Rock Writing

Even though the navigational button that probably brought you to this page says "Rock Art," this term is a misnomer. The ancient imagery archived here is not "art" in the sense that contemporary Western culture considers it. Petro-pictography ("rock-picture-writing"), paleography, or even epigraphy might be more correct. Whatever one calls these signifiers, they certainly are not art for art's sake. Instead they are a form of writing with its own idiosyncratic grammar and usage. For instance, the Hopi word tutuveni refers to petroglyphs (rock carvings) or pictographs (rock paintings); however, the same word also denotes books, magazines, newspapers, or any written material. This dual designation clearly puts the form of communication in the same conceptual realm as the Egyptian or Mayan hieroglyph and the Chinese ideogram.

"In most works concerned with these mysterious markings, the term rock writing is seldom applied to them, in spite of the fact that this is the very term the Indians themselves have always used, and would thus seem to be the most appropriate one.... This omission is due largely to the fact that most scholars have never accepted the premise that these markings were indeed writing. The existence in the languages of many Indian tribes of a word for writing (in the sense of recording information for others to read) proves, at least that picture writing was long accepted as writing by the Indian. And who but the American Indian himself is more qualified to say whether it is or is not?"

LaVan Martineau
The Rocks Begin to Speak
(Las Vegas: KC Publications, Inc. 1994,1973)

"Recent theories for the study of rock art and other archaeological materials have emphasized the roles played by context and symbolism. It has been proposed that symbols such as rock art images are most likely to be meaningful when examined within the contexts of time, place, culture, and society and with the knowledge that symbolism is part of information exchange, communication systems, and acts to express and reinforce group identities."

Sally Cole
Legacy On Stone: Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners Region
(Boulder, Colorado: Johnson Books, 1995, 1990)

"These images pecked into or painted on stone are a valuable component of the archaeological record-- graphic images that often derive from the various aspects of prehistoric cosmologies and mythic systems. Some prehistoric ideologies of the Southwest have been carried into the ethnographic present by the modern descendants of the prehistoric peoples, but other such systems, with the exception of what can be learned through the visual imagery of the petroglyphs and rock paintings, have been almost totally lost. Rock art, then, is an important means of reaching some understanding of the sacred dimension and certain related practices of the prehistoric period."

Polly Schaafsma
Indian Rock Art of the Southwest
(Santa Fe: School of American Research, 1995, 1980)

Palatki Pictographs (Arizona)

V Bar V Ranch (Arizona)

Petroglyph National Monument (New Mexico)

Petroglyph Anomalies of the American Southwest

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