Petroglyphs & Rock Art



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How old are petroglyphs?
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How old are petroglyphs
Generally speaking, petroglyphs of the southwestern United States and more specifically central New Mexico, range in age from 300 to 2,500 years old.  Although some authors list the latest Rio Grande style petroglyphs as "to present."  Which would possibly make some petroglyphs in this area as recent as 200 years ago or less.  The majority can be considered being made in the times of  5000 BC to 1700 AD.  Which covers the most significant styles and relative date  zones. 

Here is a listing of the date ranges common in New Mexico and the southwest, and the analogous styles:

  • Paleo-Indian - 12000 BC to 8000 BC
    (nomadic Native Americans are thought to have migrated to the southwest during the Pleistocene Ice Age, generally accepted as a time span from 23000 BC to 8500 BC, and conventionally considered ended by most archaeologists by the year 10,000 BC.)
  • Archaic Style - Approx. 5000 BC to 300 AD
    (sometimes referenced back to 5500 BC)
  • Freemont Style - 500 AD to 1,400 AD
  • Anasazi Style - 300 AD to 1300 AD
    (also postulated as from 200 BC to 1540 AD)
  • Hohokam Style - 300 AD to 1400 AD
  • Rio Grande Style - 1300 AD to 1700 AD

In regards to the specific petroglyph site of which this article addresses, the date range based on styles observed at the sites can only for now be estimated in the 5000 BC to 1500 AD range.   The majority of petroglyphs here though appear to be of the Rio Grande Style.  The site also includes certain Anasazi Style elements, and some Archaic Style glyphs. Although there may be at least one exception which would suggest that the petroglyph was created as far back as 10000 BC.

Photo of horned anthropomorph with tail dancing.
Anthropomorphic horned figure with tail appears to be dancing in ritualistic manner.  Perhaps a healer or shaman with other supernatural powers. The circular (with rays) shape, emminating from where arms should be on the body, also connotates a sun symbol.  Hence the name we've given it as "the Sun God."  Object at left appears claw-like, or even animal shaped with head looking up and tail outstretched then drooping.  Although this petroglyph is very near "the spaceman" (less than 100 ft. away), it appears to be much more recent in vintage.

The Mogollon culture's Jornada Style petroglyphs are also represented at this site in central New Mexico.  The Jornada Style is commonly dated from 1 AD to 1500 AD.   The Mogollon cultures have been divided by researchers into two distinct groups.   The Mogollon associated to the southern New Mexico region and, the Anasazi in northern New Mexico.

Jornada style petroglyph.
Here is an example of a Jornada Style petroglyph found about midway along the 7 mile long portion of the "north site."

Overall, our new found site in central New Mexico seems to have had its rock art started at the north end of the escarpment.  With the more recent styles of petroglyphs towards the southern end of the mesa.  But this is not a hard and fast rule.  The various styles of petroglyphs seem diversely scattered along the landmark.   With some more recent styles alongside older ones.  Suggesting perhaps that later tribesmen found their own special meanings to certain areas already marked by previous, and culturally different ancestors.

Photo of boulder bearing Archaic Style rockart.
This boulder is marked on two sides with Archaic Style petroglyphs.  Almost out-of-place with nearby petroglyphs of more recent cultural styles and artistic detail.

Speaking of time...
Every time I go back to this sacred site of petroglyphs near the Rio San Jose, I discover examples of rock art that I've overlooked before.

On one recent trip to re-photograph some of the petroglyphs in better lighting conditions, my neice who was along to assist in note-taking spotted a new 'glyph atop a large boulder.  Climbing to a better vantage point confirmed what she had verbalized when she first pointed it out.  It appeared to be the face of a clock (see below).   With the hands of the clock indicating 4:35. 

Petroglyph resembling clock.
Ancient timepiece?  14 dots around the face instead of 12. Petroglyph resides atop a large boulder at the North site.

Over a mile away from the location of this particular symbol, we found two more nearly identical.  And in close proximity to each other.  The differences being in size and that one clockface had 20 dots, the other 21.  But the "hands" were all in the same position.  When the above example was first found, we guessed that perhaps the ancient natives to this region may have had a better timekeeping method than we do today.  With a cumulative 28 hours in a day, maybe they did not have to account for leap years.  That theory died as soon as we found the other two similar petroglyphs.  Thankfully for my neice, who was going to get to prove or disprove the idea with a calculator once we arrived back home.

But perhaps the most bewildering petroglyph I have found at the far north end of this site leads me to believe that this particular location near my home has been a predominant, extra special place over a very long period of time to many of our Native American peoples.  It took on a more special meaning for me when I found a particular specimen of ancient rock art.  Emphasized even more-so when I read another passage from Dennis Slifer's very in-depth book on rock art in the Upper Rio Grande region of the Southwest.  He states in his book that no rock art is known to exist in the Southwest that is associated with the Paleo-Indians (approximate date range of 23000 BC to 8500 BC).  However, unless we open the proverbial can-of-worms regarding the possibilities of space aliens, time travel, or other mystical phenomena.  How else could a prehistoric traveler make a very detailed petroglyph of a creature that has now been extinct for roughly 12,000 years?  Unless they witnessed it for themselves?

Photo of petroglyph depicting two mammoths.
Could this possibly be the first known petroglyph in the Southwest from the Pleistocene Ice Age (Paleo-Indian Style)?

I don't believe that anyone can deny what these two beasts represent.  Obviously some ancient wanderer saw first hand one or more Pleistocene mammoths (or mastadons).   There is plenty of modern day proof that these beasts were indiginous to the early New Mexico landscape.  A lifelong friend of mine who now resides along the lower Mimbres area near Cookes Peak even found a petrified mammoth jaw bone and teeth.   While he was on a geological expedition near the town of Mimbres, during his early college days at Western New Mexico University.

So perhaps, like a diamond in the rough, what I believe to be my new found petroglyph site.  Bearing a great diversity of petroglyphic styles and examples of ancient Native American rock art.  May indeed prove to be of profound interest to others.   Who like me, find rock art to be mystical and chock-full of many hours of exciting discovery, observation and wonderment.

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

Pleistocene Era

Ice Age Animals

Ice Age Mammoth


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