©Bert Gildart: Though there are thousands of petroglyphs in Valley of Fire State Park, when trying to date these amazing drawings, anthropologists turn to a single group of drawings, one of which contains an atlatl. Look at the top of the image included here and you’ll see the drawing of a sheep. But just below that you’ll see a shaft which is used as lever to increase the power imparted to spear pictured as the third item down.
The atlatl is intended to act as an extra arm — a fulcrum that adds momentum to a spear which is attached to a cup on the fulcrum. It was used prior to the invention of the bow and arrow, enabling scientists to state that most of the park drawings were made 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. That means the drawings represent ancient tribes, collectively known as the Anasazi. Perhaps the artists who made this image were hoping their drawing would create an appropriate karma, and that their day of hunting would be a successful one.
Though no one can say for sure what the images meant to each of the artists, with help from various tribes and by studying the artifacts of past cultures, anthropologists believe they can provide educated guesses. Some of the objects, of course, seem obvious. For instance, circles with radiating lines are thought to represent the sun. Squiggly lines may represent serpents. Other objects, however, require much theorizing.
L TO R: Image of four figures together holding hands is thought to represent power; image of sheep may be intended to project good hunting karma. Third image, which shows a hand, circle and various other figures, may be intended to show death, the presence of a spring, another atlatl, and clan figures.
Images of figures standing side by side and holding hands are thought to be expressions of power. Images of actual hands may signify death.
A single horizontal line from which four or five vertical lines extend downward but then sway slightly toward the bottom are thought to represent rain.
Probably the most prevalent drawing is one of sheep, and ancient artists may have drawn them hoping they could create a form of magic that would lure their principle source of food back, following, perhaps, a prolonged drought.
You can see most of these symbols in my first image. Others concepts are represented in some of the other images here included.
Because the atlatl was such a significant drawing, the campground at which we’ve been staying has been called Atlatl Campground. We’ve got a beautiful site and are grateful to have stumbled across such a lovely setting. Sadly, our three month adventure is closing down and we’ll soon be heading back to home. I make it sound like a bad thing, and that’s certainly not the case. It’s just that we enjoy our road trips so much we hate to see them end. But particularly this trip as it represents a return of good health. Perhaps there is good karma associated with the preservation of these glyphs and we have been immersed among literally thousands.
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4th ed. Autographed by the Authors
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Montana Icons is a book for lovers of the western vista. Features photographs of fifty famous landmarks from what many call the “Last Best Place.” The book will make you feel homesick for Montana even if you already live here. Bert Gildart’s varied careers in Montana (Bus driver on an Indian reservation, a teacher, backcountry ranger, as well as a newspaper reporter, and photographer) have given him a special view of Montana, which he shares in this book. Share the view; click here.
$16.95 + Autographed Copy
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Glacier Icons: What makes Glacier Park so special? In this book you can discover the story behind fifty of this park’s most amazing features. With this entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes and little known facts, Bert Gildart will be your backcountry guide. A former Glacier backcountry ranger turned writer/photographer, his hundreds of stories and images have appeared in literally dozens of periodicals including Time/Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. Take a look at Glacier Icons
$16.95 + Autographed Copy