Western Art of a Different Era: Pictographs and Petroglyphs

For months, we’ve looked forward to seeing the 4,500-year-old rock art in Amistad National Recreation Area just north of Del Rio, TX. Turns out you can’t see it there unless you have a private boat! We were advised to go instead to the Seminole Canyon State Park, and there we joined an afternoon tour with an area volunteer archaeologist to see a variety of paintings and carvings on the limestone cave walls along the lower Prena River bed.

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We learned a lot about how the lower Pecos River people survived in the west Texas Canyonlands, which are nearly as arid as a desert. The images they painted represent figures from their belief system and spirit world: shamans, powerful cultural leaders and anthropomorphic figures. They lived in clans of 25 – 35 people, subsisting on cactus and agave plants and roots, small rodents, insects, prickly pear, sotol and lechiguilla plants, herbs, birds, snakes, the occasional deer and the like. No buffalo or other major mammals at that time, as the climate was too dry to sustain them.

Although lean, these people were not malnourished. Both men and women created the pictograph images, using ground minerals, deer tallow and the sticky resin from the yucca plant as a durable paint. They also made their tools and weapons from flint, chert and cactus wood, and wove their clothing and shoes from plants in the area. They were amazingly resourceful. The park and guided tour are well worth the 1 hour 45-minute investment.

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