Let’s take a look at our ancestors and the ancient symbols they left for us.
Petroglyph is the term commonly associated with cave drawings or rock carvings in the United States, though images engraved in rock are common throughout the world. Most of our petroglyphs come from ancient Southwest Native Americans and Native Hawaiians.
Since they had no known alphabet, our ancient ancestors often cut images into rocks in order to share their stories in a more permanent way than verbal communication (often told in stories or songs). Engraved pictures of animals, people, and places share what the ancients had on their minds.
Common animal representations for the Southwest tribes in North America included deer, buffalo, fish, birds, snakes, and horses.
Honoring the animals upon which they depended for food was probably one inspiration for these images. Others were honored for their power and strength, such as the eagle, hawk, wolf, and bear.
Some animals were more representational, such as the dragonfly which symbolizes transformation and change. Ethereal hummingbirds sometimes represented a gateway between the physical and spiritual worlds.
Snakes have various meanings to Native American tribes. Snake hibernation can represent the dark side, or shadow side of the spiritual world, but darkness can also demonstrate stealth and power.
Snakes are feared by some natives who believe they are evil or can bring death and disease. Other tribes honor them as brothers or even interact with rattlesnakes as a link to their gods, trusting fate as a safeguard against being bitten.
Horses were introduced to the North American tribes later in history, and equine carvings often seem to depict battles, journeys, or high status. (There were native horses in North America long ago, but these small cousins died out and were replaced by Spanish horses brought in by explorers.)
Horses increased mobility, improved hunting methods by increasing speed and expanding territory, made travel much easier, and helped pack household items to new locations. Not all tribes used horses, but those that did tended to be more nomadic and powerful.
Carvings of arrows often tell stories of battles or hunts, sometimes with figures showing warriors or enemies. Figures can represent gods such as Kokopelli (the fertility god who dances with a flute), a sun god, or other spiritual beings (kachinas).
Other figures seem like beings from outer space with round helmets, glowing bodies, or triangular heads. Perhaps some of the explorers with their metal helmets looked this way to the isolated tribes.
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