Archaeologists have discovered a series of ancient Native American artworks carved into rock in a region on the border of Colorado and Utah. The rock carvings were created by the Ancestral Puebloans, a Native American culture that dates back more than 3000 years.
The Ancestral Puebloans (also known as Anasazi) were an ancient Native American culture that spread across the southeastern United States. It was located in what is now southeastern Utah, northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado. This region, still inhabited by descendants of this culture, is home to numerous ancient Pueblo settlements and rock art sites. They had a complex network connecting hundreds of communities and population centers across the Colorado Plateau. They had a distinct knowledge of the astronomy that found form in their architecture. The ‘kiva’, a communal space used mostly for ceremonies, was an integral part of the community structure.
“Agricultural Pueblo communities developed one of the most advanced pre-Columbian cultures in North America,” said Radoslaw Palonka of the Institute of Archaeology at Jagiellonian University in Poland, who has been researching historic Pueblo sites for more than a dozen years.
“They perfected the craft of building multi-story stone houses that resembled medieval townhouses and even apartment blocks. The Pueblo people were also famous for their rock art, intricately ornamented jewelry and ceramics with distinctive motifs painted in black pigment on a white background.”
Palonka and his colleagues are conducting research at the site of an ancient settlement complex known as Castle Rock Pueblo, located on the picturesque Mesa Verde plateau on the border of Colorado and Utah.
Castle Rock Pueblo is a village inhabited from the 1260s to the 1280s AD. The site contains the remains of dozens of ancient Pueblo settlements, all dating to roughly the 13th century, of which Castle Rock is the largest, and includes numerous artifacts on rocks and canyon walls. Research conducted between September and October this year revealed previously unknown findings in the area.
“I thought we had studied this area in depth by doing full-scale excavations, geophysical surveys,” Palonka said. “Nevertheless, older members of the local community gave us some hints that there might be more information to be found in the higher, less accessible parts of the canyons. We wanted to confirm this information, and what we found even exceeded our expectations.”
During the surveys, numerous and massive rock carvings were discovered, stretching more than two and a half miles around a large plateau in the upper part of one of the canyons.
“This season has been very productive,” Palonka told Newsweek. “In the upper part of the canyon, we found previously unrecorded panels with many geometric designs, including spirals, sandals, depictions of birds and other animals, anthropomorphs and many other images.”
The spiral shapes, which measure about 3 meters in diameter, may have been used by the Puebloans to make astronomical observations and determine the dates of special days in the calendar, such as the spring and autumnal equinoxes.
“Astronomical observations were as important to the Ancestral Pueblo people as they were to modern Puebloans. But we must remember that the spirals could also mean something else (they could be symbols of wind, water, sun or migration).”
The petroglyphs can be dated to the 13th century, the same age as the Castle Rock settlement complex.
This year’s findings completely change the perception of this site in many different ways. “We have definitely underestimated the number of people who lived here in the 13th century and the complexity of their religious practices that must have taken place next to these open-air panels.”