Monday, February 2, 2009

Rock Art

About 150,000 years ago, a series of volcanic eruptions began to create Albuquerque’s 17-mile long West Mesa ridge.

Over the millennia following the eruptions, huge pieces of basalt rock from the lava flow were strewn along the face of the ridge. Over the years, oxidation of the metals and minerals in the rock created a patina on the boulders’ surfaces.

The makers of the petroglyphs in Boca Negra Canyon and other areas in the Petroglyph National Monument on the western edge of Albuquerque found they could produce high-contrast images on the rock by chipping off the patina on boulders.

Archeologists refer to the images shown here as being made in the “Rio Grande style,” which developed around 1300 and continued until the year 1680.

Images include human figures, masks, mountain lions, birds, insects, spirals, four-pointed stars, and geometric designs.

When I asked if the images related to hunting grounds or had spiritual meaning, the Ranger at the Visitors' Center answered, "No one knows. Although some can be identified on the basis of contemporary anthropological studies, it is usually not appropriate to reveal meanings of some images. Even today different tribes have different versions of meanings."

The Ranger noted that the Boca Negra Canyon contained only four percent of all the petroglyphs in the Monument.

Near the peak of the Mesa Point Trail, I took this photograph looking east toward the Sandia Mountains (Sandia Crest is 10,678 feet above sea level) and the northern residential sections of Albuquerque.

Looking to the west, one can see the dormant volcanic cinder cones. The elevation at the top of the trail is 5280 feet; downtown Albuquerque is at 4950 feet above sea level.

I choose to see Kokopelli, the humpbacked Flute Player and mythical Hopi symbol of fertility, in this petroglyph. Kokopelli also represents music, dance, and mischief, so he could be having some fun with my impression.

This petroglyph of a face is unusual in that it is carved at the corner of a rock. One eye looks to the east and the other eye around the corner looks to the south.

Although tempting, I have resisted labeling images with modern approximations of the designs because, as the Ranger said, "Only the carvers know the petroglyphs' true meaning."

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