Ranger Kathryn's Arches

October 27, 2013

Seen any Pleistocene mammoths lately?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:59 am
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Golden leaves in October glory along Cottonwood Wash, home of unparalleled rock art .

Golden leaves in October glory along Cottonwood Wash, home of unparalleled rock art .

Rock art in the American southwest is plentiful. Painted on or pecked into sandstone cliff walls are countless anthropomorphs, spirals, kokopellis, handprints, animals — notably bighorn sheep and snakes — and geometric shapes. It fascinates; the powerful connection across the centuries is what keeps me searching for rock art. I want to ‘meet’ new artists in each location.

The small town of Bluff, Utah, boasts an impressive panel along the San Juan River at Sand Island, which Chris and I carefully explored last week. The weak October sunlight bounced off hundreds of deep yellow cottonwood trees in the floodplain as we worked our way along the wall of Navajo sandstone, perusing image after image. Some we could relate to; others were mysterious. It was splendid.

Our rock art lives were about to change, however.

Acting on a tip from a local, we proceeded upriver to a location previously overgrown by thick stands of invasive tamarisk, recently cut down. There it was: the image of a bison. It evoked the long linear bison images in the French caves — stylistically ancient, powerful. We could tell only that it was OLD.

And then, just to its left, a mammoth outline started to come into focus. Mammoth with tusks, mammoth that last roamed the area 10,800 years ago. Paleolithic art. Binoculars up, the panel unfolded before us. Far different from everything else we had seen in that location, or any location. 11,000 to 13,000 years old.

We’ve seen large mammals in rock art before — elk, cougar, bear — but mammoths are altogether rare, with forgeries among them. This one, apparently, is the real McCoy. My camera couldn’t capture much of the deeply weathered images, but click on this link to the scientific paper about this panel. Skim the text; study the excellent photos. Judge for yourself whether this is truly a mammoth.

Flickers swooped from tree to tree, leading us back to the car. I walked in silence, thinking of the other puzzling petroglyph I’ve seen: the one that looks exactly like a long-necked dinosaur with wings at Natural Bridges National Monument. If ancient humans documented local mammoths, couldn’t they also document local dragons?


  1. how about posting a few pictures?

    Comment by superdave0002 — October 27, 2013 @ 12:30 pm | Reply

    • My camera couldn’t capture them, but they ARE on the link I included. They are too high and too weathered to show up under anything but the best light, and it helps if one has a high ladder. Neither were true for me. I’ll see what I have… or if I can get anything off Google Images.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — October 27, 2013 @ 9:10 pm | Reply

      • ok thanks
        I tried the link but it wouldn’t open on my computer

        Comment by superdave0002 — October 28, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

  2. Super cool KC. Thanks for sharing. Interesting to possibly be looking at art that old!

    Comment by midsummerman — October 28, 2013 @ 8:34 am | Reply

  3. Very cool. The link wouldn’t work for me either. I’d love to see that paper – could you share the address?

    Comment by westerner54 — October 29, 2013 @ 9:06 am | Reply


    Comment by john — October 30, 2013 @ 11:24 am | Reply

    • The pictures can’t possibly do it justice, John. Standing below the glyphs, studying our map, we both felt it was unmistakable. Need early morning light. Glad you could use your imagination!

      Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — October 30, 2013 @ 11:28 am | Reply

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