What is Rock Art ?


     Rock art appears in two forms; petroglyphs and pictographs. Petroglyphs are made by chipping away the darker outside layer ( patina ) of rock with a stone, exposing the lighter natural color beneath. Pictographs, on the other hand, are painted on the rock face using mineral and plant pigments. The true meaning or intent of the artists in some rock art is not known, although some sites suggest hunting scenes, religious ceremonies, warfare and combat, fertility, birth, counting or calendars.

     The majority of prehistoric rock art in the area now known as the Colorado Plateau and northern Utah was the work of three ancient Native American Indian cultures. By far, the oldest was the Archaic culture, hunter and gathers that existed as long ago as 9000 BC and extended to around 1 AD.

     The Anasazi, a Navajo name meaning “Ancient Enemies”, can be subdivided into Pueblo and Basketmaker cultures. This culture began around 1 AD to about 1400 AD and developed from the Archaic culture. Anasazi territory covered roughly the area south and east of the Colorado River in Utah, into northern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado, an area commonly known as the Four Corners. To the west and north of the Colorado River in Utah, the Fremont culture, so named after the Fremont River, developed simultaneously with the Anasazi, although a separate culture, the Fremont also appears to have arisen from the Archaic hunter and gathers.

     After 1400 AD begins the historic period of time with the arrival of European people and the Native Americans migration out of their established territory. Why the Anasazi, traveling to the south and east and the Fremont to the north, abandoned their established territory is unknown. A severe drought from 1276 to 1299 AD and years of intensive use, fertile land, timber and wildlife were probably becoming scarce and may have forced them to find an area with a more hospitable climate and abundant resources.

     Today, the Hopi and Pueblo people in Arizona and New Mexico are the descendants of the Anasazi, the preferred name for these ancient people by their descendants is “Ancestral Pueblo”.


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If you visit rock art sites, please remember some are still considered sacred to many Native Americans. Also, vandalism has been a serious problem at many sites, once destroyed, these sites cannot be replaced.

Please Help Protect All Rock Art Sites From Vandalism.


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