Dean M. Chriss
Hunters and Holy Men
(Click image to enlarge)
Shown here is a small part of the most significant rock art site in North
America. Approximately eighty larger than life figures stretch roughly 300 feet
along one wall of a remote desert canyon. The effort required to create such a
large and prominent display was tremendous so the figures must have have great
meaning. The creators of this work and their culture vanished thousands of years
ago, and with them went our ability to understand any message they were trying
to convey. These ancient figures have become time travelers from a different
age, carrying a message through the millennia that can no longer be understood.
Archeologists think these pictographs were created during the later part of
America's Archaic period, which lasted from around 8000 to 1000 BCE. They are
typically five or six feet tall, with the tallest being twelve feet in height.
Small figures, only a few inches high are interspersed among them. The figures
were created with several different colors, the most fade resistant and durable
being red ocher, made from a form of iron oxide. The paints were applied in
various ways, including spraying from the mouth, applying with fingers, and
carving lines through previously painted areas. Colors like as green and white
are still visible, but they have deteriorated more than the red. Although
somewhat sheltered, this artwork is exposed to direct sunlight and temperature
extremes, in addition to wind blown rain and sand. The fact that they still
exist is a testament to the abilities of the artists.
The people who created these images lived in a different world than ours. The
bow and arrow was not yet invented and the United States would not exist for
another few thousand years. 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, canyon system.
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.