Archaeologists study the human past, which often includes items like glass, beads, projectile points, animal bones, and tools that humans have left behind. We often forget to consider the more symbolic remains of the past – art.
Like modern art, the art of the past comes in many mediums. One of the most recognizable is rock art. There are two types of rock art: pictographs and petroglyphs. Pictographs are designs painted on the rock surface and petroglyphs are designs chiseled or chipped into the rock surface. People have been painting and carving rocks for thousands of years and many of these works are still visible today.
Rock art is found all over the world. Thousands of rock art sites adorn rock walls and boulders in the United States. Each one is unique to the tribe and culture who made it. These sites may be thousands of years old. Just a few famous rock art sites include Legend Rock (WY), Mammoth Cave (KY), Bear Gulch (MT), Horseshoe Canyon (UT), and Painted Bluff (AL).
The nature of rock art puts it at greater risk for deterioration since it is typically exposed to the elements. Another threat to rock art sites is humans, rock art sites are often ‘loved to death’ by visitors who want to touch the rock art or vandalize it by leaving their own mark. When visiting a rock art site, stay on paths and trails to prevent erosion and don’t touch the rock art, oils from our hands can damage fragile rock art panels. We must be aware of our actions and how they affect these archaeological sites. Because of their beauty and cultural importance, it is essential that stewardship of rock art sites be carried out with care and utmost sincerity.
Project Archaeology’s newest curriculum, Investigating Rock Art explores how ancient cultures communicated with rock art, how archaeologists study and interpret rock art, and how we can protect rock art sites. Investigating Rock Art will be available April 13th, 2018.