Petroglyphs & pictographs in Harney County, Oregon

In April 2019, I went on a field trip to see petroglyphs & pictographs in Harney County, in eastern Oregon. This is one of the many trips offered as a part of the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival. Our guides that day were Bureau of Land Management archaeologists, Scott Thomas and Carolyn Temple.

One of the first things we learned was the difference between petroglyphs and pictographs.

Pictographs

Pictographs, like the images shown below, are painted onto rocks. These works are generally drawn with red, black, white, or yellow paint.

Pictographs frequently include depictions of animals. For example, the drawing at the top of the picture below appears to be a lizard.

petroglyphs & pictographs, Harney county, OR

Other works are classified as rectilinear abstracts. This form regularly includes straight lines, zigzags, lines resembling a rake, squares, chevrons, and other elements.

Pictographs in Harney county, Oregon April 2019

Abstract styles are fairly common in the northern part of the Great Basin. The pictograph below shows examples of the curvilinear abstract form. It includes circles, curvilinear meanders, dots, arcs, tally circles, together with more complex figures.

Rock art in Harney county, Oregon April 2019

Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs are made by grinding and pecking rock away to form an image.

Abstract forms are also common in petroglyphs. These may include circles, connected circles, dots, curvilinear meanders, in addition to zigzagging and straight lines.

Petroglyphs in Harney county, Oregon April 2019

Our guides referred to the petroglyph below as the “super 8 movie camera.” Can you see the resemblance?

Petroglyphs & pictographs in Harney county, Oregon

Zigzagging and straight lines are carved into the rock at the top of this petroglyph.

Rock art in Harney county, Oregon April 2019

Significance and age of petroglyphs & pictographs

You may be wondering what these petroglyphs and pictographs represent. No one knows for sure. Some believe they document a specific event, such as a successful hunt. Others believe they were part of a religious ceremony or group history. However, they may also have been created as an artistic expression. All of these theories may in fact be correct.

It is also difficult to determine how old these images are. Sometimes researchers can use the lichens growing on the rocks or C-14 dating to age the petroglyphs and pictographs. When they studied rock art in nearby Lake County, they got a lucky break. Ash from the eruption of Mount Mazama 7,600 years ago covered the images. As a result, this helped them determine those particular images were at least that old. Creating rock art is an ancient practice that has existed for thousands of years.

Petroglyphs in Harney County, Oregon April 2019

Preserving the images and seeing them in new way

Our guides made a point of reminding us how fragile these images are. For instance, if you touch them, the oil in your skin can cause pictograph paint to deteriorate. Permanent damage has occurred as a result of visitors making rubbings of carved images. Unfortunately, as we witnessed, images in rural areas are often used for target practice. Due to the negligent actions of a few, access to some sites is limited. Our group helped preserve the images by documenting what we saw only with photographs.

The guides mentioned a really cool way to see more of the faint drawings. If you go to dstretch.com, you can get a plugin that allows you to “see” pigments impossible to see with the naked eye. I was out of cell range and couldn’t get the plugin but others had it. Wow! You see images where it looks like there are none. Impressive. Maybe next time…

Catlow Cave Artifacts: Monochrome Monday

Catlow Cave artifacts, including sagebrush bark sandals, grass & bark baskets, and arrowheads & spearpoints, are displayed at the Harney County Historical Society Museum in Burns, Oregon. There are a couple pointed sticks that may be “knitting needles”, used to knit the sagebrush bark together.

These cave artifacts are between 9,000 to 10,000 years old. The Northern Paiute people lived in this region. There are several caves in the Catlow Valley cliffs. Petroglyphs adorn some of the rock faces.

Cave artifacts, Catlow Cave, Oregon 12April2019
Cave artifacts, Catlow Cave, Oregon 12April2019

Do you want to learn more about the native peoples who lived in this area thousands of years ago? Consider taking a guided tour to the Fort Rock Cave hosted by Oregon Parks and Recreation. Be sure to visit the nearby Fort Rock Valley Historical Society Homestead Museum. This small museum has more examples of cave artifacts from this region. The woven items were practical but also works of art with distinctive patterns.

Newspaper Rock – Ancient Messages in Stone

Newspaper Rock, UT 4May2017An amazing example of petroglyphs can be seen on the road into the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Wow! I have seen petroglyphs before but never so many in one spot. There are more than 650 drawings on Newspaper Rock at this state historical monument. The dark desert varnish provides a nice contrast to the messages carved into the stone.

Newspaper Rock 2, UT 4May2017The first carvings at this site have been determined to be 2,000 years old. People of the Archaic, Anasazi, Fremont, Navajo, Anglo, and Pueblo cultures have carved their messages into the rock over the years. Unfortunately, it looks like some more modern graffiti artists added to parts of the scene.

Newspaper Rock 3, UT 4May2017The meanings of the messages here have been difficult to figure out. Do they tell a story or are they merely scribbles? The Navajo refer to Newspaper Rock as Tse’ Hane – translated as  “Rock that tells a story.” It does indeed appear to tell many stories. Only the people who made the carvings know exactly what those stories were.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Heritage
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Looking back to Fort Rock

View of Fort Rock, Oregon 10June2016A sky streaked with clouds frames Fort Rock, rising from the sagebrush sea in central Oregon. This is the view from a cave where ancient sandals made from sagebrush were found. Sandals and other artifacts found there were determined to be 9,300-10,250 years old. Walking from the cave back towards the mountain, you can almost imagine some of the sights ancient people may have seen.

For more about the cave, visit my post. Read more about the excellent  Fort Rock Valley Historical Society Homestead Village Museum, on another one of my posts.

Weekly Photo Challenge – The road taken

Inside Fort Rock Cave: Signs of ancient past

View from Fort Rock Cave 9June2016
View from Fort Rock Cave, Oregon

Looking out of the mouth of the Fort Rock cave at the Sagebrush Sea, one can only imagine the thoughts of those that lived there thousands of years ago. Sagebrush sandals, found inside Fort Rock Cave, were determined to be 9,300-10,250 years old. These sandals are the oldest ever found in the world.

Fort Rock Cave 9June2016
Cave entrance

A small hearth was found in the cave and it was radiocarbon dated to be 15,000 years old. Several stone tools were found nearby. Though that date was questioned by some, in 2009 human coprolites (fossilized poop) determined to be from 14,300 years ago were found in nearby Paisley Cave. In 2009 a multiple function tool made from agate was discovered in Rimrock Draw Rock Shelter, near Riley, Oregon. It may have been made as long ago as 16,000 years ago.

Inside Fort Rock Cave 9June2016
Inside Fort Rock Cave

Other ancient sandals have been found but never in the quantity found at Fort Rock. Nearly 100 sandals were found ranging from child-sized to adult. They are all the same style with a flat bottom and flap covering the toe area. The sagebrush bark is woven in a distinctive twining style. Sandals of this type were found at various locations in southeast Oregon and northern Nevada. In more recent times, ethnographers found that members of the Klamath and Paiute tribes, who lived in the Fort Rock area, wore footwear woven from sagebrush and tule.

Inside Fort Rock Cave in the past and present

The location where the sandals were found was likely a lake shore 10,000 years ago. Native peoples may have lived there because of the easy access to game, fish, and edible plants. At the present time, the cave borders a huge expanse of dry sagebrush steppe habitat. The climate changed after Mount Mazama blew 7,600 years ago. A thick layer of ash from that eruption blanketed an area covering 500,000 square miles in western North America.

If you want to see this site, you will need to go with a guide since access is regulated by Oregon Parks and Recreation Department in partnership with the University of Oregon. Go here for more information – Fort Rock Cave.

Fort Rock Valley Museum Sagebrush Sandal display
Fort Rock Valley Homestead Museum – Sagebrush Sandal display

If you want to see the sandals in person, there are some on display at the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Click here for a good photo of them – sandals. The Museum also has a collection of stone tools and other fiber artifacts excavated from the cave. You can see a small display about the sandals at the Fort Rock Valley Homestead Museum. See my post on that Museum and information about the Fort Rock formation here.