By Kristy McCaffrey
Petroglyphs—also known as rock art or rock writing—are etchings left on rocks in the landscape, usually on boulders, cliff sides, and other stone outcrops. “Petroglyph” comes from two Greek words—petro meaning rock and glyph meaning carving or engraving.
Petroglyphs have been made for thousands of years. In the Southwestern United States, many different Native American tribes have left this rock art in the deserts, the plateau country, and the mountains. Petroglyphs are made by either a pecking method (hitting the surface with a tool) or abrading (grinding), or a combination of both.
There are several different styles of petroglyphs in the Southwest.
Archaic: All Southwest, approximately 5000 BC – AD 300
|Portions of this are archaic.|
Fremont: Central and Southern Utah, AD 500 – AD 1400
Anasazi: Four Corners Region, AD 300 – AD 1300
Hohokam: Central and Southern Arizona, AD 300 – AD 1400
Rio Grande: Central and Northern New Mexico, AD 1300 – Present
|Rio Grande style.|
Petroglyphs are believed to represent several things. Some were made to mark the landscape—showing a trail, indicating the presence of water, or identifying territorial claims. Some recorded events, such as migrations or a memorable hunt. Others marked the phases of the moon or the position of the sun, planets, and stars. And other petroglyphs were related to spiritual life and vision quests, or they simply told a story.
If you happen upon a petroglyph, help in its preservation by not touching it or making a rubbing of the symbol.
The following public places have large petroglyph sites:
Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site, near Gila Bend, Arizona
Petrified Forest National Park, near Holbrook, Arizona
Saguaro Nation Monument, Tucson, Arizona
Deer Valley Rock Art Center, Phoenix, Arizona
Mesa Verde National Park, near Cortez, Colorado
Bandelier National Monument, near Santa Fe, New Mexico
Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, Three Rivers, New Mexico
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, near Thoreau, New Mexico
Dinosaur National Monument, near Vernal, Utah
Fremont Indian State Park, near Richfield, Utah
Newspaper Rock Site, near Monticello, Utah
Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, Utah
Nine Mile Canyon, near Price, Utah
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