Dean M. Chriss
Hunters and Holy Men, Great Gallery, Utah

Hunters and Holy Men, Great Gallery, Utah

(Click image to enlarge)

The Great Gallery is widely thought to be the most significant rock art site in North America. Approximately eighty figures stretch roughly 300 feet along the west side of the canyon. Many of these are larger than life, with one more than twelve feet tall. The segment shown here is near the center of the gallery. The largest figure on this panel is roughly seven feet tall. Some details from the image above can be seen here. It is believed by some that the larger figures with large straight shoulders represent men, and those with sloping shoulders represent women. Of course it is impossible to know with certainty what any of the figures represent.

The Great Gallery images were created with red ocher-tinted paint applied in a number of ways. These included spraying from the mouth, applying with fingers, and carving lines through previously painted areas. There has been some debate in recent years regarding when the paintings were created. Clay figures of the same style found in nearby caves date back to approximately B.C. 6000. The most recent radio-carbon date obtained from specially cleaned flakes of pigment that fell naturally from the canyon wall produced a date of approximately B.C. 7500. This very roughly coincides with the age of the clay figures previously mentioned, setting the age of the artwork at approximately 9500 years. It was previously thought that these works were considerably younger, though still quite old.

The people who created these images lived in a different world than ours. The United States would not exist for another 9200 years, and the bow and arrow was not yet invented. Paintings like this and a few artifacts represent all we know of their world. Unfortunately, unknown numbers of ancient archaeological sites downstream from this one were lost when Glen Canyon was turned into the sedimentation pond Lake Powell, which was built to prolong the useful life of Lake Mead. Because the canyon was not well explored or documented before it was flooded, we will never know all that it contained. The book "The Place No One Knew - Glen Canyon on the Colorado" is highly recommended. With images by Elliott Porter and text by David Bower, it is one of a few attempts to document the large, and then extremely remote, area. Some other photographs taken before the construction of Glen Canyon Dam can be seen here.

The ancient rock art art present in Horseshoe Canyon and in other areas is irreplaceable, priceless, and extremely fragile. The lightest touch causes eventual staining from oils that are present in human skin. Worse, it can cause immediate flaking of paint. Many people walking too near the art can sometimes erode and undercut the rock on which the art is displayed, perhaps causing it to break and fall sometime in the distant future. Small things have huge impacts over time that spans thousands of years.