Petroglyphs & Rock Art



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Petroglyph terminology
Protect our petroglyphs
How old are petroglyphs?
Petroglyph photo album

Protect our petroglyphs
Although petroglyphs may seem as durable as the rock they reside on, the utmost care should be taken to preserve them.  Inevitably, deterioration will occur by natural causes.  The abrasive effects caused by weather, moisture freezing within cracks in the rock causing chipping or fracturing, etcetera.

Unfortunately, modern man is probably a petroglyphs worst enemy.  As our population grows and more space is needed for housing, roads, and shopping malls, lack of care or mere oversight may cause total destruction to a site that has yet been discovered.  Once destroyed, they are irreplaceable.

Picture of a wolf petroglyph at the North site.
Petroglyph of a wolf atop this rock at the North site.  Upon closer inspection reveals what appears to be the letter "A" on its side.  Scratched into the rock by someone at sometime.  Luckily, in this case, it doesn't detract too badly from the actual ancient rockart.

While some have referred to petroglyphs (rock art) as ancient grafitti, it truly is not grafitti.  As such, modern day grafitti need not be added to our historic sites.   Sadly, defamation of too many petroglyph sites can be found on a regular basis.   Caused by unthinking, uncaring individuals, permanently ruining their beauty.   Damage to these fragile artifacts can destroy important information that may be later determined by researchers --as new or improved methods of dating are developed-- in gaining insight for us all to the history behind these wonderful resources.

It is important then to exercise extreme caution when viewing or photographing petroglyphs.  Here are a few things to remember should you get the chance to visit a petroglyph site.

  • Avoid touching the petroglyphs.  Natural skin oils or other residues that you may have on your hands can cause interference with dating methods which are currently employed.
  • Rock varnish is relatively fragile.  Damage to the varnish can cause discoloration to the rock, petroglyph, and again can cause problems for scientific determinations and data collection.
  • Don't walk on any petroglyph.  Whether the petroglyph is on a stone at ground level or if you are climbing atop rocks which bear petroglyphs.  Not only might you accidentally scrape or scratch an otherwise perfectly preserved petroglyph.  But again, your action may interfere with dating efforts.
  • Do not try to make rubbings or molds from petroglyphs.  (Take a picture instead!)
  • Beware of vandalism or collection (stealing) of petroglyphs.  It is against the law.   Report violators to either local law enforcement agencies or a National Parks & Recreation office.
  • Behave in a manner of respect for the sacred or magical lands that the petroglyphs adorn.  These places held special meanings for those that carved them.  It may be that it was a holy place of worship for these early inhabitants.  For all we know of some petroglyph sites, they may still be places used for outdoor worship.

Photo of 1926 inscription
One must hope and assume that Leroy Louden was a railroad worker that didn't know better.  Since his mark was left right in the middle of a group of petroglyphs at the South site.  The Santa Fe railroad passes close by the South site, with construction litter still present. Thrown among the rocks displaying these ancient works of art.

Picture of 1871 graffiti on petroglyph bearing rock.
This photograph shows the initials of a passerby from the year 1871.  Notice the difference between the more recent inscription, now 128 years later, and the petroglyph of an anthropomorphic figure holding the crooked staff.  Rock varnish builds very slowly.

Treat any rock art site with respect and do not harm these historic shrines of our nations' heritage.

Elizabeth C. Welsh; Easy Field Guide to Southwestern Petroglyphs; Primer Publishers Sixth Printing - 1998. IBSN 0-935810-60-9

Dennis Slifer; Signs of life - Rock art of the Upper Rio Grande; Ancient City Press 1998. IBSN 1-58096-005-7

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Copyright (c) W. C. `Bill` Porter 1999, all rights reserved.