Sunday, January 22, 2012


Newspaper Rock, Indian Creek, San Juan
County, UT. Photo Sherman Spear, 1966.
One marvelous rock art site known to many people in the Rocky Mountain West is Newspaper Rock in San Juan County, UT. Newspaper Rock has a petroglyph panel of mixed Fremont culture  and Ute rock art. It was one of my early sites in my first few years of interest in rock art.

Newspaper Rock close-up, Indian Creek, San Juan
County, UT. Photo Sherman Spear, 1966. Arrows
point to figures under discussion.

Newspaper Rock, Indian Creek, San Juan
County, UT. Photo Glen Weaver,
Sept. 1999. CRAA Archives.
In the upper left portion of the panel of petroglyphs are three enigmatic figures that have four outstretched limbs (arms and legs), fairly large tails, and what looks like nothing more than a fabric panel stretched out between the arms and legs. From the very first time I saw them they struck me as portrayals of flying squirrels but this seemed so improbable that I really did not take it seriously. From relative repatination these enigmatic figures appear to be early Ute in provenance rather than Fremont culture.

Flying Squirrel in flight. Image courtesty

Map of Northern Flying Squirrel range.
Public domain. Note the outliers in Utah
- especially in Southeastern Utah.
In a location like the Canyonlands of the desert southwest I would not have expected to find portrayals of a creature that I associate with the northern forests, but imagine my surprise when I looked into the range of the Northern Flying Squirrel and found that it did extend down into just about that area. Could these figures actually represent flying squirrels? Perhaps some of you with knowledge on Ute mythology could cast some light on this possibility.


  1. Interesting, we have similar petroglyphs here, except for the long tail. I thought they were skinned hides, but these may be flying squirrels.

  2. Wow, a fantastic series of blogs here. Its fascinating to think what our ancestor's must have been creating in the darkness of all these caves. The Paleolithic art is the biggest source of inspiration for my own art, and reading and learning from a blog like this is wonderful.

    The island of Malta where I live was unfortunately never home to any rock art (that we know of) but there is a rich history of Megalithic Temples, of which there are numerous animal carvings. Ghar Dalam too, is a natural wonder, when I go inside this cave I cannot help but wonder what life was like those 6,000 years ago...
    Thank you so much!

  3. Everyone seems to think that these people were almost ape like with a low IQ. I don't think they are that different from some of the American Indian Tribes we have now, and their spirituality. I notice on some of these they have a medicine wheel. Think about how hard it would be to create something with primitive tools. I think you are spot on. It looks like a flying squirrel. I see a medicine wheel on some of these walls. Maybe some of them are a type of Hallmark card to their families, or a prayer for protection. Others are clearly a story about their life.