Primitive Drawings On Utah Rocks Reveal Astonishing Daily Life 2,000 Years Ago

Newspaper Rock is a must-see for anyone interested in history or art.

Credit: IranaK/Shutterstock

When thinking of primitive drawings carved into stone, people often think first of the ancient Egyptians, who are famous for the mysterious hieroglyphs carved into walls that depicted daily life and stories. However, many people aren’t familiar with the many other sites around the world in which similar carvings are visible from humans that were alive thousands of years ago, including Utah’s Newspaper Rock.

Newspaper Rock has one of the largest collection of petroglyphs—pictures carved into rocks—in the entire world and it’s located in a state that has some of the best rock formations in the world. The carvings are neither done on newspaper nor a single rock, but the collection was aptly named to signify that the drawings depict regular life, events, and stories that the native people felt were important to essentially immortalize. In Navajo, the rock is called Tse’ Hone, or “rock that tells a story.”

The main rock is 200 square feet and researchers have determined that the people that carved the drawings lived about 2,000 years ago. Based on the images, it appears that a large variety of cultures made their marks on the rocks, including Archaic, Anasazi, Fremont, Navajo, Anglo, and Pueblo.

Credit: Ilmar Hein

Petrographs vary from petroglyphs because the former are paintings done on rocks for communication or art but petroglyphs are carved straight into the desert varnish, which is natural to the area. Desert varnish is a combination of clay minerals, oxides and hydroxides of manganese and/or iron, as well as other particles such as sand grains and trace elements that turn the rock into a red or black color. Indigenous people would carve into the varnish, which would then reveal the light color below, and create their drawings. These petroglyphs last much longer than petrographs because the natural elements help preserve the natural carvings.

Unfortunately, deciphering the meaning of the petroglyphs is next to impossible because the drawings appear to depict multiple narratives over time and it’s difficult to determine which drawing belongs to which narrative. The actual meaning could have changed for certain drawings over time or they could, at times, resemble the complex language in hieroglyphs, which rely more on phonetics than drawings of actual objects.

Credit: David G. Hayes/Shutterstock

There are, however, tons of clues as to what these people did and encountered in their daily lives. For example, there are several drawings of deer, buffalo, antelope, and people on horses, which means that these animals were native to the area and horses were already being used for human purposes.

Newspaper Rock can be found off of the road leading to Canyonlands National Park and is completely free to visit. It’s truly a remarkable look into the history of the land of the Native Americans who used to occupy it freely and has been dubbed a “must-see” for those interested in art, history, and geology. Similar petroglyphs can also be found in the Petrified Forest of Arizona, where numerous rocks contains tons of drawings from Puebloan people and the area is considered a part of the Archaeological District.

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