Ref - Nevada Site Stewardship Program (NSSP)

Nevada Archaeological Sites Stewards:

The Nevada State Historic Preservation Officer has created a full-time, permanent position for a statewide Site Steward Program Coordinator who hosts at least four annual training sessions. In the BLM Carson City District alone, there are over 70 site stewards monitoring about 60 sites under the direction of two volunteer regional coordinators who have contributed more than 1,400 volunteer hours over the past five years. The Nevada program hosts at least four annual training sessions. More information is available on their website: http://www.nevadasitestewards.org. BLM Contact: Tom Burke, BLM Nevada Deputy Preservation Officer (t1burke@blm.gov).

Who Volunteers? Site stewards come from a number of backgrounds and represent citizens who are interested in preserving the cultural resources in their area. One does not need any particular expertise to volunteer, as training is provided. Often, public land visitors learn of the program when they contact BLM about a vandalized site. Their interest and determination to help is all they need to qualify.

Once volunteers become interested, often they become enthusiasts, giving long hours to the program. Shirley and the late George Craig of St. George, Utah, for example, started documenting ancient rock art in evenings and on weekends. Soon their daughter Amy became interested and before long, they were named regional site steward coordinators. Their work was recognized by the State of Arizona and in the National Making a Difference volunteer awards ceremony in 1999. Ray and Juanita Huber of St. George, Utah, performed more than 6,000 hours each over seven years as regional site steward coordinators. They also advised Utah and Nevada as these states set up programs modeled after Arizona. Their contributions were recognized last year at the National Take Pride in America Awards ceremony in Washington D.C. BLM volunteer Alvin McLane recorded more than 120 separate cultural sites in the Dry Lake Area of northwestern Nevada, where he started a full scale monitoring program. He was recognized in the BLM’s Making a Difference volunteer award ceremony in 2004. Countless site steward volunteers receive local recognition as well. For example, Darrel and Terry Wade recently received recognition by BLM’s Ely, Nevada, District Office for their exceptional contributions in starting a state-wide program.

Learning the Ropes: Training Site steward volunteers attend training courses to prepare them for field work. While this includes training on cultural history and archaeology, much of the instruction focuses on field techniques, survey and mapping, using a compass and important safety issues. In some areas, volunteers must learn about desert survival and dealing with hazards such as military ordnance, abandoned mine shafts and possible illegal activities in remote areas. But this does not deter them.

What Do Site Stewards Do? Site Stewards keep an eye on archaeological sites in danger of vandalism or natural deterioration. With so many sites, monitoring priorities must be set. Generally, sites deemed most vulnerable are given highest priority. These are typically large, easily accessible, or prominent, known sites.

Their mission is to monitor conditions of the resources and report these to a professional archaeologist with jurisdiction over the site. They use observations, field notes, drawings, and/or photography to record changes over time. By detecting changes early on, problems can be addressed more efficiently. In Nevada, site stewards detected four unauthorized uses of archaeological resources in the first 18 months of the program.

Site Stewards also assist in surveying and mapping. They even collect oral histories in some cases. Many site stewards provide educational outreach programs that increase awareness of the importance and lasting value of cultural resources, and encourage understanding and respect for the cultural diversity of the area.

Ref - Rock Art of the Nevada Great Basin

Manuscript titled, "Rock Art of the Nevada Great Basin" written by Kenneth C. Clarke

NOTE - This is a working DRAFT and is nowhere near being finished - NOTE


As a hiker and lover of nature, living in Nevada has exposed me to a vast number of rock art sites over the past several years. The more sites I encountered, the more became my interest in studying them and in trying to learn their history and meaning. As many other visitors to these sacred places, I have become sickened and appalled by the amount of graffiti  found at many of these sites. One of my reasons for writing this manuscript is to help educate those who may have a desire to leave their mark on the landscape, in the hope that they may begin to realize the significant importance these sites hold in helping us to learn and understand our past. That even the slightest harm or alteration to any site can cause damage that may prevent archeologists  from determining their age and meaning. That these sites need all the help we can give them, and that by acting responsibly we all can act as caretakers and stewards, thereby helping to preserve them for future generations.

Having had no formal training or education in the fields related to the study of rock art, I in no way profess to be an expert in the knowledge's required to provide any scientific analyses of their understanding or meanings. What I did begin to realize from my reading of books and papers on rock art, written by amateurs and professionals alike, is that much of what is written is often nothing more than one persons hypothesis and conjecture – their best guess of what they think about who authored it or what it means versus what they actually know or can prove. As more and more of these sites have finally begun to receive the attention of archaeologists, anthropologists, and other professionals, coupled with new and improved scientific dating methods, we are slowly inching our way toward a deeper understanding of who may have created them, when they were created, and for what purpose. What I have attempted to do here, is to use the words of others, coupled with some of my own personal interpretations, to greatly summarize the vast amount of available information for general consumption, thereby providing a broader understanding for the majority of today’s observers who might have the same casual interest as myself.

(Fig. 01)
During the writing of my book, Nevada Rock Art – Petroglyph Sites In & Around Clark County, I continued to visit and explore new sites. Though my original goal was to provide information on the dozen or so sites that I had visited, the more I found, the more I realized that the scope of this original work was only scratching the surface of what is out there. Also, the more I researched Great Basin in particular (Fig. 01), the more I realized that I needed to expand the scope of my study to include the sites and cultures on the outer fringes of the Great Basin in order to help understand who may have created the rock art central to Nevada’s Great Basin.

Still wanting to restrict my coverage of sites specific to the state of Nevada, it was this understanding that led me to use the title, Rock Art of the Nevada Great Basin. I have created this manuscript for anyone whose imagination has been captured by these intriguing markings. I have covered a wide range of basic information concerning the field of rock art study. I also cover the laws protecting rock art as well as tips on how to preserve it. There is a directory containing pictures and information on many of Nevada’s best known Great Basin rock art sites that will take you into never-ending mountain ranges, awe-inspiring canyons, and magnificent desert settings. The more you ponder; Why was it made?, What was it purpose?, Why was it placed in this specific location?, When was it made?, and Who made it?, the clearer it will become that even some of the simplest questions are surprisingly difficult to answer. However, as you begin to visit more and more sites, your experiences and enjoyment will he greatly enriched as you increase your knowledge and understanding of rock art and the people who made it.


Ancient societies have been leaving telltale signs of their existence in the form of rock art for thousands of years. In fact, petroglyphs discovered on the west side of Nevada's dried-up Winnemucca Lake in western Nevada are between 10,500 to 14,800 years old, making them the oldest rock art ever dated in North America. Who may have made them is a mystery, though the older date roughly corresponds to the estimated time of the first human migrations into North America. Is it possible that the authors of this rock art were the early ancestors of today’s Northern Paiute, one of the primary Native American tribes of the Great Basin. Prior to the 20th century, these indigenous Great Basin peoples were predominantly hunters and gatherers whose existence dates back to at least the early archaic period, between 7000-4000 BC. In recent years, as more and more rock art sites have been discovered and made public, there has been a growing public interest in archaeology in general and rock art in the form of petroglyphs & pictographs in particular. This wider population of observers have developed the desire to understand the origins and meanings of these images created by ancient Native Americans. Only in the last few decades have American archaeologists begun to give rock art the attention it deserves. Even with this new attention to the subject, there are considerable differences of opinion with respect to the various methods used in the studying, dating and interpreting of rock art. The good news is that new and improved scientific techniques for studying and dating rock art are beginning to have a positive effect on helping us to understand when they were created, who may have created them, and in helping to understand their meaning. As more and more sites have been discovered over the past 40 years, archeological studies and comparisons of rock art found in different regions have begun to provide information that has expanded our understanding of its meanings. Studies of rock art sites have indicated that some appear to have been ceremonial sites and therefore contain motifs or designs that have some type of sacred religious knowledge. It has been speculated that some panels have been used to mark game trails or provide information specific to the hunting of game. Some believe that they are a marking of cultural territories or boundaries. Some believe that various elements are astronomical markers pertaining to such phenomena as the solstices and equinoxes. Even though no one can say with any certainly what this rock art means, it can be assumed that it was deeply significant to those who created it. Though we may never be sure of their actual meaning or intent, each year continued archaeological research and study brings us a little closer to understanding some of these rich cultural resources.
As I began my research into Nevada’s rock art, I was surprised to learn how little information was available. Even though there are more than 1,200 known sites in Nevada’s Great Basin, with several containing hundreds, if not thousands of individual engravings, it seems that as a state, it has never been given anywhere near the attention of those found in the neighboring states of California, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Granted, we may have less sites than any of these other states, but that does not diminish their importance. It is interesting to note that a site near Nevada’s Pyramid Lake has what have been confirmed to be the oldest recorded petroglyphs in North America. Though most studies and publications seem restricted to only the most popular sites, such as Grapevine Canyon, Sloan Canyon and the area of Valley of Fire and the Pahranagat Valley in Lincoln County, they seem completely devoid of the Gold Butte region, which I personally think has some of the best glyphs found anywhere in the entire state. Of the books and references available, most only show pictures of glyphs found at various sites and offer very little information relative to who may have created them. Obviously this lack of attention by the scientific community makes learning about the creators of Nevada’s rock art all that more difficult.
One of the most difficult things I struggled in trying to write this manuscript was how to organize the information that I had culled from numerous book readings and Internet searches. I hope that you find that its final layout provides you with an organized read that answers some of the many questions you may have had about the rock art sites that you have visited throughout Nevada’s Great Basin. With more than 1200 petroglyphs sites in Nevada alone, again I have only begun to touch the surface of what is out there to explore, however, because many are so remote, inaccessible and unknown to local residents, visitors and academic researchers, the sites I have listed in the final chapter are only some of the more well known and easily accessible.

Table of Contents


CHAPTER 01" - Great Basin Geography

        The Big Picture - North American Rock Art Areas
        What is the Great Basin?
CHAPTER 02 – What is Rock Art?
         Defining Rock Art:
CHAPTER 03 – How is Rock Art Made?
Petroglyphs, Pictographs & Geoglyphs
         What Types of Rocks Are Used?
         Where Can Rock Art Be Found?

CHAPTER 04 – Understanding The History of Rock Art:
         Why Was Rock Art Made?
         When was It Made?
              The Paleo-Indian Period (12000-9000 BC)
              The Great Basin Archaic Period (9000 BC-1600 AD)
                    Early Archaic (9000-4000 BC)
                    Middle Archaic (4000 BC- to 550 AD)
                    Late Archaic (550-1800 AD)
                         The Fremont (500-1450 AD)
                          Virgin River Anasazi (750-1500 AD)
CHAPTER 05 – Determining Who Created the Great Basin’s Rock Art?        
              Using Ethnographic Study:
                   Who Made Up The Great Basin Cultures?
              Using Anthropology and Archaeology:
              Using Rock Art Styles:
                   Great Basin Rock Art Styles:
                   Pit-and-Groove Style:
                   Great Basin Pecked Style:
                   Great Basin Representational Style
                         Great Basin Abstract Curvilinear Style:
                         Great Basin Rectilinear Style:

CHAPTER 06 – Dating Rock Art?
             Methods Used to Date Rock Art:
             Relative Dating:
                Ethnographic study:
             Absolute Dating Dating Methods:
                Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) 14C radiocarbon dating:
                Cation-ration (CR) dating:
                X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis:
                Varnish microlamination (VML) dating:

CHAPTER 07 – The Search For Meaning:
         Why Was Rock Art Made?

         Ethnographic interpretation of Rock Art:
         Finding Meaning:
Spiritual Associations:
Astrological Associations:
Rock Art As A Writing Form:
    What We Think We Know:
   Rock Art Sites in the Nevada Great Basin:

CHAPTER 01 – Great Basin Geography

Geologically, the study of western rock art covers an extensive number of rock art areas, I have limited the scope of this project to that of the Great Basin, which extensively encompasses the entire state of Nevada.

The Big Picture: Studying the geography of the Great Basin, the land, its features and inhabitants, all contribute to a greater understanding of the rock art that is found therein. As you can see from the map (Grant 1983: 8) in (Fig. 01), North America is divided into nine distinct rock art areas: (1) Artic, (2) Northwest Coast, (3) Columbia-Fraser Plateau, (4) Great Basin, (5) California, (6) Southwest, (7) Great Plains, (8) Eastern Woodland, and (9) Northern Woodland. The Great Basin of Nevada is central to five other North American rock are areas. As many of the cultures of the basin’s early inhabitants were hunter-gatherers, they often had to travel great distances in search of food and animals vital to their survival. This overlap of cultures makes the studying of surrounding rock art areas an absolute necessity in trying to determine who may have created Nevada’s rock art.

What is the Great Basin? The term "Great Basin" was first used by Lieutenant John C. Fremont in 1844 to describe the internal drainage pattern of the region (Cline 1963:214-215; Fremont 1845:274-276). However, this name is misleading. The region is not one large basin, but contains over 150 enclosed basins that are separated by more than 160 mountain ranges (Syner, Hardman, and Zdenek 1964). Though the specific boundaries of the Great Basin (Fig. 01) region are subjective and vary according to who you are talking to, it is generally agreed that it encompasses the entire state of Nevada and stretches to California’s Sierra Nevada on the west, the Columbia Plateau on the north, the Rocky Mt's. on the northeast, the Colorado Plateau on the east, and the Mojave Desert on the south.
     The climate of the Great Basin Desert is affected by the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains. It is a temperate desert with hot, dry summers and snowy winters. The valleys are dominated by sagebrush and shadescale. The biologic communities on the mountain ranges differ with elevation, and the individual ranges act as islands isolated by seas of desert vegetation. Because the Great Basin exhibits such drastic elevation changes from its valleys to its peaks, the region supports an impressive diversity of species, from those adapted to the desert to those adapted to forest and alpine environments.

One of the best descriptions of the topographical features and scenic grandeur of the Great Basin was written in 1585 by I.C. Russell, a professional geographer. Among other things, he commented on the distinctive qualities of the region:
"In the crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific, between the Mexican boundary and the central portion of Oregon. one finds a region, bounded by the Sierra Nevada on the west and the Rocky Mountain system on the east, that stands in marked contrast in nearly all its scenic features with the remaining portions of the United States. The traveler in this region is no longer surrounded by the open, grassy parks and heavily timbered mountains of the Pacific slope, or by the rounded and flowing outlines of the forest-crowned Appalachians, and the scenery suggests naught of the boundless plains east of the Rocky Mountains or of the rich savannas of the Gulf Slates. He must compare it rather to the parched and desert areas of Arabia and the shores of the Dead Sea and the Caspian.
The bare mountains reveal their structure almost at a glance, and show distinctly the many varying tints of their naked rocks. Their richness oi color is sometimes marvelous, especially when they are composed oi the purple trachytes, the deep-colored rhyolites. and the many-hued volcanic tuffs so common in western Nevada. Not infrequently a range of volcanic mountains will exhibit as many brilliant tints as are assumed by the New England hills in autumn. On the desert valleys the scenery is monotonous in the extreme, yet has a desolate grandeur of its own, and at times, especially at sunrise and at sunset, great richness of color. At mid-day in summer the heat becomes intense. and the mirage gives strange elusive shapes to the landscape. and offers false premises of water and shade where the experienced traveler knows there is nothing but the glaring plain. When the sun is high in the cloudless heavens and one is far out in the desert at a distance from rocks and trees, there is a lack of shadow and an absence of relief in the landscape that makes the distance deceptive - the mountains appearing near at hand instead of leagues away — and cause one to fancy that there is no single source oi light, but that the distant ranges and the desert surfaces are self-luminous. The glare of the noonday sun conceals rather than reveals the grandeur of this rugged land, but in the early morning and the near sunset the slanting light brings out mountain range after mountain range in bold relief, and reveals a world of sublimity. As the sun sinks behind the western peaks and the shades at evening grow deeper and deeper on the mountains, every ravine and canyon becomes a fathomless abyss of purple haze. shrouding the bases of gorgeous towers and battlements that seem encrusted with a mosaic more brilliant and intricate than the work of Venetian artists. As the light fades and the twilight deepens. the mountains lose their detail and become sharply outlined silhouettes, drawn in the deepest and richest purpose against a brilliant sky." (5)
     In summary, its 200,000 square mile area measures approximately 880 miles in length from north to south and nearly 570 miles in width at it broadest part. In terms of its geological background, many scientists have characterized the ranges and valleys of the great Basin as huge blocks of the earth's crusts, which have been uplifted, dropped, and tilted. It is comprised of a series of more than 90 basins separated from one another by more than 160 north-south mountain ranges . Its mountain ranges have peaks commonly reaching above 9,000 feet. These ranges are separated by flat valleys or basins. These hundreds of ranges make Nevada the most mountainous state in the country.

CHAPTER 02 – What is Rock-Art?

Defining Rock Art:  The term “rock-art” is an archaeological term for any man-made markings made on natural stone. The more general term of rock-art includes three generally accepted types of ancient image creation: petroforms (geoglyphs) (motifs created on the ground), pictographs [paintings onto rock surfaces], and petroglyphs [carvings into rock surfaces]. Though this broad cover term appears in published literature as early as the 1940s, it is often misleading. "All in all, use of the word art in talking about rock-art subtly puts it into a category where it really does not belong. To avoid misleading implications, many people find the words petroglyph, pictograph and geoglyph- terms that are based on how the marks were made - more appropriate." (3) These stone markings have also been described as "rock carvings", "rock drawings", "rock engravings", "rock inscriptions", "rock paintings", "rock pictures", "rock records", “rock writings”, “picture writing”, “pictographic art”,  and "rock sculptures.

     Rock art is a form of visual, non-verbal communication and is one of the oldest cultural resources in the world which depicts the earliest expression of human beliefs and ideas. A defining characteristic of rock art is that it is placed on natural rock surfaces. As such, rock art is a form of landscape art, and includes designs that have been placed on boulder and cliff faces, cave walls and ceilings, and on the ground surface. Traditionally, individual markings are called motifs and groups of motifs are known as panels. Sequences of panels are treated as archaeological sites. This method of classifying rock art however has become less popular as the structure imposed is unlikely to have had any relevance to the art's creators. Even the word 'art' carries with it many modern prejudices about the purpose of the features. Created by a wide variety of cultures across a diversity of geographical locations, rock art may have been used to mark territory, to record historical events or stories, to record astrological occurrences or to help enact spiritual rituals. While some art seems to depict real events, many other examples are apparently entirely abstract. Prehistoric rock depictions were not purely descriptive. Though it is highly probable that each motif and design had a "deep significance" to those who created it, it is not always understandable to modern scholars.

     There are many theories as to whether rock are is simply “art” that was created by someone “passing the time”, or was intended to be a type of language used in the describing of events or the telling of a story. I personally tend to subscribe to the latter theory, that it is a form of language used to tell a story or describe a spiritual experience.

CHAPTER 03 – How is Rock Art Made?

There are actually many more different forms of rock art than I first realized, some more common than others. Petroglyphs are the most common, due to their more permanent nature. Depending upon the rock used, they are either deeply cut, abraded or otherwise scratched into a rocks surface.

The most common petroglyphs are those that have been made by scratching, etching, abrading the rocks' surface, or desert varnish. "Rock varnish or desert varnish is a glossy black, brown or orangish-brown layer on the surface of many rocks ... Rock varnish is commonly associated with arid regions, but in actuality, it occurs worldwide in many environments. It is of great interest in rock-art study because the majority of petroglyphs use geological surfaces darkened by rock varnish. An explanation for the formation of rock varnish eluded scientists for many decades, but the process is now better understood. It does not result from weathering of the underlying rock, or from a chemical change on its surface. It is, instead, an accretion - a thin overlying layer, usually less than half a millimeter thick, composed of mineral particles that have been transported from elsewhere, deposited on the rock surface, and cemented in place."(3) Unfortunately, depending upon the surface that they were created on, and its exposure to the natural effects of age, rain, wind and other climatic conditions, many of these sites have experienced extreme degradation.

This is even more true for Pictographs, the second most common form of rock art. Pigments have worn away and mineralization has re-patinated surfaces, rendering the images ever fainter. Heat and cold have caused crumbling and exfoliation while falling rocks have broken away designs from their original locations. Plants taking root in cracks, lichen growth, and mosses covering surfaces eventually break down rock and its images. Because pictographs are so easily degradable, they are much harder to find.

Finally, the most rarest form of rock art are Geoglyphs, largeground paintings created by the arrangement of stones or other earth objects. In spite of all the things that can cause degradation, it is remarkable how well many of the symbols and designs made thousands of years ago have survived.

Geoglyphs or intaglios are made by moving or arranging stones or earth or other objects within a landscape to outline an image. Similar in idea to "crop circles", these giant ground paintings depict geometric designs, human form and animal figures that are best seen from the air. According to another definition that “a large motif (usually > 4m.) or design produced on the ground, either by arranging clasts (Positive geoglyph, stone arrangement/alignment, petroforms, earth mound) or by removing patinated clasts to expose unpatented ground (Negative geoglyphs). This type of rock art is very rare.

Pictographs (also known as “rock paintings”) on the other hand, are images that are painted onto the rocks, using brushes, fingers or even spray painted with the mouth. Because one had more control in their creation, they are often more graphic and detailed than petroglyphs. The predominantly used colors are red, black and white. Once the pigments had been obtained, they would be ground and mixed with a liquid, such as water, blood, urine, or egg yolk, and then applied to the stone as paint using a brush, fingers, or a stamp. Sometimes it was blown on using reeds. Alternately, the pigment could have been applied on dry, such as with a stick of charcoal. Because this type of rock art is easily degradable due to the effects of age and its exposure to the natural elements of weather, very few examples remain today, mostly inside caves or well protected areas.

Petroglyphs (also called rock engravings), on the other hand, are the most common form of rock art. They are a form of extractive art, pictogram and logogram images that are designs, carved, abraded or otherwise cut into cliffs, boulders, bedrock, or any natural rock surface, like: relief art, engravings, hammering, chiseling, abrading, incising, pecking, battering, gouging, scratching, dotting and etching. Most often a small hard stone was used (direct percussion) to carve or scratch the rock surface by incising, picking, carving, and abrading. Sometimes hammer-stones and stone chisels (indirect percussion) were used. In soft sandstone they could be simply scratched into the surface (incised). Because the grooves making up designs are usually not very deep, they can often be very difficult to see. They are best viewed when the sun is at a low angle to the rock, usually early or late in the day. As with pictographs, natural deterioration from elements such as rain, wind, heat, and cold have had their effect on Native American rock art.

What Types of Rocks Are Used? The type of rock used to create rock art does not seem to be the basis for choosing where it was made. Petroglyphs and pictographs are found on all of the regions most common lithic materials — sandstone, limestone, basalt, andesite, tuff, granite, among others  — and there is no correlation between geological classification and the style or subject matter of the rock art.

Where Can Rock Art Be Found? The location of the rocks was clearly a key factor in rock art creation. It was created at locations seen as significant and important, and the recognition of a place as significant almost certainly preceded the making of rock-art there. There is no reason to believe that rock-art makers searched the countryside for suitable "canvases" on which to produce their “artwork.” Within a locale where rock-an was to be made, surface color was an important factor in the selection of particular rocks. For petroglyphs, a rock with a dark coating of varnish was almost always chosen, as the strong color contrast between the outer layer of varnish and the light-colored inner rock enhanced the visibility of the designs. For pictographs, light-colored rock was most often used, which allowed the colored designs to stand out clearly. Flat and smooth surfaces also seem to have been preferred — though not required. Pictographs are generally painted on smooth, naturally flat expanses, which sometimes were smoothed even further before the application of paint. Petroglyph makers, too, favored rocks that weren't
extremely rough and bumpy — a|though exceptions are easy to findsRock art appears in a very wide range of settings, but these locations were certainly not chosen arbitrarily. Researchers believe that most rock art was made at special places of cultural or spiritual importance. Today, we consider these places important and significant because of the petroglyphs or pictographs that are there. ln the past, however, recognition of the importance of these locations most likely preceded the making of rock-art. The rock-art was probably made because of the site's special nature—perhaps as part of some activity associated with its importance. Thus, an underlying significance seems to define rock-art sites — and one clue we have to a place's value for past peoples is the existence of the rock-art. There really is no “best” way to approach an understanding of the places where petroglyphs and pictographs were made. However, whatever your perspective, your appreciation of rock art sites will be powerfully enriched by enlarging your view — literally. (Rock-Art of the Southwest - Elizabeth Welsh, 2000; 28-29)
The aboriginal peoples around the world have a long history of creating rock art. Examples can be found on rocks and inside caves on every continent. In North America, specifically in California and the surrounding Northwest regions, archaeological evidence suggests that settlement began in the Paleo-Indian period (approximately 12,000-8,000 YBP, or “years before present”), with the greatest use of the area occurring 2,600 to 1,000 YBP. In the Northwest these areas have been classified into specific regions; Great Basin, Colorado River Region, Virgin River and the Four Corners. Though ancient peoples in each of these regions may have been responsible the the creation of rock art, climatic conditions and their life-styles often caused them to travel, resulting in an overlapping of rock art styles. As an example, rock art found in what is generally considered Nevada’s Great Basin, may have been created by ancient peoples and cultures from its neighboring regions and vice versa.

CHAPTER 04 – Understanding Geologic History of Rock Art:

When Was It Made? As you can well imagine, many factors must be considered in trying to date rock, all of which make it an extremely difficult process. One of the first steps is obtaining an understanding of the physical environment in which indigenous peoples had to live and how it affected their lifestyles. Classifying these factors helps us to begin building a timeline that chronicles their existence. Each of these periods contain important geographic and climatic changes that affected human habitation. Though the exact dates often differ, the descriptive terms used below to identify environmental and cultural periods are generally accepted by most scholars.

12,000-9,000 BC

The Paleo-Indian Period . People have lived in the Great Basin for a very long time. The earliest evidence of occupation has been found along the shorelines of the once extensive system of ancient Ice Age lakes and dates to around 12,000 years ago. Sites have been found indicating that the earliest people to inhabit the Great Basin were the Paleo-Indians. Few in number, they were highly mobile, and left few traces of their passing. They were small hunting groups following the mammoth, bison, camel and horse herds. But from the little they did leave behind, it appears that although they were contemporary with the Clovis tradition peoples to the east, they did not follow the Clovis big-game hunting subsistence pattern. Instead, they tended to be more broad and eclectic in their dietary patterns, using a wide range of resources.

9,000 BC-1800 AD

The Great Basin Archaic Period (from about years ago to Contact with Europeans). At the end of the Pleistocene, the climate changed from relatively wet and cool to much warmer and drier, leading to the disappearance of most of the lakes and an abandonment of the area by many animal species. People had three choices: following the retreating animals, or attempt to maintain the old ways in the face of declining food resource, or adapt by creating new forms of settlement, subsistence practices and technologies compatible with desert conditions. We know that the latter option was in place by at least 10,000 years ago in northwestern Utah and by at least 9,400 years ago in western Nevada. Abundant milling equipment dating back to 10,000 years ago indicates that by then people were beginning to utilize the abundant hard seeds and nuts found throughout the Great Basin. As the climate continued to warm up and most of the lakes and marshes dried up, Basin groups adopted far more complex settlement patterns that had them making use of semi-permanent winter base camps with basic storage facilities -- a pattern that would remain essentially unchanged all the way into the middle of the 19th century. The Great Basin Archaic is divided into three major time periods:

9,000 to 4,000 BC

  • Early Archaic - People continued a general hunting and gathering economy, scheduling their movements across the landscape to coincide with the availability of resources. In some regions of the Great Basin, such as around the Great Salt Lake in Utah, people made extensive use of dry cave sites. Such sites remained completely dry until modern times and provide an exceptional record of Archaic life containing, as they do, a wealth of human accumulations: stone and bone artifacts and food remains, objects made of hide, fur, feathers, horn, sinew, grass, wood, bark, even desiccated human feces (which document actual meals eaten thousands of years ago). Some caves, such as Spirit Cave near Fallon, Nevada, even contained human burials which have allowed scientists to "see" what these earliest inhabitants of the Great Basin look like. Also preserved were a rabbit fur robe, two shrouds of woven tule reeds, and well-worn moccasins of three kinds of animal hide, sewn with hemp and sinew, and patched on the soles.
  • Middle Archaic - During this period the climate became cooler and wetter. Some lakes were reestablished, extensive marshlands reappeared, plants and animals returned. There were relatively few technological or subsistence changes, although in some locations people tended towards increasingly diverse exploitation of food resources. Local populations increased and people now tended to repeatedly occupy winter base camps and seasonal resource procurement camps. Trade in marine shells from the Pacific coast (which had begun during the Early Archaic), and in other exotics became increasingly important. While mountain sheep hunting was important in the Central region, and medium-game hunting and seed collecting were the focus of subsistence practices on the Sierra Nevada slopes, people living along lakeshores and marshes increased their exploitation of lake resources. The abundance and diversity of lake and marsh resources made it possible for people to live in the same area for most of the year. Implements found in this "Great Basin Desert Archaic Period" include milling stones.
  • Late Archaic – This period ranged from about 1,500 years ago when the climate again turned warmer and drier, much like it is today, and lasted until the native populations were overwhelmed by American settlers in the late 1800s. At the beginning of Late Archaic, the bow and arrow replaced the spear and atlatl, while pottery appeared about 1,015 AD. At the same time, people began to use much more elaborate plant processing equipment (indicating, perhaps, new subsistence strategies involving a more diverse resource base), and small game (rabbits, hares) assumed great important. Some anthropologists believe that these new cultural features may be related to the expansion into the Great Basin of groups speaking Numic languages. Certain Numic speaking populations living in southern California began spreading northward into the Great Basin around 1,000 years ago and by the time of European contact they had occupied the entire Great Basin. 500-800 A.D. The Fremont Culture emerged, leaving behind well-preserved sites indicating agricultural activity as well as hunting and gathering. By the 1300's Numic-speaking peoples entered the Great Basin -- the ancestors of present day Western Shoshone and the Southern and Northern Paiute peoples.
    • The Fremont - This was a period that has been classified as the Fremont (a term which subsumes a number of regional variants). In the eastern and southern Great Basin area, in the region of Utah, these "farmers" practiced a mix of hunting, gathering and horticulture. They cultivated maize, beans, and squash, lived in fairly substantial houses of round pole-and-brush framework built over shallow excavated floors, kept their surplus food in well-built storage chambers made of adobe or stone, either above-ground or in pits, made pottery, and depicted ritual and war parties in rock pictographs. They also hunted bison and captured waterfowl and by 1015AD had succeeded in breeding a stable, high-yield maize. Then shortly before 600 years ago, they disappeared, perhaps as a result of climatic changes.
    • Virgin River Anasazi - Somewhat similarly, in the southern Great Basin, farmers from the Southwestern Culture Area, began occupying southern Nevada. Like the Fremont, these Virgin River Anasazi as they are called, were successful for a time, but then they too disappeared, replaced by the Southern Paiute.
  • This period is often referred to as the Contact Period - Europeans first entered the Great Basin in the late 1700s - the Southern Paiute were contacted by Spanish explorers in 1776, and the Northern Shoshone were encountered by Lewis and Clark in 1805. During the early1800s other parts of the Great Basin were explored by Europeans, primarily trappers and traders. Then in 1843, John Frémont crossed the Basin from east to west, demonstrating the feasibility of the crossing and opening the way for the establishment of immigrant routes to Oregon and California. After 1840, immigrants increasingly passed through the Great Basin, and some even stayed. The Mormons migrated to Utah in the 1840s and by the 1860s American ranchers had taken over most of the valleys for cattle ranching. Between 1846 and 1906, a total of 39 formal treaties and agreements were signed with Great Basin groups, each one making many promises as well as creating reservations. By the late 1800s, the government had established some 20 reservations, but often failed to provide essential materials that had been promised. Consequently, many of the native peoples either left the reservations or remained on them and starved to death

CHAPTER 05 – Determining Who Created the Great Basin’s
Rock Art?

There is no person that has ever stood in front of a rock art panel that hasn’t asked themselves the questions; Why was it made?, Who made it?, When was it made?, and more importantly, What does it mean?.

Summary of Nevada PrehistoryPeoples first entered Nevada and the Great Basin some 12,000 to 10,000 years ago as the Ice Age ended and glaciers across North America finally receded. The region was wetter than today’s climate, with residual Pleistocene lakes, marshes, and wetlands that slowly dried up as the climate changed to a warmer and drier regime, until by 7,000 years ago the large Pleistocene Lakes had dried up. During this period 12,000-7,000 (known as the Paleoarchaic), Nevada was only sparsely settled, with early hunter-foragers focusing on big-game hunting and harvesting the resources of wetlands; settlement appears concentrated on lakes and wetlands. Many parts of the state appear to have only been used for sporadic foraging expeditions and population densities were probably low. Most archaeological remains are of hunting and foraging sites, and characteristic tool types include stemmed projectile points (hafted as spears), large bifacial knives, choppers, and steep edge scrapers.

During the period 7,000-4,000 years ago (Early Archaic) the environment began changing to more arid conditions. Many lakeside marshes disappeared and desert shrubs expanded into lower elevations. Settlement became more permanent and repeated throughout the region and economic strategies diversified according to regional environmental variables. During the winter, populations concentrated in valley floors or near permanent water sources. Use of the spear for hunting appears to have been replaced in favor of large dart points hurled from atlatls or spear-throwers. Milling equipment (manos and metates) become more common, indicated that seeds, tubers, and other plants were harvested.

From 4,000-1,500 years ago (Middle Archaic) it appears that a wider variety of plants and animals were harvested as natural resources were more intensively exploited as populations increased and seasonal rounds became more territorially established. A wider range of milling tools appears in the archaeological record. Caches of artifacts and other materials indicate that storage at times played an important role in decisions about residential mobility, with preferred places repeatedly revisited. Exchange in marine shell and obsidian becomes evident and mastery of textiles is displayed in surviving baskets and other tools made from cordage.

From 1,500 years ago to the period of contact with Euro-Americans in the nineteenth century (Late Archaic), significant environmental, settlement, and technological changes are witnessed, with regional semi-horticultural economies emerging in eastern and southern Nevada. The climate changed toward warmer and drier conditions that characterize the modern climate. Bow and arrow technology was introduced from the west, evidenced by smaller projectile points. Economic practices relied on hunting small mammals and harvesting plants and seeds; milling equipment becomes more elaborate and more frequent at Late Archaic camp sites. Pottery begins to be made around 900 years ago.

In southern and eastern Nevada, economies with variable reliance on horticulture (maize cultivation) and harvesting wild resources develop. In southern Nevada these were apparently introduced from the southwest and mark an Ancestral Puebloan presence, evidenced by distinctive pottery, pit-houses, and above ground architecture. In eastern Nevada, semi-horticultural economies appear to be influenced by the Fremont cultures to the east in Utah. These are also characterized by distinctive domestic architecture (pit houses and above ground structures) but harvesting wild resources seems to have played an important role in their economic practices in addition to horticulture. Both the Ancestral Puebloan and Fremont presences in Nevada are associated with distinctive rock art portrayals of the human form.

Around 700 years ago, the Ancestral Puebloan and Fremont economies are replaced by economies focused on hunter-foraging (though in ethnographic times, some cultural groups in the south and the east did tend gardens), and some Great Basin archaeologists have suggested that this is when the ancestors of most modern Indian Peoples settled Nevada. It is equally possible that changes in material culture recorded in the archaeological record reflect endogenous social and economic changes in response to climatic fluctuations, shifting distributions of animal and plant species, and influences from neighboring cultures. Future research may help determine whether these social and cultural changes are discernible in the themes and styles of Nevada rock art. (5) 

Great Basin Peoples: An area of interior drainage that spans most of Nevada, the Great Basin demanded sophisticated but portable knowledge and technology of its inhabitants to successfully live in this arid environment. The early inhabitants of the Great Basin are classified as foragers, or hunter-gatherers, by anthropologists. Their way of life was characterized by small groups of people moving across the landscape following known and predictable seasonal harvests of non-domesticated animals and plants. These small groups built shelter of minimally processed materials (such as sagebrush or tree branches); used implements and wore clothing woven from available fibers (willow, grasses, and reeds) and hides (rabbit, deer, and mountain sheep); shaped stone tools from local quarries (obsidian and chert) and bone tools from butchered animals; utilized local bedrock for grinding of seeds and nuts; and kept their most valuable tool, knowledge, within their prodigious memories, aided by song, story and myth. Artistic and social expression found outlet in daily artifacts, verbal arts, and—the most enduring form—rock art.

Foragers are often described as living in an egalitarian social structure, or at least the most egalitarian social structure known among human beings. Even among a group of equals, however, the division of labor followed gender lines (men hunt: women gather), and a group of semi-specialists emerged, the so-named shaman or Indian doctor. At its heart, however, the forager life way required that all contribute direct labor to the business of living.

Small populations, high mobility, and complex oral knowledge allowed the Great Basin Indians to live in a vast expanse of land that was among the last to be colonized by Euro-Americans. Unified by a basic life way but separated by language and regional adaptations, the tribes of the Great Basin narrate their own history as having been in place since the beginning of time. Archaeologists, however, suggest that the current tribes may have entered the Great Basin somewhere around 1500 years ago, replacing an earlier population of people.

One of the more intriguing conundrums in the study of rock art is the scarcity of ethnographic information about its creation and use. Various methods of relative dating indicate that most rock art dates from around five thousand to one thousand years ago, suggesting perhaps that it was the earlier population of inhabitants who created most of the rock art seen today. Other clues buried in the earliest ethnographies suggest, however, that the highly socialized and ritualized functions of rock art may have been among the earliest knowledge to get lost during Euro-American encounters and subsequent colonization.

Regardless of who made it or when, the enduring monumental form of rock art continues today to inspire and attract many visitors from diverse backgrounds across the globe. Whether a forager from five thousand or five hundred years ago, the makers of these sites left us priceless marks of their time on earth. As you visit these great outdoor galleries, put yourself in footprints thousands of years old and treat these masterpieces with the reverence and respect they deserve. (5) 

Numerous fields of study, including the study of styles, scientific dating methods, and the study of ancient cultures, are all part of the picture when it comes to determining who may have created specific rock art sites. However, the three most common fields of study used to determine who made the rock art are; Ethnography, Anthropology, and Archaeology.
Using Ethnographic study:  is a qualitative approach that studies the cultural patterns and perspectives of participants in their natural setting for the purpose of describing, analyzing and interpreting of a cultural group over time to understand their shared beliefs, behavior and language. This is often achieved by collecting data using many sources such as interviews, observations and artifacts. Culture can be defined as a patterned behavior or way of life of a group of people. Some of the elements of culture then are the common habits, customs, traditions, histories, and geographies—everything that connect the members of the culture together and defines them. Enthnography is the systematic study of people and cultures by observing society from the point of view of the subject of the study. The typical ethnography is a holistic study and so includes a brief history, and an analysis of the terrain, the climate, and the habitat. The collection of data from the presumed descendants of the rock art’s authors can often go a long way in helping to both date and define the rock art.

Who Made Up the Great Basin Cultures? There are forms of rock art on every continent, all over the world. Here in America they have been found in almost every state, though the vast majorities are in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and California, each of whom have thousands of sites. Nevada alone is home to more than 1,200 identified rock art sites. Archaeological evidence of primitive habitation in the Great Basin has been found in sites along the shore of prehistoric Lake Lahontan, dating from the end of the ice age, 12,000 BC, marking the Great Basin Desert Archaic Period, followed by the time of the Fremont culture to the southeast, who were hunter-gatherers, as well as agriculturalists.
Several distinct tribes have historically occupied the Great Basin; the modern descendants of which are still here today. They are the Western Shoshone, the Goshute, the Ute, the Paiute (often divided into Northern, Southern, and Owens Valley), and the Washoe. With the exception of the Washoe, all the Great Basin tribes are Numic speaking, which means that their languages all belong to the Numic language group and are closely related.
What is known is that some thirteen native "groups" occupied the Great Basin at the time of the earliest European exploration. These groups are defined by linguistic, geographic, and material differences, and are known as the:
  • Washoe (surrounding Lake Tahoe)
  • Northern Paiute (southeastern Oregon and northwestern Nevada)
  • Southern Paiute (southeastern Nevada, northwestern Utah, tiny portion of northwestern Arizona)
  • Owens Valley Paiute (Owens Valley on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains)
  • Panamint Shoshone
  • Northern Shoshone (southern Idaho)
  • Bannock (southern Idaho)
  • Western Shoshone (eastern Nevada and northwestern Utah)
  • Eastern Shoshone (western Wyoming)
  • Gosiute Shoshone
  • Ute (western Colorado and central Utah)
  • Kawaiisu (interior southern deserts of California)
  • Chemehuevi (interior southern desert of California, near the Colorado River)
Using Anthropology and Archaeology: These are the two most common fields of study used in determining who made the rock art: Anthropology is the study of humans and Archaeology is the study of past human cultures through the investigation of physical evidence. Though there are many subdivisions of study for both, when it comes to anthropology, it two main subdivisions are cultural and biological. The dynamic relationships, between what can be observed on the ground, as opposed to what can be observed by compiling many local observations remain fundamental in any kind of anthropology, whether cultural, biological, linguistic or archaeological. Anthropologists typically divide the world up into relevant time periods and geographic regions. Human time on Earth is divided up into relevant cultural traditions based on the most primitive stone tools discovered. Further cultural subdivisions according to tool types help archaeologists and other anthropologists in understanding major trends in the human past. Anthropologists and geographers share approaches to Culture regions as well, since mapping cultures is central to both sciences. By making comparisons across cultural traditions (time-based) and cultural regions (space-based), anthropologists have developed various kinds of comparative methods, a central part of their science.
Using Rock Art Styles: Rock art style refers to the overall impression that the panel of rock art makes on the viewer. It begins with an inventory of the elements used. Are they mostly abstract designs or are there human like or animal like symbols involved? Second, it includes the way the symbols are expressed. Are the human like symbols mere stick figures, or do they have bodies with interior designs and heads with faces, horns, or other appendages? Third, how do these symbols relate to each other in the general pattern? Over time, researchers have ascribed certain rock art styles to given cultures, based on such factors as geographic locations of the rock art and the other indicators of the culture, i.e. ruins, pottery, etc. (1)

As such, the Great Basin is considered a cultural area. A culture area is a concept in cultural anthropology, in which a geographic region and time sequence (age area) is characterized by substantially uniform environment and culture. This concept is criticized by some who argue that the basis for classification is too arbitrary. However, many other researchers disagree and the organization of human communities into cultural areas remains a common practice throughout the social sciences. Classifying rock art from specific geographic regions into “styles” has become another way of helping to determine age, and thereby who may have made it.
Prior to what is known as the “contact period” (Late 1700s to the early 1800s), very little about the occupation of the Great Basin can be determined with any real certainty. Pre-contact aboriginal population figures for the Great Basin are, at best, tentative. Some authorities have placed the total population at 22,000; others suggest a much higher figure, near 45,000 or more. The early occupation of the western Great Basin by hunter-gatherers speaking Numic languages has been one of the most widely discussed classificatory schemes in subsequent North American studies.
One of the current hypotheses for the peopling of the Americas, known as the Coastal Migration Hypothesis, envisions early migrations to the Americas by coastal travelers using boats. It is well known that ancient people have been using boats of some kind for a long time. Archaeological surveys of early sites along the Oregon coast have yielded very little data regarding human habitation in this area prior to 4,000 years ago. Coastal sites tend to be rare because of two factors of physical geography. First, and perhaps most important, is the fact that sea levels have been rising, particularly over the past 18,000 years. During the last ice age when humans would have been first entering the area, the sea levels were (330 feet) lower than they are today. Along the Oregon coast, this means that vast stretches of the continental shelf would have been exposed and the actual coast line would have been several kilometers to the west of its current positions. The camp sites and villages used by the early people are thus underwater today. With people using watercraft living to both the north and the south of the Oregon coast during the period of the Terminal Pleistocene/Early Holocene (13,000 to 7,500 years ago), we would expect human occupation of the Oregon coast during this time. The actual physical data from the archaeological record for this period is, however, a bit scanty (Ojibwa; 2015).

Great Basin Rock Art Styles: Heizer and Baumhoff (1962:197-209) suggested a temporal ordering of five major styles in the western Great Basin, along with suggested dating.
Pit-and-Groove Style: The oldest (assumed to be between 5500 BC to 500 BC) being termed the Pit-and-Groove style. This consists of boulders modified by random depressions or pits, which are sometimes connected by grooves. The pits are also know as cupules. These Pit-and-Groove and faceted boulders are thought to be associated with the Archaic occupations of the Great Basin.
Great Basin Pecked Style: They also recognized the Great Basin Pecked style, which was subdivided into the Curvilinear, Rectilinear, and Representational styles.
Great Basin Representational Style: The Representational style (also between AD 1 to 1500) includes solidly pecked images of quadrupeds (primarily mountain sheep), anthropomorphic figures taking a variety of forms, as well as numerous geometric designs. Though most Anthropomorphs include small stick figures,
Pahranagat Style: Uncertain in its age and cultural affiliations is the Pahranagat anthropomorph style, which is only found in the Pahranagat Valley area of southeastern Nevada. Traditionally the style is dated to the late Middle and early Late Archaic based on associated archaeological remains and the fact that some figures wield atlatls. This style comprises two distinct types of anthropomorphs. One is a rectangular form internally decorated with grids, dots, or geometric motifs, “fringed” by short vertical lines. It often lacks a head but has stick-figure legs and short arms sometimes bearing an atlatl-like object. These highly stylized, interior-lined anthropomorphs are referred to as patterned-body anthropomorphs (PBAs). The second type has a solid-pecked ovoid or rectangular body, large eyes (indicated by using negative space), and a line protruding from its head; their arms are portrayed downturned and with long fingers. The solid body anthropomorphs are commonly referred to as Pahranagat Man. 
Great Basin Abstract Curvilinear Style: The Curvilinear styles (dating between 1000 BC to AD 1500) is typified by the occurrence of circles, concentric circles, circle chains, disks, meanders or wavy lines and stars.
Great Basin Rectilinear Style: The Rectilinear styles (dating between AD 1 to 1500) includes dots, rectangular grids, bird-tracks, rakes, and cross-hatching.Though very little is known about the archaic inhabitants of the central Great Basin, more current research suggests the people were hunter-gathers who frequently lived in caves and rock shelters that supplemented their diet with horticulture. They used various tools and methods to make their rock art resulting in petroglyphs that were either chipped, carved, incised pecker or abraded.
Grapevine Canyon Style: One distinctive abstract style of rock art is found in southern Nevada, distributed along the Colorado River drainage south of Las Vegas Valley and into the Arizona Strip, and extending westwards into the eastern Mojave Desert. Known as the Grapevine Canyon Style, it is composed of symmetrical and rectilinear elements forming complex geometric motifs that use negative space as essential components of their designs. These include visually prominent, large rectangular and circular forms internally decorated with straight lines, denticulated lines, or wavy lines; and H-like and I-like shapes that are outlined; and outlined diamond chains. This style is believed to be Late Prehistoric (Patayan) in age and cultural affiliation, based on its general distribution pattern and associated archaeological contexts.

Rock art found in what is generally considered the California/Nevada Great Basin, may have been created by ancient peoples and cultures from its neighboring regions and vice versa. The native inhabitants of this region were hunter-gatherers. Though ancient peoples in each of these specific areas may have been responsible for the creation of rock art, climatic conditions and their nomadic life-styles often caused them to travel, resulting in an overlapping of rock art styles. Further complicating the issue of who made the rock art is the fact that there are relatively few techniques for dating it. This, coupled with the fact that there is an overlapping of defined cultural regions, makes it extremely difficult to know when some of the sites within these particular regions were created.

David Whitley indicates that the cultures in and around the Great Basin can be divided into four distinct language groups; Great Basin, South-Central California, Southwestern California and the Colorado River. The Great Basin area was largely occupied by the Centural Numic cultures to the northeast and the Southern Numic cultures to the southeast. These included the Northern Paiute ( or Paviotso), the Shoshone and the southern Paiute (including the Chemehuevi). Because these early hunter-gatherers lived in the driest regions in North America, their population size and density were quite low. California’s South-Central Cultural Providence had the densest Native American population in the Far West. The Cultural Providence of Southwestern California ranged from the Los Angeles Basin and the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains southward across the Mexican border. Because these environments were so productive, perennial villages of up to 1,000 inhabitants developed in some areas, rivaling the farming communities of the southwestern Pueblos in both population density and permanence of settlement. The Cultural Providence of the Colorado River included the river valley and its surrounding terraces. Four different Yuman-speaking groups inhabited this region. The Mojave lived at the northern end, while the Quechan (or Yuma) lived along the southern end of the river, near the Mexican boarder. The cocopa lived on the river delta in what is now northern Mexico. Unlike other far-western groups, these Yuman speaking Native Americans were at least part-time agriculturalists. (Whitley 1996:3-7)

Overall, based on the themes and subjects that can be identified in Nevada rock art, it seems that prehistoric artists were not trying to provide a simple reflection of their daily lives or the content of the natural worlds in which they lived. Nevada rock art is not “representational” in the sense that it is an art of the everyday; instead, it is an ideological presentation of how prehistoric peoples perceived their social and natural worlds, and presenting an imagined, idealized worldview that served the social needs of these cultures.

CHAPTER 06 – Dating Rock Art
Dating is essential for any meaningful interpretation of rock art.  Without knowing which art depictions were contemporary with others, it is impossible to determine which themes were portrayed at a given time.  At the same time, it is impossible to tie in the rock art with archaeological and historical data, meaning that it is unusable as supplemental data. Unfortunately, the dating of rock art is a difficult problem resulting in only partial answers in most instances. As of yet, there is no generally accepted, precise method of dating rock art, although there are many techniques that can give an approximation of the age of rock art.
Methods Used to Date Rock Art: Today’s archaeologists, ethnographers, and researchers use a variety of methods to help determine the age of rock art, some more precise than others. Age determinations are often based upon the locale or region in which it is found, its specific location, e.g. in the open, under protruded cliff or in caves, the rock surfaces upon which it was created as well as how it was created, e.g. scratched, etched or painted. Any combination of these factors can help determine age.

Relative Dating Methods: Relative dating determines if something is older or younger, but can’t tell how much older or younger. Relative dating can be established when dealing with many of the petroglyph sites of the Great Basin and the Southwest.
Patination: Most petroglyphs are engraved on cliffs or rocks that are covered, or “patinated”, with a coat of “desert varnish”. Desert varnish is a thin layer of brown or bluish black material that is believed to be the residue of bodies of dead bacteria which have been impregnated with iron and maganese salts that are leeched fro the rock itself over many years. By cutting through the desert varnish, the artist exposes the lighter rock underneath, thus creating a picture. As soon as a petroglyph has been pecked onto a rock surface, the process of repatination begins in the lines of the petroglyph. As a result, a darkly patinated design will thus be older than a lightly patinated one. However, because the process of patination varies greatly depending upon the type of rock, geological location, direction of exposure, and other climatic conditions such as wind and rain, it is only a very rough relative dating measurement.  The superimposition of one design on another is also a valuable clue to relative dating for both pictographs and petroglyphs.
     When a rock art site is found on a habitation site, the site can often be placed in a time-frame by the implements and pottery types present. Especially if the artifacts can be dated by conventional methods that archaeologists agree are acceptable, such as carbon dating. Also, if an excavated pottery jar happens to depict a highly stylized bighorn sheep or other design, exactly like some nearby petroglyphs, a logical association can be made. Likewise, objects shown in rock art can aid in the dating process.  For example, petroglyphs that contain hunters holding atlatls are much older (c. 1200-800 BC) versus petroglyphs that show hunters shooting with the bow and arrow (c. 750-900 AD. As we have a general idea of when horses were introduced into the southwest (c 1730-1775), this also allows us to determine a relative date. These and many other elements can provide a relative date as to when the rock art may have been created.
Style:   The “style” of the rock art can be another way to help determine its age. Over the years archaeologists and researchers have postulated various rock art styles, thereby suggesting that a particular culture or subculture may have been responsible for its creation. Cultures have been dated to a particular period in the past through archaeological excavations, carbon dating, or other means. Therefore, if a rock art panel can be linked to a particular style of rock art, there is some evidence that a time period can be attributed to the rock art in question. However, this concept is criticized by some who argue that the basis for classification is too arbitrary.

Ethnographic study:  is a qualitative approach that studies the cultural patterns and perspectives of participant in their natural setting for the purpose of describing, analyzing and interpreting of a cultural group over time to understand their shared beliefs, behavior and language. This is often achieved by collecting data using many source such as interviews, observations and artifacts. Culture can be defined as a patterned behavior or way of life of a group of people. Some of the elements of culture then are the common habits, customs, traditions, histories, and geographies—everything that connect the members of the culture together and defines them. Enthnography is the systematic study of people and cultures by observing society from the point of view of the subject of the study.The typical ethnography is a holistic study and so includes a brief history, and an analysis of the terrain, the climate, and the habitat. The collection of data from the presumed descendants of the rock art’s authors can often go a long way in helping to both date and define the rock art.

Absolute Dating Methods: Chronometric Dating, also known as chronometry or absolute dating, is any archaeological dating method that gives a result in calendar years before the present time. Archaeologists and scientists use absolute dating methods on samples ranging from prehistoric fossils to artifacts from relatively recent history. Another research technique designed to help ethnographers study cultures is the collection of artifacts (objects) that might help them understand that culture and explain it to their readers. In deciding which artifacts to collect and what to do with them, one should, first of all, be guided by the idea that artifacts are texts that can and should be read together with other research data. The meaning of cultural artifacts within the culture that one is studying contributes to the meaning of the culture overall.
Approximate rock art dates are based upon the radioactive carbon dating of nearby archeological discoveries. Determining the approximate age of artifacts and hunting weapons found in and around rock art sites have long been a common determining factor in the dating of the rock art itself. The actual dating of rock art has only become possible since 1982, and was then limited to radio carbon dating. In recent years the science of dating rock art has continued to make huge advances. As these high technology dating processes continue to improve, we are getting closer and closer to being able to pinpoint when the rock art was created. Today there are four independent chronometric techniques that are used for dating petroglyphs: (1) Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS)14C dating of weathering rind organics (WRO) encapsulated by natural coatings; (2) Cation-ratio (CR) dating; (3) Varnish microlaminations (VML), the analysis of rock varnish microlaminations; and (4) the use of non-destructive X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis.
Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) 14C radiocarbon dating: Because organic matter accumulates after the petroglyph was made, radiocarbon ages on the WRO are best interpreted as
minimum ages. We note that WRO ages, encapsulated under rock varnish, are younger than controls in all independent tests thus far conducted-emphasizing that WRO ages are minimums (Dorn et at. 1989; Dorn et al. 1992) for the manufacturing of petroglyphs.

On the west side of Nevada's dried-up Winnemucca Lake, there are several limestone boulders with deep, ancient carvings; some resemble trees and leaves, whereas others are more abstract designs that look like ovals or diamonds in a chain (Fig. 04). A new analysis suggests these petroglyphs are the oldest in North America, dating back to between 10,500 and 14,800 years ago. Because these are not typical petroglyphs pecked into thin layers of desert varnish, but rather deep carvings in limestone, radiocarbon tests were able to be used. They revealed that the carbonate film underlying the petroglyphs dated back roughly 14,800 years ago, while a later layer of carbonate coating the rock art dated to about 11,000 years ago. Those findings, along with an analysis of sediment core sampled nearby, suggests the petroglyph-decorated rocks were exposed first between 14,800 and 13,200 years ago and again between about 11,300 and 10,500 years ago.
                Cation-ration (CR) dating: Cation-ratio (CR) dating is a calibrated age-determination method. The theory behind CR dating is that water flow through the varnish slowly leaches mobile cations (e.g., potassium-K, calcium, Ca) faster than immobile cations (e.g., Ti) - thus lowering the ratio over time. The basic idea of the method is to collect several different, millimeter-sized samples of rock varnish from different parts of a petroglyph. The CR for each separate subsample is then compared with the cation-leaching curve and assigned a separate calibrated age. These ages are then averaged together and a standard deviation determined for the error estimate of the entire sample.  Though there is controversy over the use of CR dating, the fact is that CR dating is simply used as an adjunct to the more accurate AMS 14C.

X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis: An X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer is an x-ray instrument used for routine, relatively non-destructive chemical analyses of rocks and minerals. It is typically used for bulk analyses of larger fractions of geological materials. The relative ease and low cost of sample preparation, and the stability and ease of use of x-ray spectrometers make this one of the most widely used methods for analysis of major and trace elements in rocks and minerals. One such analysis of petroglyphs in the Black Canyon site complex within the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge has dated petroglyphs found there to an average age of 5,900 years + 750 years.
Varnish microlamination (VML) dating: Rock varnish, a.k.a. desert varnish, is a dark coating on exposed rock surfaces. It is probably the world's slowest-accumulating sedimentary deposit, growing at only a few to tens of microns per thousand years.  Varnish microlamination (VML) as a correlative dating technique, is relatively new and different in principle and independent of both cation-ratio and AMS 14C methods. Even though there is a massive research effort to map and calibrated the extent of these varnish layering patterns throughout western North America, it should be noted that VMLs are only currently useful for the Pleistocene area - and hence only for Paleo-Indian and Pre-Clovis research. Second, the calibration for VMLs is most firm for the Death Valley-Mojave Desert area, and it is experimental beyond this region.
This tiered approach provides the ability to check the internal consistency of any single chronometric
technique for a given specimen, as well as to confirm the derived chronometric age with at least two other independent dating techniques. As the science of dating petroglyphs continues to improve, providing a more accurate timeline to their creation, it will also make it easier to determine who may have created them.

CHAPTER 07 – The Search For Meaning

Why was Rock Art Made? The reasons are wide and varied. “There are two schools of thought on how to view of petroglyphs in general by North American archaeologists, (1) most petroglyphs (or rock "art") were produced for ideological or aesthetic purposes--ceremonies, mythological narrative, representation of visions, artistic expression, etc.,and (2) most petroglyphs were produced for pragmatic purposes, to convey information--markers, maps, counters, labels, etc. Few archaeologists strongly support the second approach. Whether one accepts petroglyphs as manifestations of self-realization, art, ceremonial beliefs narratives, maps or markers, their relationship to the environment is often either passive or naturalistically irrational.” (B. K. Swartz, Jr. – 2000:149-162) 
     As we know, the ancient cultures of the Great Basin were hunter-gatherers that, based upon arid climatic conditions, were constantly on the move chasing game and the seasons’ production of nuts and plants that supported their existence. It therefore makes sense that conventionalized markers might be helpful in relocating dimly remembered landmarks of the last occupation -- informational markers. This approach leads to questioning the traditional method of rock art recording, namely selecting out and recording elaborate panels and recording the elements in natural groups. In the Southwest United States recording efforts have often even ignored natural grouping concerns. Significant markings are often not on elaborate panels, but are obscure and isolated. Martineau (1973, 17-23) refers to some markings of this type as “locators.”
     Ethnographic information has suggested that rock art may have served several functions. Some rock art styles could be boundary markers for clan territories, guides to water and food resources or show activities or important events conducted in their respective areas, such as a successful hunt or the migration of a tribe. Others could be showing the tracking or movement of the sun, the moon, planets, and stars, or the recording of historical events such as astronomical phenomena or the arrival of Spanish explorers. Many petroglyphs seem to relate to a spiritual life, religious ceremonies, sacred beings and the activities of shamans. Some rock art motifs resemble the visionary imagery of trance states, which Native American shamans entered to communicate with the spirit world. At some sites, it has been determined that rock paintings were made as part of girls’ puberty ceremonies; designs most commonly thought to be related include red diamond chains and chevrons.

     The many design elements range from simple scratch marks to elaborate motifs. While many design elements are abstract motifs that include circles, concentric circles, spirals, dots, and meandering lines, that are nearly impossible to interpret, others are of a more representational nature. These design elements include human forms (anthropomorphs) with horns or radiating wavy lines and animals (zoomorphs) such as the bignorn sheep, lizard and rattlesnake, thought to be symbols of power or spirit helpers. Even though the many painted or carved rock art symbols are not writing, as we know it, Native American rock art can provide us with many clues in our search for the history of aboriginal peoples. In spite of the fact that their meanings are not always known, and are sometimes debated among scholars, whatever the purpose of the author, they were created to convey information.  
     Rock art is one of humankind's most ancient forms of artistic expression, and one of its most enigmatic, with the topic of its interpretation evoking passionate discussion. For centuries, scholars and other observers have struggled to interpret the meaning of the mysterious figures incised or painted on natural rocks and to understand their role in the lives of their long-vanished creators. The Great Basin of the American West is especially rich in rock art, but until recently North American archaeologists have largely ignored these most visible monuments left by early Native Americans and have given little attention to the terrain surrounding them. However, in recent years modern archaeological methodology and interpretations have begun to provide a rich physical and cultural context for these ancient and hitherto puzzling artifacts by offering exciting new insights into the lives of North America's first inhabitants.
Over the past 125 years or so, many archaeologists, ethnologists, and researchers have offered their opinions as to the meaning of particular symbols or panels in particular locations. Though these early offerings are what they believed was the right meaning when they wrote them, one must realize that much has been learned by others over the ensuing years that may present an entirely different picture. Furthermore this is complicated by the fact that intended meanings of different cultures, from entirely different areas may differ sharply, meaning that many similar symbols may have more than one meaning. The only thing that is certain is that In the end, no one really knows.

Ethnographic interpretation of rock art:  Much has been made in recent years of the importance of ethnographic information in the study of rock art. Undeniably, ethnographic information can be useful if the native peoples who are consulted have taken part in the production of the rock art, or in rituals that involve the rock art. Ethnographic evidence is less compelling, however, in addressing rock art’s original cultural contexts if the rock art is of great age or if there is no clear cultural connection between the producers of the rock art and those who are being consulted about its meaning.
In some rare cases one may be able to interview a producer or consumer of the art, in others there are established cultural traditions maintaining a level of knowledge about the art that permits some access to its meaning.However, the fallibility of ethnographic constructs, the problems of reconciling the indigenous and ‘scientific’ (alien) conceptualisations of meaning, and the significant question of whether ethnographic interpretations of meaning can be relevant in the ‘text-free’ record of the distant past all need to be considered. All humans, including ethnographers, lack the ability to think outside of their severely limited intellectual and cognitive universe.
That record is itself never totally reliable, it has been filtered by a variety of cultural and cognitive biases. Much of the ethnographic record has not been collected under ideal conditions, but, just for the sake of the argument, we shall assume that it was all secured under the best of conditions possible. So we assume that alien researchers, who interviewed indigenous people, recorded the information offered accurately. It would seem that this record, then, should be objective. But is it really?
The communication between informant and recorder is always by means of translation. Even where the interviewer speaks the language of the people being studied, he or she is usually not very proficient in their language. He certainly has little or no linguistic access to those aspects of the culture that are avoided, or indeed taboo. His interpretation of what he does have access to will be affected by inadequate understanding of these inherent limitations. In many cases he uses a third party, an interpreter, and what he obtains is quite literally a biased interpretation, and not a rigorous account. He then interprets this interpretation in a way that makes sense in his own linguistic and cognitive framework. Moreover, it is well known today that extant traditional cultures do not permit outsiders access to all aspects of their metaphysical world. Very simply, the explanations given to ethnographers are commensurate with a researcher’s perceived competence and trustworthiness.
For instance, a rock art motif may have many meanings, beginning from a very simple level. This is rather like an explanation a contemporary urban parent would give to a small child. Once it had become older, a more advanced explanation is considered appropriate, and so on. In indigenous or tribal societies, a great deal of knowledge is of restricted access. It may be of a secret or a sacred nature, and there may be levels of severity. In many such societies, serious breaches of sacred matters are traditionally punishable by death, and may be considered more serious crimes than murder, for instance. It is therefore inconceivable that information at the level of sacred knowledge would be passed on to uninitiated alien researchers, simply to satisfy their curiosity. Hence we can be certain that all the published ethnographic evidence of such metaphysical knowledge of tribal people is of the type given to people of inadequate understanding of the society in question. It should be obvious that this mechanism would have contributed to a simplification of ethnographic accounts: not only did the informants regularly observe the restrictions of tribal laws, they would have often felt obliged to simplify interpretations for untutored outsiders. At times they may have been forced to deceive their questioners in order to protect sacred knowledge. Ethnographers, often naively unaware of such factors as multiple meanings, may base their professional reputation and standing on their ‘findings’, and they may not be too willing to admit these severe limitations of their accounts. But that is understandable and we have to make allowances for such limitations. Hence even under the best possible conditions, the researcher will only obtain fragmentary, simplistic and even misleading explanations. It should be clear enough that for most rock art traditions, we certainly lack the necessary understanding of context, culture and ideology. In fact, most rock art cannot even be attributed to a specific cultural tradition at this stage. (R. G. Bednarik, 2001)

Finding Meaning: The one nice thing about rock art is that it stays in the same place where it was created, in the same place where the events they recorded were experienced or observed. They don’t migrate or change their story with the passing of time. Even though some present day peoples claim to know their meanings, it is more likely that they have only created explanations and used them as props to support their current cultural needs. Most scholars believe that the majority of rock art was not generally created as art for its own sake, but rather as a part of some type of story telling or as the result of a shamanistic ritual and that in this context holds some spiritual meaning. However, because scientists like to classify known things, they find it hard to believe that rock art represents any sort of written language. Personally, I am more inclined to think that there may have been a basic understanding of sign language and symbols between localized Numic speaking tribes and cultures, and that they may have used such common symbols as a sort of written language to portray specific events or happenings. Clearly, rock art differs in appearance in different locations and its appearance and meaning depends upon the historic period in which it was created. Because most rock motifs and panels were created hundreds, if not thousands of years ago when there was no written languages among the southwestern cultures of the time, we are left to only speculate about their meaning. In nearly every book you’ll read about rock art, the author is sure to acknowledge that they really don’t know the meanings of what they are writing about. They then go on for hundreds of pages and try to explain away the images with superstitions, drug-induced trances and a host of ‘supernatural’ suppositions. Even those who have made attempts to interpret the meaning of various petroglyphs don’t have any proof that their interpretations are correct. It is amazing that so much effort has been expended to explain so thoroughly a topic, without having a clue as to what the actual meanings are. Unfortunately, no one can be sure about the meaning of ancient petroglyphs. Period!

The Spiritual Associations: Certainly some petroglyphs have spiritual significance. Especially when found in what is still regarded by some of the decedents of these cultures, as areas considered to be sacred with significant spiritual ties to the past. Even without rock art images which suggest ritual and magic, we could safely assume that the Desert Archaic peoples looked to the supernatural to help ensure their survival and their future. They looked for ways to soothe their anxieties about the abundance and location of the game animals, success in the hunt, the annual yield of wild food plants, the availability of raw materials, the accessibility of shelter, the craft of shaping stone, the coming and going of the seasons, the bite of a diamondback, the sting of a scorpion, the relationships with other bands, the birth of a child, the health of their families, the anguish of death, the spirits beyond death or life. As children of the desert, they felt the spiritual stir induced by night skies awash in stars, the daily arc of a blindingly brilliant sun, the waxing and waning of the moon, the grace of a soaring eagle, the elegance of a bull elk, the incessant winds of spring, the violent thunderstorms and gentle rainbows of summer, the golden sunlight of fall days, the fierce and biting cold of winter.
Likely, with their shamans serving as conduits, the Desert Archaic Indians petitioned benevolent supernatural forces to intervene in their lives, calling down nourishing rains from the clouds to the desert landscape, bringing fat game into the range of their spears and into the folds of their trap nets, enriching plant harvests for the baskets of their women, healing the wounds and sicknesses of their hunters and camp makers and children. Led by shamans, they celebrated their good fortunes, mourned their misfortunes and marked the passage of the seasons in dance and song and chant, possibly performed to the beat of the drum. Religious leaders clearly gave elaborate ceremonial expression to spirituality. In Indian Rock Art of the Southwest, Polly Schaafsma said, speaking of rock art by the early farmers in the Four Corners area, "I suggest that the art styles involved [the portrayal of large human figures with supernatural attributes] were underlain by a related ideographic system or religious structure based on shamanic practices."
Speaking of figures with a "slightly tapered trapezoidal body shape and drooping hands and feet," which are pecked into stone surfaces near the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico, Schaafsma said, "Considering their elaborate headgear and other paraphernalia and the occasional depiction of masks, I feel that the Basketmaker anthropomorphs not only had ceremonial import but that they exceeded the realm of the ordinary; they were probably representations either of supernatural beings themselves or of shamans. Images such as these may have been thought to contain the soul force of the beings they represent."
Known tribal histories and traditions tell us that Shamans would take drug-enhanced journeys into other worlds to learn the secrets of nature and gain control over the natural elements. There was a close, almost sacred, relationship between the hunter and the hunted. Clans assumed animal names and young people went on vision quests to discover which animal might serve as their personal guides. Shaman sometimes put on animal cloaks and assumed animal personalities. Some petroglyphs reflect these journeys and appear to show the beings encountered along the way. They were often thought to have the ability to control weather (much needed rain) and the migration of animals that were hunted for survival. Though many zoomorphs (elk, deer, rabbits, lizards, snakes, etc.) are represented in motifs and panels throughout the southwest, bighorn sheep are by far the most common animal found. This could speak to their importance, probably as a food source, or that their drawing could have been to communicate that there were animals to hunt in the area.
Astrological Associations: Another line of interpretation for petroglyphs is their alignment with celestial events. This field of inquiry has been termed archaeoastronomy. Many astroarcheologists believe that petroglyphs all have astronomical significance and the ritual that created them was related to solstice or a celestial event. Some rock art could be a map of the sky, with specific stars, constellations, or shooting stars marked. Circles divided in the center by lines and enclosed in more round shapes may be a solar symbol, an indicator of a direction to look for a specific solar event, or simply a drawing that represents the powerful beauty of the sun. Outside the main circular pattern appears another circle with a cross inside, which could be the sun or another star, maybe even indicating brightness compared to the surrounding celestial objects. Some believe the circles represent the sun and serve as a planting calendar. Some have hypothesized that many abstract images could represent land features which are oriented such that they have importance in celestial ceremonies. Or, an entire group of lines could be entirely abstract. There are numerous possible interpretations of all the petroglyphs, and it is also conceivable, though highly unlikely in my opinion, that the artist was simply doodling.

Rock Art As A Writing Form: Petroglyphs - Are They Rock Art or Rock Writing? My first impressions of petroglyphs, especially those with recognizable figures of people or animals, were probably not unlike the thoughts of most people, including many archaeologists and anthropologists years ago; that they were just a grouping of random symbols with meaning only to those who may have produced them or to their tribe. That the often perplexing, unrecognizable drawings were perhaps the mindless scribbling of young people, in the same way that some kids today leave graffiti on the sides of buildings or other structures.

     The truth of the matter is that as more and more of these renderings have been discovered throughout the western states, comparison analysis, coupled with nearby archeological findings, new techniques for identifying their age, known Native American traditions and scientific decoding methods, have proved this to be far from the case. In depth studies over the past several decades now indicate that many “rock art” panels contain a sophisticated form of writing. I never gave any thought to the fact that they might actually be a systematic form of writing used to tell stories of battles, events, or other important happenings of their time.

     Probably one of the world's foremost authority on Petroglyphs and their interpretation is LeVan Martineau. Born in 1932 in Kanab Utah, he was raised by Indian families and understood their ways and traditions. He spoke several Indian languages, including sign language, which proved to be one of the most significant factors contributing to their interpretation. It turns out that many of the symbols found in rock writing are based upon sign language, something that could be understood between different tribes speaking different languages. His interest in deciphering Indian rock writing began in 1956 and lasted until his death in 2000.

Significant markings are often not on elaborate panels, but are obscure and isolated. Martineau
(1973, 17-23) refers to some markings of this type as “locators.”


Convincing identification markers encountered in this study are (1) directional markers (pointing
to something), (2) directional configurations or "maps," (3) identification markers (like a
trademark, these may be representational--mountain sheep), (4) signal markers (calling attention
to something) (5) instructional markers (indicate the beginning or ending of something, often
found at the beginning or ending of a series of petroglyph inscriptions, etc. At the Stevens site
there is a panel that appears to be a map (Fig. 5) with some conformity to terrain in view, e.g.
lines representing arroyo patterns. Just below on a vertical face is a directional marker pointing
upwards towards the “map” (Fig. 6). Two panels encountered in nearby areas further intensify
these ideas, (1) an isolated boulder with a panoramic view at the base of Hancock Summit in the
Pahranagat Range [signal marker (Fig. 7) and map (Fig. 8)], and (2) map (Fig. 9) on an islolated
standing boulder the Death Angel isolated standing boulder (Fig. 10) in a mountain col near
Hiko, again with a panoramic view. Maps often have long lines and occur in open or elevated
areas with panoramas.
Certain signs are labels or signatures indicating ownership or identification, somewhat like the
function of heraldic devices and trademarks in our society. They are set off from the regular
panel markings. The best example is a rendering (Fig. 11) tucked away on the reverse of an
isolated boulder termed Picture Rock at CrNV-04-4990 with an extensive set of markings (Fig.
A student who worked with me during the 1990 field season, Russell A. Hapke (1993), noted by
sighting alone certain lines that "U" or cup-shaped elements often associated or, in someway
correlated, with the occurrence of modified holes or water basins--tinajas (Fig. 13). The
sightings often were directed to easy access routes or trails to the basins. There is some evidence
that spirals may represent pathways. Petroglyphs that serve as maps often possess long
horizontal or meandering lines.

Rock Art Sites in the Nevada Great Basin:


Abraded: A method of making rock images by lightly rubbing the rock surface with a
coarse, durable stone tool; a shallower effect than cupule.

Abstract: Any rock art image of a kind too abstruse, not easily understood, or so
stylized as to be unrecognizable as a real object or living thing.

AMS 14C: Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, a method of radiocarbon dating (i.e.,
Carbon-14) which directly measures the amount of 14C in a sample; because
microscopic traces can be dated, AMS is used on rock imagery to date both
organic binders in pictographs and microbial residues in rock varnish.

Animism: Any belief system whereby natural phenomena and things—both animate
and inanimate—are held to possess an innate soul.

Anthropomorph: Any rock art element of human-like form, stylized or realistic.

Archaeoastronomy: The study of ancient cultures’ knowledge of, and use of
astronomy; such knowledge may be incorporated in rock imagery. Also known as

Attribute: Any meaningful characteristic about a rock art design, either natural or
cultural such as an element, technique of manufacture, type of paint, panel
orientation, landscape setting, degree of varnish, etc.

Azimuth: A direction relative to true north defined in one-degree increments,
increasing clockwise with 360° around the entire horizon; used to precisely define
the direction a rock art panel “faces.”

Cation Ratio: A dating method applied to rock varnish, measuring the trace amounts
of potassium (K), calcium (Ca) and titanium (Ti) in a sample. The ratio of (K +
Ca)/Ti, indicating when varnish began to form, decreases through time; the
method works best on panels 1,000 years old or more.

Cupule: A method of making rock images by abrasion, rubbing away enough of the
rock surface to create cup-like depressions.

Diachronic: An approach to the study of multiple events occurring sequentially
through time, such as a series of rock art styles.

Element: Smallest definable fragment of a design such as a line, dot, circle, amoeba/
blob, etc. Some specialists also use the term to refer to identifiable images, in the
same sense as “motif” (see below).

Entoptic Forms: Shapes and images seen by the “mind’s eye” while in a trance or
other altered state of consciousness.

Epigraphy: The study and interpretation of [ancient] inscriptions.

Epipentology: The study of paintings and engravings on exposed rock outcrops,
walls of buildings, mobiliary objects, etc. Suggested as a term to replace the
phrase “Rock Art Studies.”

Ethnography: The anthropological study and description of a living culture. Some
cultures still make, or have traditional knowledge about rock art; such information
sometimes can offer insight into the meaning of ancient images via “ethnographic

Gaán: A.k.a. Gans; Apache mountain spirits who live in rocks or caves. They may
be depicted in rock art as anthropomorphs with distinctive cross-shaped or threepronged

Geoglyph: A (usually) large-scale image created on a geographic feature, often by
removing a dark surface deposit to reveal lighter subsoil. The Nazca Lines are the
most famous example, but geoglyphs also occur in California and other places.
Hematite: The principal ore of iron and one of several iron-based minerals used to
make pigments for drawing pictographs; generally a dark red color when oxidized
(ferric oxide, α–Fe2O3).

Incised: A method of making rock images by cutting or abrading narrow linear
marks into the panel surface; often an outlining technique.

Intaglio: The process of cutting or engraving a design, usually into a precious stone
or metal; the artifact made by such a process; “desert intaglio” refers to geoglyphs.

Kachina (also katsina): Masked spirit beings of the Hopi, both depicted in rock art
and carved figurines—the latter made to teach Hopi children about their religion.

Limonite: One of several iron-based minerals used to make pigments for drawing
pictographs; generally a yellowish color when oxidized (a hydrous ferric oxide,

Mobiliary Art: Portable art of the Ice Age including engravings and carvings on
stone, antler, bone, and ivory.

Monochrome: A pictograph executed in a single color.

Motif: A combination of elements or repeating elements forming an identifiable
image such as a trapezoidal anthropomorph, sunburst, rake, etc. Some rock art
specialists (e.g., Schaafsma) prefer the term “element” for this concept.

Mythogram: The message(s) of a rock art panel built on generative principles; in the
“art as mythogram” interpretive approach, one assumes there would be order and
patterning in the imagery derived from cosmological principles.

Neuropsychology: Integrated study of neurological and psychological phenomena,
in this context referring to neurologically-based mental imagery resulting from the
psychological condition of a trance or other altered state.

Ochre: an iron-based paint composed of a pigment such as hematite or limonite
mixed with clay, water, and perhaps an organic binder such as a plant extract.

Panel: Any rock face, on bedrock or a free-standing boulder, with one or more rock
art motifs in spatial association.

Parietal Art: Art on the walls of caves and shelters, or on huge blocks.

Patina: A thin layer of (usually) mineral accumulation on a rock’s surface, derived
either from the surrounding environment or from leaching of the host rock, or
from a combination of both.

Percussion: The striking together of two objects, as in making a petroglyph by
pecking. In rock art manufacture, percussion can be direct (striking the rock face
with a pecking stone or other tool) or indirect (striking a second tool held in
contact with the rock face).

Petroglyph: Any pictograph made on a cliff face or boulder; in modern usage
generally restricted to unpainted rock images made by pecking, incising, abrading,
drilling, etc.

Petrograph: Rock imagery made by a combination of painting and pecking, incising,
abrading, drilling, etc.

Petromanteia: Natural rock formations and surfaces which resemble or mimic
cultural imagery.

Photogrammetry: The process of taking measurements from paired photographs to
produce 2D or 3D images, resulting in a “contour map” of a rock panel.

Pictograph: A sign, symbol or figure made on any substance by any method; in
modern usage referring to painted rock imagery.

Polychrome: Painted imagery with more than one color of pigment.

Quadruped: A zoomorph (see below) representing a four-legged animal, usually
large game such as deer or bison.

Rupestrian: Of, or pertaining to, rock imagery (e.g., rupestrian studies).

Scaling: A relative dating method which arranges image styles or types into a
“scalogram” based on the presence (+) or absence (-) of traits.
Scratched: Method of making images by lightly marring the surface using a sharpedged
tool; a shallower effect than incising.

Seriation: A relative dating method comparing frequencies of styles, types or motifs
between sites in a given region. Histogram-like graphs called “battleship curves”
may be produced depicting the changing frequencies through time.

Shalako: Zuni deities impersonated by masked dancers, and depicted in Pueblo IV–
V period rock art.

Shaman(ism): In societies with animistic beliefs shamans are experts in the sacred,
serving in matters of fertility, health, sickness, death & community well-being;
studies of shamanism acknowledge that these specialists use rock art in healing
and curing, future telling, controlling the elements, controlling animals, love
medicine, gambling, etc.

Solid Pecked: A method of making rock images using a “pecking stone” or other
sharp, durable tool to completely dimple the surface so that individual peck marks
are difficult or impossible to discern.

Spalling: A type of natural erosion of a rock surface resulting in the loss of material
in thin layers.

Stipple Pecked: Method of making rock images by dimpling the surface in a noncontiguous
pattern, leaving small spaces between individual peck marks.

Style: Repetitious rock art form(s) that can be placed in time or space; often includes
consideration of the overall aesthetic quality of expression; Barrier Canyon style is
an example.

Synchronic: An approach to the study of multiple events occurring more or less
contemporaneously, e.g., examining rock art sites from the perspective of a single
point in time.

Therianthropic: Figures combining attributes of humans and animals.

Tradition: Groups of two or more styles that are similar in content and expression,
and for which a temporal and cultural continuity can be demonstrated.

Type: Descriptive unit for imagery with distinctive attributes and elements, often
defined within broad categories such as anthropomorph, zoomorph, abstract; data
on time & space may be available; e.g., a stick figure is a type of anthropomorph.

Varnish: A type of rock patina consisting of a dark, thin accumulation of manganeseand
iron-oxides, clay minerals, minor and trace elements which forms in arid and
semi-arid environments through the catalyzing action of manganese-oxidizing

Ye’i: Navajo holy beings ceremonially depicted by masked dancers and in rock art.
Male ye’i are usually drawn with round heads, and female ye’i with square/
rectangular or triangular heads. “Yei bi chai” specifically refers to leader or elder
ye’i such as Talking God.

Zoomorph: Any rock art motif of animal-like form, whether stylized or realistic.


(1) A Field Guide To Rock Art Sites Of the Greater Southwest, 1992 – 256p
by Alex Patterson
(2) Sacred Sites – Rock Art of Lincoln County, Nevada, 2013 – 160p
by P.B. Clabaugh & R.A Clabaugh
(3) Rock-Art of the Southwest: A Visitor's Companion; 2000 - 168p 
by Liz Welsh, Peter Welsh
(4) Basin and Range: A History of Great Basin National Park; 1990 - xi-xiip, by Harlan D Unrau
(5) The Art of Ancient Nevada webpages; http://www.nvrockart.org/ann_pages/arch.html; http://www.nvrockart.org/aan_pages/ethno.html and http://www.nvrockart.org/aan_pages/themes.html

By B. K. Swartz, Jr.
Internet Sites:Ancient America: Coastal Oregon, 13,000 to 7,500 Years Ago, 2015
by Ojibwa