Rock art sites help us recognize the incredible variety of ancient cultures around the world, as well as contributing to the heritage of humanity. Petroglyphs speak about how ancient peoples viewed their world through symbol, culture, experience, & language. In their own unique way, these images provide us a record of the past and help us understand how human behavior has changed over thousands of years.
This website is a project of Friends of Sierra Rock Art (FSRA), a Northern California non-profit organization promoting the conservation & study of Native American Rock Art in the Sierra Nevada Region of California. Since 1990, FSRA has been focusing on:
• Assisting public & private land management agencies, including Native American tribes, and businesses, by monitoring rock art sites to assess site conditions, especially in terms of weathering and human impact, and recommending mitigation measures.
• Providing educational outreach about prehistoric rock art sites to promote appreciation of these sites and of the region’s past.
• Fostering community of those interested in the northern Sierra Nevada’s archaeological resources.
In May of 1996, FSRA was awarded the Society for California Archaeology’s Helen C. Smith Award for significant contributions to California archaeology in 1995…the first non-professional organization to receive this prestigious award.
FSRA’s work continues with a site monitoring program for the Tahoe National Forest; slide shows for the public and local schools; and other outdoor/indoor activities.
Why Rock Art Is Important
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 2,000 BCE, 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 2,000 BCE, 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, by Neville Agnew, Janette Deacon, Nicholas Hall, Terry Little, Sharon Sullivan, & Paul Taçon – 2015, The Getty Conservation Institute.
Site Etiquette At Petroglyph Sites
Some activities harm these ancient and irreplaceable images. Some interfere with research methods. To prevent vandalism, site locations are kept confidential. These places are sacred to native people. To protect rock art please observe the following guidelines:
• Please take your time and enjoy the rock art.
• Do not walk on glyphs.
• Do not use walking sticks with metal tips on surfaces with images.
• No chalking of glyphs for photo purposes or rubbings to make paper copies.
• No using your fingers to trace the outline of a glyph.
• No painting or scratching on or near glyphs.
• No posting of photos on the internet or social media without permission.
• Do not take GPS coordinates, even with your phone, or post site locations on the internet.
• Do not remove anything from the vicinity of the rock art.
• If you see anyone else damaging the glyphs please call the Forest Service.
Even though graffiti is prohibited by law, national park rangers & volunteer groups spend hundreds of hours every year removing scratches & drawings. Read more about vandalism to rock art sites at the U.S. National Parks ‘Graffiti-Free Zone’ webpage: Make Memories & Leave No Trace.