Rock Art: A Primer

Indigenous people in this region created rock art for many reasons – to tell a story, to convey religious or spiritual beliefs, to record a significant event, and to express themselves artistically. Rock art is not a true writing system, but uses symbols and figures to convey a message.

Parowan Gap Petroglyphs Photo: Alex Santiago Courtesy of Cedar City Brian Head Tourism Bureau

Parowan Gap Petroglyphs
Photo: Alex Santiago
Courtesy of Cedar City – Brian Head Tourism Bureau

Rock art is evident in caves, on cliff walls and on boulders. Rock art occurs all over the world, some as old as 30,000 years. Rock art in this region dates back as long ago as 1000 B.C (Great Basin Curvilinear style) and as recently as A.D. 1800’s (Southern Paiute).




  • Rock Art: A general term for the pecking, incising, or painting of designs onto rock surfaces.
  • Petroglyph: A design chiseled or chipped out a rock surface.
  • Pictograph: A design painted on a rock surface.

Here are some sites in our area to see some of the world’s most amazing rock art:

Parowan Gap

Fremont Indian State Park

Lion’s Mouth Cave

Anasazi Ridge

Remember whether visiting these sites or discovering any of Utah’s incredible rock art sites, please be respectful. Many sites are legally protected and criminal prosecution could result from any form of defacement.


Celebrate Archaeology at Frontier Homestead

A mock dig is one of the activities being presented.

A mock dig is one of the activities being presented.

Frontier Homestead State Park welcomes archaeologists young and old and their families to participate in its annual Utah Archaeology Day on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Visitors will have the opportunity to participate in activities involving Native American games, history, traditional crafts and skills, and visit with a variety of demonstrators. Boy Scouts who participate in the event can earn their Indian Lore merit badge and complete some of the Archaeology badge requirements. Archaeology Day will take place from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Cost per person is $2.00 per person or $5.00 per family.

Archaeology Day is the kick-off for a series of activities sponsored by Frontier Homestead State Park, the Cedar City-Brian Head Tourism Bureau, Project

Traditional crafts and skills.

Traditional crafts and skills.

Archaeology, Transcon Environmental, Southern Utah University-College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Intersearch, and the Pizza Cart; and, co-sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Home Depot, and Lin’s Fresh Market.

The celebration of Utah Archaeology and Preservation Month continues on Wednesday May 11 at 7:00 pm. Come enjoy the camaraderie of the Iron County Historical Society and meet historic archaeologist and co-owner of Transcon Environmental, Everett Bassett.  Mr. Bassett will present his recent findings pertaining to the mass graves near Mountain Meadows.  This is an exceptional and enlightening experience that is open to the public. The program will take place at Frontier Homestead State Park Museum, and is free to the public.

Frontier Homestead Nov 2015 065

Corn Grinding



On Saturday May 14, enjoy a free, guided tour of Old Iron Town, a late 19th Century iron mining town.  The tour will begin at Frontier Homestead State Park at 10 am and return by 1 pm. Sack lunches will be provided to all registered participants.  You must request a reservation and receive confirmation for this event.  Space is limited to 15 individuals.  Please email Samantha Kirkley to reserve a spot, including any dietary restrictions,  Please come with appropriate footwear, sunscreen, and water.  Limited carpooling to the site is available.

Next, on Monday May 16, 6:00 to 8:00 pm, the public can take advantage of a rare opportunity to see artifacts from local archaeological sites.  Archaeologist and Curator, Barbara Frank, will be offering tours every half hour of the SUU Archaeological Repository.  The Repository is located in Room 101-A, west basement door, ELC, SUU campus. Directional signs will be on the doors of the ELC to ensure that you arrive.  All ages welcome!

Finally, on Wednesday, May 25, 7:00 pm at the Cedar City Public Library, archaeologist Barbara Frank will facilitate a book discussion of A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman. Fifteen copies of this book are available at the circulation desk. This is also a great opportunity to see the Archaeology Month display inside and take time to enjoy the Rock Art out front!

According to Samantha Kirkley, State Coordinator for Project Archaeology, “Archaeology and Historic Preservation Month, a Division of State History program, is an annual celebration of Utah’s archaeological and historic resources. With so many wonderful archaeological sites in Southern Utah, we really have something to celebrate and enjoy.  Archaeology Month offers opportunities for all ages to participate in activities that promote cultural understanding and respect, and stewardship of these special places.”


The Atlatl

The dart is on the way to its target.

The dart is on the way to its target.

Continuing our theme of how the local Native Americans hunted, we thought a discussion of the atlatl is necessary. The atlatl is a wooden handle about 24 inches long.  At the tip end is a hook, point, or pin.  It is used to cast or throw darts with great accuracy and tremendous force.   The darts are about 5 or 6 feet long and are flexible and look like oversized arrows.  The back end of the dart is hollowed out a bit so that it will fit over the pin on the atlatl.   This helps hold it in place but the dart is also held onto the atlatl with the thumb and first finger of the hand that is holding it in preparation for the cast.  The atlatl has been used for at least 20,000 years and predates the bow and arrow.  Compared to the atlatl, the bow and arrow is a very new development.  The atlatl was used all over the world.

The atlatl was used for more than 20,000 years because it provided greater penetrating power than a hand held spear. It had a velocity 15 times greater, could reach four times the distance and hit with an impact 200 times greater than a spear thrown by hand. Additionally, it proved multi-functional and could be used to make fire, grind pigments, as a musical instrument and often as a memory aid.

Upclose illustration of a hand holding an atlatl. Illustration by Neal Anderson

Upclose illustration of a hand holding an atlatl.
Illustration by Neal Anderson

By the early A.D.’s, the bow and arrow had almost completely replaced the atlatl. The bow and arrow allowed for greater velocity, ease and swiftness of movement, a shorter launch time, ease of mastery, and proved more accurate. Next time you stop by Frontier Homestead, ask to take a crack at the atlatl on our range and see if you have what it takes to not go hungry.

Next Time: Artist Clayton Rippey


Young hunters practicing their technique.

Young hunters practicing their technique.

Paiute Deadfall Trap

The Deadfall - Illustrated

The Deadfall – Illustrated

With Archaeology and Historic Preservation month in full swing, we thought it might be interesting to explore one of the ways the early residents of Iron County caught food: the Paiute deadfall trap. This type of trap is named after the native Paiute peoples – nomadic hunters and gatherers who depended on wild plants and animals.  But these simple types of traps have been used for thousands of years by people across the world.

Animal trapping, or simply trapping, is the use of a device to remotely catch an animal. Animals may be trapped for a variety of purposes, including food and pest control. Trapping also facilitates the capture of animals for their furs which may be sold or bartered for other useful items, or which may be used for making clothing and other articles.

A deadfall is a heavy rock or log that is tilted on an angle and held up with sections of branches (sticks), with one of them that serves as a trigger. When the animal moves the trigger that has bait on or near it, the rock or log falls, crushing the animal. The Paiute deadfall is a popular and simple trap constructed from materials found in nature (three sticks with notches cut into them, cordage, plus a heavy rock or other heavy object). Next time you visit Frontier Homestead, test your skills and see how long it takes for you to set this trap.

Next Time: Atl-atl

Our New Native Heritage Exhibit

Map of the planned Native Heritage Exhibit.

Map of the planned Native Heritage Exhibit.

Iron County and Cedar City have a long cultural history, including that of Native peoples dating back thousands of years prior to the arrival of European settlers.  Before pioneers arrived in Southwest Utah, there were a number of different American Indian groups who lived here: 1) Paleo-Indians, 2) Archaic people, 3) the Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi), 4) the Fremont, and 5) the Numic (Paiute).  The Paleo-Indians were the oldest, going back 12,000 years, followed by Archaic hunter and gatherers, the Ancestral Pueblo, and the Fremont culture. The most recent are the Numic who arrived between 500-700 years ago and are still living here.  At Frontier Homestead, these traditions are represented by the Paiute camp and surrounding area that is dedicated to telling the story of these early peoples.
The pithouse under construction.

The pithouse under construction.

  The Native Heritage Exhibit, a new area of Frontier Homestead State Park & Museum, will allow each visitor the chance to experience how Native peoples lived in Iron County prior to Euroamerican settlement.  Additionally, students will be able to become archaeologists for the day, learning techniques and methods of the archaeological process.Explore the Fremont pit house and the Paiute wickiups, see a traditional shade shelter and Native garden, all set among native vegetation and replica prehistoric village mounds.

This project is a joint effort of the Frontier Homestead Museum Foundation, The Archaeological Conservancy, Southern Utah University, Project Archaeology, and Cedar City RAP Tax.

Next Time: Paiute Deadfall Trap

Corn grinding will be one of the activities available.

Corn grinding will be one of the activities available.