Ancient Art and Ancient Artists

Last Sunday afternoon, my husband Jeff, his brother Craig, Craig’s wife Deb, and I walked out to one of the sites near Holbrook where examples of the native rock art called “petroglyphs” can be found.

Ancient beyond our imagining, these pictures were tapped into the face of local  cliffs by long-ago residents of our area. Almost all depict animals or reptiles from the area, though some appear to be connected to creation stories still told by local tribes today. The style is simple, and I can certainly understand that choice. When you have to pound  your art into hard rock, the desire for details probably diminishes with each tap.

However, the impact of the art, especially when seen firsthand, is anything but simple. Observed in the afternoon sunshine of a typical day in the early 21st century, the art raises many questions. Who were the artists? Where did they live and work? What was their family life like? What worried them? What made them happy at that time?

What message, if any, were they trying to convey in these effortful pictures? Did they intend them to communicate information about hunting sites nearby? Or were they pure art, done for the pleasure of creation? Could this work simply be ancient graffiti? How old are these pictures, exactly?

If you think that at the end of this post, I’m going to give you answers to these questions, I’m sorry. I just don’t know, and neither does anyone else–not for sure, anyway. But the pictures fascinate me, and I go to look at them again and again.

The work of these ancient artists makes me wonder what I’d see if I could go back to the day they were created. How would Holbrook have looked then? I wonder what the artists would think if they could see their homeland today.

This art always humbles me. Our own time seems to us like the most important time of all–but this work reminds me to take a longer view. The community where I live now has been home to many others as well. It’s no more mine than it was theirs. Others will undoubtedly take possession in the future, and my time will recede into memory. Big thoughts, inspired by small, careful drawings, chipped into the rock by artists of infinite patience. Come by and see them sometime.


8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Karen Hager Ombrello on April 25, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Hi, My dear Friend,
    I hope your day was warmer than our windy day there in Feb. but it looks like the sun was shining on the petrogylphs making them “shine” for you. Perhaps they were like the etchings in the school desks — evidence of the artist having been there!
    The runes that we saw in Sweden and Norway were somewhat like these. It must have been great effort creating the images that were also somewhat “religious” in a pagan way. They had intricate symbols.

    Communication seems to have been important –and a constant for all people in all ages.


  2. Yes, our day was in the high 90’s. I love these petroglyphs. So interesting. One of the pictures here is where we went–the other is a new find. Hi to Jim.


  3. Posted by Paul Smale on April 26, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    It makes me wonder if all our technology was taken away, what would we carve in the rock for future generations to see? Probably a McDonald’s arch and rudemenatry carving of an ipad.


    • It would be nice to think we’d tap in some sort of depiction of our families, g
      reat books, or something else a little more uplifting–but you are probbly right!


  4. Posted by A. Duenas on May 2, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    I wonder what it would leave behind and what story or history I would want to convey if thisxwere the only means to leave a hint for the future residents? I am going to ponder that!


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