This essay, my first blog post, is long and obtuse. Please indulge me. I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about academic archeology’s neglect of the Basketmaker people for a long time. This essay is a Basketmaker teaser, an extended trailer, outtakes from a list of scenes. I promise that my future posts will be more focused – postures of men and animals; geometric and linear glyphs – game drive sites – analysis of individual sites, panels, icons, designs, design elements, etc. The Codicon discusses my interpretive hypotheses in detail.You may find it useful.

The study of the Southwest’s Basketmaker people, 1000 BC -1000 AD, has been fitful, haphazard, and incomplete ever since the Weatherill’s identified the culture in the 1890’s. What I know about Basketmakers comes partly from the fairly limited academic literature, but mostly from observing and analyzing the rock art, especially in the Moab area. This has been rewarding because of the representational character of that culture’s art in this region.

Basketmaker rock art is rife from Moab, Utah to Gallup, New Mexico, from Durango, Colorado to Las Vegas, Nevada, a region that encompasses much of the Colorado Plateau. However, past crops of archeologists seldom dealt  with it. When archeologists first began studying the region of the pueblo-building cultures, the Anasazi being the best known group, they became enamored of the buildings, the pottery, the agriculture, and so on… things they were familiar with from our own culture. This set the course of SW archeology for the next hundred years. Lacking structures, pottery, etc., Basketmakers weren’t ‘charismatic’ enough to attract grants from academia.  And, as for the rock art, with little by way of consistent dates, interpretations, patterns, or hypotheses, little emphasis or effort was placed on analyzing the sociological information that all art carries. 

In this essay about Basketmaker rock art I examine a range of topics using interpretive meanings I developed from a selection of Basketmaker icons and use-patternse associated with those icons. These topics include; Basketmaker origins; common rock art symbols that indicate a Basketmaker cultural continuum; similarities, overlaps, and differences between and among Basketmaker and Archaic cultures; how rock art can be used to map the eras and ranges of a large part of the Colorado Plateau’s ancient peoples; how rock art can illustrate pre-bow and arrow hunting strategies that used containment and capture hunting techniques; how rock art illustrates the depths and pervasiveness of hunting magic in the Basketmaker culture and how their art expressed that metaphysical ethos; and how Basketmaker rock art may provide clues to the early origins of the Fremont culture. This is not a comprehensive list of categories and questions that Basketmaker art raises. Some of this essay is bound to be factually flawed but not, so far as I can tell, fatally flawed. Please pardon this and other faux pas, but blundering about is a big part of exploring and, when it comes to the Basketmakers, there is so much more to seek and say. 


Researching the Basketmakers one is soon misinformed that their homeland is in the ‘Mesa Verde Region’ and that they are typically divided into the ‘Eastern Basketmaker’ and ‘Western Basketmaker’. The Eastern are assigned largely to the San Juan River drainages. The Western are assigned the region from Blanding, Utah to Holbrook, Arizona. I live in Moab which is 100 miles north of the ‘Mesa Verde Region’. There are huge galleries of Basketmaker rock art in the area. I have also seen many pictures of panels with Basketmaker stylings as far away as Nevada’s Valley of Fire. But there is little literature that expounds or expands on either Moab or Las Vegas as rich and distinctive Basketmaker areas. Nor do extant tracts track the visible threads of a common culture across the region. Instead, the prevalent literature assigns these people to two relatively independent and amorphous areas, leaving large expanses of the Colorado Plateau,  clearly marked by Basketmaker art, occupation, and common culture, understudied and undiscussed.

From my observations of Colorado Plateau rock art a singular Basketmaker culture extended from Gallup, New Mexico, north to Moab and the La Sal Mountains, east into the Cortez/Farmington area, west along the Little Colorado and Puerco River drainages, all the way to to southern Nevada. Throughout this vast region Basketmaker rock art repeatedly uses similar design, artistic conventions, and shared symbolic iconography from as early as 1,000 BC to  nearly 1,000 AD. This suite of symbolism-in-common denotes a robust, well-connected culture beyond the scale and scope of ‘Eastern Basketmaker’ and ‘Western Basketmaker’ in the ‘Mesa Verde Region’.


Moab’s unique ‘Rosetta Panel’ was fundamental to my interpretive efforts. It contains a design/symbol that is regionally shared, and a design/symbol which is only local. The Rosetta Panel is an example of how widespread Basketmaker culture was while, at the same time, showing how each region included local symbols, customs, and rites unique unto itself.there may have beens a set of shared beliefs across the Colorado Plateau that lasted for about two thousand years, while there was a high level of cultural autonomy and differentiation from region to region and even band to band

Figure 1. The Rosetta Panel, Mill Creek, Moab, Utah. (Most panel names are my own inventions.) I came across the Rosetta Panel in the upper reaches of Mill Creek in the summer of 1997. Here I found a regionally common track symbol  with distinctive design elements attached to a figure of a mountain lion. (To save time I say Cat) I used Cat as my default definition of similar tracks for a long time but, as the range and variety of similar predatory icons became clearer, I broadened my definition to Predator, with Cat remaining the first default. 

Figure 2. Rosetta Panel. The segmented feet, tined toes, and claw marks separated from the toes (upper/left) are design elements seen throughout Basketmaker territory. 

Another distinctive icon on this panel represents a vagina. The inverted-U (right/center) is a local iteration of a vagina which, in this case, is being penetrated by a phallus. Although there are many vagina designs in rock art, Moab is the only place where this particular combination of design elements is found.

Figure 3. Rosetta Panel. The short ears and long tail identify this as a mountain lion, or Cat. It represents predatory intentions. The distinctive design elements of the feet are common in various iterations throughout the Basketmaker region.The shape attached to its face is mysterious. Similar designs appear elsewhere on feline and ovine images.

These design elements are among the foundations of my interpretive analysis of Basketmaker art. I reasoned that, if this is a Predator’s track, even if the body of the animal is not illustrated, then the nearby glyphs probably share in a predatory theme; as predator, prey, both, or other. The ensuing chain of inferences led me to surmise that about 70% of Moab’s Basketmaker rock art is hunting-related and that a similar ratio exists throughout the Basketmaker region. That assumption needs testing. The Codicon contains the tools to do that Herculean task.

Figure 4. Boundary Panel, Petrified Forest National Park. A segmented track with six claw marks is in front of the big sheep. This busy panel at a busy site near Holbrook, Arizona is among many that include an iteration of the segmented foot- toes (omitted here) – separated claws design. Holbrook is 300 air miles from Moab but these design elements are common and identifiable in both places. I have seen similar tracks in Canyon de Chelly and as far east as the Three

Rivers petroglyph site near Tularosa, New Mexico.This indicates some of the range in which Basketmaker culture influenced and affected people in this region.

Figure 5. Rosetta Panel (detail). This image shows a vagina penetrated by a  phallus. This vagina design, an inverted U with two dots in the labial position, is unique to the Moab area. The fact that the phallus is connected to the Predator, Figure 2, is interesting. I have seen other vagina symbols close to predatory design elements but cannot fathom what the artist intended to convey. Maybe it means ‘good hunters make good husbands’ but that’s just a guess.

Figure 6. Birthing Rock (detail). The vagina’s placement indicates a female figure, probably with a role in fertility and/or birthing rites in the Moab area. She is one of many sexually identifiable icons along a five-mile corridor of Moab’s Kane Creek Road. There are other vagina designs in the Southwest but this specific design is peculiar to the Moab area. I discuss Moab’s female rock art in the slideshow Mother Earth.

This style of vagina symbol shows how some icons were only used locally. Other localized icons in the Basketmaker region include the Lobed Circle figures of the San Juan Basin and the curlew icons of the Little Colorado and Puerco Basins. 

Conversely, the Cat Track/Predator icon, Figure 3, is part of a unified cultural presence of such considerable size and scope that it renders an ‘Eastern Basketmaker/Western Basketmaker’ distinction mostly moot.

Figure 7. Birthing Rock, Kane Creek, Moab. Besides the Rosetta Panel, I know of only four vagina icons with a similar design. Two of them are on Moab’s famous Birthing Rock. One is at upper left, between an anthropomorph’s legs. It is heavily abraded, as if it had been painted or rubbed repeatedly. I consider this to be a fantamorphic figure, probably some sort of fertility goddess. The other vagina, center, is placed in an anatomically correct position in a much less metaphysical figure. It appears in detail in the previous photo.

The largest vagina in the area is on a boulder a few miles away, where the Colorado River enters the Portal and disappears into the depths of that endlessly mysterious passage, a statement rife with trite but true symbolism. I hope to discuss the Birthing Rock in detail on  this site. Stay tuned.


The Chuska Mountains are at the south end of a group of related ranges that reach from Gallup, New Mexico to Moab, Utah, a distance of 300 air miles that is dense with Basketmaker art. The earliest corn dates in this region are from south of the Chuska Mountains from about 2100 BC. Beginning around 1000 BC in the Chuska/Lukachukai/Carrizo region. The residents slowly began evolving from a strictly hunting/gathering culture to a semi-agricultural culture, which then expanded across the Colorado Plateau over the next 500 years. Corn did not become prevalent until early Basketmaker II times, about 400 BC. I suggest that, as corn was adopted and became an important part of their life,  the Basketmakers also created and adopted new cosmogonies, social hierarchies, artistic styles and so on, that expressed the evolving culture’s circumstances. Social structures such as these are notoriously hard to reconstruct using the tools of traditional archeology. Perhaps greater attention to the art may help address this lacuna, for what is art if not social?

During my work on Moab’s Mill Creek game drive corridor (see Game Drive) I noticed an interesting pattern. Many Basketmaker rock art figures abutted Archaic rock art figures. It seemed that the Basketmakers, despite their altered material and artistic culture, were reusing the sites of the previous culture, quite possibly for the same reasons…most often hunting but not always. Did the Basketmakers learn the value and use of these sites from the Archaics? If so, this suggests a cultural continuity and evolution, a relatively peaceable transition as opposed to an invasion. This, in any case, is what I see in Moab rock art. Is Moab alone in this or are there similar artistic juxtapositions along the southern side of the Colorado Plateau? Could this help resolve the so far unresolved questions about when Basketmaker influence entered the Colorado Plateau and from which direction?

Cynthia Irwin-Williams, an archeologist who worked in the Southwest from the 1960’s to 1990’s. identified artifact arrays from the Four Corners regions of New Mexico. Based on these findings, Irwin-Williams hypothesized a cultural continuum she called ‘Picosa’ as a precursor population to the Puebloan cultures. Her artifactual continuum identifies six different different styles stretching from about 6,000 BC to 500 AD  The earlier dates are roughly the same time frame established by Professor Jesse Jennings for what became known as the Desert and/or Archaic Culture.

 Irwin-Williams’ fifth cultural expression, she termed it the ‘En Medio’, was the first to grow substantial amounts of corn. ‘En Medio’ dates are contemporary to the Basketmaker culture’s appearance, location, and agricultural activity. I use the designation of ‘Basketmaker ‘but intellectually link it to the ‘En Medio’ phase of the Picosa continuum. Like Irwin-Williams, I suspect, this time based on rock art analysis and comparison, the existence of a recognizable cultural continuum in the Four Corners region, appearing first in the southeast corner of the Colorado Plateau and slowly extending north and west. 

Figure 8. Around the Corner Panel, Mill Creek, Moab. The sheep are running one way. The sheep tracks are going the other. Confusion reigns among the sheep just prior to being forced into a cul-de-sac where they would be killed. 

The Around the Corner Panel is one of many examples of a Basketmaker panel abutting, overlapping, or including an Archaic panel. This active panel appears in a portion of the Mill Creek game drive corridor that would have completely confined sheep within the canyon walls as they were urged on by the game drivers behind them (See Game Drive).

Figure 9. Around the Corner Panel (detail). These two zoomorphs, a Spirit Sheep/Deer and a Predator (short ears, long tail, no hooves) appear in the middle of the panel. Just above the Spirit Sheep’s back are multiple etched zigzag lines. I associate such etched lines with Archaic art. The lines were used as a template for painted zigzags. The paint is long gone.

As a default, I examine any linear design for ‘containment intent’, symbolizing the intent to restrict and direct prey in the context of a hunting activity. If this was an Archaic artist’s reason for drawing these lines on this wall, then the Basketmaker era appearance of a Spirit Sheep and a Predator at this spot may reprise and emphasizes the predatory intent suggested by Archaic drive lines. The fact that the Spirit Sheep/Deer and Predator abut, but do not obliterate, the Archaic design suggests a sense of the Basketmaker artist’s respect, honor, and thematic emulation of the Archaic artist and his intent. Such artistic abutments are common in the Mill Creek game drive corridor and elsewhere in the area. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen enough art in other parts of the Basketmaker region to identify a pattern, if it exists.

I discuss Spirit Sheep and linear containment iconology later in this essay.

Figure 10. Ray Panel, Hidden Valley, Moab, Utah. Moab’s Hidden Valley holds at least a dozen astronomically active panels and ruins of Basketmaker creation. The Ray Panel is an astronomical panel that marks the Equinox. The Equinox sun catches the small ridges on the wall, creating an effect of light rays lengthening and surrounding the pecked figures. The large figure is in a shallow depression and is the last figure on the wall to get lit on the Equinox.

Figure 11. Ray Panel (detail). The Basketmaker head and headdress are the last parts of the panel to get lit on the Equinox. The metaphysical implications of being the last glyph on the panel to ‘see the light’ are unknowable. However, the intent to mark the Equinox is unmistakable. 

Figure 12. Ray Panel (detail). A closer look reveals that the Ray Panel’s preeminent figure was placed on top of an earlier etched Archaic figure. You can see the etched lines of a broad-shouldered anthropomorph with a crosshatched, tower-like head. An atlatl is attached to his head. The etched circular form, upper/left, is the atlatl’s fletching. It was probably painted when new. The Archaic figure is a very old style and may date to 4,000 BC. The Basketmaker glyph with the ‘quail feather/hair bun’ headdress is about 2,000 years old. The Basketmaker artist from 2,000 years ago may be reiterating the astronomical intent of an artist who was at work as long as 6,000 years ago. The reuse of this site and the ancient astronomical knowledge it contains makes a strong argument for an amicable, stable, and respectful transmission of cultural information spanning thousands of years.

The Barrier Canyon Style, epitomized at the Great Gallery, Buckhorn Wash, and Sego Canyon, seems more recent than some other Archaic styles. Barrier Canyon is within the time-frame of Archaic art, but is not the only Archaic style. While this is speculative, there seem to be at least four identifiable Archaic styles on the Colorado Plateau across a time span of 4,000 years. Differentiating among them, spatially and temporally, is a task that remains largely undone. 



I have already mentioned the segmented foot-tined toe-claw mark Predator track design as a symbol-in-common, widespread throughout the Basketmaker region. Other shared design elements include large hands and feet, certain human postures and accessories, certain animals and their stances, and the use of linear designs to illustrate containment intentions. While other cultures used similar designs, the distinct styles and representational characteristics of Basketmaker art comprise a socially recognizable, consistent, and distinct set of symbols used throughout the Basketmaker territory and era. I will discuss three examples of widely shared symbolic designs – Predator tracks, linear design elements with containment intent, and the Spirit Sheep.

Basketmaker artists conflated and rearranged symbolic design elements with reckless, sometimes surreal, abandon. Based on the Rosetta Panel, Figure 1, my default interpretation for the segmented trackway is still Cat and/or Predator, but I can also see how an interpretation of Bear, Bear/Cat, or some fantamorphic predator can be derived from among the different conflations I have seen at various locations that use similar design elements. This may be cause for conversation but, whatever interpretive identity one might favor, the underlying intent probably remains the same and is related to predatory power.  

To complicate the matter, some rock art writers have interpreted it as a bear track in several books and articles, causing many people to tag it as a Bear Track in whatever form or context it appears. A doctoral treatise on the Western Ute by William Buckles has been cited to support this claim. I looked it up. Somewhere around page 1,700 Buckles recounts showing a photo of rock art from Shivano Valley, south of Grand Junction, Colorado to one of his Ute informants. The informant said the distinct tracks looked like those used by the Ute Bear Clan. This interpretation, thin as it is, was cited, adopted, and repeated in academic literature and popular lore. As a result, any similar icon henceforth was, and is, commonly presumed to be a ‘Ute Bear Track’. 

But there are some problems. This style of track appears regularly throughout the Basketmaker region and often in the company of atlatls. Atlatls disappeared from the region’s armature at least 800 years before the Ute migrated onto the Colorado Plateau around 1300 AD. Perhaps the Ute, impressed by the artistry and power of this design, adopted it. But they did not create it. Nor did the Ute hold sway over the entire range of this icon’s appearance. None of it adds up, so I hold fast to a default Basketmaker Predator interpretation, often with a feline flavor. 

Icons using some or all of these design elements can be seen in Figures 1, 4, 13, 14, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 30, 35, and 37. The range and frequency of these design elements suggests a well-known and widely used fetish.

 Figure 13. Proudfoot  Bend Panel, Hwy. 128, Moab, Utah. Several years ago I visited Shivano Valley, the source of the ‘Ute Bear Track’ hypothesis, but I didn’t take pictures. Images can easily be found on the web. This panel at Proudfoot Bend along Utah State Highway 128 shares design elements that are very similar to Shivano Valley. The panels are on opposite sides of the Uncompahgre Plateau. I don’t know of any other panels in the region that share this style. It is possible that there was a brief efflorescence of this distinctive artistic style in the region, but more likely that the two panels were the distinctive work of one artist.

Figure 14. Proudfoot Bend Panel. The segmented tracks on this panel are identical in style to those at Shivano Valley. Their lack of tails suggest a bear. The vertically oriented zoomorphs at Shivano are typically identified as ‘bear cubs’ but I think they could be bob cat or mountain lion kittens, too. The vertical figure on this panel might be a bear, or a bear/cat, or a vertically oriented cat. It’s all very confusing. 

Above the ‘standing bear’ is a short-eared, long-tailed animal that clearly resembles a Cat. Also of note is the sheep to the left. Its exaggerated horns clearly identify it as a Spirit Sheep, a concept I discuss later. Fence-like design elements are a common predatory image.

There are some etched zigzag lines here but I can’t tell if they are contemporary, prehistoric, or both.

Figure 15. Bear tracks. Bear tracks have a segmented foot and tined toes. A small appendage on the back of the foot, the heel counter, is often evident. It is possible that some artists  combined the strength, power, and prowess of the Bear and the Cat in a single image. This kind of symbolic conflation is common in Basketmaker art, as seen in Figures 24, 25, 45, 54, 55, and 56.

 Figure 16. Prey and Predator tracks, Mill Creek. While documenting a panel in the Mill Creek game drive corridor I saw a large red coyote chasing a very tired deer down the canyon.

Figure 17. Hidden Valley, Moab. These  two figures illustrate how uncertain an interpreter’s task may become. Both have segmented feet but, unlike most Cat/Predator tracks, the segments are completely within a boundary. Both have the heel counter common to bear tracks. 

The track on the left clearly has claw marks separate from the toes. The track on the right has claws attached to the toes. A Cat retracts and extends its claws creating claw marks separate from the toes. A Bear’s claws are always attached to its toes. The mixing, morphing, and blending of design elements is a hallmark of Basketmaker art, making it difficult to achieve an affirmative identity for a figure, although its intent may still be decipherable.

Figure 18. Montezuma Canyon, Blanding, Utah. This set of tracks, a hundred miles south of Moab, demonstrates how messy interpreting can get. Some tracks have heel counters, some don’t. Some have claws attached, some have claws separate. Nailing down a specific identify is problematical, but clearly the intent is predatory.

Figure 19. North Sliding Rock, Canyon de Chelly, Chinle, AZ. A hundred miles south of Montezuma Canyon, the  segmented tracks, tined toes, and claw marks are abundant in another Basketmaker stronghold. Note, upper/left, a five-toed, a more accurate representation of a bobcat or mountain lion track. It isn’t that the artists couldn’t make a realistic cat track. Rather, they had a distinct set of artistic protocols, conventions, and design elements that they used to convey a shared symbolism.

Figure 20. Woodruff Butte, Holbrook, AZ. Predator Tracks like these abound a hundred miles west of Canyon de Chelly. This area is about forty miles from any mountains or forest. It is canyon country, suited to sheep, lions, and humans, but not bears. 

If linear designs symbolize the ‘contain and capture’ activities of a successful game drive, this linear design, a spiral unrolling into a zigzag, reiterates the panel’s predatory message. Other ‘unrolling nets’ appear in Figures 30 and 41. Figure 31 depicts a similar fence-like icon.

Figure 21. One of several lion depictions at Woodruff Butte.

Figure 22. Three lions.  Lithodendron Wash, Holbrook, AZ. The large, dotted lion has tined toes. Lithodendron Wash is a large wash filled with deep clay. Animals driven into the clay when it was wet would have been at a severe disadvantage. 

There are several large rock art sites that feature predatory symbolism along Lithodendron Wash and other similar clay-bottomed drainages in the region, Figures 4 and 30 for example.

Figure 23. Predator Track, Lithodendron Wash. Tracks with segmented heels and tined toes abound near Holbrook. Much of the accompanying rock art is Basketmaker in style.

Figure 24. Lion Foot Panel, Kane Creek, Moab, Utah. A metaphysical sheep, center, has Predator tracks on its front feet. All three large sheep have fringe or fence-like markings on their legs. From this I infer that Predator tracks, Spirit Sheep, and fence-like linear markings may share some role in illustrating the panel’s predatory intent. The two sheep in front both have a small sheep under them. I see this arrangement on many hunting panels and have defined it as a pattern-worthy motif. I assume that the ‘underneath sheep’ is the one that the Spirit Sheep is going to make available to the hunters, but that is speculative.

Figure 25. Lion Foot Panel, Kane Creek, Moab. This large Spirit Sheep has an extravagant curl to its horns and Predator tracks for front feet. If the fence-like markings on its legs indicate a containment intent, then the small sheep  underneath the large sheep could be ‘caught’, representing the gift/sacrifice that the Spirit Sheep is willing to make to the devout hunter. I have noticed a ‘sheep caught underneath’ design often enough to include it as a repeated motif used by Basketmaker artists in the Moab area. I haven’t included the motif in the Codicon, but it probably belongs there. Another ‘Sheep Underneath’ image appears in Figure 33.

The Lion Foot Panel is one of several large panels near the confluence of Kane Creek and the Colorado River. Several of the other panels focus on sex and/or fertility. This is the only one that focuses solely on predation. It is directly across the river from the Potash Panel, Figure 26, which also illustrates predatory intent. The crosshatched line and fringed line motifs are conspicuous at both sites.


Figure 26. Potash Panel, Potash Road, Moab. The Potash Panel is directly across the Colorado River from the Lion Foot Panel. Its designs, including linear designs, express predatory intent. Here the predatory icons include a Predator track, top/center, fence-like and crosshatch lines, a sheep trapped inside a corral-like structure, right, and split tips on the ends of the corrals. I will discuss split tips next. This panel is at the end of a game drive corridor where sheep would move off Poison Spider Mesa and down to the Colorado River to drink, then be driven upstream to where the river meets a cliff. The panel is located where the sheep could be contained between the cliff and the river’s edge.

Figure 27. Potash Panel, detail. The fringed and crosshatched fence lines got me wondering whether every type of linear icon might potentially illustrate containment intent. As I applied this hypothesis to other linear designs it seemed viable enough to suggest use-patterns that illustrate game drives – containment, capture, and so on. Strengthening this concept was the recognition of predatory symbolism and intent in the ‘split tip’ design element. Note the prevalence of ‘split tip’ icons on the ends of the lines in this photo.

Figure 28. In the Bag  Panel, Mill Creek, Moab. This panel helped me recognize the context and intent of the ‘split tip’ design element. The wavy line is open at the top, a design I have seen often enough to designate it as a Bag. The wavy line forms a ‘bag’ or ‘corral’ with a sheep inside. Note that all the ends of the Bag’s open side have split tips. This panel is at a critical spot in the Mill Creek game drive corridor where a herd of sheep being forced up the canyon could no longer escape – In the Bag, so to speak. This artist used wavy lines instead of crosshatched lines like at the Lion Foot and Potash Panels.

 The anthropomorph, right, wears a hunter’s headdress, a single appendage, common in Moab Basketmaker art. I call this headdress the Cat-in-the-Hat because I think it represents a lion’s tail (and I love Dr. Seuss), an apt totem for a sheep hunter (the lion, not Dr. Seuss). Most atlatl throwers near Moab are Cat-in-the-Hat. The Cat-in-the-Hat shows up in other parts of Basketmaker country every now and then, including in ritual combat poses versus members of other  bands, indicating a culture fond of social mingling, including blood sport, across the region. Cat-in-the-Hats can be seen in Figures 10, 47, 48, and 50.

Figure 29. In the Bag Panel, detail. The placement and context of the split tips associate this design element with  trapping activities. The appearance of split tips on other panels indicates that predatory intent may inform those sites as well.

Figure 30. Boundary Panel, Petrified Forest National Park. The zigzag line is part of a suite of game drive iconography, including Predator tracks. The split tip’s placement on the end of this linear icon is very similar to the way it is  used in Moab.  

Bird tracks are common Predator symbols. In Moab, along the Colorado River, heron and heron tracks often adorn hunting panels. In Petrified Forest, with its clay-filled washes, there are many depictions of curlews, birds that can walk across the mire to capture their prey. This artist’s close association of Bird Tracks with Predator Tracks is intentional. 

I have seen the ‘crooked staff’ mostly in the San Juan Basin, sometimes in the Holbrook region, and rarely in Moab. It may be part of the suite of predatory symbols but I have not seen it enough to recognize a pattern, if one exists. The context of this panel may provide a clue of what to look for elsewhere.

Figure 31. Trapman Panel, Kane Creek, Moab, Utah. I have seen many icons similar to this and presume a use-pattern for the design I call “Trapman”. The Trapman motif appears from Canada to Mexico, Colorado to California. However, the “split tip” is common only in Basketmaker territory.

This example is on a boulder where a very large canyon becomes extremely narrow, a good place to set a trap.

I assume that the zigzag line in the previous photo and the crosshatch line in this photo have comparable predatory intent. The appearance of the split tip motif in both cases supports this idea. 

Inferences such as this led me to a default presumption of predatory intent for any linear design – waves, zigzags, fences, nets, spirals, gates, corrals, mazes, dots, Hand Holders, and so on. This may not be so in every case, but must be looked for in every case.

The anthropomorph here is in some sort of active pose and may be a hunter. He has startled the sheep which is rearing or jumping back.

Casual interpreters often refer to this type of image as a ‘centipede’ because, they say, “It looks like a centipede.” I am aware of no such symbol, totem, or fetish in any account of hunting magic, common lore, or ethnographic testimony. 

Figure 32. Long Lake, Adel, Oregon. Long Lake is a possible mire trap. It is rich in linear images, some of which were buried in ash by the eruption of Mount Mazama about 7,700 years ago. The crosshatch line is a common design among Paleolithic and Archaic panels. Lake Winnemucca, also in the Great Basin, but to the south, holds the oldest dated rock art in North America. Long Lake art resembles Lake Winemucca art. This suggests that this linear design had a specific intent, probably predatory, as far back as the Pleistocene lake cultures of the Great Basin. Both the design elements and their intent may have been transmitted across the Great Basin and adjacent regions over thousands of years and countless square miles.

The narrow slot above the Trapman may be a Winter Solstice afternoon marker but I haven’t been able to get into Long Lake at the proper time to see. If you want to check into it, this glyph is on the east end of the site.

Figure 33. High Life Panel, Mill Creek, Moab, Utah.Hand Holders are common in Basketmaker art. The High Life Panel has the densest concentration of Hand Holders that I know. It is directly across the canyon from the largest area of Escape Terrain in the Mill Creek game drive corridor. This is terrain where game-driving hunters would need to mount an intense containment effort to keep the sheep from regaining their freedom. That was the Hand Holders’ job.

Topographical features are often part of the story line in a rock art tableau. In this picture, the crack along the bottom acts as a containment element and even resembles the crosshatched lines of Trapman or fantamorphiic antlers of the Spirit Sheep in Figure 13. Above it are three running sheep and above them are concentric circles connected to an unrolling spiral by a wavy line. If this linear element denotes containment, say a net being unrolled, then the sheep are thoroughly confined between it and the narrowing topography in front of them. Other ‘unrolling net’ icons can be seen in Figures 20 and 45.

Among my more interesting interpretive choices was to deem the Hand Holder motif as sharing in the containment intent assigned to other linear design elements – zigzags, crosshatches, dotted lines, straight lines, and so on.


Figure 34. Spirit Sheep Panel, Hidden Valley, Moab, Utah. This tableau also uses a topographical feature as a design element as a herd of sheep walks into a smooth area surrounded by rough, confining stone. Above/right, an elaborate fence prevents sheep from straying that way. The menorah-like icon, lower/right, is some kind of gate. After the sheep pass, the gate is pulled shut and they are trapped by the rough stone around them, the fence above, and gate behind. Whether or not this is close to the the story the artist was trying to tell, the surety of this being a hunting tableau can be seen in the dramatic action of the next photo.

Figure 35. Spirit Sheep Panel, Hidden Valley. The Spirit Sheep is a common motif in Basketmaker art and other rock art styles as well. It has many iterations.Some of the common identifiers for a Spirit Sheep include fantamorphic characteristics, such as embellished horns or hooves. Another sign is a strong, statuesque posture, often isolated and/or facing way from the other sheep on the panel. In this photo the Spirit Sheep is facing four small kids who are running for their lives. The last kid is caught between a human, assumed to be a hunter, and a Predator track. This kid may be the designated prey, offered by the Spirit Sheep to seal the covenant, mentioned in the following quote by Joseph Campbell, between Man and Beast. Whatever shape or stance it takes, whatever phantasms it exhibits, the Spirit Sheep has a duty to keep an eye on the humans, making sure they perform the rites that give the prey the respect that is due. 

Hidden Valley is largest of four ancient astronomical sites I have identified and written about in the Moab area. Three are primarily Basketmaker and one Archaic, probably of Barrier Canyon vintage. In Hidden Valley I have identified nineastronomical panels and ruins. There are probably more. The Spirit Sheep Panel interacts with the Winter Solstice morning sun. See the slideshow Moab’s Ancient Astronomers and the manuscript Seasons of the Sacred Sky for more astronomy.

Figure 36. Spirit Sheep Panel. The first  three running lambs may be able to rejoin the herd.This Spirit Sheep has an effluent, assumed to be blood, pouring from its nose. Blood is good indicator that something bloody is afoot. The Bloody Nose motif among Basketmaker Spirit Sheep is infrequent but not rare.

The anthro-mythologist, Joseph Campbell, described the purpose of these rites: The main point in all such legends is that between the animals hunted and the human communities dependent for survival on their offering of themselves there has been a covenant established, confirmed, and reconfirmed in certain rites performed in relation to certain fetishes: both the rites and the sacred tokens having been delivered, years ago, by the animals themselves to insure that when they had been slain their lives should be returned to the mother-source for rebirth, and reciprocally, when such rites were performed and the mystery of the order of nature thus recognized, the food supply of the human community would be assured.”  Joseph Campbell. The Flight of the Wild Gander: Explorations in the Mythological Dimensions of Fairy Tales, Legends, and Symbols, HarperPerennial. 1990.Pp. 77-119.

Figure 37. The last in a line of running lambs is caught between a bipedal hunter, left, and a segmented, tined-toed Predator track, right. Its fate is obvious. The smallest and/or last sheep in a herd is often the designated prey. Perhaps, like other predators, one of the human hunter’s roles was to cull the slow, the sick, and the weak. Whether this level of husbandry awareness existed among ancient hunters is an interesting question.

Figure 38. Ambush Alley Panel, Mill Creek, Moab, Utah. Three three-horned Spirit Sheep with blood pouring from their noses. This panel is at a point in the Mill Creek game drive corridor where there was no more Escape Terrain ahead and no turning back due to the game drivers behind. Death was the bloody fate of the herd and the Bloody Nose Spirit Sheep are foreshadowing that end.

Figure 39. Magic Theater Pass Panel, Kane Creek, Moab. A Spirit Sheep, left, is facing away from the rest of the herd. This is a fairly common pose among Spirit Sheep. It may  indicate a separate status and special duties for this avatar.  

At far-right, a small linear glyph is above a group of sheep which includes the smallest sheep on the panel. This is a common style of ‘gate’ icon.

Figure 40. Magic Theater Pass Panel, detail.The Spirit Sheep demonstrates characteristics seen in many other Spirit Sheep. This includes a strong, commanding stance, often facing away from the other sheep. Here the Spirit Sheep faces the hunter, as if communicating with him. The hunter kneels in front of the Spirit Sheep, his atlatl beside him. Our culture may see this as a posture of supplication or submission but we can’t know what the Basketmaker artist thought. However, if it is a posture of supplication it fits nicely with the Joseph Campbell quote about humbly performing certain rites and rituals. To the Spirit Sheep’s right, facing the same way as the rest of the animals, is a short-eared, long-tailed, and round-footed mountain lion, a clear indicator of the predatory tone of the panel.

The ‘supplicant’s’ headdress resembles a ’quail feather/hair bun’ coif seen on Basketmaker astronomical panels around Moab. See Figure 10. This headdress is fairly common in Fremont art, most commonly seen on archers. The atlatl puts this panel at least several hundred years before Fremont archers. The headdress design appears to have survived the Basketmaker/Fremont transition, but underwent a metamorphosis in meaning during the process. More on the ‘Basketmaker/Fremont transition hypothesis’ soon.

I haven’t observed this panel at any Equinox or Solstice. 

Figure 41. Magic Theater Pass, detail. The right side of the tableau features a common linear design I have identified as a ‘Gate’. This one, a short horizontal line with several shorter lines depending from it and a single line ascending from the horizontal line, resembles a common Gate stylization in the Moab area. 

The smallest sheep on the panel is directly under the Gate and may be in peril. The zoomorph at far left has short ears, no tail, and feet that do not resemble hooves. Is it a cat, a bear, a dog, some combination, or none of that? Whatever the artist meant to depict, it probably included a predatory intent.

Figures 42 and 43. Hidden Valley. Two Spirit Sheep face each other at a distance from either end of Hidden Valley’s largest rock art gallery.There is a 1/2 mile of cliff-line holding hundreds of petroglyphs between them.  Among those hundreds of petroglyphs these are the only two with extended feet.

Their fantamorphic feet suggest that they are related, psychologically and/or metaphysically. From the two ends of the gallery they can watch all the rituals, rites, and actions taking place among the panels, including at the Ray Panel, Figure 10, and Spirit Sheep Panel, Figure 31.

Campbell implied a sense of watchfulness among the animal avatars to ensure that all aspects of their covenants with humans were being observed. A trait many Spirit Sheep share, and seen here, is an observant, heads-up, stance. Among other artistic conventions, this suggests that the Basketmaker people were devout hunting magic practitioners and put a lot of time and effort into pleasing and placating the ever-vigilant spirits, “…so be good, for goodness sake.”

Figure 44. Spinning Horn Panel, Mill Creek. As noted before, linear designs are subject to interpretation as containment elements. One containment artifact used by ancient hunters was the net. Nets appear throughout the archeological record of the American West. It makes sense that netting intent might appear in hunting art. Here, a Spirit Sheep and an unrolling spiral, perhaps a net symbol, may unite the spiritual power of the animal avatar with the worldly character of a hunting artifact. Many rolled-up nets were for rabbit-sized prey but some were for larger game. 

Nets were sometimes cached and used again and again at the sites for which they had been tailored. The knob at the inside end of the spiral may represent a spindle which would be useful for furling and unfurling the net. Similar ‘unrolling’ designs appear on Woodruff Butte, Figure 20, the High Life Panel, Figure 30, and the Celebration Panel, Figure 46.

The ‘unrolling spiral/net hypothesis’ is, so far as I’m aware, original. Variations of the these design elements appear throughout the American West suggesting a wide range and extreme antiquity for this symbol and its meanings.

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Figure 45. Oaks Panel, Potash Road, Moab. This is part of a gallery which includes the Potash Panel. In this late-Basketmaker panel a Spirit Sheep watches a hunter take one of the flock with a bow-and-arrow. 

Note how the Spirit Sheep’s horns reiterate design elements on the Potash Panel, Figure 26, and the Lion Foot Panel, Figure 24.

Spirit Sheep also appear in Figures 4, 9, 13, 23, 33, 34, 38, 40, 42, 43, 44, 50, and 52.


Figure 45 shows a hunter with a bow-and-arrow. The bow-and-arrow appeared in this part of the Colorado Plateau between 300 – 500 AD. The Moab Basketmakers adopted the bow around this time and used it in their art until their ultimate displacement and demise between 900-1000 AD.

The Steinaker Gap site south of Vernal, Utah, has been dated at about 200 AD and is considered one of the first Fremont settlements. With its pit house construction, bell-shaped storage cysts, and the styles of its artifact arrays, it is almost identical to Moab Basketmaker settlements of the same time, but a hundred miles south. It takes little imagination to conceive of a band moving from the south side of the Tavaputs Platteau to the north side for whatever reason. By 700 AD the Fremont culture was experiencing a significant efflorescence in the northern and western portions of the Colorado Plateau. The question may be asked “how much of the Fremont culture may have evolved from Basketmaker culture”? Rock art may provide some interesting clues. 

There are several related design elements and motifs that appear in both the Basketmaker and Fremont cultures on either side of the atlatl/bow-and-arrow divide. One of the most prevalent is the necklace.

Figure 46. Celebration Panel, Mill Creek. A simple disc-like necklace is a prevalent icon in Moab rock art. Moab is a  northern Basketmaker territory, the territory closest to the later Fremont efflorescence. The Basketmaker dedication to creating necklace displays may have been passed on to the Fremont.

I have seen enough ‘twins’ to identify them as a motif in their own right. They are not Hand Holder/game drivers. I don’t have any good ideas who or what they represent. These two are sporting the Cat-in-the-Hat headdresses which identify them as hunters from Moab. The one with the necklace is holding something about the size and shape a skinned human head, an artifact found in the local  archeological record and the rock art of the Archaic, Basketmaker, and Fremont peoples. This example of a possible skinned head is suspicious but not certain.

Unrolling spirals often have a knob on one end. In this case the artist may have embellished that concept with the addition and careful illustration of a purposeful predator, one often associated with renewal and regeneration. See Joseph Campbell’s quote again.

Figure 47. Old Folks Home, Moab. Often, only the necklace was pecked into the rock. The rest of the figure was painted in. The Basketmaker necklace is simple in design and widespread. You often see, as here, a belt below the necklace. There are dozens of these necklaces at the Old Folks Home, suggesting  that it was an important ceremonial site

These figures are sporting the Cat-in-the-Hat headdress, a single appendage that may symbolize a lion’s tail. About 90% of Moab’s atlatl throwers have this headdress. Most of the rest are Bird Heads visiting from the San Juan region. This suggests that the Bird Head and Cat-in-the-Hat shared similar roles and status among theirbrethren, bands, and neighbors near and far. 

Figure 48. Johnson’s Slot, Mill Creek. Painted figures in Basketmaker art, such as this figure’s head, torso, legs, and arms (holding an unidentifiable artifact), are rare. The anatomical placement of the pecked necklace and belt is accurate. This is graphic evidence of the necklace/belt icon’s anthropomorphic identity whether or not a human figure can be seen.

 The simple necklace was a fundamental icon of Moab’s Basketmaker people. If the culture migrated north it may have retained its affinity for necklaces. As the Fremont prospered, personal adornment, including necklaces, became more elaborate. 

The San Juan Bird Head does not appear in the Fremont territory to my knowledge. The Cat-in-the-Hat does, for example, throwing spears at other Cat-in-the-Hat figures at Warrior Ridge in Nine Mile Canyon. But the headdress is uncommon in the Fremont lands. The ‘quail feather/hair bun’ headdress, Figure 11, which appears regularly among Moab’s Basketmaker astronomers, was a popular headdress for Fremont archers, at Warrior Ridge the Rochester Panel , for example. This may tell us something about the change-over from the atlatl, the preferred weapon of Bird Heads and Cat-in-the Hats for a long time, to the bow-and-arrow between 300-500 AD.

Figure 49. Flat Canyon Panel, Desolation-Gray Wilderness, Tavaputs Plateau. There is Basketmaker and Fremont style rock art where the Green River transects the Tavaputs Plateau through Desolation Canyon and and Gray Canyon,south of Steinaker Gap. Flat Canyon is just downstream from the Fremont culture’s famous Nine Mile Canyon artistic area. 

At right, a figure has an elaborate costume and notable necklace typical of Fremont culture. At upper/left a Basketmaker  sporting Moab’sCat-in-the-Hat headdress wears a necklace with a simple disc design. Based on two different patinas I would guess that all of the darker figures on the left are Basketmaker and the large, bright figures at right are Fremont. This panel may be illustrative of a Basketmaker/Fremont interaction and/or transition.

Figure 50. McConkey Ranch, Vernal, Utah. On this Fremont panel a pair of well-necklaced ‘twins’ may be holding a skinned human head between them. By this time, roughly 700 – 1,000 AD, the Fremont necklaces were larger and more elaborate. If that is a skinned head it reiterates a Basketmaker practice (Figure 47?) that they, in turn, may have adopted from Archaic headhunters. The continuation of both a specific activity (head hunting) and artistic adoption of a symbol of that activity (the skinned head motif) suggests a Fremont pattern of continuity with the Basketmaker practice of adopting prior indigenous expressions into its own cultural and artistic vocabularies.

Figure 51. Sego Canyon, Thompson Springs, Utah. The bright Fremont petroglyphs have elaborate necklaces. These figures were pecked adjacent to and abutting Archaic pictographs, above, and a pair of abraded Archaic anthropomorphs, right, which were probably painted when they were made, but the paint is long gone. The Archaic rock art may have been several thousands of years old when the Fremont decided to make their mark in the same place.

At right, a Fremont archer takes aim at an alert and unperturbed Spirit Sheep, suggesting that the Spirit Sheep symbolism and mythos migrated into, and became a part of the Fremont culture simultaneously with the necklace.The Fremont bow-and-arrow addition to the panel came some time after 300 AD and up to 1,000 years later.Figure

52. Fish Creek Cove, Torrey, Utah (enhanced). The Fish Creek Cove game drive site was used by Archaic,  Basketmaker, and Fremont cultures. The ‘shield’ figure is similar to late Archaic art in the region. Notice the elaborate Fremont necklaces and headdresses along the bottom.

Other Basketmaker icons and styles that make regular appearances in Fremont art are triangular bodies, large hands and feet, a wide two-horned headdress with a depending fringe, and the aforementioned ‘quail feather/hair bun’ headdress. Given the large selection of similar icons, and  their geographic proximity, it makes sense to examine the idea of a Basketmaker root for Fremont culture. By about 900 AD the Fremont were robust and expanding. Between the simultaneous invasive pressures from the Fremont to the north and Anasazi from the south, Moab’s Basketmaker culture appears to have been dissipated by 1,000 AD. An Anasazi/Fremont back-and-forth prevailed for the next 300 years.


In this essay I touch on a few of the lessons that may be inferred by taking a closer look at Basketmaker rock art. There are many others issues to think about and an uncountable number, I am sure, that are beyond the powers of my intellect and imagination to perceive. Still, by applying a range of hypothetical interpretations, then reapplying the ones that seem cogent and viable it may be possible to identify new use patterns, inferred from proximally related icons, which could expand interpretive possibilities. If, for example, one icon can be reliably interpreted it may lead to an awareness of social similarities and social differentiations between and among bands, tribes, and nations. This is a luxury that many rock art traditions do not afford modern students. If the art is not as representational as Moab Basketmaker art, where do you start? I think the techniques and interpretations I developed by working with Basketmaker art may help answer that question. My hope is that I have stumbled on some archetypal identifications and pedagogical templates that other rock art researchers may find useful, even applicable on occasion.

Finally, to continue complaining where I started, past archeological efforts concerning the Basketmakers are fitful at best and plagued by the decision of early researchers to prematurely define the culture by arbitrary geographical boundaries; hence, Eastern Basketmaker, Western Basketmaker, and Mesa Verde Region. This does not conform to what I see. Instead, I see a vibrant, creative, demographically fluid culture not nearly as interested in borders and boundaries as 19th century European-inspired professors and their intellectual heirs. I see totemic metaphors, metaphysical symbols, and people sharing their beliefs across the entire Colorado Plateau for over 6,000 years, a significantly more expansive vision than that offered by academically gifted but artistically trepidatious archeologists.

The next four photos are examples of Basketmaker design elements that appear outside their home range, demonstrating the fluid interactions that existed among Basketmaker groups.

 Figure 53. Boundary Panel, Lithodendron Wash, Petrified Forest National Park. The enigmatic appendages are similar to a design element that is well-known in the San Juan Basin 100 miles to the northeast. This single appendage headdress may be a variation of the Cat-in-the-Hat headdress from even farther away. Of the thousands of glyphs at this site this is the only one with these traits. Someone travelled a long way to bring these design elements here.

Figure 54. The Confluence Panel, Moab. The Confluence Panel is a large, hunting-themed panel at the confluence of the Left Hand and Right Hand forks of Mill Creek. Among its many atlatl  throwers, mostly Cat-in-the-Hat wearers, is this duck-footed Bird Head, about 100 miles north of his homeland.

Figure 55. The Confluence Panel, Moab. A Bird Head Flute Player on the same panel. If you’re going to invite the neighbors over for a hunt, you might as well make it a party, too. How human of them.

 Figure 56. Chinle Wash, southern San Juan Basin. A Bird Head hurls an atlatl through a Cat-in-the-Hat who is almost 150 miles south of his homeland. What’s a party without some fun and games like Dodge-the-Atlatl? There is ample osteological evidence of Basketmakers impaling each other with atlatls. Most wounds are in the back of the hip or thigh, suggesting that a contestant got nailed when he went to retrieve a spear he had already dodged during a friendly bit of blood sport. (Told to me by Dr. Phil Geib)

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