“What does it mean?” This question usually scratches an individual’s thought process whenever he or she is facing these beautiful remnants of a time long past that has slipped beyond our understanding.
Petroglyphs are images and designs made by engraving, carving or pecking away the dark layer of rock varnish on a rock’s surface to reveal the lighter zone underneath. Images can be of varying depths and thicknesses. Other images can be “incised” by some sharp tool usually a knife or an ax. In general, archaeologists believe that stone hammers and other stone tools were used to create the petroglyphs. A stone hammer could have been used directly on the boulders, or it may have been that two tools were used like stone versions of a hammer and chisel. They refer to these methods of production as direct and indirect percussion in order to communicate their visual experience during that period.
There are two of types of Petroglyphs: First are the anthropomorphic figures, which resembles human-like features with the hands and legs, torso and head within the image. Second are zoomorphic characters, which are identified as animals in the area which consists of birds and other wildlife such as buffalo and deer. Then, there is something else. When we went to investigate the Legend Rock Archaeological site in Southcentral Wyoming, there are some petroglyphs that are classified as the “Dinwoody” tradition and are located only in the Big Horn and Wind River Basins west of the Big Horn River. They are en toto (completely) pecked and some are often of large human-like figures with headdresses with an unusual amount of toes or fingers, with some upside down shaping and is accompanied by some pattern of interior lines within the torso. According to archaeologists through the results of modern dating techniques that include radio – carbon dating of charcoal and organic material and plus the dating of material around the petroglyphs have yielded test results from 11,000 years before present, which dates way back in the early Archaic period that is around 8000 B.C – 6000 B.C.
There are plenty of reasons why the natives made petroglyphs. Some images were possibly made for religious purposes and most likely has a deep spiritual significance. They do tell a story and may even record an event. One thing I’ve observed through hundreds of rock art I saw in the Southwest and the Great Plains states is that they are usually carved on the side of a hill or a mountain where they probably witnessed something that they most likely were motivated to carve their personal experience to something concrete. We do that as a society as well don’t we? For example, What if we saw something in the sky? Wouldn’t we best describe the moment through our visual memory in the frame of reference in our language and technological lexicon to write and illustrate it in paper instead of a rock surface, or nowadays we would probably take a selfie first or two with the object present at hand. Most likely the expression unified the members to mark the occasion within the territory. No such thing as tagging someone on the group photo back then to be added on their Facebook Timeline.
What an image appears to be on the surface, may be different from the meaning it had for the person who pecked the image into the rock in which we can only speculate what their significance was. Some meanings are still known, others are forgotten but are still revered. The deepest directives are closely guarded by today’s native peoples and it is up to the individual to interpret the message that echoes through the ages, still standing in stone.
12 thoughts on “Pondering Petroglyphs”
Haven’t been able yet to travel due to some health issues, on the mend, looking up for some road trips in the near future
We hope you get well soon Joelinda so that you can go and explore these wonderful works from the past
The petroglyphs are so cool. Have seen them throughout the southwest and even found some up in a cave in the Black Hills. They’ve always been a curiosity to me as well. We see obvious humans and animals but then we have things that are cosmic or even psychedelic in nature and it boggles the mind!
Indeed David, there are numerous characters that do not look like animals or humans in some petroglyphs that we have observed throughout the years, especially in the 4 Corners region of the American Southwest.
Thank you for sharing your insight and experience
We’ve been to a few petroglyph sites this year. Thanks for the insight into them!
You are welcome Sara, they are very interesting to research!
Enjoyed your post! We travel often to the American SW and spend many a moment trying to interpret the meaning behind the petroglyphs we find!
Thanks Megan! There are so much Petroglyphs in the American Southwest and are awesome to explore, especially in between the mountains!
Interesting post. First time got the knowledge of something called petroglyphs.
Thanks Jeevan! Petroglyphs are quite an interesting topic indeed!
This was informative. I learned someting new today. I have heard about hieroglyphics writing in ancient Egypt, but not the name or term petroglyphs. Thanks for sharing. 👍
We are pleased that you learned about our findings of Petroglyphs in the American Southwest. You are welcome and thank you Kevin