The Potash Sheep Shifters

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Shay Canyon Bighorns

The Southwest of North America is known for its rich rock art in which the image of the Bighorn is one of the most important zoomorphic representations. This study investigates the many manifestations of the Bighorn in rock art. The focus is on idiosyncrasies and possible transformations of the image of this impressive animal. It proves that in this respect especially Site 3 on Potash Road near Moab, Utah, offers so many shape-shifted images that we can speak of the Potash Sheep Shifters.

by Maarten van Hoek


The Potash Sheep Shifters
Bighorn Petroglyphs of the Southwest

By Maarten van

This paper originally was illustrated with 92 photographs, drawings and maps. About half of those illustrations appears in this on-line issue of TRACCE (click any illustration to enlarge, click again or the back-arrow to go back), while the complete set of illustrations appears in a PDF that can be downloaded via Academia.

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When it comes to statistics and significance, rock art images of Bighorn sheep of western North America may be compared to the camelid images of western South America. Both species are abundantly represented in the rock art repertoire of each area. There is however a difference regarding their manifestations in rock art. Although llamas have been depicted in many forms, the variety of the Bighorn image is much more diverse. This diversity is mainly due to the fact that Bighorns have big horns, while llamas do not have horns. In this study the focus is on depictions of Bighorn sheep (camelids will not be discussed). Part I describes the large variety of Bighorn manifestations in petroglyph art of western North America, without pretending that every relevant petroglyph of the literally thousands of Bighorn petroglyphs is included in this study. Moreover, the emphasis in Part I is on ‘transformations’, on ‘abnormalities’ and on ‘idiosyncrasies’ of the Bighorn image. Part II discusses the exclusive shifting of existing quadruped (Bighorn?) petroglyphs into ‘new’, unexpected shapes, focussing on one specific area and on one site in particular.



Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) – also called Mountain sheep – are mammals that are members of the order Artiodactyla; the even-toed ungulates. Although at present still widespread throughout the western part of North America, including northern Mexico, in prehistoric times Bighorn sheep were much more numerous and their distribution covered a much larger area (Figure 1). About two centuries ago some estimates place their population at over two million.

Figure 1PDF

Figure 1. Distribution of the Bighorn sheep in 1850. Map © Wild Sheep Foundation – WAFWA – Wild Sheep Working Group, 2012, reproduced here with their kind permission. Information on the map added by the author: yellow area: limit of the Study Area.

Yet I saw only one Bighorn sheep during my trips through the Southwest of the USA, but even so I was impressed by the powerful aspect of the animal roaming the banks of the San Juan River in southern Utah. It is no surprise that images of this animal have frequently been depicted on rock panels by several cultures in the western part of North America. In fact, in several regions of western North America, petroglyphs of Bighorn sheep prove to be the most frequently depicted type of zoomorph, especially in the Southwest of the USA. This large area, for purposes of this survey conveniently taking in Northern Mexico, a small part of Western Texas, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, is our Study Area (see Figure 1); hereafter called the Southwest.


 Bighorn Petroglyphs

The variety of Bighorn depictions in Southwest rock art is enormous. Although several rock paintings of Bighorns occur (some of which will only occasionally be mentioned here), the great majority comprises petroglyphs. Sometimes the workmanship of images is ‘poor’, compared to very sophisticated renderings of the animal. Also the size of Bighorn petroglyphs varies enormously. There are Bighorn images that are very small, while some are larger than life-size. Although exactly naturalistic renderings hardly occur, the majority mainly comprises simple and semi-naturalistic or stylised images. Yet also various fantastic or imaginary forms occur. As can be expected, the great majority of Bighorn images have been depicted in full lateral view, although there are exceptions (which will be discussed further on).

Most petroglyphs of Bighorn sheep have been pecked out. Yet many variations occur. Most Bighorn petroglyphs are fully pecked, but many are outlined (with cruder peck marks) but have lightly pecked infill. Some have only very lightly been pecked out or appear to be just stippled, like the larger than life-size example at Cedar Point, Utah (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2. Petroglyph of a Bighorn and spoor from Cedar Point. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Others are lightly pecked but have a fully pecked head-neck area and/or fully pecked legs (Figure 3). Outlined examples without any infill are relatively scarce (see however Figure 39), while also match-stick-like images occur relatively sporadically. Incised Bighorn petroglyphs are rather rare, but occasionally one will find body parts (like hoofs or horns) that have been incised or perhaps abraded (see Figure 21). As a rule Bighorn petroglyphs have no internal decoration (not counting random stippling and lightly pecked interiors), except for one type. The Glen Canyon Linear Style involves mainly pecked Bighorn petroglyphs with an internal pattern of (often parallel or grid-like) grooves, like the examples at Shay Canyon, Utah (Figure 4).

Figure 3 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Potash Road – Site 3 – Panel 1 – Petroglyph D. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 4

Figure 4. Petroglyphs of Bighorns from Shay Canyon. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

The age of Bighorn petroglyphs also varies enormously. According to David Whitley (2000: Figs 21 and 29; 1999: Fig. 7) depictions of Bighorns are among the oldest image in the rock art of the Southwest and according to him some Bighorn images date back as far as 12.000 YBP, perhaps even 18.000 YBP. However, other petroglyphs were definitely only very recently manufactured, some possibly in an attempt to imitate existing petroglyphs. Bighorn petroglyphs belonging to the Glen Canyon Linear Style are considered to be generally older than the great majority of the Bighorn depictions and may be as old as 4000 to 6000 YBP. However, for our purpose, the absolute ages and the many cultural affiliations of the Bighorn petroglyphs discussed in this survey are irrelevant. Relevant however is the relative age of the various parts of several individual Bighorn petroglyphs.

According to David Whitley it is clear that – because of the massive horns – almost all of the Bighorn petroglyphs depict sexually mature male sheep (2000: 59). Although female depictions also occur, though very sporadically, in this survey I focus on the depiction of the male Bighorn sheep. Again, it is not relevant if indeed all horned quadrupeds in this survey actually have been intended by the manufacturer to indeed depict Bighorns. They may as well depict other quadrupeds, like antelopes or Pronghorns (not an antelope). What is relevant is that many petroglyphs of quadrupeds have intentionally been changed by prehistoric rock art manufacturers. For our purposes the standard image of a standard adult male Bighorn is composed of several elements (from top to toe): horns, head (mouth and ears), neck, body, tail and legs and hoofs, which will be individually considered here.

 Bighorn Horns

In real-life the horns of adult male Bighorns are massive and curl up, back over the ears, then curve down, forward, and up past the cheeks. Because of those impressive horns, most petroglyphs of adult male Bighorns are easily identified (ewes and juveniles have only short or no horns) and can thus better be distinguished from images of other even-toed ungulates, like Pronghorns, elk and deer. Yet, at Hidden Valley (site listed as well as the “Behind the Rocks” by Kenneth Castleton (1984: 202; Fig. 5.58), there occurs a petroglyph of a Bighorn sheep (?) that possibly has been transformed into a ‘deer’ (Figure 5). A rock painting at the Deluge Shelter, Jones Hole, Utah, depicts a quadruped (Bighorn?) with similarly decorated (transformed?) horns.

Figure 5

Figure 5. Petroglyph of a Bighorn (?) from Hidden Valley. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Alan Cressler. Colour differentiation in this figure and all other drawings added by the author.

Although in real life Bighorn horns are indeed massive, in Southwest rock art the horns of the male sheep are in fact more frequently depicted as relatively rather thin, semicircular, parallel grooves that hardly ever touch or cross the line of the back, as is often the case with animate animals. In some instances however, existing horns have been extended at a later stage in order to join the back; for instance at Hidden Valley, Utah.

Only in some cases the powerful horns have been depicted as massive body parts. It proves that in the rock art of the Colorado Plateau and the Great Basin petroglyphs of male Bighorn sheep very rarely have been depicted with their horns as truly massive and curling body parts. Actually, in most cases the horns are relatively thin and only involve two semi-circles. At Courthouse Wash, Utah, is a petroglyph of a Bighorn with possibly one massive horn, but unfortunately this easily accessible panel was vandalised after 1984. It may represent an instance where the two originally separated horns were (deliberately?) joined, as seems to be the case in other petroglyphs of Bighorn horns. However, truly massive horns are more common in the Mogollon rock art of New Mexico. Especially the Three Rivers petroglyph site houses several images of Bighorns with massive horns; either drawn in outlines or solidly pecked (Figure 6).

Figure 6 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Three Rivers. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Although it is certain that (the horns of) the Bighorn (were) was extremely important for prehistoric Native Americans, petroglyphs of isolated sets of horns hardly occur. Yet, some panels with several sets of isolated horns – all depicted in frontal view and sometimes including the nose and eyes – have been reported from the Coso Range, California, while others are known from Wild Horse Canyon, Utah, and from Rattlesnake Shaman’s Cave, California. At Mouse’s Tank Trail petroglyph site in the Valley of Fire, Nevada, there is a rock panel with a row of six stacked elements that could well represent frontally depicted Bighorn horns or heads.

At Three Rivers, New Mexico, at least one petroglyph of an isolated set of truly massive Bighorn horns – drawn in full frontal view – has been reported (Figure 7). Petroglyphs of isolated Bighorn heads showing a massive, backwards curving horn are also known from Three Rivers (Figure 8) (fully pecked profile – no eye) and Pony Hills (Figure 9) (outlined profile – with one eye), both in New Mexico. Yet, there are also petroglyphs apparently depicting Bighorn heads with one massive forward curving horn, like the example from Broad Canyon, New Mexico (Figure 10). This horn may be a Bighorn horn or the horn often seen at horned snake imagery.

Figure 7

Figure 7. Petroglyph of a Bighorn head from Three Rivers. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 8 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a Bighorn head from Three Rivers. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Mike Spieth.

Figure 9 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a Bighorn head from Pony Hills. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Bob Barnes.

Figure 10

Figure 10. Petroglyph of a Bighorn head (?) from Broad Canyon. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by a member of the Friends of Organ MountainsDesert Peaks, Las Cruces, NM.


Position of Horns

In rock art male Bighorns usually have been laterally depicted with one or – more commonly – two parallel running horns curving back over the body. Frequently however the horns have been depicted frontally in a bifurcated arrangement. Numerous Bighorn petroglyphs of the Great Basin and especially of the Coso Range in California show the horns in a bifurcated position. In those cases it can be held that one horn is pointing backwards, the other forwards. This bifurcated arrangement gives the impression of the animal looking towards the observer, even though the head invariably seems to have been depicted laterally.

Abnormalities are the rare examples of fully laterally depicted Bighorns with both horns curving forward. However, it is possible that those – and other purported Bighorn – images actually depict Pronghorns; a quadruped that in real life may have forward curving horns. However, there also are most enigmatic biomorphs with forward curving horns like the Bighorn (?) petroglyph from La Cieneguilla, New Mexico. It seems that the lower part of its hind legs and the cloven hoofs have been added afterwards giving the whole a bird-like impression (Figure 11).

Figure 11 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of an enigmatic Bighorn (?) from La Cieneguilla. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Gary Cascio.

Examples of quadrupeds (Bighorns?) with two forward pointing horns are found on the Atlatl Panel, Utah (an example pierced by an atlatl), in the Little Petroglyph Canyon of the Coso Range, at Devil’s Garden in Arches, Utah (Figure 12), at Nine Mile Canyon, Utah, at Red Tank Draw, Arizona (Figure 13) and at Mount Irish, Nevada (Figure 14). In all those cases the zoomorphs are still looking forwards. However, at Potash Road – Site 1, Utah, is a possible Bighorn petroglyph that seems to have its horns curving forward while its head is looking backwards across its back. Petroglyphs of backward looking quadrupeds are very rare in Southwest rock art, but one example is known from Lower Chinle Wash, Site 5, Utah.

Figure 12

Figure 12. Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Devil’s Garden. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Dennis Udink.

Figure 13 – PDF-only: Petroglyphs of Bighorns (?) from Red Tank Draw. Drawings by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Zach Schierl. Relative positions incorrect.

Figure 14

Figure 14. Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Mount Irish. Photograph © by Guy Starbuck, reproduced here with his kind permission.

Although horns usually emerge from the head, there are rare exceptions. For instance, at Laguna Creek, Arizona, is a small but still four-legged Bighorn petroglyph that has two curved horns emerging from the centre of its back, while its two ears emerge from near the rear end (Figure 15). A petroglyph from South Mountains, Arizona, has one forward curving horn emerging from the top of the head, while a second, larger forward pointing horn emerges from the neck (Bostwick and Krocek 2002: Fig. 58).

Figure 15

Figure 15. Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Laguna Creek. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Bob Cates.


Number of Horns

Although in real-life there are species of sheep with three or four long horns, in rock art most Bighorn images have two horns. Less frequently one horn is shown, although in several cases two horns have been pecked out very close together, which may give the impression as if only one horn has been depicted. Only very rarely the horns are joined at their ends as if only one outlined horn had been intended.

Yet some unrealistic anomalies occur. At Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, a petroglyph of a Bighorn shows two large horns, with a third, much smaller horn below the larger set. It may have been added to one of the two existing ears. Also a Bighorn petroglyph from Nine Mile Canyon, Utah, displays three horns; the first horn strangely emerging from the upper part of its head (Figure 16). On the Parade Panel of the Laguna Creek petroglyph site, Arizona, is a Bighorn with four horns, but – again – the lower set of two horns have possibly been added later as they seem to emerge from the (already existing?) ears as well (Figure 17). At Fremont Indian State Park and at Sheep Shelter, Utah, there are Bighorn petroglyphs with four distinctly separated horns. At Hidden Valley near Moab, Utah, are two petroglyphs of a Bighorn that seem to have four horns; all four too large to represent ears. One of them seems to have a nose bleed (Figure 18B). Another petroglyph at the same site seems to have three curved horns. The more crudely pecked, uppermost horn apparently represents a later addition (Figure 18A). At the same site is a quadruped (Bighorn?) with three upright and straight horns, possibly depicting another species. Below this petroglyph is another quadruped (Bighorn?) that has three straight horns that are bent backwards at the top. Another petroglyph of a quadruped with three similarly curved horns appears at the same site.

 Figure 16 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Nine Mile Canyon. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Dennis Udink.

Figure 17

Figure 17. Petroglyphs of Bighorns from Laguna Creek. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Bob Cates. Colour differentiation added by the author. Relative positions correct.

Figures 18A and B – PDF-only: Petroglyphs of Bighorns from Hidden Valley. Drawings by Maarten van Hoek, based on photographs by Alan Cressler. Relative positions incorrect.


Accentuating Bighorn Horns

There may have existed practices that may be regarded as ‘positive’, as they seem to be focussed on accentuating the importance of the horns of the Bighorn. On Panel 4 of Site 3 at Potash Road, Utah, is a partially obliterated Bighorn petroglyph of which the head, ears and horns and the front legs remain clearly visible (Figure 19). The obliterator may intentionally have left the head area untouched, although the result may also represent an unplanned action.

Figure 19

Figure 19. Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Potash Road – Site 3 – Panel 4. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Also petroglyphs where three or more horns emerge from one Bighorn head may be an indication of the enormous importance of the horns. In the previous section a number of petroglyphs are mentioned where (extra) horns appear at unexpected places. In a number of cases the ears seem to have been extended to form an extra horn or set of horns, for instance at Laguna Creek, Arizona, (see Figure 17) and at Hart Mountain, Oregon (Figure 20). In other cases extra horns seem to have been added to (the top of) the head, like at Nine Mile Canyon (see Figure 16) or even emerge from the back of the animal as is the case with a petroglyph from Llewellyn Gulch, Utah (Figure 21).

Figure 20 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Hart Mountain. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Douglas Beauchamp.

Figure 21

Figure 21. Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Llewellyn Gulch. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Tom Dempsey.


Extended Horns

There is, however, another practice that especially focuses on the horns that seems to be fully premeditated. It concerns the practice where the horns of a Bighorn appear to have been (much) extended, without simply creating longer horns. A specific petroglyph from Surprise Tank, California, with purported extended horns, is suggested by David Whitley to be shaman-related. Although I do not want to dispute the general shaman-related concept of several Bighorn images put forward by David Whitley, I still would like to propose an alternative reading for this petroglyph, especially as Whitley seems to accept the Surprise Tank petroglyph to have been created by the same hand at the same time.

The Surprise Tank Bighorn petroglyph in question has two horns, both of which seem to be exaggeratedly long. However, scanning the photograph by David Whitley (2001: Photo 10), I regard it highly likely that two short horns already existed and that they were – or at least one horn was – elongated by another hand at another time. This lapse in time is also most evident in the lower ‘horn’, which has been pecked only very lightly. Also, a very faint line seems to connect the ends of both ‘horns’. It may therefore even be possible that the elongation of the initial horns is just accidental and not premeditated. The Bighorn may have been superimposed upon an earlier image that is still faintly visible. Therefore it is possible that only the upper horn was indeed intentionally enlarged; the ‘new’ part is still somewhat separated from the original short horn. I regard this image to represent an instance where the importance of the horns was emphasised by extending one (or two?) horns, rather than relating this extension to shamanic practices.

Interestingly, the photo by David Whitley does not show the small panel just above the Bighorn petroglyph. This upper panel has two petroglyphs of fully frontally depicted, isolated Bighorn heads with horns, comparable with examples at Coso, California, and at Mouse’s Tank trail, Nevada. Those horned heads may in – a different way – also accentuate the importance of the horns.

There is another reservation regarding the petroglyph being shaman-related. Surprise Tank, a site with about 900 petroglyphs, has relatively few Bighorn representations and I am convinced that the simple petroglyph discussed by Whitley is an exception. If indeed the horn-extensions were shaman-related, I would expect to find more examples, at Surprise Tank and at many other sites. However, I know of only few examples of Bighorns with extended horns and in a few cases it again seems as if the horns were extended afterwards.

In the Moab area at least two examples occur. One is found at Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park (see Figure 12). In this example the horns prove to have been extended forwards, although all parts of the petroglyph show the same degree of patination. A Bighorn petroglyph at Hidden Valley has two rather thin horns that have been extended backwards, quickly changing however into one broad, roughly pecked serpentine band. It is uncertain exactly at what point the original horns were extended. The colour differentiation in Figure 22 only is a careful suggestion and does not point to differences in patination or any other difference.

Figure 22

Figure 22. Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Hidden Valley. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Alan Cressler.

Other examples have been recorded at Nine Mile canyon in northern Utah, and also the largest Bighorn of fourteen possible zoomorphic petroglyphs on the Many Sheep Panel at Shaman Knob, Mount Irish, Nevada, clearly has extended horns (Figure 23). Ekkehart Malotki (2001: Fig. 14) illustrates a three-legged Bighorn petroglyph from the NE of Arizona of which the horns have been extended upwards (Figure 24), while, according to Malotki, those horns transform into snakes relating of shamanistic experiences.

Figure 23

Figure 23. Petroglyph of Bighorns from Mount Irish. Photograph © by Guy Starbuck, reproduced here with his kind permission.

Figure 24 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Arizona. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a drawing by Ekkehart Malotki.

A complicated case concerns a Bighorn image at Butler Wash in southern Utah (Figure 25). This petroglyph – apparently superimposed upon earlier petroglyphs – may have its horns extended at a later stage as has been suggested by the yellow colour in Figure 26. But as almost the whole petroglyph seems to have been re-pecked (red in Figure 26), the purported extent of the extension of the horns is actually uncertain. Only the lower part of a front leg (brown in Figure 26) still seems to be original.

Figure 25 – PDF-only: Petroglyphs at Butler Wash. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 26

Figure 26. Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Butler Wash. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek. The yellow colour differentiation is arbitrary.


Bighorn Heads

Except for the massive horns, most petroglyphs of Bighorns have heads that are rather featureless. Eyes are very rarely depicted, but occasionally occur, for instance in the Mogollon rock art of New Mexico (see Figure 6) and Texas. Although ears are often lacking as well, still many Bighorn petroglyphs also show one or – more frequently – two ears. In most cases they appear as two short, parallel grooves emerging from the head or – illogically – from the neck or back (see Figure 15). In some cases each ear appears at either side of the head or neck (for example in frontally depicted heads in the Coso style rock art).

In general the snouts of Bighorn sheep are short and featureless with the mouth closed. Yet there are many examples that show a (wide) open mouth. Only very rarely teeth or a tongue have been indicated. However, there is at least one pictograph of a Bighorn ‘clearly’ showing a tongue on a panel, called the Unexpected Panel, which is located 8 km NW of Highway 24, deep inside the labyrinth of the San Rafael Swell, Utah.

In several cases the head appears elongated and – when opened – shows the upper and lower lips separated as two short, parallel lines. An open mouth possibly indicates the production of a sound for whatever reason (for instance excitement, anxiety or alarm). However, the lips or mouth in some petroglyphs appear exaggeratedly elongated, as is the case with petroglyphs from Montezuma Canyon (Figure 27) and Rochester Creek (see Figure 37), both in Utah. However, also petroglyphs of deer do show such elongated mouths and lips. In a few cases there is an appendage from the snout which may represent a tongue. In one case, at Laguna Creek, Arizona (see Figure 17), the lower lip of a large Bighorn petroglyph is extended and seems to emanate drops (of saliva? or sound?). It has been suggested that sheep with an appendage or drops from the mouth may be bleeding from its nose. Instances have been recorded from the Atlatl Rock in Nevada and from Coso Range rock art (see also Figure 44).

Figure 27 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Montezuma Canyon. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Mary Cokenour.

Bighorn petroglyphs from Quail Creek Ranch Road and on the Banner Panel near Moab (Figure 28), both in Utah, seem to have extended, curving lips that apparently simultaneously may depict a second set of (downward pointing) horns, which again may indicate the importance of the horns. On the Banner Panel are also petroglyphs of frontally depicted anthropomorphs that seem to wear headdresses of bifurcated Bighorn horns.

Figure 28

Figure 28. Petroglyphs of Bighorns on the Banner Panel. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Rory Tyler.

Heads are often emphasised in Southwest rock art. In some (most?) instances it even seems that the creation of Bighorn petroglyphs started off at the head. An example – that may be regarded as an unfinished petroglyph – occurs at San Rafael Swell of which the front part (thus including the head and the horns) is completed, while the hind legs are missing and the back area is only outlined (Figure 29). Moreover, heads and horns are often more carefully and more prominently executed that the body or the legs. Fine examples occur on Panel 2, Petroglyphs A (Figure 30) and B1 and 2 (Figure 31), and on Panel 1, Petroglyph D (see Figure 3), all at Site 3 at Potash Road, Utah. Other examples have been reported at Laguna Creek, Arizona (see Figure 17), Llewellyn Gulch, Utah (see Figure 21) and at Cedar Point, Utah (see Figure 2).

Figure 29

Figure 29. Petroglyph of a Bighorn from San Rafael Swell. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Brian Lee.

Figure 30 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Potash Road – Site 3 – Panel 2 – Petroglyph A. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 31

Figure 31. Petroglyphs of Bighorns from Potash Road – Site 3 – Panel 2 – Petroglyphs B1 and B2. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek. Relative position correct.


Number of Heads

As can be expected, the standard image of a Bighorn features only one head, but at least one headless example is said to occur on a panel near the start of the Amasa Back Trail at Kane Creek Canyon, Utah, although – just possibly – a long narrow neck and parts of the legs seem to be present, though extremely weathered (Figure 32).

Figure 32

Figure 32. Petroglyphs of two Bighorns (A and B) from Amasa Back Trail. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Rick Fridell. Yellow colour indicates almost invisible parts. Relative positions not correct.

Though very exceptionally, Bighorn sheep have been depicted with two heads. These heads usually appear at either end of the body. Two-headed or double-ended sheep occur in several different characterizations. Images of Bighorns with a larger head at the bio-logical position and a smaller head at the rear end of the body (often determined by the orientation of the feet) only rarely occur. Some may represent instances of superimposition, but often it has also been suggested that such a configuration may represent a birthing scene, in which the smaller head represents the newly born sheep. There are, however, two objections. In most cases the newborn sheep displays adult male horns, while also the ‘female’, birth-giving sheep in fact is a male Bighorn. This is for instance the case with a petroglyph from Canebeds, Arizona (Slifer 2000b: Fig. 205h).

Several examples are exhibited in a number of locations throughout the Coso Range, California (for instance a purported ‘female’ with large bifurcating – male – horns and a newborn sheep with smaller parallel horns). Another example occurs on the Bolo Man Panel at Nine Mile Canyon, Utah, although the (unfortunately vandalised) upward curving horns of the ‘newborn’ might have been attached to the tail of the ‘female’ Bighorn, probably at a later date. Further examples from Nine Mile Canyon have been illustrated by Jesse Earl Warner (1989). At Buckhorn Wash, Utah, is a newborn sheep with bifurcating horns, while also its smaller, rectangular body seems to have been depicted in outline inside the bigger outlined petroglyph (Figure 33). The larger head (of the female animal?) also displays male horns.

 Figure 33 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Buckhorn Wash. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Ron Wolf. Colour differentiation added by the author.

An example at Shay Canyon, Utah, may symbolise copulation because the head of the male sheep at the rear end looks in the same direction as the obviously female sheep that has no horns; only ears (Figure 34). However, the isolated rear-end head probably is an unfinished image, possibly intended to depict copulation, like a complete scene of copulating Bighorns at the same site (Figure 35). Another possible copulation scene may have been depicted at Potash Road – Site 3 – Panel 3 (Figure 36).

Figure 34

Figure 34. Petroglyphs of Bighorns at Shay Canyon. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 35

Figure 35. Petroglyphs of Bighorns at Shay Canyon. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 36 – PDF-only: Petroglyphs at Potash Road – Site 3 – Panel 3. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

In other cases two Bighorns appear to be joined in one petroglyph on purpose, like the apparently leg-less example at Dolls House Range Canyon, Utah, (Castleton 1987: Fig. 8.49), a six-legged example at Little Petroglyph Canyon, Coso Range, California, and the four-legged example sharing one tail on the Cookie Cutter Panel, Canaan Gap, Washington Co. Utah.

Another configuration – with four legs – occurs on the main panel of the Rochester Creek site (Figure 37). It seems to be a conflation between a smaller Bighorn with bifurcated horns and a much larger Bighorn with large parallel horns and a greatly exaggerated mouth (although this petroglyph has also been labelled as the two-headed goat [Nal Morris 1989]). A different but possibly unique example occurs at Potash Road Site 3, Utah (will be discussed in PART II).

Figure 37

Figure 37. Petroglyphs of Bighorns from Rochester Creek. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Ron Wolf.


Bighorn Necks

Although in real life Bighorn necks are rather short, there are several petroglyphs that show abnormalities. For instance, some petroglyphs of Bighorns at Nine Mile Canyon, Utah, have extremely long and thin necks. Also at a rock art site along Indian Creek, Utah, are Bighorn petroglyphs with extremely thin and rather long necks. In other cases petroglyphs of Bighorns feature rather long and thin necks that are ‘oddly’ pointing forwards, parallel to the imaginary ground surface. Examples occur near Butler Wash along the San Juan River, Utah (Castleton 1987: Fig. 7.40) and at Sand Island, further upstream. Interestingly, at Potash Road, Site 3, Utah, there are several petroglyphs of Bighorn images (for instance Petroglyphs 3-5N and R) with possibly similar attitudes that have been transformed beyond recognition. They will be discussed in Part II.


Bighorn Bodies

Most petroglyphs show Bighorns with roughly rectangular or boat-shaped bodies. However bodies may also be sausage-shaped, like the row of petroglyphs at Indian Creek, Utah (Figure 38) and the petroglyph with four backwards pointing cloven hoofs at the Newspaper Rock, in the same valley, while others are square, oval, extremely long or even circular. At Seven Mile Canyon, Utah, there are petroglyphs of rectangular, outlined Bighorns with an enormous body, extremely small, stick like legs and an equally very small head with (one) proportionally small horn(s) (Figure 39).

Figure 38 – PDF-only: Petroglyphs of Bighorns from Indian Creek. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 39 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Seven Mile Canyon. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Kenneth Castleton 1984: Fig. 5.35.


Bighorn Sex

Most Bighorn petroglyphs seem to be male, despite the fact that male or female sexual organs hardly ever have been depicted. Apparently, the massive horns of the male adult suffice as an indication of sex and of gender-related situations. Possibly as a consequence male genitals only very sporadically are shown in Bighorn petroglyphs. A petroglyph from Monument Valley (Figure 40) clearly shows male sex, although this feature could have been added afterwards (this kind of vandalism occurs more often), possibly mimicking the phallic nature of the anthropomorph. Also, Bighorn petroglyphs from the South Mountains, Arizona, and the Coso Range, California (see Figure 52), are said to possibly show male genitals.


Figure 40. Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Monument Valley. Photograph © by Dennis Slifer, reproduced here with his kind permission.

Petroglyphs of female Bighorns are rather scarce, but at least the two copulation scenes from Shay Canyon, Utah, definitely include a female sheep in each scene, as is witnessed by the horn-less, apparently female animals (showing ears only). (see Figures 34 and 35) Although there are rows of really small sheep led by a bigger Bighorn, suggesting offspring and a female sheep, the front sheep invariably seems to be male (as are most of the smaller animals). Thus, variations in size need not necessarily indicate differences in sex. Also, smaller zoomorphs nursed by a bigger (female) Bighorn sheep hardly ever occur in the rock art of the Southwest. An example is known from Nine Mile Canyon, Utah, but again the purported ‘female’ sheep has big horns that look more like male horns. Another possible example is found at Hart Mountain, Oregon, but – yet again – this adult sheep has no less than four large male Bighorn horns (see Figure 20). Importantly, the lower set of horns may have been added at a later stage to existing ears. But then again, the smaller, hornless quadruped – depicted in a rotated position – may as well have been added later.

One petroglyph of a quadruped from South Mountain, Arizona, with short and straight horns – suggested representing a mountain sheep – is said to show two possible nipples (Bostwick and Krocek 2002: Fig. 61). It may depict a female. Bighorn petroglyphs from the same area sometimes have extended bellies for which it is suggested that they are pregnant. Also petroglyphs of Bighorns – and of other quadrupeds – from the Coso Range, California, Price River, Utah, and especially from Caborca in the Sonora Desert in northern Mexico very often show extended bellies in various shapes.

Some Bighorn petroglyphs have a smaller zoomorphic image depicted ‘inside’ the belly area. A petroglyph of a male Bighorn petroglyph from Capitol Reef National Park has even got two smaller male Bighorns inside its outlined body. Often it is suggested that such configurations represent pregnant sheep. However, contradicting bio-logical pregnancy is the fact that in most cases the purported ‘female’ petroglyph also displays male Bighorn horns. This clearly is the case with the example at Cockleburr Wash, Utah (Malotki and Weaver 2002: Plate 74). Importantly, the legless Cockleburr Wash ‘embryo’ – showing one horn – seems to have been executed by the same hand at the same time. Others however have clearly been added (much) later, like several hardly re-varnished examples from the Coso Range that have been superimposed upon deeply varnished Bighorn petroglyphs. Also from the Coso Range are petroglyphs of male Bighorns with a smaller male Bighorn inside and yet it is suggested that this configuration is most likely intended to communicate that these Bighorns are pregnant. In my opinion however, such examples merely serve to express the general idea of pregnancy or fertility. Otherwise depictions of female Bighorns would have been manufactured (for a more detailed discussion about “pregnant” “male” Bighorn petroglyphs see Garfinkel and Austin 2011).

Importantly, Garfinkel and Austin (2011: 9) argue that – in Southwest rock art – the depictions of game animals with an upraised tail-pattern have typically been identified as significant symbolic attributes signalling the sexual receptivity of female Bighorns (even when the Bighorns have been depicted with male horns).


Bighorn Tails

Although Bighorn tails in rock art are short and straight, again several exceptions occur. Several tails are depicted exaggeratedly long, while at least the tail of one Bighorn petroglyph from Book Cliffs, Utah, continues as a long zigzag. Interestingly, the head area (not its horns, though) seems to have been obliterated on purpose with cruder peck marks (Figure 41).

Figure 41 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Book Cliffs. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Dennis Udink.

Several images have no tail (for instance at Potash Road, Utah), while others have more than one tail. A large, rectangular Bighorn petroglyph from Buckhorn Wash, Utah, has nine short, parallel grooves emerging from its rear end; nine tails? A Bighorn petroglyph with two short, straight tails parallel to each other occurs at Nine Mile Canyon, Utah. This petroglyph has also an appendage from its mouth curving back and touching its neck. A Bighorn petroglyph from Montezuma’s Canyon, Utah, has two long curved tails that more look like horns (Figure 42). A similar instance occurs at Fremont Indian State Park (see Figure 43). Those two examples may thus again emphasise the importance of horns.

Figure 42

Figure 42. Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Montezuma’s Canyon. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Kenneth Castleton 1984: Fig. 5.35.

It must be kept in mind however that features like a second tail or an extra leg may well represent a dart from an atlatl or an arrow from a bow, especially as in rock art scenes several hunters (seemingly?) attack sheep from behind. This illogical hunting-position may – however – be explained by the sheer impossibility of graphically manufacturing a hunting scene in which the hunter approaches the animal laterally. Yet, discussing Coso rock art, Garfinkel and Austin call stick-like missiles directed at the hindquarters and genital areas of game animals in petroglyphs from the Southwest ‘spirit arrows’ and suggest that those objects act as metaphoric phalli and emphasise the conceptual links between human and animal sexuality. Some of these missiles appear as tail-like appendages. Nevertheless, according to Garfinkel and Austin these elements are decidedly not tails because that bighorn attribute was already rendered on the animal figures (2011: 11).

Their last remark is remarkable as Garfinkel and Austin seem to exclude the possibility that indeed multiple tails (or any other body part) have been drawn and intended by the prehistoric manufacturer. Notably, in rock art many instances of petroglyphs with multiple body parts in one biomorph occur (see for instance Figures 42 and 44). Therefore, the intentional depiction of just two tails still remains a possibility.

There are also alternative explanations for the second tail phenomenon. At Fremont Indian State Park, Utah, there is a much vandalised panel with a three-legged Bighorn petroglyph with two long, curved tails that much resemble the horns of a Bighorn (Figure 43). The two horn-shaped tails may again underline the enormous importance of the horns. However, it may equally well symbolise a birthing scene or the wish for offspring (despite the impossibility of newborns having adult horns in real life). A more complex Bighorn petroglyph at the same site may also symbolise giving birth.

Figure 43

Figure 43. Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Fremont Indian State Park. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Alan Cressler.


Bighorn Legs

Although the standard number of legs in Bighorn petroglyphs is four, many variations occur. There are rather many petroglyphs with no legs, for instance at Capitol Reef National Park, Amasa Back, on the Procession Panel and at Llewellyn Gulch (see Figure 21), and at Potash Road, all in Utah. Those – and the following – cases may represent unfinished examples, but I question this explanation and prefer to put forward that at least some (many?) may have been intended to remain legless, simply because the inclusion of legs seems not to have been that important for the manufacturer. It seems that legs of Bighorns are generally not well defined in Southwest rock art.

An example with only one hind leg is found at the Newspaper Rock, Utah, while Bighorn petroglyphs with only two front legs are known from South Mountains, Arizona Bostwick and Crocek 2002: Fig. 64), from the Owl Panel, Utah, and from San Rafael Swell, Utah (see Figure 29). Bighorns with three legs have been reported from Arizona (see Figure 24), the Coso Range, California, and from Potash Road Site 3, Panel 2, Petroglyph B1 (see Figure 31-1), while an example with five legs occurs at Grand Gulch, Utah. There also are petroglyphs with six legs, for instance at the Henry Mountains, and – a strange example with an elongated nose, possibly showing a nose bleed – at Berry Springs (Figure 44), both in Utah. Even examples with up to seven or nine legs have been reported (Mount Irish, Nevada). Multiple legs may possibly have been intended to suggest movement.

Figure 44

Figure 44. Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Berry Springs. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Rick Fridell.

Legs are usually straight although there are many Bighorn petroglyphs with curved legs. One petroglyph near Phoenix, Arizona, even has four curved legs, all shaped like horns, possibly again accentuating the importance of the horns (Figure 45). It seems likely that the originally short legs have been extended to form horns, which again underlines the magnitude of the horns.

Figure 45

Figure 45. Petroglyph of a Bighorn from near Phoenix, Arizona. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Dave Minkel.

Some Bighorns have all four legs pointing flexed forwards from the joints, or two hind legs flexed backwards and the front legs bend forwards. In some cases the front legs emerge from the chest area, like an example from Capitol Reef, Utah, while other Bighorn petroglyphs have the rear legs emerging from the rear end, parallel to an imaginary ground level. In those and other cases the position of the legs may have been intended to create the impression of animals running or some other kind of action. A Bighorn petroglyph from the Newspaper Rock, Utah, has straight but thin front legs, but thick hind legs (Figure 46). The hind legs probably have been re-pecked. Re-use of this large panel is evidenced by at least three layers of rock art production (Figure 47), even four, if, reluctantly, counting the unwanted graffiti.

Figure 46

Figure 46. Petroglyph of a Bighorn from the Newspaper Rock, Utah. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 47 – PDF-only: Part of the Newspaper Rock, Utah. Photograph by Maarten van Hoek.

Apart from extremely short legs (for instance at Seven Mile Canyon, Utah, see Figure 39) Bighorn legs in rock art can also be exceedingly long. Examples occur at Sand Island and Rochester Creek in Utah, and at Little Petroglyph Canyon, Coso Range, California. In several cases it is possible that originally shorter legs have been extended afterwards, like the examples at Rochester Creek, Utah (see Figure 37), and at Little Petroglyph Canyon, California.


Bighorn Hoofs and Spoor

The legs of Bighorn petroglyphs often show cloven hoofs, but as this is also the case with petroglyphs depicting deer, elk or Pronghorns, this feature alone often offers no clue to distinguish the several species. It must be emphasised however that the indication of the two hoofs actually more represent the spoor of the animal in a much stylised convention. At the Hidden Valley Site, Utah, there is a petroglyph of a Bighorn with large hoofs, very much resembling spoor, which moreover seem to represent later additions.

The (cloven) hoofs, or rather, spoor, are usually pointing forwards, but in rare cases they all point backwards, for instance at Indian Creek (Castleton 1987: Fig.7.9) and at Lower Price River. In some cases the hoofs are drooping downwards, for instance at Sand Island, Utah (Castleton 1987: Fig. 7.28 [inverted drawing]) and at Mount Irish, Nevada. In a few cases (for example in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah) the feet of the Bighorn are lobed and look more like feline tracks, although they may also represent obliterated hoofs. In some cases (for instance at Laguna Creek, Arizona) the cloven hoofs have been depicted exaggeratedly long, looking more like the bird-like mouth of the Rochester Creek double animal. Circular, or ring-marked ‘hoofs’ also occur, though very rarely. An example has been reported from the Coso Range (Figure 48).

Figure 48 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a Bighorn from the Coso Range. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Ron Wolf.

Isolated spoor of Bighorn sheep are extremely rare in Southwest rock art and moreover could well represent spoor of deer, elk or Pronghorns. An upwards orientated line of possibly Bighorn spoor appears vertically arranged on a large perpendicular panel of an enormous boulder at Cedar Point, Utah (see Figure 2), in front of a larger than life-size and rather naturalistically depicted, stippled Bighorn (with unnaturally thin legs, though). In some cases petroglyphs of Bighorns (but also of other quadrupeds and of anthropomorphs) show a trail of spoor, like at Petroglyph Canyon, San Rafael Reef, Utah (Figure 49).

Figure 49 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a Bighorn and spoor from San Rafael Reef. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Ron Wolf.


Dead Bighorns

Although most Bighorn petroglyphs depict the animal in a (rather) static pose (Figure 50; smaller Bighorn) – several images depict the animal as if it is jumping (Figure 50; bigger Bighorn) or is otherwise involved in a dynamic action – those static images are still considered to depict live animals. Bighorn petroglyphs pierced by atlatl spears or by arrows may depict wounded, dying (Garfinkel and Austin 2011: Fig. 3) or even dead animals, but they may equally still be very much alive.

Figure 50

Figure 50. Petroglyphs of Bighorns at Big Hogan, Monument Valley, Arizona. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Surprisingly, truly dead representations of Bighorn sheep are (extremely) rare in Southwest rock art. This may be due to the fact that several Aboriginal groups did not seem to hunt this (sacred?) animal that much. An inverted position of the Bighorn sheep may be an indication that the animal is dead, especially when apparently pierced by a spear or arrow as is the case with a petroglyph from Long House Valley, Arizona (Figure 51).

 Figure 51 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of an inverted Bighorn (pierced by a spear or arrow) from Long House Valley. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Polly Schaafsma (1980: Fig. 100).

In the Coso Range, California, one of the regions with numerous Bighorn images, only three (!) petroglyphs of Bighorns are said to represent dead animals. Possibly, depictions of isolated Bighorn heads or horns (also occurring in the Coso Range) could also involve death-symbolism.

But in my opinion only one example from the Coso Range is indeed convincing, as it clearly depicts an up-side down Bighorn (on an immovable rock face) that is moreover pierced by a spear or arrow (Figure 52). Garfinkel and Austin (2011) suggest that also because of the downward pointing tail this animal is dead. However, the tail that is drawn in earlier publications (for example in Garfinkel and Austin 2011: Fig. 5) is actually pointing upwards when rotating the image to its ‘normal’ position. Moreover, it seems that the petroglyph has two tails, the longer (and fainter; brown in Figure 52) of which is pointing upwards in the current configuration.

Figure 52

Figure 52. Petroglyphs of Bighorns from the Coso Range. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Bob Cates.


Bighorn-Human Conflations

Many petroglyphs of Bighorns just have legs and no hoofs or feet. Others have only one short groove at each leg indicating the (horizontal) feet (with respect to the usually vertical leg). Such single-line, plantigrade (human-like) feet have been interpreted by David Whitley as signs that the image actually represents a shaman that has been transformed into its Spirit Helper alter ego, the Bighorn. Also the petroglyph of a Bighorn from Black Canyon, California, is said to represent a shaman transformed into a Bighorn (Figure 53).

Figure 53 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a Bighorn from Black Canyon. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Ron Wolf.

Earlier I discussed Bighorn petroglyphs with extended horns, for instance the petroglyph from Surprise Tank, California, that are suggested by David Whitley to be shaman-related (2001: Photo 10). These suggestions may be true, but the purported human-like feet and the extended-horns feature may simply represent non-shaman-related ways to depict feet or horns. I also very much doubt whether Bighorn petroglyphs with plantigrade feet or with extended horns depict shaman-related imagery in every Southwest rock art region.

What is certain however, is that in ancient times there was a very strong relationship between the indigenous people of the Southwest and Bighorns. Archaeological evidence proves that ancient people and shamans used Bighorn attributes and/or Bighorn effigies in rituals. A possible depiction of a ritual involving Bighorn horns is known from the San Diego Mountain site, New Mexico. A laterally depicted anthropomorph seems to carry a pole topped by a set of frontally depicted Bighorn horns (Figure 54). However, the slightly more deeply patinated anthropomorph may as well be ‘playing a flute’, and was associated with the Bighorn attribute at a later stage.

Figure 54

Figure 54. Petroglyph of an anthropomorph possibly carrying Bighorn horns from the San Diego Mountains. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by a member of the Friends of Organ MountainsDesert Peaks, Las Cruces, NM.

In some cases real Bighorn horns were also worn (by shamans?) as a headgear. At Cornudas Mountain, New Mexico, there is a frontally depicted human face petroglyph (Figure 55) displaying two massive Bighorn horns, probably as a kind of headdress (Slifer 1998: Fig. 219; Schaafsma 1992: Fig. 93). Other petroglyphs show anthropomorphic figures wearing a Bighorn head. A fine example of a human head wearing a Bighorn headgear has been recorded from Apache Flats, New Mexico (Figure 56; compare this drawing with the one by Polly Schaafsma 1997: Fig. 46 to see the different renderings of this petroglyph, which appears to be buried more deeply now).

Figure 55 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a human head wearing Bighorn horns; Cornudas Mountain. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Polly Schaafsma.

Figure 56 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of an anthropomorphic head wearing a Bighorn headgear from Apache Flats. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a drawing by Marc Thompson.

Also several petroglyphs from the Southwest express the special relationship between humans and Bighorns. Many petroglyphs of horned anthropomorphs have been recorded in the Southwest, especially in the Mogollon rock art region. For instance, at Site 24, Hueco Tanks, Texas, two rock paintings of laterally depicted anthropomorphs are wearing a profile Bighorn headdress showing only one backwards curving horn. According to Polly Schaafsma (1980: 219) several Mogollon petroglyphs of two-horned beings often are adorned with Bighorn horns as well.

However, conflations of Bighorns with anthropomorphic figures occur somewhat more frequently. At Arroyo del Macho, New Mexico, there are two petroglyphs of profile anthropomorphs (?), each with one massive horn (Slifer 1998: Fig. 234). A Mogollon rock painting at Site 13, Panel E, West Mountain, Hueco Tanks, Texas, shows a fully frontally depicted anthropomorph with an exaggeratedly large head with two large, massive (Bighorn?) horns (Davis and Sutherland 1997: 25), interpreted however by the guide as the White Buffalo Kachina Dancer (Figure 57). With respect to this figure, Kay Sutherland states that horned masks are not found in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. She moreover argues that the horns are an indication of the combination of hunting symbolism with Mesoamerican-derived masks (1996: 18). But even when this figure is indeed wearing a buffalo mask, it still emphasises the importance of the horns.

Figure 57

Figure 57. Rock painting from Hueco Tanks. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Especially at Three Rivers, New Mexico, anthropomorphic petroglyphs seem to confirm the relationship between humans and Bighorns. One of the most convincing examples at this site is a petroglyph on a small boulder, which shows a frontally depicted anthropomorph with a laterally depicted Bighorn head with two horns. The head seems to be attached to a large, more densely pecked ‘collar’ (intentionally marked with a different colour in Figure 58), as if the human is wearing a mask (or has been transformed?).

Figure 58

Figure 58. Petroglyph of an anthropomorph wearing Bighorn horns from Three Rivers. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

Further west and north more examples occur, but more rarely. Polly Schaafsma illustrates a rock painting on a wall of Fire Temple, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, depicting at least one anthropomorphic, phallic and humpbacked hunter that seems to be wearing a Bighorn mask (Figure 59). At South Mountain, Arizona, a Hohokam petroglyph of an anthropomorphic mountain sheep in a more upright position has been reported (Bostwick and Krocek 2002: Fig. 66), while a similar petroglyph has been reported from Little Hole, Utah. At Rochester Creek, Utah, a petroglyph seems to depict a conflation between a human and a Bighorn as the upright but bending-over figure seems to have two human-like legs, while the arm(s?) is (are?) bent behind its back (Figure 60). At Mexican Bend, Utah, a small frontally depicted anthropomorphic figure seems to have four horns (or two horns and two large ears) and seems to hold an object (a drum?) in its right hand (Figure 61). Between its very short legs is a group of very faint lines (an emission perhaps, or part of some garment like a skirt?).

Figure 59 – PDF-only: Painting of an anthropomorph-Bighorn conflation from Fire Temple. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a drawing by Polly Schaafsma.

Figure 60 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of an anthropomorph-Bighorn conflation from Rochester Creek. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Alan Cressler.

Figure 61

Figure 61. Petroglyph of an anthropomorph-Bighorn conflation from Mexican Bend. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Dennis Udink.

At Montezuma Canyon, Utah, there is a faint petroglyph of a possibly humpbacked anthropomorph with a Bighorn head looking to the right, although its feet seem to point in the opposite way (Figure 62). A row of slightly similar, but smaller and much more stylised anthropomorphs with only one horn each appears on a rock panel at Potash Road, Utah.

Figure 62 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of an anthropomorph-Bighorn conflation from Montezuma Canyon. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Randy Langstraat.

Sand Island, southern Utah, is known for its large collection of often idiosyncratic images. One well known panel at this site shows a Bighorn standing upright on its hind legs (E in Figure 63), which seems to play a flute (a transformed shaman?). Importantly, the flute (? see my comments on uncritically accepting a straight object emerging from the mouth as a flute in: Van Hoek 2010) seems to be held in the (invisible) mouth of the transformed shaman (?) below the open mouth of the sheep, which is empty. Its straight, upwards pointing tail has been incised and/or abraded (at a later stage?).

Figure 63

Figure 63. Petroglyphs at Sand Island. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek. Relative positions correct.

Equally interesting are two other petroglyphs, one from Hildale, Utah (Warner 1989: Fig. 9), the other from a site unknown to me, but probably also from Utah. The Hildale petroglyph is an inverted anthropomorph with Bighorn heads as feet (Figure 64A), while the other anthropomorphic petroglyph shows two Bighorn sheep incorporated as a headdress, thus displaying four horns (Figure 64B).

Figure 64

Figure 64. A: Petroglyph of an inverted anthropomorph with “Bighorn feet” from Hildale. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a drawing by Jesse Warner. B: Petroglyph of an anthropomorph with a “Bighorn headdress” from Utah (?). Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Wendy Harrell.


Bighorn-Snake Conflations

However, it is not always certain whether indeed Bighorn horns have been depicted. For instance, a clearly phallic anthropomorphic petroglyph from Three Rivers, New Mexico, certainly has a (toothed?) animal head (Slifer 2007: Fig. 2.05). Although its head is definitely sheep-shaped, it is uncertain whether the single, massive, forward pointing horn is a Bighorn horn. Interestingly, its horn very much resembles the (often forward pointing) single horn of Southwest horned snakes with profile faces. However, in my opinion even those snake-horns may actually symbolise Bighorn horns as well.

Interestingly, in northern Mexico – another area where Bighorns once lived – the Casas Grandes Culture once venerated and thus used images of Bighorns (Real World), macaws (Upper Realm) and snakes (Lower Realm), often in conflated imagery. It is often suggested that the horn of the horned snake is a unique feature, not related to an animal part. Other scholars state that the horn may represent the upper beak of a macaw, while Poly Schaafsma (1997: 24) doubts this because there is no lower beak. In my opinion however, it is not necessary to depict both beaks as the symbolism of only the upper, more prominent beak would have been well understood. Moreover, I do not see any reason why the single horn of the snake could not be Bighorn-related. Some horned-plumed snake-heads on Chihuahuan Polycrome ceramics look more like Bighorn heads than snake-heads. Also horns on birds and anthropomorphs on Ramos Polychrome pottery look much like Bighorn horns (especially Mogollon and Mimbres) (VanPool 2003: Fig. 3). Moreover, several Bighorn effigies have been found in southern New Mexico (Mimbres) and in adjacent northern Mexico (Casas Grandes) (Dean Mathiowetz 2011: Figs 12.9ABCD, 12.10 and 12.11).

However, also in regions much further north there have been reported conflations between snakes and Bighorns. These may represent local inventions or the conflation may have been borrowed from cultures further south. Ekkehart Malotki illustrates a snake petroglyph from Carr Lake Draw, Arizona, with two backward curving horns (2001: Fig. 11b). Jesse Earl Warner illustrates two examples from Nine Mile Canyon, Utah (1989: Figs 3C and 5B), one being a double headed example. Another petroglyph from the same site shows a spiral that seems to end in a snake with a Bighorn head hovering over the spiral. On the Transformation Panel and the Tributary Canyon Pictograph Panel, San Rafael Swell, Utah, are rock paintings of snakes, each with a Bighorn head and two backwards curving horns. One has two, truly massive horns and small ears (Figure 65); the other has two modest horns, seems to be bleeding from the nose and has arms and (human?) hands with three digits each (Figure 66).

Figure 65 – PDF-only: Petroglyph of a snake-Bighorn conflation on the Transformation Panel. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Alan Cressler.

Figure 66

Figure 66. Petroglyph of a snake-Bighorn conflation on the Tributary Panel. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Alan Cressler.



PART II – The Potash Sheep Shifters

Importantly, this (definitely incomplete) ‘inventory’ of manifestations of Bighorns petroglyphs in PART I is not presented here only to show the enormous diversity of Bighorn petroglyphs in Southwest rock art. The main reason to present many of those examples is to demonstrate that in numerous cases images of Bighorns have been altered by prehistoric people for still unknown reasons. In this respect it is even not important that many petroglyphs of purported Bighorns might represent another species of mammals (for instance Pronghorn) or are imaginary creatures. Relevant is the fact that the original image of the Bighorn, or rather, the quadruped, has been changed; in many cases beyond recognition. Often the change is evident because of differences in patination or because instances of superimposition can be recognised. However, in many cases, especially when (reliable) informed knowledge is not available, it is unclear what the original image would have looked like. And then one can only (logically) guess. Therefore all the suggestions in my colour-differentiated drawings are just what they are: suggestions.

I have demonstrated that many Southwest rock art sites have one or several images that seem to have been changed deliberately (see also Warner 1989: 6). There is however one site that features an excess of altered petroglyphs. It is located along Utah Scenic Byway 279; better known locally as Potash Road. It comprises a long stretch of often vertical, soaring sandstone cliffs along the Colorado River, SW of the town of Moab, Utah. The area around Moab is rich in rock art sites. In fact over 100 rock art panels and more than 3000 petroglyphs are known in the area around Moab. After entering the sandstone plateau from the rich wetlands of the Moab Slough (also called Spanish Valley), the Colorado still cuts its meandering course through the thick layers of sandstone. At many spots sandstone panels have developed a deeply patinated blackish surface on which frequently petroglyphs have been manufactured. Especially a stretch of 1.5 km on the north (west, rather) bank of the Colorado is rich in rock art. Three major petroglyph sites have been recorded directly along this road, of which Potash Road Site 3 is the focus of this study.

Potash Road Site 3

This extensive site (marked with a green square – Site 3 – in Figure 67), also called the North Bank, Colorado River, Site 3 by Kenneth Castleton (1987: 188) or Poison Spider Trail Site, comprises several high, vertical sandstone cliffs that are facing south and a few decorated slabs that once were detached from the cliffs. The site itself is about 50 m above the valley floor at the top of a rocky talus slope.

Figure 67

Figure 67. Map of the Potash Road area near Moab, Utah. Map by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth.

Potash Road Site 3 is found at the point where the Colorado has cut its first loop after having left wetlands of the Moab Slough. The spot where the Colorado enters the canyon is called The Portal (spot marked with Petroglyph Site 5 in Figures 67 and 68). The rock formations of the area consist of sandstones from the Upper Triassic and Earliest Jurassic periods (all deposited about 200.000.000 years BP). The uppermost layer – characterised by rounded tops (1 in Figure 68) – is composed of Navajo Sandstone. The cliffs below comprise Kayenta Formation and Wingate Sandstone (2 in Figure 68). The (talus) slopes below are Chinle and Moenkopi Formations (3 in Figure 68). The Wingate Sandstone forms steep cliffs and especially its deeply varnished panels are suitable for petroglyph production.

Figure 68

Figure 68. The Portal near Moab photographed from the Courthouse Wash site, looking SW. Photograph by Maarten van Hoek.

There are limited but impressive views from the site south across the loop of the Colorado and east towards the pinnacles of the jagged sandstone ‘plateau’ behind the Moab Rim. From the very eastern end of Site 3 one also has fine views of the confluence of Kane Creek (Figure 69); another canyon with several well known rock art sites, like the Moab Maiden (Site 6 in Figure 67), the Owl Panel (Site 7 in Figure 67) and the Birthing Scene Panel (Site 8 in Figure 67). It seems that confluences and/or entrances were favoured spots to execute rock art. Examples in this area are Site 5, Site 4 (the Moonflower Canyon confluence) and Site 10 (the confluence near Jug Handle Arch).

Figure 69 – PDF-only: The Colorado – Kane Creek confluence. Photograph by Maarten van Hoek.

Site 3 – Panels

In order to better discuss the various petroglyphs at Site 3, I introduced my own system of numbering. Although there are more petroglyphs and panels at the site than the ones discussed and illustrated here, I only will describe a selection of petroglyphs on six panels; the locations of five of which are approximated in Figure 70. The locations of Panels 1 to 4 are shown in Figure 71. Panels 1 and 2 are adjacent parts of the vertical cliff. Several individual petroglyphs on Panels 1 and 2 have been assigned a capital letter in Figures 72 and 73. The images on Panel 5 have been assigned a capital letter in Figure 74. Thus, for easy reference the relevant petroglyphs each have their own number, for instance: Site 3, Panel 5, Petroglyph A; in short: Petroglyph 3-5A.

Figure 70 – PDF-only: Map showing the approximated locations of five rock art panels at Potash Road – Site 3. Map by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth.

Figure 71 – PDF-only: The locations of rock art Panels 1 to 4 at Potash Road – Site 3 (Panel 5 is just off the sketch, west of Panel 4). Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 72

Figure 72. The locations of the petroglyphs on Panels 1 and 2 at Potash Road – Site 3. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 73

Figure 73. The locations of the petroglyphs on Panel 1 at Potash Road – Site 3. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 74

Figure 74. The locations of the petroglyphs on Panel 5 at Potash Road – Site 3. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.


Alterations to Petroglyphs

Although several rock art sites in the Moab area feature altered images, I actually have not ever seen a petroglyph site with such an enormous number and diversity of manifestations of alterations, both of natural origin and of anthropic character. As can be expected, Site 3 has many weathered petroglyphs as well as differences in patination. Some petroglyphs are naturally flaked, although also a few larger slabs with petroglyphs are missing from the vertical walls (for instance, Panel 3-6 is partially missing and flaked). These slabs may have broken off by natural causes, but equally they may represent ‘successful’ but most unwanted attempts to steal petroglyph panels. Unfortunately, vandalism is also evident by intolerable graffiti and ugly bullet marks (also occurring at many other sites in the Southwest).

Differences in style are not easily recognisable, also because of the later alterations. It is stated that most petroglyphs along Potash Road are of Anasazi origin with some Fremont influence (Slifer 2000a: 99) or, alternatively, probably Fremont style (Castleton 1987: 191). A few petroglyphs are hardly visible, being re-varnished almost completely (for instance Petroglyphs 3-1R, S and T in Figure 73). However, other petroglyphs are hardly patinated and may be recent additions; some possibly mimicking prehistoric images.

Instances of superimposition are rather scarce at Potash Road – Site 3, but occur in for instance Petroglyphs 3-1FM (see Figure 73) and in Petroglyph 3-1B. The latter Bighorn may still show a small (secondary?) head (yellow arrow in Figure 75A) and possibly even an original set of horns (red arrow in Figure 75A). A big Bighorn on Panel 6 (Petroglyph B in Figure 75B) seems to have been superimposed upon a smaller Bighorn (Petroglyph A in Figure 75B). An interesting example of superimposition occurs at nearby Site 2 (Figure 75C), where a large fully pecked bear petroglyph partially superimposes two Bighorn images (A and B in Figure 75C). Interestingly, five (not four, as is often stated) petroglyphs of archers seem to attack the bear (1 to 5 in Figure 76), but in my opinion this association may be fortuitous, at least regarding archers 2, 4 and 5 who apparently are not aiming at the bear.

Figure 75A – PDF-only: Potash Road – Site 3 – Panel 1 – Petroglyph B. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 75B – PDF-only: Potash Road – Site 3 – Panel 6. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 75 C

Figure 75 C. Potash Road – Site 2. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 76 – PDF-only: Potash Road – Site 2. Photograph by Maarten van Hoek (most ugly signs of vandalism have digitally been erased by the author in this photo).

Regarding the position of the Bighorn horns, Potash Road imagery reflects the general distribution pattern in which most depictions of male Bighorns have one or two horns curving back over the body. Only very few petroglyphs of Bighorns with their horns ‘frontally’ depicted occur at Potash Road. Two examples occur at Site 3-2B (see Figure 31). Outlined petroglyphs of Bighorns are very rare at Potash Road, but some examples, possibly of the Glen Canyon Linear Style, occur at Potash Road Site 1.

Important are the images that are not complete (disregarding weathered and flaked petroglyphs). These incomplete images (for instance Petroglyph 3-5T; Figure 77, and Petroglyphs 3-1A and N; see Figure 73) are often regarded to be unfinished, but equally they may have been manufactured this way on purpose. Although some images may represent unfinished figures (for instance the two-legged Bighorn petroglyph at San Rafael Swell (see Figure 29), I prefer to categorise many of them as intentionally incomplete. Besides the examples mentioned here, there are many more (intentionally?) incomplete images of Bighorn sheep in the Southwest.

Figure 77 – PDF-only: Petroglyph 3-5T at Potash Road – Site 3. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.


Obliterating Bighorn Horns

Several images at Site 3 have clearly been obliterated, which means that the images have been hacked, in order to deliberately erase the earlier imagery. Examples of obliterated petroglyphs especially occur on Panel 1, for instance Petroglyphs 3-1M, F, O and Q. Obliteration is not always the same as re-pecking. In this study obliteration aims at erasing images or details in images, mainly in order to annul their symbolism and/or power.

On the other hand, re-pecked petroglyphs often appear to have been carefully reworked or refreshed, confirming the continuing cultural significance of both the sacred imagery and the sacred site. Often these reworked images demonstrate great care of the subsequent manufacturers in attempting to respect the outlines of the earlier image. Obviously the re-pecking was done in a way that suggests respectful renewal and enhancement of the ancient symbolism; not an aggressive annulment of its sacred power.

Most importantly, several petroglyphs at Site 3 seem to represent transformed images. Those transformations often resulted in most idiosyncratic images, but the transformation is hard to recognise. In reality, Kenneth Castleton, describing Site 3, does not mention any transformation (1984: 188 – 190). In fact he writes (Petroglyph numbers, remarks between [ ] and all emphases in bold are mine): “Six Fremont-type anthropomorphs are depicted [3-1U], and below them is a large sheep [3-1B]. Along the cliff to the left [west] and at the same level are several other figures including seven or eight sheep (?) with chickenlike heads, roundish with small beaks [3-5]. I have never seen images like this anywhere else. A hunter [3-5G] is aiming a bow and arrow at one of them [3-5F]. Another unique figure is an animal with four short legs, a very long neck a long erect tail, and another high vertical projection from the body [3-5A]. A two-headed sheep [3-2C] and two sheep facing in opposite directions with their rear ends together [3-3] are also depicted as well as other zoomorphs, anthropomorphs [3-1F and 3-1O; all obliterated], and wavy [3-1E and L] and zigzag lines [3-1M]”.

It proves that Kenneth Castleton categorises several figures of Site 3 as unique. Unfortunately, I could not find any publication describing or illustrating (some of) the Potash Road petroglyphs as representing transformations, except for a paper by Jesse Earl Warner who illustrates two petroglyphs from Site 3. However, Warner (1989) seems to present instances of (accidental and/or intentional) juxtapositions, conflations and/or superimpositions (1989: 6) rather than offering instances of true transformations of earlier imagery, although it is often hard to judge from his sketches what actually is the case. He offers a sketch of Petroglyph 3-5G (Figure 78), but only remarks that this animal-headed hunter is ‘probably not a transformation figure’ (Warner 1989: 5, Fig. 2B-Moab). However, in my opinion this petroglyph may well represent an instance of transformation from sheep to hunter, as I will demonstrate further on.

Figure 78 – PDF-only: Petroglyph 3-5G at Potash Road – Site 3. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a drawing by Jesse Warner.

Likewise, Warner only describes and illustrates Petroglyph 3-2C (Figure 79) as an animal coming out of or attached to the tail of another animal, thus suggesting that the image was created by the same hand at the same time (1989: 6; Fig. 5B-Moab). At least, he does not mention the possibility that an earlier image had been transformed into a double-headed creature, although his sketch seems to suggest that two different animals are depicted.

Figure 79 – PDF-only: Petroglyph 3-2C at Potash Road – Site 3. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a drawing by Jesse Warner.

In reality however, Petroglyph 3-2C may involve two stages of petroglyph production. At first sight the image indeed seems to concern a petroglyph that was created by the same hand at the same time (Figure 80). However, very faintly the back and tail of the right-looking animal are visible in the pecked body of the combined animals. Therefore I suggest that the right-looking animal (red in Figure 81) was created first and that later (but how much later?) a left-looking animal (grey in Figure 81) was added (superimposed?) for still some unknown reason.

Figure 80

Figure 80. Petroglyph 3-2C at Potash Road – Site 3. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 81

Figure 81. Petroglyph 3-2C at Potash Road – Site 3. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

Even more complex and more ambiguous is the purported hunting scene apparently involving Petroglyphs 3-5F and G (Figure 82). Petroglyph 3-5F belongs to another type of altered images and this group will be discussed below. Petroglyph 3-5G, however, is special because – at first sight – it seems to concern a hunter in disguise aiming at Petroglyph 3-5F. In my opinion however, the scene may have started off with possibly a legless Bighorn petroglyph (red in Figure 83), comparable to similar legless (and also often tailless) images, like Petroglyphs 3-5B, H, L, M and T (see Figures 74 and 77) – all occurring on the same panel – and other instances on other nearby panels and sites, for instance Petroglyphs 3-1A and N and the example at Llewellyn Gulch (see Figure 21). Alternatively, Petroglyph 3-5G initially may also have had two legs (Van Hoek 2015: Fig. 2click again on the drawing that shows up). I suggest that at a later stage the image was altered and large pecked areas and a bow and arrow were added to create a hunting scene. Notice that the head has short and straight horns. This may be an indication that it depicts a female Bighorn (or some other quadruped); to lure male Bighorns perhaps?

Figure 82 – PDF-only: Petroglyphs E to J on Panel 5 – Potash Road – Site 3. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 83

Figure 83. Petroglyph 3-5G at Potash Road – Site 3. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

Another possible ‘hunting scene’ occurs at one of the petroglyph sites in the Moab area. It is a strange ‘hunter’ with two flexed, non-sheep legs and a small animal head, possibly of a female Bighorn. It has two ‘front legs’, arms rather, that seem to hold a bow and (a very thick) arrow. The bow is hard to recognise, though. The Bighorn that is aimed at (and having a nose-bleed?) has two hind legs that are bigger. Those may have been added to an originally legless image or may have been broadened later (Figure 84).

Figure 84 – PDF-only: Petroglyphs from the Moab area. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Alan Cressler.

Also the ‘weird-looking’ creature of Petroglyph 3-5A (Figure 85) may represent a much altered image. Again it may have started off as a legless animal (brown in Figure 86) to which at one time the front legs were added, rather crudely. Much (?) later the back was extended including two massive, parallel appendages that look like tails, while also the hind legs were added (orange in Figure 86). Some other time the original (lower) head received a longer neck extension with a second head plus horns (yellow in Figure 86).

Figure 85

Figure 85. Petroglyph 3-5A at Potash Road – Site 3. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 86

Figure 86. Petroglyph 3-5A at Potash Road – Site 3. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

Petroglyph 3-5F is one of the images that Kenneth Castleton had never seen anywhere else. He describes those images as ‘sheep with chickenlike heads, roundish with small beaks’. In fact, the rounded property of the upper part of the head may indicate that the contours of the originally curved horns had been left untouched. The empty spaces between the horns and the head and a small area below the head were filled in, so that the once elongated head and snout became ‘roundish with small beaks’. The same possible alterations apply to Petroglyph 3-5J.

Also the group of images further up the panel show the same kind of alterations. Petroglyphs 3-5P, Q and R (Figure 87) may all have been Bighorn sheep with possibly two horns (brown in Figure 89) of which the head was changed by pecking a roundish area around the head (orange in Figure 89). Not all images were treated similarly. For instance, Petroglyph 3-5B involves a tail-less quadruped, most likely a Bighorn, that has a comparable round head, but the area in front of the head was also fully pecked. Yet, the contours of the original petroglyph are faintly visible in the photograph (Figure 88; compare this image with Berry Springs, Figure 44).

Figure 87

Figure 87. Petroglyphs 3-5P, Q, R and N at Potash Road – Site 3. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 88 – PDF-only: Petroglyph 3-5B at Potash Road – Site 3. Photograph by Maarten van Hoek.

In the same group Petroglyph 3-5N tells a different story. This image may have started off as a Bighorn with only the upper parts of the hind legs (brown in Figure 89), but without front legs. Later (but when?) the hind legs were completed, but they look more like human legs and feet now (red in Figure 89). At yet another stage the front legs were added (yellow in Figure 89) and at some (other?) stage a bow shaped device was added to the lower part of the front legs (darker yellow in Figure 89). Also the head was altered in the same way as the other images (orange in Figure 88). If those alterations were a fact, it is still unknown exactly in which order they have been executed. Petroglyph 3-5O below the ‘bow’ is still enigmatic and may cover a fully obliterated image, but it is remarkable that the ‘bow’ is pointing downwards, to Petroglyph 3-5B.

Figure 89

Figure 89. Petroglyphs 3-5P, Q, R and N at Potash Road – Site 3. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

The examples at Potash Road are exceptional, they are not unique. A Bighorn petroglyph, comparable with for instance Petroglyph 3-5Q, occurs at the Amasa Back Trail in nearby Kane Creek next to a large headless (!) Bighorn. Drawing B1 in Figure 32 is the petroglyph as it is seen on the rock surface, while B2 shows the same image when digitally enhanced, thus enhancing the horns. At the Owl Panel further west and also much farther away, at Shay Canyon (Figure 90), Monument Valley (Figures 91 and 92), Butler Wash (see Figure 26) and Berry Springs (see Figure 41), examples may express the same concept: their heads have been obliterated.

Figure 90 – PDF-only: Petroglyphs at Shay Canyon. Photograph by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 91 – PDF-only: Petroglyphs at Monument Valley. Photograph by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 92 – PDF-only: Petroglyphs at Monument Valley. Photograph by Maarten van Hoek.

If indeed the transformation of the zoomorphic petroglyphs (Bighorns?) at Potash Road and at other sites is a fact and expresses a certain concept, then it is quite evident that those rituals (I do not regard those transformations as a kind of vandalism) were focussed principally on the heads; possibly more specifically on the horns. If this is the case, then there is possibly no question of transforming images, but rather of attempting to annul the symbolic power or even obliterating the sacred imagery, possibly out of disappointment regarding the desired or intended effects of the original images. Thus, this variety of images could be regarded to represent a kind of ‘reverse’ or ‘challenging’ type of rock art; a rebellious act against the original symbolism of the Bighorn image. This practice may be compared with other possible instances of obliteration elsewhere in the world (Van Hoek 2005/6, 2015).


There is little doubt that the Bighorn image is one of the most important zoomorphic representations in the rock art of the Study Area. It is also evident that the head and especially the horns of this impressive animal were most worshipped. In the rock art imagery of the Southwest heads and horns were predominantly manufactured in more sophisticated ways; the rest of the body was often manufactured with less precision. Images of heads and horns are also found in isolation. Also in northern Mexico numerous petroglyphs and rock paintings apparently depicting Bighorn heads or isolated Bighorn horns (sometimes stacked) have been recorded (Encinas 2015). According to Lorernzo Encinas those Mexican images confirm the sacred nature of the Bighorn and its horns.

It is no surprise that the Bighorn is the animal that is most depicted in the rock art of the Southwest. This study clearly demonstrates that the Bighorn is also the animal that has frequently been transformed into several most idiosyncratic shapes, mainly focussing on the transformation of the heads and – especially – the horns. Numerous rock art images have heads and horns that have been manufactured more sophistically than the rest of the body. Other images only focus on the heads and horns by depicting those body parts in isolation. Still other petroglyphs show Bighorns with multiple horns from the head and Bighorns with extended horns. Most exceptional are images that seem to include horns at unexpected places, like the petroglyphs of Bighorns with tails, lips or legs that are shaped like horns. Also several depictions of anthropomorphs and serpentines feature Bighorn heads. I therefore claim that the prehistoric rock art manufacturers of the Southwest intentionally focussed on the head and especially on the powerful horns of the Bighorn sheep.

Those many ‘positive’ manifestations of Bighorn imagery are countered by more rarely occurring instances of ‘negative’ transformation: the Sheep Shifting. This is most evident in the many images of apparent shape shifters at Potash Road Site 3, Utah. At this site, so I argue in this study, especially the heads and horns of several Bighorn petroglyphs were intentionally obliterated beyond recognition, which resulted in completely different shapes. In my opinion this could have been done to annul the symbolic powers of the head and the horn. Also those examples seem to emphasise that – globally – obliteration of (rock art) images is mainly directed at the head of animals and persons (Van Hoek 2005/6, 2015). The reason why in the Study Area this type of shape shifting mainly seems to occur in the Moab area of Utah is unclear, but it may be the result of a still unknown local situation in the past.

Acknowledgements and Sources

A comprehensive study like this could never have been written without consulting many sources and without the help of other people. Therefore I would like to thank Ben Gabriel of the Friends of Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks (Las Cruces, NM), and Rick Fridell for their contributions. I am indebted to Guy Starbuck and Dennis Slifer for providing me with photographs and I appreciate their permission to publish those pictures in this survey. Clay Brewer of the WAFWA Wild Sheep Working Group (Rochelle, TX), granted me permission to use their map of the Bighorn distribution (Figure 1).

All photographs and drawings are by the author unless otherwise indicated. Most photographs have been digitally enhanced to show up better. All information in photos and drawings has been added by the author. The colour differentiation used in many drawings only serves to accentuate several items. This does not necessarily imply any difference in patination or manufacturing techniques. Most drawings are by the author and are based on many sources (mentioned in the caption), mainly found on the internet. In most cases only the relevant images have been included; the other petroglyphs are not shown. However, I am the only one who is responsible for the information in this study.


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  1. Johnny says:

    There is saying: “A work of art is its own reality. The illusion comes when you try to describe it in words”. It’s about positive versus negative. Why not look at all of the dimensions of the artform, including from a mythic-based religious system. The sacred “Ram’ was an Earth symbol, deriving it strength from the ‘Underworld’-one of Seven Worlds of the Petroglyph. Although very nice illustrations indeed, all I see are ‘middle-world’ elements in the illustrations.

  2. Dear Sir,
    I am deeply engaged in the study of the “barbell” motif in Great Basin rock art. Thank you for this article it is very interesting.

    I am very interested in the exact technique you used to get the “drawings” you used in the article. I have been seeking a method that would have that results for years. In my opinion it for the most part eliminates the ambiguity of drawings.

    I have enjoyed your writings as they have crossed my path over the years.

    Thank you in advance,
    Best all ways, always,

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