Monday, February 5, 2018

Painted Rock Petroglyph Site - Gila River area AZ

American Indians have lived and traveled through this part of southwestern Arizona for more than 10,000 years. This was primarily made possible because of the Gila River. It flowed freely and fully until about 150 years ago. That was when damming and constant water diversion reduced it to a trickle. Prior to that, the banks of the Gila acted as a "freeway" for ancient Indians. Most of the water may be gone, but the Indians certainly left their mark (literally) on the landscape. This petroglyph site is one of many along the Gila River. Without the river, I doubt there would have been any.

After a long drive across the desert from Yuma, we eventually arrived at our destination.

 This photo was taken from the other side of the rock formation. The ground in the near part of the photo is called "Desert Pavement." It really is as flat and hard as a road, and is a natural occurrence.

 A little closer to this hill of granite and basalt rocks. From this distance you start to see hundreds, if not thousands of petroglyphs.

The petroglyphs are primarily of two different styles. The first style is "Western archaic" and were created from approximately 2000 to 8000 years ago. They are mostly geometric in shape. In the middle of the above photo the "grid" shaped symbol is an example.

 The "rake-like" symbol on the rock in this photo is also an example.

The "ladder" looking symbol near the top of this photo is yet another. Just to the right of the "ladder" and and little above it, is a petroglyph representing a scorpion. This is of a different style from a later period.

The second style in the area is called the "Gila Style." Symbols of this style were thought to have been created between 300 BC and 1450 AD, by the Hohokam people. These symbols reflect people, animals, plants, and circular shapes. Some common shapes such as zig-zags were thought be have been used by both groups.


In most places a rock with this many symbols, over such a long period of time, are referred to as "newspaper rock." However, I haven't heard that about this rock. I guess it was a popular place to leave a symbol, because they were made right on top of each other.  There are deer, lizards, people, turtles, spirals, etc.

This is the same rock, but pulled back a bit. You can also clearly see petroglyphs from both styles (and time frames) on the same rock to the right.




This view is pretty interesting for a couple of reasons. First off, you can clearly see that some of the petroglyphs on the top rock are buried in the ground. Nobody really knows how much the ground level changed over thousands of years, but it clearly has changed. The second thing is the "metate" (aka "slick" or "grinding stone").

Here is another metate, this one has a cupule, or small mortar in it. It is a very rare occurrence to see a grinding surface on the same stone that also contains petroglyphs.

I hate seeing graffiti in these places, but sometimes historic graffiti is a good thing. Many other people (non-Indian) later used the ancient Indian trails to travel across the lower southwest for various reasons. Some of these people are famous and you would recognize their names and stories. Fodder for another post, so I won't get into it.  I have no idea who SMC 1815 and Max. G 1857 were yet, but I'm going to try and find out!

TDQ 1878 and VA 1907 were also here. Pretty rude of them to leave their names on the same rock with the petroglyphs. Of course, back then nobody placed any value on them.




71 comments:

  1. There were a lot of Indians who left there mark at that place.

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    1. There sure was Alex. There are still descendants of the Hohokam in the area today.

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  2. Far too few care about the history. I'm intrigued by what any of them may mean. They can't all be doodles.

    I loved the sky in your first shot.

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    1. I agree Mac. I'm pretty sure that everyone of them means something. Thanks!

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  3. It makes you wonder what treasures may be hidden underground.

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  4. this was fascinating. It must be awesome to stand in the same place where someone stood 10,000 years ago! It's cool they can date the various styles. Good luck with tracking down SMC 1815 or Max. G 1857. Even if you can't find out who they were, either one could be the spark for an interesting novel.

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    1. Thanks Elizabeth! It does feel awesome being in these places. I agree about the "spark."

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  5. What a stunning array of petroglyphs. Great pictures. How long did you stay looking at all those rocks? They remind me of the arms of some of those giant Super Bowl football players on the telly last night, every inch of skin covered in tattoos. How are the marks made ? (on the rocks, not the footballers arms hehehe) Are they black rocks but then the surface is scratched off and it is a lighter colour underneath? And are there any rocks lying around that they used as tools to draw with? As you have noted, there is more modern graffiti on the rocks, but perhaps the ancient marks were also personal graffiti as people moved along the trails, a sort of "I Was Here".

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    1. Thanks so much Shammickite. We were there for a couple of hours, and then set out to find another site. These marks are created by pecking or scratching through the "desert varnish" layer that forms on the outside of the boulders with a small "hammer stone." Scientists know how long it takes the "varnish" to form, so they can date when the marks were made. The rocks they use to make the designs are sometimes worked to fit the shape of their hands. Although nobody knows what every symbol represents, they don't seem to be "graffiti." Unfortunately, much of the ancient knowledge relating to these things has been lost. Thanks for the great comment!

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    2. So, the flat grinding stone with the cupule in it, which came first, using the rock as a grinding stone, or drawing the petrogyphs?

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    3. I don't think anybody can answer that question. I wish I could! Now you've got me pondering it...

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  6. Wow Pat that is a lot of history thrown all into one spot, very nice. Even the graffiti from the 1800's is a lesson in itself which I see you are already researching, I can hardly wait for that post.

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    1. Hi Jimmy! When in these places, it is very hard not to feel the history. Maybe that is why I love them so much. Maybe I can take you and Cindy into Joshua Tree sometime and show you some stuff.

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  7. Spent some time in that area too. Interesting to note that some of the dry rivers in Arizona used to support the logging industry. Like the Santa Cruz near Tucson. All gone now. - Mookie

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    1. Mookie - That is not only interesting, it is also amazing. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Hope to see you here again.

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  8. ...were petroglyphs graffiti in their day?

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    1. Hey Tom! Nope! They didn't have a written language, and used the symbols for many different reasons. Fertility, hunting, hunting magic, puberty rites, maps, warnings, shamanistic rites, etc...

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  9. That's some pretty darn cool art Pat!

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    1. Thanks Brian! I totally agree with you.

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  10. They're very well preserved, those that aren't marred by later graffiti, but as you say, white people saw no value in them.

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    1. Hi William, considering everything (including constant exposure) they are in pretty good shape.

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  11. Very intriguing. But I must admit I like your local scenery more.

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  12. What amazing well preserved examples of Petroglyphs! It was also interesting to see more recent markings from pioneers.

    Did you ever hear about Ogam markings? There were some found on rocks near a front range area where I live that puzzle scientists. They were actually covered up by a historical society to protect them from vandalism as the area is being developed. They are fascinating.

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    1. Hi Pat! I have heard about them. I think they're an early form writing in Europe. I also believe that are part of the argument relating to who came to North America first. Now I have to look into it.

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  13. Amazing to see all the petroglyphs and they are still well preserved. Beautiful creative art with a message. Great photos, Pat and thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks Bill! I totally agree. Sharing is my pleasure.

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  14. Good to see you back at All Seasons - thank you! This is a little further away than Joshua Tree, eh? The markings on these rocks are so clear, and easy to decipher:) What a treat that must have been for you and those with you! Interesting are also the "news paper" rocks.Maybe we should go back to that! Some who are now so quick with the tongue, would think (hopefully) twice putting down a lie that can be read for hundreds of years, lol!
    Knowing yo, you probably saw more than this, so am looking forward to it!

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    1. You are most welcome Jeannette! Yep, it's a bit of a drive, but worth it. Oh yeah, don't want to memorialize a lie by carving it in rock!

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  15. "American Indians have lived and traveled through this part of southwestern Arizona for more than 10,000 years."

    WOW! Doesn't that just amaze you? That's what I love about historical locations and history in general. To think that people years and years ago, walked those same places. I love history because you can very often "feel" it in your soul.

    Fantastic photographs, Pat! Those petroglyphs are amazing. That area must have felt sacred.

    I agree with you about graffiti. Historic graffiti is one thing, but defacing graffiti is another.

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    1. Thanks so much Ron. Oh yes! It amazes me every single time I see these places. I do feel things in these places, and in some of them it's not always a good feeling.

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  16. I have never seen them in that number in one area. Is this common? Excellent photos, as always, Pat. As to graffiti, in Erfurt, Germany, in the cathedral, the benches and chairs along the sides have some carved initials and date from Bonaparte's soldiers when they occupied the area in the 1700's. There must be a date when they change from graffiti to artifact......

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    1. Thanks Mike. I would love to see those benches and chairs in the cathedral. Yep, there are some sites with even much more than this one. There are a couple of canyons on the Naval Air Weapons Station property at China Beach CA, that have TENS of thousands of petroglyphs. Mostly of mountain sheep.

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    2. Hey Pat, different subject: I read your comment on Musing's blog regarding Stegner's book 'Angle of Repose'....I encourage you to read it. It's been a great comfort to me, I've read it several times, and each time it's made me feel better about my life and how things end up.
      Take care, Pal.
      Mike

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  17. Hi Pat. WOW, that's a lot of petroglyphs!! It boggles the mind! I'm used to the sparse amount we see in Joshua Tree, so this amazes me! Great photos and great post.

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    1. Hey Pete. Look at my reply to the comment right above this. Tens of thousands of them, would really boggle your mind. Some day you and I will go to very large rock art site in JT.

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  18. Wow. How do you find out about all these places? You must do a huge amount of driving Pat. Great shots as always. Fascinating history and artworks. Typical Western man fucking up what was in place for thousands of years. Still, those additions are interesting in their own right, as you say.
    Thanks for sharing Pat. All these places I'll never get to. But feel as though I have experienced it to a small degree, thanks to you.
    Cheers

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    1. Thanks Anthony! This spot was a long ways from where we were camped. Actually, there are various ways to find them. This one was pretty easy. Some are extremely difficult to find. I really glad you enjoy seeing this stuff.

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  19. As ever, your posts get me to think about the difference between graffiti and other forms of messaging, art and memorial. If something is very old - say the scratching of a knight in armour on a pillar in a cathedral - we think it interesting. Value it even. But if someone went into that same cathedral and scratched a picture of a policeman with a gun on another pillar we'd all get very cross. But people in a couple of hundred years' time would value that one too. Age brings distinction.
    Not long ago I was looking at a late mediaeval tomb of a nobleman in Wimborne Minster (Dorset, England) where names had been scratched into the stone along the edge of his effigy. (It might have been this one http://www.dorset-churches.org.uk/images/wimborne-minster-04.jpg ). I found the older the date beside the name, the more tolerant I was of the vandalism because it got me thinking about what life was like for the person who had perpetrated it. Then I got in a muddle because what is to say it wasn't done ten years ago even it it said a hundred? (Though you explained how they tell with the stones in your post.)
    It's so difficult, and so fascinating, to work out why people do things and what we value and what we don't . . . and I quite like the idea of finding somewhere to make a mark and coming back in twenty years time to see if it is still there - and wondering what people in five hundred years time will make of it.
    And I wonder if anyone complained when someone in the age of petroglyphs drew over the top of one someone else had made.
    And now I'm wondering whether we shouldn't formalise this . . . have special stones where people can make their marks for later ages to wonder at - without having to deface what has gone before.

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    1. thanks for well thought out and interesting comment! I think the difference in the "graffiti" at places like this, is that this is historical because of the circumstances that brought the non-Indian there in the first place. The same goes for the historic graffiti on an ancient pillar in a cathedral. I agree with your thinking about the life of the "vandal" during those times.

      When it came to the Indians marking new petroglyphs on top of old ones, I believe the markers of the old ones were probably long gone. Who really knows? Thanks for the link, I'll check it out..

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  20. Oh my gosh Pat, you must have been in petroglyph heaven! So many and in such amazing condition. As you say the newspaper of the times. I find it incroyable that visitors to the site in the 1800's would even think of doing that, I thought this sort of think was a fairly recent phenomenon!

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    1. I was Grace! The names and dates are no doubt from a different group who passed through the area. Maybe the Mormon Battalion on their way to join the fight against Mexico. Thanks!

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  21. This is so interesting, Pat. I can't believe how many there are!

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    1. Hi Marleen! It's always nice to see a lot of them. I've hiked many miles to sites that contain only a few, or even one petroglyph. I still love them, it's just different when there are many of them.

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  22. Amazes me that those are still out there unfenced and just open to anyone with the talent and fortitude to find them. It's scary to think that people who aren't the historians you are and with less love of antiquities and our heritage might find them. IO'm pessimistic that the added graffiti from those who are now pioneers might make these people think it was OK to leave their mark too.

    All that being said, I personally would love to visit this amazing place and wish we'd known about it when we traveled through that area several times.

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    1. I know what you mean Sally. There is even a small dry campground very close by. You have to really want to be at this site, because it is in the middle of nowhere, and many miles from the closest paved road. Thanks so much for thoughtful comment...

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  23. I wonder if at some time in the future, people will find modern the street art as fascinating as these?

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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    1. I don't think they will Stewart. The term "rock art" is really a misnomer. The Indians say that it isn't art at all. It's a lot of things, but not art. Speaking for myself, I love a lot of the "modern" street art, but unfortunately, it doesn't stand a chance of lasting very long. IMHO...

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  24. wow, is this for real?? I have never seen anything like it before, not myself or in any science magazines. Loved to see it. Thanks for sharing. I´ll probably get back to take a closer look :)

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    1. If you have the time, I've got plenty of it on my blog. I'm happy that you appreciate it.

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  25. Wow that is pretty amazing. I found the "Newspaper" rock to be super cool and so many in one place, quite fascinating for sure.

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    1. I agree Ida, it is amazing! I wonder what drew everyone to that same rock?

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  26. Wow those 8000 old petroglyphs are so amazing. I have never seen such a thing. We have one rock here that the natives put a sea animal design on years ago. Thanks so much for your comments on my blog. You have some lovely photos here on your whole blog, I love the desert colors and warmth.

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    1. Thanks for the nice words Nora! I appreciate it. You have plenty of Petroglyph sites on your beautiful island.

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  27. I think that graffiti has passed the point of graffiti and turned into history. It also goes to show how long idiots writing stuff on something they probably know nothing about have been around. Incredibly interesting stuff and kind of humbling. I'd be afraid to drive that far across the desert.

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    1. I agree about it kind of jumbling. Although the petroglyphs appear to be kind of haphazard, but it's not all. I lot of people are afraid of the desert, to me that's a good thing. Thanks for the comment Jeanna!

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  28. Gosh, those rocks are painted thick with design just like in Egypt. I guess we should feel lucky we ave the luxury of paper. Great post!

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    1. Hi Sharon! I would love to see the historic stuff in Egypt. Maybe someday. Interesting thing about Egypt; they (and many other cultures) were well advanced that long ago, while there wasn't even a building in North America. The people were still "hunter/gathers, and there wasn't many of them.

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  29. These are so breathtakingly beautiful. I was struck by how much some of these petroglyphs remind me of the fossil rocks we find at minus tides in Capitola. The artistry of time and human hands.

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    1. Thanks Robin. I agree about them being beautiful. Time is taking a toll on these things, slowly but surely they are being eroded away.

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  30. Hi Pat. You mentioned a "hill of granite and basalt rocks". I haven't worked as a geologist for nearly 50 years, but these two rocks have radically different chemistry and could never occur together. I wonder what you're actually distinguishing between.

    I was particularly intrigued by your "newspaper rock", about which my immediate reaction was: why? You do a good job of explaining what these petroglyphs represent, but what do they actually mean, especially when so many are jumbled together as in that instance?

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    1. Hi Dennis! I'm sure you know much more about these rocks than I do, so I can't argue with you. However, both basalt and granite is there. Maybe they are different time periods and cooled at different rates?

      As to the petroglyphs themselves, most of the knowledge relating to their exact meaning is long lost. It is thought that they don't represent actual "words" but rather conditions, actions, beliefs, events, and other things. An example would be the "barbell" symbol (two circles connected by a straight line. Each of the circles represents a person, or group of people, and the line between them represents a meeting, conversation, trade, or some other type of exchange between them. The same symbol with another circle in the middle represents a third party acting as middle man, mediator, or messenger between the other two.

      There is a lot more to it...

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    2. I meant to say "maybe there FROM different time periods..."

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    3. HA! Make that "they are" not "there."

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