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Big Petroglyph Canyon

Photographs of California rock art.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

The Coso Range
is situated between the Sierra Nevada’s on the west and the Argus Range to the east. Desiccated Owens Lake lies to the north and Indian Wells Valley lies to the south. This north–south trending range of about 400 square miles consists of rhyolitic domes and outcrops of volcanic rock.  Annual rainfall is less than 20 inches and much of the habitable areas are around 5000’ elevation. 

Big Petroglyph Canyon is one of several major canyons in the Coso Range. It runs from northeast to southwest, cutting through the approximate center of the Coso Range. Each of these canyons contains thousands of petroglyphs and it is estimated that the 91 square miles encompassing the five major canyons contain approximately 100,000 petroglyphs, making the Coso Range the highest concentration of petroglyphs in North America. The majority of the Coso Range images thus far cataloged fall into one of six categories: bighorn sheep, entopic images (images created by the optic nerve while in a trance like state), anthropomorphic or human-like figures (usually male), other animals, weapons & tools, and “medicine bag” images with the vast number of petroglyphs representing bighorn sheep. The similarity of images and style indicate the rock art in these canyons were made by the same people and made over several thousand years as indicated by the difference of repatination of superimposed images. 

The Canyon itself is a rock and sand bottom wash sloping downhill east to west, is approximately 6 miles in length, ranges between 25 and 200 feet in width, is lined by canyon walls 20 to 80 feet and higher, and may be divided geographically into three sections of approximately 2 miles each in length. The petroglyphs shown here are from the northeast section. Concentrated panels and isolated petroglyphs of animals, abstracts and ornate anthropomorphs occur along the length of this section and mostly on the northwest side. Dating of Coso petroglyphs using the latest technology has provided dates as old as 16,000 years, as recent as the 1800's, and includes a progression of dates in between. Great Basin shaman came here from as far away as Utah to commune with the spirit world. Bighorns are the specialized spirit helper of the rain shaman and many bighorn petroglyphs are thought to represent ‘spirit sheep’ used in rainmaking activities. Most of the Coso Range is on the China Lakes Naval Weapons Base, because visitation to Big Petroglyph Canyon is restricted to legitimate research vandalism is low and preservation is most likely.

Big Petroglyph Canyon petroglyphs

Archaic rock art

 Overview of Big Pet canyon showing the basalt boulders on the north side.

Heavily repatinaed atlatl and dot pattern
are indicative of Archaic times.

Petroglyph Canyon bighorn sheep

petroglyph medicine bags

Late period (AD 700-1300) bighorn sheep petroglyphs are superimposed over
earlier figures.

Also from the Late Period are shield-like designs of speculative meaning.

patterned body anthropomorph

Big Pet PBA

PBAs (patterned body anthropomorphs), a hallmark of Coso rock art are found
throughout the canyon.
see replica of these PBAs

Recent archaeological work suggests these PBAs represent Yahwera, keeper of the animal spirits. 

petroglyph bighorn petroglyph bignorn track

The larger bighorn petroglyph is 7 feet wide and is believed to have been made around AD 1300, at the end of the sheep cult occupation.

These boulders are covered with bighorn
hoof prints.

social organization petroglyph superimposed Coso petroglyphs
Large groups of people may be an indication
of some sort of social organization.
Petroglyphs with different degrees of patina indicate they were made at significantly different times. .
Petroglyph Replicas Carved in Stone
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petroglyph and pictograph training

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petroglyph CD
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