Why Rock Art Is Important

Friends of Sierra Rock Art

There are many values to rock art.

In the big picture, rock art sites help us recognize the incredible variety of ancient cultures around the world, and they contribute to humankind’s heritage. They tell us something about how ancient people viewed the world within which they lived. In their own unique way, they provide us a record of the past and help us understand how human behavior has changed over thousands of years. On the Tahoe National Forest, these sites provide evidence of human beings that walked over our mountains and through our forests as far back as 2,000BC, when pyramids were still being built in Ancient Egypt. That, in itself, is pretty remarkable.

On the Tahoe National Forest, these sites provide evidence of human beings that walked over our mountains and through our forests as far back as 2,000BC, when pyramids were still being built in Ancient Egypt. That, in itself, is pretty remarkable.

When we are fortunate enough to visit these sites, as The Getty Conservation Institute points out, we have the opportunity to be touched in a way that “inspires respect, admiration, excitement, and awe.” We can also be touched by the mystery of these remarkable images, whose complete meaning we will never understand. Petroglyphs cannot be separated from their natural environment, and many of the petroglyphs in our area can be found at remarkable locations that, in their own way, are inspirational.

For its ancient makers, rock art was an important form of cultural expression, and at least some of it had a deep spiritual meaning. The descendents of those people find meaning in these creations of their ancestors. They are still culturally, if not spiritually, relevant and are part of the identity of these modern day native people.

In our case, most of the petroglyph sites on the Tahoe National Forest were made by the ancestors of the Washo tribe in the eastern Sierra. Some of these ancient sites appear to have been visited or occupied by the Washo, Nisenan, and Northern Maidu, who may have made some of their own images. This gives these sites spiritual, historical, and cultural relevance to several native groups.

When images or artifacts at these sites are destroyed or stolen, they are gone forever, and what they have to teach us is lost. It is like tearing a page out of a history book, and that lost information is no longer available to us. At the same time, harm is done to the contemporary Native Americans who look to these sites as part of their heritage.

This is why we care about rock art and work to protect it.

(Reference: Rock Art, A Cultural Treasure at Risk, Neville Agnew et al, The Getty Conservation Institute)