Help Protect the Past!
Utah is fortunate to have many fine examples of rock art, and a rich archaeological heritage. Our past, however, is being threatened by people who collect artifacts and dig sites as well as by those who vandalize rock art panels. Many visitors do not realize that collecting artifacts, digging sites and defacing rock art have several harmful results. These actions destroy data, attack Native American cultural heritage, and rob other people from the opportunity to appreciate and understand other cultures and human history. Defacing and looting archaeological sites on public land are also illegal under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA). Please respect our past cultures by doing your part to help preserve rock art and other archaeological sites. Now go and enjoy!
Utah rock art has been described by National Geographic magazine as a "wilderness Louvre," a world-class outdoor art museum. Utah's beautiful and diverse prehistoric rock art is unequaled in quality and quantity.
Utah is unique in that it has an excellent representation of the whole cultural array of prehistoric sites including rock art, structural sites, and historic resources such as the Pony Express Trail, Transcontinental Railroad Grade, Historic Homesteads, Mining Districts, etc. – we’ve got it all.
- Cedar Mesa— Largest concentration of prehistoric Anasazi structural sites and artifacts in U.S.
- Nine-Mile Canyon— Largest outdoor gallery of petroglyphs and pictographs in Utah and in North America.
- San Rafael Swell— Rochester Muddy is just one of many outstanding sites located there.
- Desolation/Gray Canyons— One of the best representations of Fremont archaeological sites.
- Indian Creek Canyon— Location of world-famous Newspaper Rock and numerous Anasazi petroglyph sites
- Sego Canyon— Unique in that three separate cultures left their ancient rock art at three separate panels, including Barrier Canyon rock art (archaic), Fremont rock art, and Ute figures are represented there. Sego Canyon is on the National Register of Historic Places
Petroglyphs and Pictographs
Petroglyphs are designs incised, scratched, chiseled, rubbed, or pecked into the surface of the rock with flint or other stone chisels and hammers.
Pictographs are designs painted on the surface of rock with natural pigments. Black was made from sumac, yellow ochre, and pinyon gum which form a black powder when mixed. Yellow came from Rabbitbrush. Reds came from red ochre and roots of mountain mahogany. Some possible tools used were human or dog hair brushes, yucca fibers, fingers, hollow bird bones filled with pigment.
Much of Utah's rock art has been credited to the Fremont Indians, who occupied most of the state between 800 and 1,500 years ago. The Anasazi rock art is found in the southern part of the state. The Ute, Paiute, Shoshone, and Goshute also created rock art. Historic inscriptions were also left by pioneers, explorers, and trappers.
Some rock art may have been strictly decorative in nature, accounting for crosses, rectangles, circles, spirals, and other designs. Other rock art representations could actually be a form of picture writing. Because the drawings do not present a written language as we know it, their meaning is left to our imaginations. When viewing rock art it is important to keep in mind that the real importance is not found in literal meaning, but that we are looking at records left by those who have gone before.
Because rock art is one of the most visible and fragile cultural resources in Utah, it has also been subject to vandalism and destruction.
Rock art must never be touched; oils from human skin can discolor or eventually obliterate the designs. Rock art is protected by the Archaeological resources Protection Act of 1979 and the Antiquities Act of 1906.