Petroglyphs in the Petrified Forest
So here we segue back to the Petrified Forest, and it may not seem logical in a linear, chronological sense, like time-as-pearls-strung-together-on-a-string sort of thing, but in terms of like things, the next chronological entry is going to be on 700 years of culture, the Ancestral Puebloans who used to be called the Anasazi, but before I go there, I want to show you some petroglyphs.
(I’m putting in a lot of links in case you are as big a petroglyph nerd as I am, and want to read more)
I always imagine the problems with being early man. Imagine they are smart, and spend a lot of their days figuring things out, most important being 1. What are we going to eat? 2. How are we going to keep dry/warm? 3. How do we protect ourselves from our enemies? They have the same problems we have, only on a much more basic level, and with fewer resources.
Have you ever thought about how easy it is to get information now? (The hard part being sifting through so you get the most reliable, most relevant information). Imagine a world where you have to figure it out for yourself, every day.
Early civilizations fascinate me. I am always interested in little tiny things that can be very important, like how did they fasten skins together to keep themselves warm? How do you poke a hole in a sharp bone so you can use it as a needle? How do you make a button, or make strips that can be used to tie clothing together?
How do you fasten a spear head onto a spear, or an arrowhead onto an arrow?
Early man was a problem solver, and I am fascinated by petroglyphs, which are either early attempts at documentation, or early attempts at communication, or maybe both? The first petroglyphs and cave paintings I ever visited were the Font de Gaume Caves near Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, and they took my breath away. I didn’t even hesitate because it was a cave, I wanted to see them so badly.
I want you to look at this photo of a fairly early dwelling in Les Eyzies de Tayac-Sireuil and hold it in your mind before we move on:
Later, living in Saudi Arabia, one of the most fun day trips ever was to a rock formation called Graffiti Rock, which had no protection, so very old petroglyphs mingled with modern carvings, but some of the older carvings were so interesting, so intriguing.
Coming across petroglyphs in the Petrified Forest was a delight.
Here is part of what the national parks website has to say about petroglyphs found in the Petrified Forest:
In 1977 a spiral petroglyph at Chaco Canyon National Monument was discovered which displayed a precise interaction with sunlight at the time of summer solstice by means of a narrow shaft of sunlight that moved down a shadowed rock face to bisect the center of a large spiral petroglyph. Subsequent observations found that on winter solstice and equinoxes there were intriguing interactions of sunlit shafts with the large spiral and a smaller spiral nearby. No other example of a sunlight interaction with prehistoric or historic petroglyphs was known at this time. However, there was a tradition of Pueblo sun watching in historic times, particularly of the varying sunrise and sunset positions throughout the year, to set the dates for ceremonies.
As a result of the Chaco Canyon find, Bob Preston initiated a research project to determine whether other petroglyph sites in the Southwest functioned as solar “observatories.” Over the last 16 years he has identified about 120 examples of similar solstice events at more than 50 petroglyph sites in Arizona, New Mexico and southern Utah. Evidence indicates that the phenomenon may have been spread over as much as a 1000-km region. These findings show clearly that certain petroglyphs were used by early pueblo cultures to function as calendrical markers for the winter and summer solstices. Petrified Forest National Park contains the greatest known concentration of solar calendars, with 16 of the sites being in or immediately adjacent to the park, and has been key to understanding their nature.
Shadows and sunlit images are found to move across petroglyphs due to other rocks being in the path of the sun’s rays. As the sun’s path across the sky changes throughout the year, the positions of the shadows and sunlit images change on the petroglyph panels. In many cases the petroglyphs have been placed on the rock faces in just the right position so that specific interactions occur on the solstices. The most common types of petroglyphs on which solsitial interactions have been identified are spirals and circles. The key to determining that these were intended and not by chance is that interactions are seen from site to site, and occur on the solstices more frequently than on other days of the year. These consistent interactions may involve a point of sunlight or shadow piercing the center or tracing the edge of a spiral or circular petroglyph; or shadow lines may suddenly appear or disappear at the center or edges of the petroglyph; or they may move up to the center or edge and then retreat. It is not uncommon for a single petroglyph to display multiple interactions of this type, either on the same solstice or on each of the solstices. In fact, at one site, there are five circular and spiral petroglyphs that show 15 interactions on the both solstices.
An intriguing question is whether types of petroglyph images were involved with specific dates. In several cases similar sunlight and shadow interactions occur on spiral and circular petroglyphs on the equinox, and distinctive interactions occur with other petroglyphs on the solstices and other dates. Clearly much of the puzzle remains to be unraveled.
There was a WEALTH of petroglyphs. I’m just going to show you a few of those we found:
Early people in widely separated parts of the world carved and painted on rock, probably for a number of reasons, maybe keeping track of solar activity and seasons, maybe magical/religious thinking for a good hunt or nostalgia for a good hunt, maybe just someone who, like today’s blogger, just has to document in some way . . .
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