by John Evanoff
Before the 1800's, Nevada was more or less entirely
inhabited by Paiute Indians their cousins and the Shoshone for more
than five thousand years and before that an earlier tribal nomadic
relative of the Paiute moved around the northern part of the region
for between three and five thousand years. Previous to that, around
12,000 to 18,000 years ago, a nomadic member of the Anasazi or "
The Ancient Ones" moved through the canyons, hillsides and
beside the desert creeks of Northern Nevada. You may have seen some
these peoples history left to us by their art work on rocks throughout
the region known as Petroglyphs or stone carvings. Some of these
glyphs were used by many migrations of early man and were noted
for their location near ancient Lake Lahontan shorelines some 8,000
to 10,000 years ago. Most notably, the best example of rock drawings
is at Grimes Point southeast of Fallon, Nevada where early man used
the large bolder rocks as a type of fence to hide behind in anticipation
of passing herds of antelope and deer. This nearby historical attraction
is the largest of its kind in North America and because it is close
to Hidden Cave which has a well documented timeline discovered and
carefully documented by archeologists, we now know a lot about the
different periods of the inhabitants, the stone tools they used
and the way they lived and coexisted in their primitive culture.
The aboriginal writings at Grimes Point depict the preceding ceremonial
drama, the hunts and the spirited festival after a successful harvest
of fish and game. So, here's the question. What do all the writings
mean and do they have any other significance?
What do those figures in the rocks mean?
We all like to talk to our friends over the phone, by email and
more currently by Twitter and you guessed it, that's what the figures
are. They are symbols of what was happening at the time sort of
like the emoticons we use in emails or the tons of "jpegs"
we forward to each other through Facebook and the shortened tweets
we like to use in Twitter. They are not ancient graffiti left to
mark a territory. They are information passed on through ceremony
and descriptive narrative. They are the first books. Only, most
of the talking was done by just a few of the tribal members known
as Shamans. Long ago, the hierarchy was very clear, designated members
of the clan learned how to treat sickness with herbs and concoctions
of various types, many of which were toxic or conscious altering.
They passed this knowledge on through generations of family and
because they held such power as mediators of the spirit world with
the physical world, they were many times looked upon with great
reverence. Some Shamans were viewed as "Medicine People"
and others as "Spiritual Guides," but all were very important
to the status and stability of the clan or tribe. The Shaman was
the keeper of the word and the history of the family and the entire
tribe. They handed down the word through story telling around the
campfire or in the caves of early man. One thing measured a Shaman
better than anything and that was how they expressed their stories.
It was believed a good tale was not enough. It had to be backed
up by things that could be seen. So, many of the Shaman learned
to create amazing and weird looking costumes and dances and each
son or daughter added their feather, beads, bones or other ornamental
intricacies called talismans to give their characterizations more
individuality and reputation. But it didn't stop there. Shamans
knew how to pass on information through paintings and sometimes
tattoos on animal skins and even their own skin in ceremonies, but
they also knew the power of leaving their information in rock drawings.
Not only were the tales of past ceremonies and hunts passed down
year after year and generation after generation, but the spirit
and personality of their tribe was also bestowed upon the land.
This was great power. Nature and man coming together in rock art
was commonplace throughout Neolithic cultures all over the world
for thousands of years. Some historians and archeologists give petroglyphs
much more significance than just ancient mapping and spirit awakening.
They believe petroglyphs were the first successful attempts of writing
and thus civilization. Shaman passed on the history of their tribe
and their "word" in rock art through generations of knowledge.
Knowledge brought people together in creating and building society
and trade. The clans who had the most knowledge of where the best
hunting, fishing and agricultural were, actually and effectively
eliminated the harshness of nature on their families and thus they
became more sophisticated in dealing with life. The more sophisticated
the clan, the easier it was for them to trade with other people
who wished for more abundance in their own tribe. Geography, vegetation
and wildlife were not the only reasons tribes stayed in Nevada.
Many believe Shaman kept the tribes here because of the power the
clan had in the region due to trading of valuable foodstuffs and
stone tools. This form of civilization and spirit characterization
was inherent throughout all of northern Nevada for more than ten
thousand years and rock art is the historical evidence.
So rock art is more than just the saga of a journey
or hunt, it was the narration of nature and man and every ancestor's
life to that moment in which the Shaman delivered it into the rock.