Bug Eyed Alien or Shamanistic Vision… The Rock Art of the Three Rivers’ Petroglyph Site: Part 2

This is one of my favorite petroglyphs from Three Rivers. It makes me want to say, BOO! So, is it a bug-eyed alien or a shamanistic vision?


Peggy and I are still off playing (details to come later), so I am continuing to revisit earlier posts I did on the Three Rivers’ Petroglyph National Recreational Site located in south central New Mexico.

A lot of guessing takes place in determining the meaning of rock art. Present day Native American myths and rituals provide some clues. Others can be deduced from the petroglyph itself. An antelope filled full of arrows relates to hunting, but is it a record of an actual event or a hopeful prediction of the future?

Today I am featuring petroglyphs from the Three Rivers site that represent humans and gods. Some look quite alien, while others appear quite human. It’s assumed that shamanistic activities and visions were often the inspiration behind petroglyphs. Or the inspiration might be as common (and dramatic) as a woman having a baby, which is reflected in a number of Three Rivers’ petroglyphs.

This petroglyph of a man struck me as quite realistic. Does he look like anyone you know?

This fellow is a bit further out. I am assuming he is a Shaman either exorcising a demon or having a bad trip. (Since no one can be sure of the actual meaning of rock art, you are free to speculate.) The circle surrounded by dots just below his chest, is thought to represent Datura, a powerful hallucinogen.

A sad fellow, I thought at first, given his downturned mouth. But then I noted the eyes. And are those cat whiskers on his cheeks?

Okay, scary.

A petroglyph of a woman in this position is usually assumed to be having a baby. She’s even screaming, or practicing deep breathing.

Here’s another example. A little empathy, please.

Often the figures are assumed to represent gods. This one could be corn.

This final photo is to prepare you for my next post where I will feature some of the wildlife of Three Rivers. This is a rather magnificent mountain lion.






26 thoughts on “Bug Eyed Alien or Shamanistic Vision… The Rock Art of the Three Rivers’ Petroglyph Site: Part 2

  1. What an intriguing place to wander and wonder. The top one – a small child that will not sit quietly by his parents during ceremonies (there’s bound to be one of them showing their anger at his behavior and yelling at him to come back.)
    What illustrations of being human. Love the mountain lion – it is magnificent

    • “What illustrations of being human.” I feel exactly the same way. Even though it is a totally different culture, even though we can never know for sure the meaning of the petroglyphs, the humanity comes through. And the art! I truly enjoy petroglyphs, where ever Peggy and I have found them, but few have been as magnificent as the rock art at Three Petroglyphs. I like your interpretation of the first one. –Curt

  2. Wow – hard to imagine you have seen enough of these for a whole series of posts! I’m not sure I’ve seen many at all. Perhaps there is a bigger concentration in the west?

    • I think early peoples must have spread their art widely, Lexi. The thing about the Southwest is that the dry climate has protected the the petroglyphs and made them easy to find. –Curt

  3. Its interesting to know that such Pteroglyphs look like this – because on faraway Easter island there are something similar! Just that the figures are not the same…

  4. I’ve been living in the city too long. My first impresion of the top petroglyph was, “It’s the victim of a prehistoric mugging!” Most of the rock art in Texas is pictographs, although there are petroglyphs in the Rio Grande Valley. As you noted, the desert climate aids preservation; many of the pictographs are now off-limits to visitors, to try and minimize damage beyond that which the weather imposes.

    • It seems like there is always a conflict between preservation and public access, Linda. Several of the petroglyph areas we visit now fence off the petroglyphs for protection. The one we were just at in Lava Beds had both. The pictoglyphs in caves were open, the petroglyphs, one of the largest collections in the west, was fenced off. I love the open access, like Three Rivers, but I also understand the need for limited access.
      Laughing about your mugging. That never entered my mind. –Curt

  5. Interesting. In a way it’s kind of like graffiti, but back then rocks and cave walls were all they had. It’s a pity they closed down the French cave a short while ago.

    • Didn’t I read some where, Ted that they made a replica of the French Cave? Admittedly not the same thing— how could you replicate the wonder and sense of ancient power, but much better than nothing. As an aside, I like and am impressed with the evolution of graffiti as it has moved form strictly a type of vandalism and a way to mark territory to something of an art form. Thanks for commenting. –Curt

      • I did a post about that a few years back Curt. Modern graffiti, as we know it now, has it’s roots from the most oddest place and just one person (see link). I remember it, but it was a few decades back.

        BTW, I didn’t get an email about your reply.

      • “replica of the French Cave” Yes. It’s right next to the genuine Lascaux cave. Had to search for the info.- doubt I’d go to a replica though.

  6. I would be the worst at deciphering meaning. It’s easier for me in literature, but I think art and petroglyphs are completely up to the observer, because we all bring our histories and perspective to what we make things mean.

    So, I see a shaman bowing over in prayer, worshipping life (symbolized with the symbol for infiinity inside the circle on the ground.

    And yeah — definitely cat eyes and whiskers. 🙂

    The scary pic shows me that they were already designing jack-o-lanterns.

    • I like your interpretation, Juliann. Positive. Some petroglyphs are much easier to imagine meaning. There is one I have in my archives that shows a person shooting an arrow and then shows its path as it lands in a Big Horn Sheep. It’s when they get into strange beings that my head starts whirling, although Hopi Kachinas certainly reflect some of the characters.
      It took me a long time to see the cat eyes and whiskers. Not jumping to conclusions and having an open mind helps, I’m sure. When doesn’t it? 🙂
      Jack-o-lanterns may be close to the truth. Like gargoyles, something to frighten off bad spirits.
      Thanks for your fun and thoughtful interpretations. –Curt

  7. These are fascinating, some rather spooky! Are they actually carved into the rocks? They remind me of the rock carvings at Vitlycke in Sweden which are a world heritage site and are amazing, there they were bashed/tapped into the rock and now highlighted with red pigment. You can sense the history and sacred spirits of the place.

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