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Rock Images of New Mexico

©Susan A. Short 2005


This page presents a collection of photographs taken as part of my dissertation research. Two petroglyph sites are represented here: Three Rivers National Petroglyph Monument and Pony Hills.

The indigenous people of the Americas created images on stone for thousands of years before European conquest and colonization. The images pictured here were created by pecking and carving the stone, and are called "petroglyphs." Images were also created by painting the stone, and those are called "pictographs." Sometimes, images were both carved and painted. The general term "rock art" has been used for all of these rock images. Some scholars embrace this term because it acknowledges that there is an aesthetic component to the rock images. Other scholars (and some indigenous people) vigorously object to the term "art" because they think it implies that the images were created for aesthetic enjoyment only, and does not encompass the likely role of the images as modes of symbolic communication. The term "rock images" is used here, not to diminish the aesthetic elements of the material, but to acknowledge the many possibilities in purpose and meaning.

These petroglyphs are part of what eminent rock image researcher Polly Schaafsma has called the Jornada Style. My research documented strong connections between the animal images used in this style and the animals used on pottery bowls created by the people of the Mimbres culture, in the Mimbres River Valley, New Mexico, between about A.D. 1000 and 1150.

The Mimbres people were farmers and lived in pueblo communities along and near the Mimbres River. The animal images may have served many purposes in their culture; my research supports the hypothesis that these animal images were part of Mimbres religion and represented intermediaries between the people and the spirit world. Most of the animal images created in Mimbres pottery and in Jornada rock images are members of what modern Pueblo people consider the "water-bringers" group, whose purpose is to intercede with the spirit world for rain. For these ancient farmers in New Mexico, such intercession in prayers for rain in the proper amounts and at the proper times would have been considered essential.




Animal with baby and 6-toed foot, Three Rivers.


Fish with frame resembling pottery rim, Three Rivers


Fish with human inside, Three Rivers


Rodent holding a pole with a cloud terrace, Three Rivers


Person with tablita, Three Rivers


Rattlesnake and turtle, Pony Hills


For more information, consult the following resources:

Anyon, R. and S.A. LeBlanc, 1984. The Galaz Ruin: A Prehistoric Mimbres Village in Southwestern New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Brody, J.J., 1977. Mimbres Painted Pottery. The School of American Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Schaafsma, P., 1992. Rock Art in New Mexico. Museum of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque

Short, S., 1998. When the Animals Still Danced: Animal Images in Mimbres Pottery and Petroglyphs. (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Minnesota, UMI Dissertation Services, Ann Arbor, MI). 

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(Page last revised: 10 June 2005 16:49)