Throughout the southwest, Native Americans have left images pecked or painted on canyon walls, caves and large stones. Like so many others, I wonder whether these images represent stories or just graffiti. Were the artists just doodling in their idle time, or were they leaving a message for their friends and posterity?
I am convinced that most of the petroglyphs and pictographs were, in fact, messages and stories. I say this because although there are many recognizable depictions of animals, people, reptiles, etc., that could be just random doodling by bored children or adults to pass the time, there are also many abstract symbols that, like our alphabet, have no likeness in nature and therefore must represent a common concept.
One of the most common symbols that I see over and over and across widespread areas is the spiral. Sometimes the spiral unravels clockwise, sometimes counter-clockwise. LaVan Martineau, in his book, “The Rocks Begin To Speak” puts forth an interesting interpretation for many of these symbols.
In his bio, Martineau is described as, “… part Indian, knowledgeable in the sign language, fluent in Indian tongues, versed in cryptanalytical
methods, here is a man with the right tools and right background to tell … early man’s story—the language of the rocks.”
I find his book captivating because he has approached rock art like a cryptologist trying to break the code. He concludes that the counter-clockwise spiral represents up, or going up, or looking up, while the clockwise spiral represents down. He states that in Native American sign language, an identical spiral is used to denote the same idea.
Testing his concept, he studied numerous glyphs to prove his theory. I want to relate one of those here for an example. [I have drawn a sketch of the glyph for reference] It is found in Washington County, Utah in a small wash adjacent to an abandoned hillside puebloan village. Here is his description:
“The coil represents “something” coming down from off the top of a hill. The most logical explanation … was a flash flood. The small dot at the top of this symbol represents the point of origin of the flood and its smallness at this point. The line extending from this dot to the coil represents the slope of the hill, the path of the flood. The two dots through which this ‘flood’ travels indicate passing through, just as in sign language, and the large dot on this line shows that the flood increased in size as it descended. Rock incorporation purposely places this panel near the top of the rock to clarify the flood’s point of origin. Examination of the area reveals the actual path of the flood and some of the damage it inflicted on this once-inhabited hillside.”
Martineau also found the spiral sometimes used as a locater. For instance, the panel containing the petroglyphs might be hidden and so a rock in plain site would contain a “locater” glyph to direct seekers to where the panel was. Martineau found many instances where a stone with just the “up” spiral chiseled into it indicated that a more complex panel was located hidden above. And, conversely, a stone with just the “down” spiral often meant a panel could be found below.
In the busy panel, Rochester Panel, note the spiral in the bottom right portion. See how lines lead off the spiral and meander around
indicating journeys. The spiral uncoils counter-clockwise which indicates “going up”. So, using our codes we conclude that this glyph is telling us that many journeys were made up to someplace.
Now, perhaps, the rocks are beginning to speak!
Author of the 7-book series–The Cherokee Chronicles