The rock art of the Rio Grande Gorge is extensive and varied. Eight general types have been defined. Click on each type for a simple description and accompanying examples.
Pueblo Rock Art of the Rio Grande Gorge
During the tenth century CE pit house settlements of part-time farmers began to spread throughout north-central New Mexico, marking the beginning of a Pueblo tradition in the region that continues today at Taos and Picuris, the two contemporary Northern Tiwa villages. The source of these early Pueblo communities is unclear. Architectural designs, pottery styles, and Taos oral histories raise the possibility that farming groups may have immigrated from a variety of nearby regions, including the Piedra district of southwestern Colorado, the Cimarron and Trinidad regions of northeastern New Mexico and southeastern Colorado, and areas to the south in the Rio Grande valley. Regardless, the local shift toward greater sedentism, greater population density and new forms of agriculture was accompanied by a major transformation of the iconographic repertoire in rock art. Human and animal figures, shield-bearing warriors, masks, clouds, lightning, serpents, awanyus, formal geometrics and more signal a shift in the basic logics of representation and the power of images. Some Archaic design motifs continue to be produced, including cupules, dots, circles, and animal prints. But the discontinuities are much more significant than the continuities. This is particularly evident in the many examples where heavily repatinated, aniconic rock art of the Archaic tradition underlies moderate or lightly repatinated Pueblo rock art depicting a range of iconographic forms.
In some cases, the chronological and interpretive aspects of Pueblo rock art are facilitated by comparisons with imagery in other media. For instance, mask imagery in the rock art of the Rio Grande gorge can be compared with mask icons painted on pottery vessels to strengthen both a post-1300 CE chronological placement and a broad thematic connection to katsina ceremonialism. In other cases, rock art panels mirror Pueblo IV kiva murals and so can be linked to late pre-Columbian ceremonialism in this way.
To be continued…