The Rock Art

So there were two types of rock art; the petroglyphs and the pictographs. For my presentation, I'm only going to talk about the petroglyphs, because they are "cooler looking" to me, as well as they have much more of a connection with the arts and crafts of this culture. But I will tell you a little about the pictographs too.

Doris Lundy has studied the different rock art sites in the Northwest. She found 621 sites total, and about 46% had petroglyphs, 53% had pictographs, and about 1% had both or couldn't be determined. She says most of the pictograph sites were on shores of rivers and lakes on light-colored rocks, but the petroglphs were usually on sandstone and face the ocean and are often found underneath the water at high tide.

The petroglyphs weren't heavily detailed because they were pecked really deep, and therefore detail couldn't be done. The eyes of the anthropomorphs or the zoomorphs tend to be the focus of the drawings. For instance, some of eages and whale petroglyphs have the "weeping eye" (it appears to be crying). Females are often shown to have "labrets"-ornamental pieces worn in holes pierced in the lower lip.

Figure 6: (Wellman, picture C-3) This is a pictograph of Tsagaglalal (meaning "she who watches over"), a mythical women ruler who was turned to stone by Coyote. She supposedly displays the labrets.

Common Themes in the rock art: Whales, Faces-both outlined and non-outlined, birds-mainly the thunderbird and eagles, women with their legs spread (and sometimes including the bisected oval) or men with enlarged penises. Also, many of the anthropomorphs in the Bella Coola region have bent arms and legs, causing them to appear froglike. The zoomorphs include many sea mammals, birds (including blue jays, eagles, puffins, and the thunderbird), killer whales, wolves, and salmon (both alive looking and the skeletons). There are not a whole lot of quadrupeds, but there are some examples of deer, wolves, bears, mountain goats, and horses. Also, there are many animals with the X-ray look (like in Australia), and also things called "sea monsters". Some of the sea monsters look like the Old World dragons with flaring nostrils and open mouths with sharp teeth, but many have wolf-characteristics as well.

Non-animal themes include coppers, labrets (the symbol indicating "female"), canoes, sailing ships, and other manufactured objects. There are also geometric symbols like spirals, concentric circles, triangles, rayed circles, etc either randomly distributed or in a pattern. Lundy found that there are more geometric designs than anthropomorphs or zoomorphs. What is especially interesting is the lack of handprints and footprints. There have been a total of 2 handprints and 1 footprint recorded in the Northwest.

Figure 7: Whale (Grant, Imprint, 21)

Figure 8: Sea Monster (Grant, Rock Art, 85)

Figure 9: Males and females (Hill, Indian, 268)

Figure 10: More males and females (including x-ray) (Hill, Indian, 267)

Figure 11: "Fish and other rock found around water" (Grant, Imprint, picture 26)

Grant categorized the northwest rock art into 4 categories:

  1. Basic Coast Conventional Style-this is the main style. The circle and curved line are important. Have faces, coppers, human figures, animals with internal decorations and anthropomorphs with heads too big for their bodies.
  2. Classic Conventional Style-same as Basic Coast but also includes more elaborate human figures and zoomorphs with internal decoration. Also, the anthropomorphs are in the squatting position.
  3. Coast Abstract Curvilinear Style-This is pit and grooves (cupules-man-made, circular depressions). This style is used a lot.
  4. Interior Intrusive Style-in Kwakiutl and Coast Salish regions-small human stick figures, realistic bighorn sheep, abstract shapes: dots, zigzags, circles, and are all usually painted in red.
The northwest rock art is hard to date except by what images are in the pictures (for example men on horseback). There is ethnographic evidence that some of the carvings were just doodles, and some others were mythological beings. An example of a mythological being is the Tlingit creation myth. Originally the world was a mixed up mass of rock and the sea. There was darkness all around and powerful spirits controlled all. Yehlh created man and then took the shape of a raven. Other spirits didn't want for Yehlh to give man light, water, fire, air, etc, but he did anyway. After he finished, he vanished. The picture below shows Yehlh (in his raven form).

Figure 12: (Grant, Rock Art, 84)

Another myth is about a salmon who becomes a man, marries and takes his bride into the sea to return later with his salmon friends to be caught so the Native Americans could have food.

Many sites may have shamanistic rites connected to them. There is evidence of offerings left at some of the sites which may indicate shrines. Also, the high amount of masks-both pecked and carved- suggest Shamanism. In addition, the x-ray rib bones symbolize the rebirth of the shaman. The "blind eye" (one eye is filled in while the other is round) is a symbol of spiritual power, and therefore shamanism.