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What is rock art? Rock art consists of symbols put on rocks by humans. The symbols may be either abstract or realistic or a combination of both.




PETROGLYPHS - symbols made on rocks by ABRADING, SCRATCHING, OR CHIPPING away the darker surface of the rock to reveal the lighter colored stone underneath.


PICTOGRAPHS - symbols PAINTED on rocks, or in caves and shelters. Common colors are red (hematite), yellow (ocher), black (charcoal or manganese), white (diatomaceous earth or gypsum), blue or green (copper ores). These minerals are ground and combined with a binder which may contain animal fat, egg, water, or other organic material.


CUPULES - small cup-shaped depressions CHIPPED OR GROUND into rocks.


GEOGLYPHS - symbols made in or on the surface of the earth.

Intaglios - figures made by REMOVING the darker colored PEBBLES on the earth surface to reveal the lighter colored soil below.

Rock Alignments - ROCKS PILED OR PLACED in lines to form a symbol.


How old is rock art? In North America some rock art may date from 19,000 years ago. Some rock art is still being made today by native peoples in the Americas, Africa, and Australia. Archaeologists and scientists have various ways of dating rock art. Some methods measure chemicals in the desert varnish, which is a natural material that gradually builds up over the surface of the petroglyphs. At painted sites, the organic material in the paint may be dated.


Where is it located? It is usually found around ancient or contemporary Native People's habitation sites and ceremonial sites.


What does it mean? Rock art may have been made for different reasons. Sometimes we can find information from ethnographic accounts of tribal people. It may relate to a myth or ceremonial activities. It may have been made by the Shaman, or spiritual leader of the group, or by young people as they went through a ceremony to recognize them as adults. It may embellish or acknowledge places that were, and are, sacred to Native Americans.


Why should we protect it? It is important to protect and conserve rock art as part of our heritage from the past. Most people treat the rock art respectfully. However, sometimes a rock art site is vandalized. Uncaring people spray paint or carve graffiti over it, or shoot bullets at it, or carry it away for their own collections, or sell it to unscrupulous collectors. Sometimes a rock art site is bulldozed or blasted in construction projects. There are laws at both State and Federal levels to protect these sites. In order to help reinforce these laws, the general public needs to be educated, beginning at the elementary school level. It is only with the help and interest of an educated, concerned public that these treasures from the past can be preserved for future generations to enjoy and study.

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