Wednesday, February 2, 2011


9-Mile Canyon, Utah. Photo: Peter Faris, Aug. 1993.

In the art history of our western culture we are used to art that portrays time data. Van Gogh's "Potato Eaters" is very obviously a night scene, and bright noontime sun was a favorite subject of many Impressionist painters. During the Renaissance allegories of various seasons became stock in trade for painters as well. These are all examples of art that includes clues that convey time information.
In some rock art one can find clues that convey time information as well. This might be seen either as “intended content”, a part of the message intentionally conveyed in the rock art, or as “inherent content”, information conveyed unintentionally as part of the composition or subject matter. An example of time information conveyed as inherent content would be a possible estimate of the time it took to create a petroglyph panel based on the hardness of the rock surface it was created on, or perhaps the possibility of estimating the time of its creation by subject matter.

One good example of this is found in the so-called “Cottonwood Panel” in Nine Mile Canyon, UT. Matheny, et al (2004) point out that this panel seems to be a hunt scene with a “hunt boss” who wears a horned headdress, with a large group of bighorn sheep. This grouping of animals appears to consist of mixed rams, ewes, and lambs, which they suggest would only be found together during the rut in late fall or early winter. If true this panel was either intentionally created to represent that time of year, or was created in the late fall or early winter when the mix of animals seen would have naturally included the rams, ewes, and lambs seen in this grouping.

There must be a number of other rock art images that can be interpreted in this way, that represent something that would only happen at a certain time of the year. For instance petroglyphs of maize plants with ears formed, like examples found in New Mexico, certainly represent late summer or fall, if they are intended to represent a time of year.


Matheny, Ray T., Deanne G. Matheny, Pamela W. Miller, and Blaine Miller,
2004   Hunting Strategies and Winter Economy of the Fremont as Revealed in the Rock Art of Nine Mile Canyon, p. 145 to 193, in New Dimensions in Rock Art Studies, edited by Ray T. Matheny, Museum of Peoples and Cultures Occasional Papers No. 9, Joel C. Janetski, series editor, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT.

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