Hints on How We Do It - Part 2

A Rock Art Primer - Some of the Basics

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A Rock Art Primer - Some of the Basics

Rock Art:  The generic term used to cover everything including petroglyphs, pictographs, and intaglios.


Petroglyphs:  Are carved, pecked, chipped, scratched, or abraded into stone.  Petroglyphs can be made on just about any type of stone, but very hard or very soft stones are not as conducive as say basalt would be.


Pictographs:  Is the placement of pigment on a stone.  It is usually brushed, smeared, or blown onto the surface.  Pictographs are not as durable as petroglyphs and are not normally found out in the open.  They are usually in a more-protected area such as under an overhang or in a rock shelter / cave.


Intaglios / Geoglyph:  Intaglios / Geoglyphs are areas of cleared ground that usually form a pattern or drawing on the ground.  Other times rocks are aligned to form a pattern on the ground.  Rock alignments may point to a prominent landscape feature or even in a true north-south arrangement.



Basic Terms:


Abstract:  In rock art it refers to non-representational images, such as vague or shapeless images that are combinations of wavy lines, dots, circles, zigzag or straight lines.  Often attributed to hunter gatherers of the Great Basin.


Anasazi: From approximately 1200 BC to around the mid 1500's the Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloan) mainly occupied the four corners area of the southwest (northern Arizona and southern Utah) but also made it as far west as the Las Vegas Valley.


Anthropomorph:  Having the general shape, form or can be recognized as being human.  They can be as simple as stick figures to elaborate representations of the human figure.


Archaic (Desert):  The period following the Paleo period approximately 6500 BC to 1200 BC.  The peoples of the archaic period were hunter gatherers and can be either representational or abstract.


Athabascan (also Athabaskan or Athapaskan):  A family of American Indian languages spoken or formerly spoken in inland Alaska and Northwest Canada and by peoples of Western Oregon and Northwest California, as the Hupa (or Hoopa), and the American Southwest, as the Apache and Navajo.


Atlatl:  AKA a throwing stick.  Acts as a lever used to throw a dart or small spear-type projectile with greater power than just throwing a spear by hand.  The Atlatl was in use from around 9000 BC until it was replaced by the bow and arrow around AD 400.


Basketmakers:  Early Anasazi prior to their pueblo living period.  Approximately 1200 BC to AD 700.


Cairn:  A small pile of rocks used to mark something.


Cupules:  Cuplike depressions grounded into rock surfaces possibly used in ceremonies.


Desert Culture:  Refers to the people who lived in the western section of the Great Basin.


Desert Pavement:  A layer of small rocks and pebbles, often dark in color, that forms on the ground surface in some desert areas, becoming hard as concrete and concealing the underlying soil.


Desert Varnish (patina):  A dark coating that forms on exposed rocks over long periods of time from a reaction of bacteria, manganese, iron, and clay.


Element:  A single petroglyph.  Multiple elements make up a panel.


Fremont Culture:  People living in the western part of Colorado and central Utah north of the Anasazi around AD 400 to AD 1350.


Glyph:  Short for petroglyph.


Grapevine Style:  Found in the eastern Mojave Desert of California and Nevada, especially found in Grapevine Canyon in Nevada.


Great Basin Abstract Style: Consists of curvilinear and rectilinear styles similar to Anasazi geometric.


Curvilinear: Abstract motif consisting of rounded interconnected geometric shapes, spirals, circles, and zigzags.  Believed to be some of the oldest rock art in the southwest, possibly to around 8000 BC.


Rectilinear:  Abstract similar to curvilinear except the elements are more square, rectangular, grids, rakes, dots, cross hatches, zigzags, and diamond shapes.  Younger than Curvilinear, back to approximately 3000 BC.


Great Basin Painted Style:  Related to Abstract style characterized by circles and parallel lines done in red and white pigments.


Great Basin Pit and Groove Style: Characterized by random or clustered pits 1" to 2" in diameter.  Grooves are usually 1/4" deep and up to 1" wide.


Great Basin Scratched Style:  Made with a sharp rock used to inscribe lines on another rock.


Historic Period:  Approximately 1600 to present.


Hunter-Gatherers:  People that primarily obtain food by hunting and fishing by the men, and the gathering of seeds, berries, and roots by the women.


Monochrome:  One color.


Numic:  Branch of the Uto-Aztecan family of languages that includes Northern Paiute, Shoshone, Comanche, Southern Paiute, and Ute.


Paiute:  Northern Paiute ranged from eastern Oregon and California to western Nevada.  The Southern Paiute ranged into the southern areas of Utah and Nevada, southeastern California, and the northwest part of Arizona.


Panel: Usually an area that has more than one element of rock art on it.  Multiple elements make up a panel.  (Multiple panels make me happy... )


Polychrome:  More than one color.


Representational:  Represents real items that may be encountered during everyday activities.


Shaman: A spiritual leader who acts as intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds, using magic to cure illness, foretell the future, control spiritual forces, etc.


Shoshone:  Are divided into four groups:

Western Shoshone of Nevada and California

Wind River Shoshone of Wyoming

Northern Shoshone of Idaho and Utah

Comanche of West Texas


Spalling (exfoliation):  A natural process in which layers of rock flake or pop off from the surface of rocks.  Can be caused by weather, aging of the rock, and even fire in close proximity.


Talus slope:  Usually an accumulation of rock debris at the base of a cliff or steep mountain slope.


Zoomorphs:  Animal-like representations.  Can range from simple stick figures to very detailed figures.



Instead of rewriting the entire history of the southwest, there are two Web sites that I would highly recommend that you visit.  These sites will go into more details on the timelines and the ancient people of the southwest.


First, Desert USA has a very detailed 18-part article on "The Peopling of the Southwest"  by Jay Sharp.

Desert USA:  Desert People of the Past


Second, is a Timeline or "Chronology of Southwestern Archaeology" by D. K. Jordan.

Jordan: A Chronology of Southwestern Archaeology