Monday, January 19, 2009

Nevada Houses Many Fascinating Rock Art Sites


Grimes Point Petroglyphs

Prehistoric rock art, which are known as petroglyphs, have long been a source of mystery to Nevada archaeologists and historians.

Carved into rock walls and boulders around the state by early Native Americans, these rock writings have never been deciphered—although there are plenty of theories as to their meaning.

Some hypothesize that the rock art had religious significance while others postulate that they were merely rock doodling.

A few years ago, archaeologist David S. Whitley has written a book, “A Guide to Rock Art Sites,” which suggests they are most likely related to sacred rituals and in some cases involved shamanism and vision quests.

Petroglyph designs often include human stick figures, animals, weapons, or geometric shapes, such as zigzag patterns, circles, or squiggles.

The following are a handful of the more accessible rock art sites found in the state:

Valley of Fire
- Two impressive petroglyph sites can be found in Valley of Fire State Park, which is located about an hour northeast of Las Vegas via I-15 and State Route 169.

The rock art at Valley of Fire, which dates to about a thousand years old, is particularly vivid because the images are carved into red sandstone.

At Atlatl Rock, visitors can find plenty of rock art including carvings of bighorn sheep, footprints, lizards, human figures and the rock’s namesake, an engraving of a throwing stick or atlatl.

At the park’s Petroglyph Trail, also known as the Mouse Tank Petroglyphs, visitors can find large panels of rock art containing patterns, human figures and bighorn sheep.

Red Rock Canyon - Another good rock art site near Las Vegas is Willow Spring in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which is located about 15 miles west of Las Vegas via West Charleston Road.

Here, visitors can find panels of red handprints, which Whitley says may have reflected the shaman’s belief that the rock was a passable barrier between the supernatural and real world—and they were reaching between worlds.

Another site at Rock Rock is at Red Spring. Here, visitors find a thick pattern of wavy lines and snaking patterns. Whitley believes the patterns are similar to those that appear on Indian blankets or in woven baskets.

Grapevine Canyon - The petroglyphs at Grapevine Canyon, located about 7 miles west of Laughlin via State Route 163 and Christmas Tree Pass Road, are among the most dense to be found in the state. The rock walls of the canyon are crammed with various images ranging from human figures to sheep to geometric patterns.

According to Whitley, Grapevine Canyon is located at the foot of “Spirit Mountain,” (today it is named Newberry Peak), a place that was among the most sacred to prehistoric dwellers.

The mountain plays an important role in one of the culture’s most significant creation stories, with the canyon serving as the site of a kind of house of spirits—hence all the rock art.

Grimes Point
- Located 15 miles east of Fallon via U.S. 50, Grimes Point includes a mile-long interpretive trail that winds through a small forest of engraved boulders and rocks. Petroglyphs in this area date more than 7,000 years old and contain a variety of designs, which reflects the fact they were carved over several eras.

A series of signs describes the theories about the meaning of the rock art and points out the different types of carvings. For example, the oldest are believed to be the most simple, having a “pit and groove” pattern.

Later images include more complex designs such as a lizard, the sun, and deer.
A good source of information about petroglyphs is David S. Whitley’s “A Guide to Rock Art Sites, Southern California and Southern Nevada,” published by Mountain Press.

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