Saturday, August 18, 2012

Petroglyphs - A Photographic Essay

On the outskirts of Vernal, Utah enormous cliffs jut out of the valley. A pleasant, moderate hike on a well groomed trail winds along giant red boulders for about one mile.  Exposed bedrock bearing the largest, best preserved collection of petroglyphs in the world line the cliff walls on this trek. This prehistoric Art gallery is embedded in rock with delicate and precise etching.  Keeping line weights consistently wide and deep the Artists - or possibly one of the earliest artist's collective - Native Americans memorialized their creations for eternity.  A first glance may falsely register simplistic drawings, but careful observation reveals sophisticated abstraction akin to modernist composition.


Although the art collection is of necessity on a linear progression along a path at the bottom of a cliff with rock face sheer and shooting straight out of the ground, no linear story telling is taking place.  Rather, a series of vignettes illustrate discreet themes like paintings at the museum.

Glyph themes typically depict iconic symbolism, or more frequently people.  Figurative scenes show various stages of human development; children, adolescent love.....

Young ones

adulthood; family or clan groupings, Paleolithic families (stone age man and wife with welcoming gestures),

Paleolithic Nuclear Family

 chiefs and warriors.  But strangely absent is death: all figures are vertical, none horizontal.

At times, a powerful chieftain figure stands alone, headdress prominent.  Other times a group of impressive figures with variously complex head pieces gather looking outward.


Whatever their purpose, head ornaments are intricate and wonderful.   Each hat is strangely alien; some evoking electric equipment or images of electronic receivers like headphones or giant ears; possibly signifying a connection with the other world; intricate headdress, more likely accouterments of rank.

Occasionally there are images of hunting, like a man fighting a fierce bear... presumably victorious.

Bear Hunt

Some petroglyphs are reminiscent of stone age crop circles leading to the inevitable conjecture that perhaps crop and geological manifestations have been occurring for quite some time.

One glyph is remarkably like the solar system, suggesting a connection to the cosmos.  None appear to be hieroglyphs: absent pattern repetition.

Solar System

In any case, who were these people? And, what inspired them?

The natural landscape is reason enough to prompt reverie.  With massive cliffs and giant rock formations sticking out of the ground, it is easy to see the magic of this place.  When monolithic stones start looking like giant heads, deities come to mind and similarities to the great Moai statues of Easter Island emerge.

American Moai