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Rock Art

What is Native American Rock Art? 

There are two types of rock art: petroglyphs (motifs that are pecked, ground, incised, abraded, or scratched on the rock surface) and pictographs (paintings of drawings in one or more colors using mineral pigments and plant dyes on the rock surface). Although many images may have originally been executed as a combination of both techniques, most now appear only as a petroglyph because the paint material has faded or washed away over many years. On closer examination you might be able to see a painted design accompanying the pecked image. Examples of both types of both types of rock art are found among the sites described in this guide. Each site is unique. The patterns and motifs may be similar but are never quite the same. Styles vary from place to place, and from people to people.


Courthouse Wash Rock Art Site Golf Course Rock Art Site Kane Creek Rock Art Sites Highway 279 Rock Art Sites Moab Area Rock Art Sites


 

Taking Care of Rock Art Sites
 
Rock art sites on federal lands are nationally protected areas. The art is extremely fragile and once they are damaged the site can never be repaired to its original condition. Please avoid even touching the rock surface. Surprising as it may seem, the oils in a single handprint can chemically affect the rock surface. Take care so that others may marvel at these fragile and beautiful remains of the past. You will see evidence of vandalism such as bullet impacts, names and dates incised on the rock surface, remains of latex molds and chalk marks. Do not attempt to remove any form of vandalism, including signatures, dates and names. Site repair requires technical expertise and can be made more difficult by the good intentions of those without highly developed skills.


The People 

Rock art was produced by a number of prehistoric and historic peoples over thousands of years. Their histories in the area are very complex. A big game hunting people, known as Paleo-Indians, are considered to be the first human users in the area. Their game included now-extinct Pleistocene fauna such as mammoths and mastodons. A later culture, called Archaic, probably used central base camps during their seasonal round of activities based on harvesting wild plants and animals. They did not build permanent habitation structures but lived in caves and in small brush shelters built in the open.

The Anasazi, whose culture centered south of Moab in the Four Corners area, concentrated much of their subsistence efforts on the cultivation of corn, beans and squash. These sedentary people also harvested a wide variety of wild resources such as pinion nuts, grasses, bighorn sheep and deer. The Fremont, who were contemporary with the Anasazi people, also grew corn and were apparently more dependent on hunting and gathering wild resources than were the Anasazi. Their territory was mainly north of the Colorado River but overlapped with the Anasazi at Moab. Both cultures had a complex social structure and were highly adaptive to the extremes of the environment. The Anasazi and Fremont are classified by scientists as "Formative" cultures.

The most recent inhabitants, the Utes, have been in southeast Utah since the 1200's. They were a very mobile hunting and gathering people who moved in from the Great Basin. They used the bow and arrow, made baskets and brownware pottery, and lived in brush wickiups and tipis. The No-tah (Ute people) lived freely throughout western Colorado and eastern Utah until about 1880, when they were forced onto reservations.


Dating the Rock Art 

Although it is difficult to establish an exact age of rock art, some dating clues are easily identified. For example whenever a horse and rider is depicted, we know the date to be after AD 1540 when the Spaniards reintroduced the horse to the New World. The presence of bows and arrows is presumed to indicate a date after AD 500, the generally accepted time period for their appearance in this region. For purposes of this guide, time periods are broken into generalized categories relating to the people believed to have made them.

Cultural TraditionDatesEvidence of Rock Art
Paleo-Indian10,000 BC to 5,500 BCNONE (At sites described in this brochure)
Archaic5,500 BC to AD 1ABSTRACT (zig zag and parallel lines, dots, circles, etc.) REPRESENTATIONAL ("ghostlike" body forms, headdresses, animal and plant forms. Barrier Canyon Style)
AnasaziAD 1 to AD 1275REPRESENTATIONAL (A variety of human forms (Anthropomorphic) with earrings, headdresses, handprints, paw prints, birds, spirals, bighorn sheep, shieldlike images, deer, Kokopellis, etc.) and some ABSTRACT designs
FremontAD 450 to AD 1250REPRESENTATIONAL (Broad-shouldered human forms trapezoidal in shape with abstract interior body decorations, elaborate headdresses with ear bobs, facial decorations, bighorn sheep, deer, etc.)
FormativeAD 1 to AD1275Overlap of Anasazi and Fremont Styles
UteAD 1200's to AD 1880REPRESENTATIONAL (Human forms on foot and mounted on horseback, hunting and warfare scenes, horses, and bison)