Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Petroglyphs & Pictographs Rock Art Sites in the USA

Given the complex history of indigenous populations across this vast country with its radically varying geology, it is not surprising that there is an immense diversity of rock art traditions in the US. Images are painted onto or engraved in to rock surfaces, the walls of rock shelters or boulders out in the open. Some are seemingly simple geometric patterns, others display complex conventions. Some of these traditions date back several thousands of years, while others going by the subject matter of the imagery were clearly executed after the arrival of European colonists. 

Rock Art Sites in the USA

Abert Lake Petroglyphs

Part of the broader East Lake Abert Archaeological District, the Abert Lake Petroglyphs are to be found in Oregon’s Lake County. Depictions include geometric shapes, anthropomorphic images and various motifs that were pecked into basalt boulders by native peoples of the region. Although archaeologists are not sure about the precise age of these engravings, it is thought they are about 10,000 years old. They are attributed to the Great Basin cultural tradition. Their precise location is not publicly advertised.

Chumash Painted Cave

Chumash Painted Cave is a small rock shelter with some of the finest known examples of Chumash rock paintings. Besides the Chumash Native American imagery, there is also examples of early wite settlers graffiti. Dates for the paintings range from 00 to 1,000 years ago. A steep path leads from the road to this shelter, which is protected by heavy iron grill work. But it is still possible to get a good view of the rock art. Parking is only good for two small cars.

Greaser Petroglyph Site

In a boulder field overlooked by the Warner Valley Rim is the Greaser Petroglyph Site. Here a range of geometric shapes, animal and anthropomorphic images have been engraved in to the basalt boulders. The age of the images is not certain, but thought to be around 12,000 years. The site, covering about 3.6 ha), is located on land managed by the Bureau for Land Management.

Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon

Horseshoe Canyon has one of the finest and most well known rock art sites in North America. On a rock shelter wall at the bend in the canyon creek is the largest panel of the Barrier Canyon style pictographs. Here there is a panel that is over 60 metres long and about 4.6 metres high – commonly referred to as Horseshoe Canyon’s Great Gallery. Painted on the rock shelter wall are about 20 life-sized human-like images, the largest being over 2 m in height. On the far left of the Great Gallery are a handful of strikingly shapeless figures. As they seem to ‘hover’ on the rock face, these figures are said to have a ghostly appearance, and are sometimes called the ‘holy ghosts’.

Petroglyph Point

Petroglyph Point can be found within the Lava Beds National Monument. There more than 5,000 individual depictions, the vast majority of which are geometric designs. Making this one of the largest concentrations of rock art in California. There is still much that archaeologists do not know about these depictions, including when they were carved, and why. But it is thought some may be as old as 6,000 years.