sites were carefully chosen.  Often times a panel features multiple stories from different periods and different cultures, one overlaid on another or right next to each other.  It is nearly impossible to date rock art accurately, but many panels are several thousand years old, while some are only a few hundred years old.  Some of the more recent ones show cowboys on horseback and locomotives.


It is important that we respect these treasures and protect them.  Never touch them with your fingers or any other object. Time alone will erase them soon enough without our help.