Sep 182014

LaVan Martineau001Up until his death in 2000, LaVan Martineau devoted over forty years to unlocking the secrets behind the petroglyph (and pictograph) symbols left by the Native American.  Part Indian himself, adept in sign language, fluent in native languages, and expert in cryptanalytical methods, he brought a unique perspective to the challenge and opened the door to a new understanding of the meanings behind the symbols.  Carol Patterson, in Montrose, Colorado, carries on his legacy in her studies of the symbols using his methods to expand our knowledge of rock art and symbology.

Martineau noticed that many of the glyphs depict realistic renderings of animals and people, but many are abstract and stylized depictions.   Martineau saw in these abstract glyphs evidence of language similar to sign language.    He wrote, “A … breakdown of human and abstract deer symbols reveals that they … serve the purpose of expressing various actions and meanings.  They also serve as phrases and ideograms, and as such do not always represent deer or any particular individual. … it is shown to be, not surprisingly identical to the structure of spoken Indian languages.”

Here is an excerpt from Martineau’s argument concerning the depiction of movement and how the artist used quadraped symbols thaPetro symbols001t do not represent an animal but rather a concept.  “For example, the figure of a man (a) often—but not always—stands for movement straight ahead in the direction shown by the arrow above the head.  The fact that this symbol is often used to portray a direction straight ahead is evidenced by the existence of a great many examples of figures with bars (or other symbols) above the head, indication the movement is blocked or barred in this direction (b).”

Bear Dance Drawing003In part 3 of this series, “The Bear Dance”, we saw the use of the bar next to a bear’s foot to indicate that the foot stepped in place while the other foot stepped forward and backward.

But Martineau points out that the direction of the movement is easier to show with a quadruped than a stick figure (e-left, f-right, g-up, h-down).   Which is why, he believes, that the quadruped was used to denote action much more often than with a man.

When Martineau studied smaller panels with glyphs that tended to consist of only one or two symbols placed conspicuously where passers-by might travel he found that these were very often “locator” glyphs.   They might direct the traveler to hidden panels with more complicated glyphs; they might denote where water could be found; they might suggest what lay ahead.

Mountain Lion locatorMountain Lion Den

At Shavano, there is a glyph with two cat paws (Mountain Lion) chiseled on a panel at eye level.  The toes are below suggesting the cat was heading down.  If you look below, there is a small cave where, even today, there is evidence a mountain lion still uses the cave.

Spring map glyph002Spring map picThe glyph from Part 2 which shows the ridge line and the relative position of the spring in the valley is also a locator panel.

Martineau wrote, “It has been many years since the hills last rang to the sound of an Indian chiseling his message upon the rocks and the now-forgotten trails felt the tread of his moccasined feet.

“An Indian may gaze upon rock writing with the same curiousity that a white man might exhibit.

“To find the bones of the oldest man is indeed discovery–but to learn what ancient man said and thought–that is adventure!”

To learn more LaVan Martineau, you can still purchase his books at

Books by Carol Patterson


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