Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Carnegie Quarry, Dinosaur National
Monument, UT. Photo: Peter Faris.

I became interested in the relationship of Native American fossil knowledge and how it is portrayed in their art and rock art back in the early 1980s. One evening, teaching a class on rock art for the University of Colorado extension program, I was lecturing on the marvelous rock art of Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and Colorado, and a member of the class asked me what the Native Americans who lived there thought about the dinosaur bones. I was embarrassed to admit that I had not thought of it but that they would have certainly been aware of the bones, these people knew the land like we know our own homes. The Native Americans were also animal anatomists depending upon hunting for their survival, they would recognize the bones they saw and must have been impressed by their size, and the fact that they were part of the solid rock.

Returning home that evening I went to my file cabinet and wrote “Fossils” on a blank file folder. I began to file notes, clippings, and references that had any mention of Native Americans and fossils. I was soon surprised at the amount of material I was collecting on a subject that had been ignored by researchers as far as I could see. This search has given me a great deal of satisfaction, and I have experienced the joy of discovery. Along the way I was lucky enough to make the friendship of Adrienne Mayor whose books on the fossil knowledge of early cultures have broken new ground in the understanding of mythology and ethnographic records (I keep waiting to hear about Adrienne receiving a MacArthur grant but so far they do not seem to have noticed yet).

Dinosaur bone in rock matrix, Dinosaur
Ridge, Denver, CO. Photo: Peter Faris.

A society does not leave questions unexplained. They would have seen the fossils around them and must inevitably have had stories and explanations for their presence, what they were, what caused them, and what they meant to the people. Over the intervening years I have found a wealth of knowledge on the subject. I will be revisiting this subject in the future, but this is how and where it started.

Fremont style petroglyphs, Cub Creek,
Dinosaur National Monument, UT.
Photo: Peter Faris.

The rock art of Dinosaur National Monument is not found in direct association with the fossilized remains that made it famous, but there is certainly a large quantity of it in that area. I cannot imagine that there not a connection. Rock art portrays the beliefs and events of a society, and in an area with both fossilized dinosaur remains and world class rock art the creators of the rock art must have been aware of the amazing bones.

Giant lizard petroglyphs, Cub Creek, Dinosaur
National Monument, UT. Photo: Peter Faris.
Notice petroglyphs across bottom of frame
include four more reptiles.

As I said above, this has been a sub-theme of my personal interest for a long time. Indeed, the photo of giant lizard petroglyphs in my page heading comes from Cub Creek in Dinosaur National Monument, and I have since associated them with a dinosaur fossilized track site nearby, but that is for future postings.

1 comment:

  1. I really look forward to reading your interesting and provocative postings and the photographs are just superb. Keep at it!