Sample Lesson

Ancient Art: Athlete

Sample Lesson 5-1: Rock Art, an Introduction

SUBJECTS: Science, social science, English, art

SKILLS: Knowledge, comprehension, analysis, evaluation

STRATEGIES: Brainstorming, discussion, visualization, drawing, writing

DURATION: 45 to 60 minutes



Students will use art materials and rock art examples to:

  1. Differentiate between symbol, petroglyph, pictograph, and rock art.
  2. Interpret rock art to illustrate its importance in the cultural heritage of a people and as a tool for learning about the past.


  1. Photocopies of "Pictographs and Petroglyphs from Around Oregon"
  2. Transparencies of “Long Lake Rock Art, Lake County, Oregon Petroglyphs - 6500 Years Old; Petroglyphs - 4500 Years Old; Petroglyphs - 1500 Years Old”
  3. Clay or plaster of paris slabs (prepared ahead of time)
  4. Paper, paint or markers, paper clips
  5. “Statements about the Rock Art of Long Lake from a Native American and an Archaeological Perspective”


  • Petroglyph: a design chiseled or chipped into a rock surface.
  • Pictograph: a design painted on a rock surface.
  • Rock art: a general term for the pecking, incising, or painting of designs onto rock surfaces.
  • Rock art panel: a group of pictograph and/or petroglyph figures.
  • Symbol: a thing which represents something else.


North American Indians created rock art in prehistoric times. Its meaning is not now known and at times is controversial. Some people think that rock art is a type of storytelling or recording of events in a people's history. Others believe that it is an expression of religious or spiritual beliefs. Still others regard it solely as an artistic expression. In some instances, rock art has been interpreted by some people as a depiction of geography, as in maps, or as markers for particular locations.

North American rock art is not a true writing system which can be “read” like Egyptian hieroglyphics or as a phonetic alphabet, although some rock art specialists attempt to decode rock art symbols. Archaeologists analyze rock art figures and patterns, and they frequently find that different cultural groups made different styles of rock art. Archaeologists have also learned that rock art styles, patterns, and figures change over time. Other rock art researchers analyze stories and information from Indian people to draw conclusions about rock art.

Ancient Art: Headdress

Rock art occurs in every part of Oregon, although it is a rare occurrence in the Willamette Valley and along the Oregon Coast. It is a very frequent occurrence along the Columbia River and in the Great Basin portions of the state. Rock art recording by archaeologists has been most intensive in Warner Valley and Hart Mountain in Lake County, Oregon. One site, at Long Lake in Lake County, is especially important. A petroglyph panel at Long Lake was partially buried by Mount Mazama ash. Analysis of the ash indicated that it had come to rest against the petroglyph panel soon after it fell, or perhaps immediately upon falling. That means that this panel is at least as old as the eruption of Mount Mazama, which occurred about 6700 years ago. It may be significantly older. This ancient panel has deeply carved concentric rings, straight and curved parallel lines, and dots, tightly integrated into large compositions. As of this time, this powerful style is unique to the Long Lake site and has been called Long Lake Carved Abstract. Other places at Long Lake display rock art styles believed to date very roughly between 4500 and 500 years ago. These belong to the Great Basin Curvilinear Abstract and Rectilinear Abstract styles and are spread widely in Oregon, Nevada, Utah, and California. The most recent figures at Long Lake show the least weathering and belong to the Great Basin Representational style which includes figures of humans and animals. Some figures were made in historic times as they depict people riding horses.

Some American Indian tribes have oral traditions about rock art and its meaning. Some believe that the spirit of the makers resides in what they have created. Whatever peoples' responses to or interpretations of rock art may be, it often stimulates human thoughts and imaginations and expands human awareness of cultural expressions. Rock art can mean something different to each person who ponders it. We in Oregon are fortunate to have many examples of these beautiful and ancient symbols.

Setting the Stage

  1. Brainstorm examples of symbols meaningful to us today.
  2. Give each student a piece of paper, a marker or paint, clay or plaster of paris slab, and a paper clip. Ask them to flatten the clay into a slab and imagine that it or the plaster of paris slab and the paper are rock walls. Have them carve a symbol of their culture or from their life into the clay or plaster of paris (rock) with the paper clip. Have them paint or draw a symbol on the paper.
  3. Show the students the words “pictograph” and “petroglyph.” Ask them to determine which word fits which method of design they just completed and give reasons for their answers. Verify the correct answer and explain that both design methods are classified as rock art. Or give them the definitions of the root words prior to determining the correct definitions:
    • picto = to paint
    • graph = to write
    • petro = rock
    • glyph = carved work
  4. Show the photocopies of petroglyphs and pictographs from around Oregon. If you have several copies of these, you may wish to pass them around or post them around the room for the students to see.


  1. Project the “Rock Art from Long Lake” transparencies. Explain that these three rock art panels were created more than 6700 years ago, 4500 years ago, and 1500 years ago, respectively, by Indian people living then in Lake County, Oregon.
  2. Use the following questions to analyze the rock art panel:
    • What words might you use to describe the symbols on these transparencies?
    • Why do you think that people created these designs?
    • If you think there is a message in these designs, what do you think the message is?
  3. Share the statements from Great Basin Native Americans' and archaeological perspectives about the rock art of Long Lake.
  4. How might vandalism to rock art create problems for the archaeologist? For the ancestors of these people? For all of us?


Discuss as a class in what ways might rock art be important to archaeologists' study of ancient people AND in what ways might rock art be important to Native American people today.


Ancient Art: Headdress

Have students answer the following question individually in a story, poem, essay, song, or other form: “Why is rock art important?”

Have each student select their favorite rock art motif from the transparencies or the photocopies of “Pictographs and Petroglyphs From Around Oregon” and write a short essay on what they think it means.


Section Two, Lesson 3: Great Basin Indian People

Section Five, Lesson 2: Rock Art Two: Creating Your Own

Section Five, Lesson 3: Rock Art Three: Creative Expression


Aikens, C. Melvin, 1993, Archaeology of Oregon. U.S.D.I., Bureau of Land Management, Oregon State Office, Portland, Oregon.

Loring, J. Malcolm and Louise Loring, 1982, Pictographs and Petroglyphs of the Oregon Country, Part 1: Columbia River and Northern Oregon. Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles, Monograph 21.

1983, Pictographs and Petroglyphs of the Oregon Country, Part 2: Southern Oregon. Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles, Monograph 22.