Saturday, June 16, 2012


One can often deduce a considerable amount from the actual details and form of rock art. In the case of petroglyphs it comes as a surprise to no-one that examining the grooves can suggest whether they were created by incising or pecking. The physical appearance and condition often allows that sort of analysis. Another example of this that I have looked for, and think that I may have found in a few instances, is the use of a simple protractor for drawing circles. Some circles just seem too perfect to have been done freehand, even by an experienced artist.

Such a tool would have been made simply by tying a couple of sticks together at one end for a pivot and then parting the other end. It could have been held at the chosen angle by tying another stick across them creating a triangle with the two long sides extended out. Simply charring one of the ends then would allow one to use this tool to draw almost perfect circles in charcoal on the cliff face.

3-Kings Panel, McConkie Ranch, Vernal, UT.
Photo Peter Faris.

In the most compelling examples the resulting circle has been used to portray a shield. The first example that suggested this to me is the shield of the main figure in the so-called “Three Kings” panel at McConkie Ranch outside of Vernal, UT.  This appears to be so precise that I wondered whether it could have possibly been drawn freehand.

Castle Gardens, Fremont County, Wyoming.
Photo Peter Faris, September 1992.

 Subsequently I also found myself questioning a couple of the shields seen in this panel from Castle Gardens, Wyoming.

If ancient cultures such as the Egyptians could use wooden dividers in their construction of buildings and monuments, they why would I not also assume that Native Americans had this in their toolbox too, and that they would have used it in drawing circles? 


  1. Good observation, but aren't you describing a compass rather than a protractor?