Ancient Art

I stood at the base of the red rock wall and stared at the 2,000-year-old artwork. And prompted by a question on an informational sign, I couldn't help wonder - Who were these artists?

The art I was looking at is thought to be from the Barrier Canyon Culture, and was painted on or etched into the rock at least two thousand years ago. These people were hunters and gatherers, who used stone and bone tools. They didn't have pottery, but they did have art.

Their pictures are breathtaking - strange shapes partway up the rock wall that look like people, true-to-size, with broad shoulders and tapered midsections. Some have dots or "crowns" above their heads. There are animals, too, and rows of lines, as though something was being counted or figured.

The pictures might represent a death or transformation into a supernatural or animal form; the animals might be spirit helpers to aid a shaman's journey into the beyond or the underworld. There's a lot we don't know.

But looking at this art, I couldn't help thinking about these artists, who may have had to travel long distances through the harsh canyon environment, all to make their pictures. What drove them to paint or etch? Were they were chosen or mentored or just couldn't help creating? Were they supported by the rest of the people, with food and other supplies? 

We'll probably never know. But there at the base of the canyon wall, with blue sky overhead and red rock to all sides, I felt grateful for these ancient artists. For they helped me to remember one thing that's still true: art is central to the human experience, to the human soul.