Newspaper Rock petroglyphs: Mystery messages from the past

At Utah’s Newspaper Rock, hundreds of etched images — petroglyphs — made by American Indians date back 2,000 years.… Read More

The post Newspaper Rock petroglyphs: Mystery messages from the past appeared first on Digging.

July 19, 2023

What’s black and white and red/read all over? Petroglyphs in the red-rock country of Utah!

In early May, after leaving the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park, we stopped along Highway 211 to see Newspaper Rock, a state historic monument in southeastern Utah. A large, sloping rock face bears hundreds of etched images — petroglyphs — made by American Indians dating back 2,000 years.

Humanoid and animal figures as well as other symbols are carved in the sandstone’s black “desert varnish,” exposing the lighter rock underneath. It’s amazing that these images have lasted so long, defying the elements. Can you imagine what the artists would think if they knew we were puzzling over their work today?

A sign explains that the earliest petroglyphs on Newspaper Rock were made by prehistoric peoples. More recently, “[i]n historic times, Ute and Najavo people, as well as European Americans[,] made their contributions.”

Those who study petroglyphs have not come to a consensus on what the ancient images mean. Whether they are “storytelling, doodling, hunting magic, clan symbols, ancient graffiti or something else,” the sign explains, your guess is as good as anyone’s.

The exact meaning may be lost to time. But that human impulse to leave a trace, to say I was here, seems clear.

I imagined the many hands that made them and wondered what messages they were meant to convey.

Like me with this blog, I think they were trying to leave a record of what they’d seen and communicate experiences with others they might never meet. Which method of communication will last longer, I wonder?

Up next: The fantastical rock windows at Arches National Park. For a look back at our hiking and off-roading adventures in the Needles at Canyonlands National Park, click here.

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All material © 2023 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

The post Newspaper Rock petroglyphs: Mystery messages from the past appeared first on Digging.

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