|Ruins of the Ancient Ones, the "Puebloan"
cultures, and their rock art are found in abundance around the Four Corners.
From the Four Corners the famous Mesa
Verde cliff dwellings lie to the northeast in
Colorado. The Hovenweep towers lie to the
northwest in Utah. Three of the most spectacular cliff dwellings, Keet
Seel, Inscription House and Betatakin,
are located in Navajo National
Monument to the southwest.
One of the greatest concentrations of pictographs is located in the midst of all the well-known Puebloan ruins, at the site called "Painted Cave." None of the well known ruins can boast the uncommon great number of wall paintings which decorate Painted Cave from one end to the other, spanning hundreds of feet. Our modern vocabulary must be used selectively to describe this ancient ambient. The "wall" painted here is not two dimensional, but rather the natural, rough, varied, multicolored, multidimensional sandstone recess, the back wall of a natural shelter. The "cave," wider than deep, is merely a cliff overhang, the cave floor is the top of a talus slope, a steep mass of sand and broken rock against the cliff. Most of the art is attributable to the pre-ceramic or Basketmaker cultural period. Eventually 15 rooms and a kiva were built. Evidence unearthed during excavation indicated occupation prior to the ± 400 A.D. pottery horizon, therefore long before the Puebloans began building masonry walls. Only a few of the stonewalls survive today, the tallest about 7 feet. Two rooms remain enclosed. Adobe plaster still coats the kiva interior. Tree ring analysis determined that the kiva's now-downfallen main roof beam was felled in the summer of 1247. The portions of the cliff painted after walls provided easy higher access may be of approximately the same vintage, though the art is stylistically uniform. At many masonry sites rock art on the cliffs is equated with building roofs providing access. Note the pictographs in the following image, a view of Betatakin Ruin.
Ravens were calling and a songbird sang loudly when I visited this remote location on the Navajo Reservation. It was sunny and breezy. Water was flowing in the canyon's deep ravine below the cave. Excepting the downfallen walls there was no evidence of time's passage since the Puebloans painted the cliff. Near the canyon entrance we had spoken with a Navajo elder, who provided final directions and permission. If you explore this region be conscious that visitation ethics are distinct on Reservations, which are not public lands. Permission must be acquired and often a guide is required. It is also important to be sensitive about local preferences about visitation. Unlike on public lands, on reservations rock art is often someone's back yard. Imagine how you would feel if anthropologists intruded in your back yard on a regular basis.
This virtual tour of Puebloan rock art continues on the NEXT page.