• Prehistoric Rock Art of the Southwest

    Drawings that are chipped out of the stone or painted on with natural pigments can be found throughout the southwestern part of the United States, These mysterious drawings give us a peek into the lives of the people who lived there anciently.

    Prehistoric Rock Art


    • Pictures that are painted onto the rock are called pictographs. The native people used charcoal from a fire, blood from a hunted animal, and minerals. They painted with their finger or used brushes made from plants or animal hairs.
    • Pictures that are chipped into the rock are called pictographs. These pictures generally are more durable than pictographs. The desert rock developed a dark varnish over time and the natives chipped into the sandstone with a harder rock.
    • Most of the rock art in the Southwest is considered to have been created by the Freemont and Anasazi Indians. The Anasazi lived as early as 1500 BCE, and the Freemont lived between 700 and 1300 CE.   Anasazi
    • The oldest rock art of the American Southwest was made by peoples of the archaic period. These images are thousands of years old. One of the best examples of archaic art is in central Utah and was made by the Barrier Canyon people who were nomadic hunter-gatherers.  
    • Many archeologists do not believe the rock art was decorative. They think it was made to give information; showing where to find water, marking trails, or as calendars; for religious purposes, for prayers, or marking sacred spots; or territorial, as a warning against trespassing.
    • The rock art styles vary according to the areas they are found and the people to whom they are attributed. Some rock art is very realistic, people and animals are recognizable. Other rock art is more abstract with mystical figures.
    • Scientists think that some rock art images are connected to specific events. They believe, for example, that the huge sunburst in Chaco Canyon represents the supernova that happened in 1054 CE. This also gives a date to the art.   Chaco Canyon
    • The rock art has been best preserved when it is in caves, in the shelter of a canyon, and in an arid climate.



    Archeologist: A scientist who studies prehistoric people and their culture through physical remains.

    Sandstone: A sedimentary rock made of compacted sand.

    Sedimentary Rock


    Questions and Answers

    Questions: What animals are depicted in the rock art of the American Southwest?

    Answer: The people drew and painted pictures of the animals they were familiar with such as; snakes, lizards, sheep, and elk.


    Learn more about rock art and the Rochester Panel in Central Utah.


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Tobin, Declan. (2024). All About Prehistoric Rock Art of the Southwest. American History for Kids. Retrieved from https://www.americanhistoryforkids.com/prehistoric-rock-art-of-the-southwest/

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