Ref - Shooting Gallery Game Drive District Rock Art

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This page last updated on 07/15/2019

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Great Basin
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Located inside the East Pahranagat Range alongside the Pahranagat Valley on the eastern side of Nevada (Fig. 01), the Shooting Gallery  Game Drive District rock art site falls within an area known as the Great Basin. Lying mostly in Nevada, the Great Basin is bordered by the Sierra Nevada on the west, the Columbia Plateau on the north, the Rocky Mountains on the northeast, the Colorado Plateau on the east, and the Mojave Desert on the south (Fig. 02). Over a thousand years, several distinct tribes have historically occupied the Great Basin; the modern descendants of which are still here today. They being the Western Shoshone, the Goshute, the Ute, the Paiute (often divided into Northern, Southern and Owens Valley), and the Washoe.
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Even though many panels at this site show evidence of the effects of natural destruction; surface spalling (the flaking of surface patina) (Fig. 03), lichen growth, weather-related exposure and infrequent displacement and damage of images on boulders that have tumbled down the talus slopes from their original position, the majority of petroglyphs at this site remain in remarkable condition considering their age.

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The centuries old pecking's and carvings found here include human stick figures, geometric shapes, animal symbols, circles, and seemingly random lines and squiggles (Fig. 04), that even the most brilliant archaeologists have been unable to decipher, and are a challenge to all who try to read them. These symbols, classified as Great Basin Abstract, consist of Curvilinear and Rectilinear Styles similar to Anasazi and Mogollon geometric designs, but different than the less complex, simple Archaic style. The meaning of Great Basin Curvilinear images is difficult to determine because each element may have a subjective meaning known only to the person or shaman who made it. Curvilinear and Rectilinear Motifs are the two most common abstract styles and are widely distributed throughout the Great Basin culture area.
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Curvilinear Symbols: These are complicated abstract motifs consisting of rounded interconnected geometric shapes, spirals, concentric circles (Fig. 05), zigzags, meandering lines. These motifs are believed to be the oldest rock art in the southwest and may date to 8,000 BC. The circle in one form or another is the most common element.
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Rectilinear Symbols: – These include abstract motifs similar to curvilinear except the elements are more square and rectangular, grids, rakes, dots (Fig. 06), cross hatches, zigzags, diamonds. It has been determined that these are younger than curvilinear, dating back to ca. 5000 BC.
Much of the abstract rock art here is attributed to the peoples from the Middle Archaic Period, from 4000-1500 BC, to the Late Archaic period. From 1500 BC to the period of contact with Euro-Americans in the nineteenth century, and primarily include the Anasazi and Fremont peoples, the ancestors of most modern Indian Peoples, the Utes and Paiutes, AD 1200 to AD 1880. Rock art created by the Anasazi also depict anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures, spirit figures and symbols. The Anasazi petroglyphs exhibit a different style than the Fremont petroglyphs, and are quite different from each other. Many Fremont Style panels contain many of the most prevalent motifs: trapezoidal anthropomorphs, dot patterns, bighorn and spirals, as well as other unique elements.
When it comes to less common schematic and naturalistic depictions of humans (anthropomorphs), animals (zoomorphs), tools, weapons, and hunting scenes, these designs have particular resonance for contemporary observers as their “meaning” can, at one level, be inferred from simply identifying their subject and themes.
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Zoomorphs: Bighorn sheep are by far the most common animal species depicted in Nevada rock art (Figs. 07 & 08). The distribution of bighorn sheep motifs is more pronounced in eastern and southern Nevada and, although present throughout the state, seems less common at sites in the north and the west. Other animals portrayed in rock art include deer, elk, lizards, coyotes, and mountain lions. The prominence of bighorn sheep in rock art perhaps attests to this animal’s symbolic importance in prehistoric cultural thought as it was not a staple of the prehistoric diet. Small mammals (rabbits, marmots, ground squirrels, etc.), were probably more important sources of meat and deer and antelope were also hunted. Plants, which at all times, made up the bulk of prehistoric diets, are very rarely identified in Nevada rock art.

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Anthropomorphs: Some stylized depictions of the human form are found that are regionally restricted in distribution and are formally distinct styles of anthropomorphs. In southern and eastern Nevada these are associated with archaeological remains of Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan cultures (ca. 1500-800 BP)-semi-horticultural cultures with variable reliance on harvesting of wild plants and animals.

The rock art of these cultures portrayed the human form variously as stick figures (Fig. 09), hourglass shapes, rectangular shapes, or as triangular bodies lacking legs. Often these forms have bodily adornment (headgear, “horns,” or jewelry), or internal decoration that might represent clothing. Uncertain in its age and cultural affiliations is the Pahranagat anthropomorph style, which is only found here in the Pahranagat Valley area of southeastern Nevada. Traditionally the style is dated to the late Middle and early Late Archaic based on associated archaeological remains and the fact that some figures wield atlatls. This style comprises two distinct types of anthropomorphs. One is a rectangular form internally decorated with grids, dots, or geometric motifs, “fringed” by short vertical lines. It often lacks a head but has stick-figure legs and short arms (Fig. 10) sometimes bearing an atlatl-like object. The second type has a solid-pecked ovoid or rectangular body, large eyes (indicated by using negative space), and a line protruding from its head; their arms are portrayed down-turned and with long fingers (Fig. 11).

(Fig. 11)
Overall, based on the themes and subjects that can be identified in Nevada rock art, many have concluded that prehistoric artists were not trying to provide a simple reflection of their daily lives or the content of the natural worlds in which they lived. Nevada rock art is not “representational” in the sense that it is an art of the everyday; instead, it is an ideological presentation of how prehistoric peoples perceived their social and natural worlds, and presenting an imagined, idealized worldview that served the social needs of these cultures. It is commonly believed that many panels are spiritual in nature and represent the result of a Shaman’s vision quest in trying to find spiritual guidance and purpose as well as acting as a conduit to nature to bring rain and game during dry seasons. For even more information on the history of rock art in this geographical area, click the following link ... Understanding Nevada Rock Art.
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