Sometime around when the historic Jesus was pounding the pavement of Jerusalem seeking recruits, Native Americans began pecking away at Newspaper Rock, creating petroglyphs. What they were trying to say is still something of a question mark. Guesses range from the mundane to the mysterious.
For example, was the guy shooting the buck in the rear a mystical symbol to give the hunter luck, or was it a recording of the event. “Shot big buck. Everyone is invited over for venison stew.”
Like modern graffiti, some rock-art was likely meant to say, “I was here” or “This is the territory of clan such and such…” a no trespassing and no hunting sign. Enter at your own risk.
One interesting question is whether there was any purposeful art in rock-art? Did the creator peck away for the sheer joy of pecking away and creating a masterpiece?
In Navajo the rock is called Tse’ Hane or “rock that tells story.”
We can’t be sure when the individual petroglyphs were made. As I’ve noted before, Indian rock-art is very hard to date. The relative thickness of the rock varnish, the use of bow and arrows, the availability of horses, and the petroglyphs’ resemblance to other rock-art being created in the same era are all used as clues.
The National Historic Marker at the site notes that Archaic, Basket Maker, Fremont, Pueblo and Navajo cultures added their stories to the rock. In more modern times, pioneers even became involved.
Unfortunately, the tradition continues today. All too often people can’t resist adding their own names, marring and destroying the original petroglyphs at various sites. Think of spray-painting your name on the stained glass windows of the Cathedral Notre-Dame in Paris for comparison.
What’s fascinating about Newspaper Rock is the sheer number of petroglyphs included and the time frame over which they were created. I am also impressed with the variety of animals represented. For example, I can’t recall seeing flying squirrels or rabbit tracks in other rock-art sites Peggy and I have visited.
Newspaper Rock is located on Utah’s highway 211 which serves as the south entrance to Canyonlands National Park and is south of Moab. The following photos are a few examples of what you can expect to see. I take total responsibility for the interpretations.