ROCK ART - PETROGLYPHS AND PICTOGRAPHS
Since time immemorial, Native Americans used a symbol-based form of writing. Some of these symbols were used to convey messages to others passing at a later time; some symbols were used to record events important to the tribe's history. These symbols fall into two main categories: Pictographs, which are painted on rock or ledge and Petroglyphs, which are carved, chipped or scratched into the stone.
As a North American archaeologist and the editor of the recent Handbook of Rock Art Research, David Whitley (2001:23) asserts that the term “rock art” has been in use for “roughly 100 years,” at least within the “Western intellectual tradition.” Yet, he offers no citations to support his claim. Judging from the bibliographies of major syntheses of North America, the term “rock art” was not used until the early 1960s (Whitley 2001:43-51, c.f., Grant 1967:156-170; Mallery 1893:778-807; Wellmann 1979:173-196). In fact, the first continental synthesis began with idea of “writing,” not rock art (e.g., Mallery 1893).
How are rock art and writing defined? Why was the concept of writing abandoned in favor of the idea of rock art in North America? What may be discerned from tribal accounts? Is the notion of rock art appropriate in application to ancestral Native North America?