Dig Diary: Range Creek Rock Art
By Julie Schablitsky
Range Creek, Utah is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. We drove to the site on a primitive road cut into the side of a mountain. Once we dropped off of the mountainside we drove through a gate that brought us into the canyon. Immediately, history was all around us. As a result of the arid climate and generations of protection by vigilant landowners, Range Creek remained a virtual time capsule. As I peered up to the extant adobe granaries and rock art, I was effortlessly transported back to AD 1000 and felt the Fremont people still around me.
Perhaps the one aspect of the site that moved me the most was the rock art. The Fremont Indians placed their feelings, experiences, and beliefs on flat rock panels using different artistic techniques. Most of the drawings I observed were petroglyphs where the Native Americans took stone tools and pecked or incised their drawings into the rock walls. Pictographs are designed using pigments from plants or other organic materials and painted on the rock surface with hair or plant fibers. Many of the images we observed in the canyon included human-like figures or shamans called anthropomorphs, circles, and animals such as mountain sheep. Some rock art experts believe these specific images were painted to communicate spiritual experiences, solar events such as eclipses and even hunting scenes. Some images may even communicate traumatic events as suggested in a scene where a human figurine appeared to be falling to their death off of a cliff. Interestingly, we even found concentric circles next to the granary that Jeff explored. Although we did not understand the meaning of this rock art, we guessed that it could be a Fremont family placing their mark next to their food source to communicate ownership.
Native American rock art is an extremely fragile resource that is prone to fading and frost pitting from exposure to the elements, not to mention vandalism. A piece of futuristic technology that helped save the day on the Time Team episode was a LIDAR scanner. Within minutes, we watched a laser scanner capture vertical slices of a rock face that held a scene with anthropomorphs. Many sections of the panel were faded and hard to interpret. When we pulled the scans up on the monitor later that afternoon, I could not believe my eyes. The laser scanner was able to turn back the hands of time to reveal additional details and an anthropomorph that was invisible to the human eye.