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.




The paleolithic as another world

Petroglyphs from the Anasazi people at Canyon de Chelly

There were some things in the book “The Divine Life of Animals” by Ptolemy Tompkins that I could not completely agree with.  These were made up for though by a few really profound statements.

One of these was that the Paleolithic world was another world. He talks about “our fall out of that world.” As I understood it, this was not meant metaphorically or as a simile.  He did not mean that it was “like” another world or just that human consciousness was different then. He said, and I believe he meant, that the Paleolithic was quite simply, another world.

This seems to make absolute sense.  Consciousness creates the world.  Hindu tradition talks about four ages, the yugas.  We are in the last—the most decadent and despair-filled.  While the accepted chronology for the four ages may be quite different than what I imagine it to be, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no valid connection at all between these various concepts.

The concept of the earth having several ages or several worlds is present in many traditions—with varying chronologies—or no chronologies.

Was the first world an ethereal world—one with forms, but no matter as we know it—an earth of light and beauty?

Did the Paleolithic world come next?  Was the Paleolithic a world of magic?

The rock art all over the world depicts magical creatures, gods, spirits and spirit-beings.  There are some who may be angels or ancient astronauts (is there a difference?)—beings from other dimensions.

All things were alive and conscious—the rocks, the clouds, the sun, the moon, the rain, the storms, the rivers, the drought. Animals were killed for food, but they did not die when they were killed.  They were prayed to and their souls journeyed on.

All things then were alive and magical.  There was fear, even suffering, wonder, and awe, but there was no death.  All was filled with the life of the Great Spirit.  There was art, beauty, worship, and if there wasn’t much science, it wasn’t much missed.  There was though, in fact, highly developed mathematics, astronomy, and engineering—the evidence of which can still be seen in the alignments with the stars of the great megaliths scattered across every continent.

It was a world of magic—and, truly, an altogether other world.

Afterwards came the Fall, and the long descent.


Photo: Sharon St Joan, Canyon de Chelly