A few miles northeast of Montrose, Colorado, canyon walls look down on fertile Shavano Valley. Pecked onto the patina of Dakota Sandstone boulders are ancient petroglyphs crafted by hunter-gatherers recording the beliefs and preserving maps and history from 1000BC until AD 1881. The valley was popular through the centuries because of an artesian well and abundance of game. Ute trails converged at this site where the young could learn the history and traditions of their ancestors.
Prominent on the slope of the cliff overlooking the artesian spring is a formation known today as simply “Tunnel Cave”. This cave contains ancient engravings relating the creation stories of the Ute Indian traditions and are believed to have served formerly as entrances to the legendary underworld pathway. Here is Carol Patterson’s explanation: [VIDEO]
“So, the Utes have five levels of the universe: the sky, upper world, lower world, underworld, center world, and inside this cave represents the underworld. It’s where the bear goes when he hibernates. And every spring with that first sound of thunder, which is the bear rolling over, and he emerges out of the cave and the Ute’s hold their Bear Dance, their spring celebration to appease the Bear and to occupy higher elevations for the summer foraging for food.
with a t-shape on the end which represents the spirit as it travels through the underworld after you die. And in the underworld it crosses the great abyss and Sinauf, the creator, meets and greets the spirit and sends it skyward after its crossed that great abyss.
“And all of that is represented in this cave. Bear paws coming up out of hibernation and down into hibernation and the spirits crossing across this plane when they travel around for four days after you die. They also have serpent lines coming up the side of the cave to give you the clue that you are in that underworld around one of these five levels of the universe according to the Utes.”
Dr. Patterson, who received her Phd from James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, has been researching and writing about Native American rock art for many years. Using the scientific method of cryptanalysis in order to eliminate guess work and utilize strict testing of symbols, Patterson’s interpretations are based upon insights from close associations with Ute elders and scholars in the field.
Next week we will look into her pioneering work on petroglyph maps. What has been mistakenly classified as abstract linear rock art motifs in the past, she has shown to be rock art maps of aboriginal trails and hunting areas.