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Field Guide Series – Southwestern Petroglyphs

by | May 24, 2023

Gain fundamental, practical knowledge of your surroundings.

“Small but Mighty” may be the best way to describe our Easy Field Guides, reviewed by our own Yvonne Prater, Director of Operations. Each book is fully illustrated, and filled with a plethora of interesting facts that are easy to understand to help answer the thoughtful question, “What is that?”

If you missed them, you can read Yvonne’s first six Field Guide reviews here. This is the seventh guide in the series and is titled “Southwestern Petroglyphs”.

The Etymology of Petroglyph

The word “Petroglyph” comes from two Greek words: petro meaning rock and glyph meaning carving or engraving. Other terms for petroglyphs are rock writing and rock art but the Native American petroglyphs cannot be “read” like words and weren’t made just for their visual beauty. They were made for a variety of reasons, such as marking the landscape, recording events, sky watching, recording success, and indicating good hunting sites, spiritual ceremonies, seeking visions, and even storytelling.

What Exactly are Petroglyphs?

Petroglyphs are pecked or abraded marks that people have purposely made on rocks in the landscape – on boulders, cliff sides, and other stone outcrops. Pecking makes petroglyphs by percussion by hitting the rock surface with a tool. Some pecked glyphs were made by positioning a chisel-like tool against the rock and striking it with a hammerstone producing a rough, pitted surface. Abrading makes glyphs by grinding. Lines may be lightly scratched or deeply incised. If a whole area was ground, the rock surface would be smooth or even slick. Sometimes a combination of both techniques were used.

Who Made the Southwestern Petroglyphs?

In the Southwest, Native Americans from many different cultures have made petroglyphs. Researchers have given “style” names to groups of petroglyphs that resemble one another. Each style seems to be characteristic of a geographic area, time period, and culture group. Their rock art can be seen in the deserts, plateau country, and mountains. Petroglyphs have been made for thousands of years, right up to the present.

As the population of the region grows, petroglyphs that once were in remote areas are visited by increasing numbers of people. At many sites, the need to protect them is clearly evident. For petroglyphs to last into the future, a respect for their importance and a commitment to their preservation is essential.

Visit Riverbanks Gift Shop

There is great pleasure to be had from gaining fundamental, practical knowledge of your surroundings. I hope you enjoy and anticipate each month the selected topics in this series. These guides are published by American Traveler Press and can be found in the River of Time gift shop, Riverbanks. We are open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through May 31, and Wednesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. from June 01.