Monday, August 7, 2017


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

Fremont style.

Anasazi: Four Corners Region, AD 300 – AD 1300

Anasazi style.

Hohokam: Central and Southern Arizona, AD 300 – AD 1400

Hohokam style.

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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Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Hi, Kristy! I've been lucky enough to visit a few of these sites. Seeing the hand of early man up close and personal is an awesome experience. And what astounds me is how many centuries they've been left undisturbed. Maybe they have a power all their own that people respect. Thank you for cautioning visitors to not touch or make rubbings of the petrogylphs.

Mary Lawson said...

There are petroglyphs in Moab Utah and the Arches National Park.

Andrea Downing said...

Kristy, thanks for sharing this info. I've seen the petroglyphs outside of Sedona AZ and others in WY--always fascinating to try to conjure up why they are there and what they were saying.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

I agree. It's crazy that these drawings have been around for so long!! How wonderful that you've been able to visit several of the sites.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Thanks so much for adding those to the list! Much appreciated. Thanks for stopping by. :-)

Kristy McCaffrey said...

I like to think there's deep meaning but sometimes I think they're just doodles. Several years ago I was in the Orkney Islands (north of Scotland) and we got to see Viking scratchings. Turns out they were graffiti and crude references at that. LOL. Some things never change.