Moab Rock Art

WHAT IS INDIAN 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 or 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 rock art are found among the sites described in this guide. Each site is unique. The patterns and motifs maybe similar, but are never quite the same. Styles vary from place to place, and from people to people.

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 Notah (Ute people) lived freely throughout western Colorado and eastern Utah until about 1880, when they were forced onto reservations.

DATING 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 A.D. 1540 when the Spaniards reintroduced the horse to the New World. The presence of bows and arrows is presumed to indicate a date after A.D. 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.

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