Contemporary pueblo ceremonial art such as sand paintings, kachina masks, pottery designs, weaving, altar painting, and puppetry have their roots in the Rio Grande Style. Rock Art imagery has preserved an invaluable record of these pueblo Indian religious roots extending back in time beyond the ethnographic records.
While the petroglyphs comprise a prehistoric record of spirits and powers that figure prominently in pueblo ceremony and ritual today, they are also a distinctive pueblo art form that we should not be anxious to destroy. This collection of Native American art from the past is unlike art removed from its original context and placed in the environment of museums; rather, rock art can be experienced in its intended landscape. Imagery incorporating rock, sunlight and shadow enhances and interacts with the landscape in which it occurs—this is not "Indian graffiti," as occasionally it has been irresponsibly labeled. The immense creativity represented here is staggering; one realizes that each drawing is a unique expression and is irreplaceable.
Regardless of when they were made or their functional context, the petroglyphs have preserved the unique ideologies of their makers. It is important, therefore, to consider them in the context of the culture that created them—not in the context of 20th century cultural conditioning. All too often, rock art theories have distorted the ancient cultures by imposing our own ethnocentric biases.
Pueblo Indian leaders testifying before Congress have explained that the figures at Petroglyph National Monument "are part of our living culture . . . to remind us of who we are and where we came from as Indian people . . . and we need to return to them to teach our own sons and daughters of it." Pueblo leaders also told Congress that they "still use certain areas of the escarpment for sacred ceremonies that have been going on for centuries before the time of the Spanish Conquistadors and the White Man."
Beside its distinction as a living tradition and an outdoor church to the Pueblo Indians, Petroglyph National Monument also has the dubious distinction of being the most endangered National Monument in the Park System. Situated directly in the path of Albuquerque's most intense westward growth, significant proportions of the petroglyph-rich escarpment already have suffered from suburban encroachment, roads, powerlines and pipelines. Trash dumping, off-road vehicle abuse, and shooting or spray painting of the petroglyphs also have taken their toll. More new developments, huge new roads cutting through the escarpment, and the expansion of an adjacent airport also are planned or underway.
For more information, please visit the National Park Service’s Petroglyph National Monument page.