Sheep Cults and Ancient Mazes… The Rock Art of Three Rivers

Petroglyph maze at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

Set off by distant mountains, this petroglyph appears to be a maze.

It is fun to speculate on what petroglyphs mean. It can also be frustrating. What was the artist thinking when he created the above glyph? “This will make a nice blanket design.” Or how about, “Here is the path our ancestors followed to get out of the underworld.” Or, “Here’s a fun maze.” Or, “Like wow, that Datura is some serious dope.

The petroglyph is definitely a maze; follow the lines. Beyond this, speculation becomes iffy. The book by Alex Peterson, A Field Guide to Rock Symbols of the Greater Southwest, attempts to interpret the meaning of various petroglyphs. I’ve used him extensively. But Patterson provides a cover-all-contingencies disclaimer in the beginning of his book, “There is no proof that any of these meanings are correct.

For example, join Peggy in checking out the rock art below. It’s obviously an anthropomorph (human-like), given that it standing upright and has a head. The robe has various patterns or symbols on it and a fringe at the bottom. Patterson notes that similar characters appear again and again in rock art, that “they almost certainly represent the costumed principals of the sheep cult and may have been shamans.” Sheep cults and shamans– sounds intriguing, doesn’t it.

Peggy Mekemson checks out a petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

We often find petroglyphs carved on difficult to reach places. If it is difficult for us, imagine what it must have been like for the rock artist.

At least Peggy is looking at a human-like figure. So far in my blog, I have featured identifiable subjects including people, animals, birds, reptiles, insects and one splattered frog. Today I am going to present geometric figures. Patterson has interpretations for many of these symbols, but what about the petroglyph featured below? All I can think of is, “Okay, children, today you are going to practice making squares.”

Petroglyph of squares at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

Plans for a subdivision?

One of the most common geometric symbols is the circle. There are circles within circles, crosses in circles, circles made of dots surrounding other circles, etc. Naturally the sun and the moon come to mind. Also ripples on water. Once again, Patterson suggests Datura may be involved. It seems that people have similar visions when they close their eyes while under the influence. Wouldn’t know.

Solid circles surrounded by a circle with dots at Three Rivers Petroglyph site. Possibly influenced by Datura use.

Almost everywhere we looked at Three Rivers Petroglyph site we found circles. Many had outer circles made up of dots.

Petroglyph circle with cross found at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

A number of the circle also feature crosses of various types. This was one of the more intriguing.

Circle petroglyph with possible sun at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

I also found this interesting. My first thought is the sun.

Large spiral circle at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in New Mexico.

This is the most impressive circle petroglyph Peggy and I found at Three Rivers. It is actually a spiral. Start at the center and work outward. Which brings me to…

Spiral petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

… this spiral, which led me to think a bout a spiral galaxy. Could the Jornada have been in contact with little green men from outer space. Naw…….

Petroglyph found at Three Rivers petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

Various interpretations. One is about a four eyed insect standing manlike who is bitten on the testicles by a sidewinder rattlesnake, a fate which would make any guy’s eyes go buggy.

Some of the geometric patterns may be pottery or textile designs. Modern shops through out the South West feature pottery, blankets and other items made by Native Americans featuring similar motifs.

Geometric petroglyph found at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

This repetition of pattern suggests a design that might be used for a blanket.


Geometric petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

Here’s another. This petroglyph might represent a butterfly.

Finally, we have petroglyphs that are almost map-like, featuring lakes, rivers, springs, hills and even farmlands.

Petroglyph found at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in New Mexico.

Who knows? Climb down the ladder to the crops at the bottom? (grin) Could the foot print on the right be saying “Walk this way?”

Three Rivers Petroglyph site rock art.

On of my favorites at Three Rivers. Peterson says the wavy lines represent water but what’s with the square eyes.

Horse petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

This captures it all: a cute horse with extended tail and big feet, Datura driven circles, and a simple pattern of squares. There is even a snake in the grass. Maybe that accounts for the horse’s stance.

NEXT BLOG: I will finish off the series on Three Rivers Petroglyph site with several collages of rock art. Petroglyphs are rarely found alone.


14 thoughts on “Sheep Cults and Ancient Mazes… The Rock Art of Three Rivers

  1. I think you had way too much fun with one! Of course, I can never get enough of petroglyphs….so fascinating!

  2. Rorschach rocks, that’s what these are! The one with the squares that you associated with subdivision, I saw as a quilt pattern. Near the first circle glyph, do you see the animal lurking in the rocks, looking at you with one eye? And two photos down, the circular one you suggested might be the sun brought to mind Ezekiel’s wheel. It’s been a while since I thought of Ezekiel – who knows?

    Funny that I saw the wavy lines in the next to last photo not as water but as steps. After all, you have to have some way to get down those rocks!

    • And what a creative mind you have! It wouldn’t be hard to feel a presence among the rocks if you let your imagination wander down that path. Beyond some obvious meanings (maybe), and connections to the spirit world, I am always intrigued by three questions. 1) Were some of the petroglyphs meant to be art? 2) Did some of the artists have a sense of humor? 3) Did they have models for some of their more ET looking glyphs? 🙂 – Curt

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