Petroglyph interpretation often evokes passionate discussion and is as varied as the number of scholars providing interpretations. Depending upon the person offering interpretation, petroglyphs can be viewed as manifestations of self-realization, art, ceremonial beliefs, maps, markers, or narratives that represent a pictorial language, their relationship to the specific environment and location where they are found can often provide clues to their meaning.
Most archaeologists believe most petroglyphs (or rock "art") were produced for ideological or aesthetic purposes, e.g. ceremonies, mythological narrative, representation of visions, artistic expression, etc., while others believe they were produced for more pragmatic purposes, to convey information by providing markers, maps, counters, labels, etc. Martineau (1973, pages 17-23) refers to some markings of this type as “locators.” For example, some have suggested that certain lines that represent a "U" or cup-shaped element are often associated or, in someway correlated, with the occurrence of modified holes or water basins--tinajas. The sightings often were directed to easy access routes or trails to the basins. There is also some evidence that spirals may represent pathways. Petroglyphs that have been thought to serve as maps often possess long horizontal or meandering lines.
The "amphitheater" is a great semicircular bay ringed by vertical cliffs of welded volcanic tuff
which rise to 50 or 60 feet above the surface of the wash (Fig. 21). On the enclosing cliffs are
long rake designs. Heizer and Hester (1974, 23-28) propose that this topographic feature was
used as a hunting trap for large animals. Animals moving either north or south in the narrow
canyon could have been forced into this flat meadow-like area and be prevented from escaping
by a fence. Further data has come to light to support their claims. At the Calendar Fence site
(CrNV-04-300) located the Amphitheater another long rake (89 vertical lines, "fence stakes"? or
"tied sticks"?) is portrayed. This may represent some kind of barrier that was constructed or
strung across the canyon, which is quite narrow at this point, to trap game. Burkholder (1993),
however, argues that this unusual and isolated design element is a solar marker (see below).
Nearby, at the Cain site (CrNV-04-125) is a hunting scene showing a human, perhaps with a
weapon in hand, driving sheep and maybe a deer over such a barrier fence. One mountain sheep
seems airborne (Fig. 22).
It should also be said that there are many petroglyphs that are representational and ceremonial, the traditional view of "rock art." An article (Swartz and Hurlbutt 1994) involves both approaches and argues for integrated ceremonial interpretations at the Mount Irish area, about thirty miles south of the narrows.
Landscape Place Localities: Spatial analysis is of particular concern to the field of architecture, but can also be applied in dealing with determinative land features. Locational analysis tends to be a large scale geographic approach, but is applicable on a small scale to interpret functional interrelationships,
i.e. Taylor's (1948) conjunctive approach. What makes certain archaeological areas more than just interesting spaces in the landscape are the type and configuration of petroglyphs. It is this evidence of user interaction that transforms these spaces into what Rapoport (1975) calls places. Contextual analysis allows the interpretation of both function and space and, hence, can help define and explain the concept of place. At the site known as Shaman Hill, near Mt. Irish, about thirty miles south of White River Narrows (Fig. 23) is an area (designated as Locality 1, Fig. 24) particularly coherent and
distinctly isolated rock grouping. Entry is defined by a straight pathway leading into the enclosed
space from open ground. A break in the rocks forms an implied gateway. The passage is 22 feet
wide and could accommodate a large group of people. A secondary and smaller entry from the south funnels into an outlet nine feet in width. The size of this entry along with the curvilinear nature of its path suggests an entrance for ceremonial use. Various groupings of rock outcrops form the enclosure of the area. This sweeping horseshoe shaped arrangement clearly defines a specific space of general oval form, measuring approximately 80 by 30 feet. The enclosed surface is rather large, flat and unobstructed, capable of supporting a large gathering of people. The obvious focal point is a commanding rock formation positioned across from, and on axis with, the primary entry. The size of this formation, its positioning in the space, as well as, its positioning in the surrounding landscape,
mark it as a significant feature. At Shaman Hill there are two additional enclosed areas of very similar configuration, all abounding with petroglyphs, which conjoin a side of boulder-strewn hill also replete with petroglyphs, forming a unitary complex. In each of these enclosures there is a dominating figure (Fig 25, Loc. 1; Fig. 26, Loc. 3) that is fully visible in all parts of the enclosed space. Though less obvious, directly above these figures, on the escarpment which a person could stand and be visible throughout the enclosed area below (Fig. 27, Loc. 1; Fig. 28, Loc. 2). It is an ideal set up as a pulpit before an assembly of some kind. Clearly from this example of contextual analysis interpret
HOW PREHISTORIC PEOPLE OF THE NORTH AMERICAN
GREAT BASIN USED PETROGLYPHS TO READ THEIR
By B. K. Swartz, Jr.