Rock Art: A Primer

Indigenous people in this region created rock art for many reasons - to tell a story, to convey religious or spiritual beliefs, to record a significant event, and to express themselves artistically. Rock art is not a true writing system, but uses symbols and figures to convey a message. Parowan Gap Petroglyphs Photo: Alex Santiago Courtesy of Cedar City Brian Head Tourism Bureau

Rock art is evident in caves, on cliff walls and on boulders. Rock art occurs all over the world, some as old as 30,000 years. Rock art in this region dates back as long ago as 1000 B.C (Great Basin Curvilinear style) and as recently as A.D. 1800’s (Southern Paiute).




  • Rock Art: A general term for the pecking, incising, or painting of designs onto rock surfaces.
  • Petroglyph: A design chiseled or chipped out a rock surface.
  • Pictograph: A design painted on a rock surface.

Here are some sites in our area to see some of the world's most amazing rock art:

Parowan Gap

Fremont Indian State Park

Lion's Mouth Cave

Anasazi Ridge

Remember whether visiting these sites or discovering any of Utah's incredible rock art sites, please be respectful. Many sites are legally protected and criminal prosecution could result from any form of defacement.

The Southern Paiute

The Southern Paiutes are the living descendants of ancient Numic speakers, a group which includes the Northern Paiute, Southern Paiute, Goshute, Ute and Shoshone people.  At the time of the first contact with Euro-Americans they lived from the Rocky Mountains to northern California and from central Idaho south to the Colorado River. Wickiups

The Numic speaking people arrived in Utah about 700 years ago.  They originally came from the Death Valley area (southwest Nevada, southern California).  Favored dwelling places for the Numic were caves or rock overhangs, or brush shelters called wickiups. Constructed of locally available resources (grass, cattails, sagebrush, willows, pine boughs), wickiups were designed according to weather and needs.

The Southern Paiute people were nomadic hunters and gatherers who depended on wild plants and animals.  They also ate fish, waterfowl, and marsh plants.  They gathered seeds and hunted game animals such as deer, bison, elk, mountain sheep, antelope, and rabbits.  Insects such as Mormon crickets and grasshoppers were also gathered and eaten.

A Paiute camp.








From spring through fall, the Southern Paiute would travel in small family bands, fishing, hunting and gathering seeds, as well as developing complex irrigation systems for local gardens.  In the fall they would gather to harvest ripe pine nuts. During winters several families would gather to form a winter village where they would share food they had gathered and stored during the warmer months.

Burden baskets

Among other innovative crafts, the Paiute people were skilled basket makers.  They made winnowing trays that were used for parching seeds and winnowing wild seeds and nuts.  They also made large carrying baskets (burden baskets) for collecting wild foods, cradle boards for carrying babies, as well as water jugs. In addition, based on the construction materials and design, archaeologists have identified a pottery type recognized as being distinctly “Paiute.