Dating the Pictographs in Horseshoe Canyon, Utah

By A.R. Williams [1]

Using new techniques to gauge how long rocks have been exposed to sunlight, researchers have significantly narrowed the period in which [the surreal-sized pictographs in Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, Utah] must have been painted.

Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands National Park

Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands National Park

Their reconstruction of events:  2,000 years ago a sheet of rock fell from the cliff.  Artists then used the fresh surface as their canvas.  About 900 years ago another sheet fell, taking a few painted figures with it.

Pictographs in Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Pictographs in Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Steven Simms, a Utah State University archaeologist involved in the research, thinks the paintings may have been made within a few hundred years of the first rockfall, during a time of major transformation as corn farmers from the south moved into a region peopled by hunter-gatherers.

In Simm’s scenario “the farmers come in large numbers.  they take over the land, hunt all the game.  The hunter-gatherers are pushed to the margins.”

Note:  The Horseshoe Canyon pictographs are located in an adjunct to Canyonlands National Park.

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