Friday, June 5, 2009

Interpreting Petroglyphs: Toquop Wash

I mentioned, in a previous post about the Toquop Wash Petroglyphs dad and I found on an ATV ride near Mesquite Nevada, that I would eventually post a bit about their interpretation. Today is the time.

[For a free Google Earth file of the route we took, click on this link to open it in Google Earth: Ride 21 - Toquop Wash]

Enlarge the photo, by clicking on it, so you can see it a bit better. The "petrodroppings" I previously talked about are obvious, a term which graphically describes the "petrified lake bottom ooze" bonded to the underlying rock. This outcropping however is particularly unique, in that after it had been laid down, and after it had been pressurized into petrification, it was cracked and upturned across a fault such that it was actually polished!

Unlike the "petrodroppings" over in North Valley, these are a beautiful ochre-brown. Both factors would have definitely caught the eye of any passing Early-Americans and made it ideal for rock writing.

Breakthroughs in understanding these early writings was described by Native American author and cryptologist LaVan Martineau in his book The Rocks Begin to Speak.

He described that these types of writings cannot be clearly understood from a photograph alone, even though you may know the meanings of specific symbols. "They cannot be translated," he says, "anywhere but at the site itself since much of its meaning depends upon adjacent geography."


Location: The rock is a prominent outcropping, jutting into a major desert wash which runs Eastward then South into the Virgin River — A major route through the mountains and down to the water.

The "petrodroppings" are unlike the normal "desert varnish" which aboriginals usually used for rock writing. They are deceptively VERY hard and tenaciously adherent to the underlying rock. Chipping on its surface would definitely be a long term undertaking.

Natural Features: The glyphs are facing directly down the wash, are directly below a cliff from which flows intermittent water during rainstorms, are adjacent to some hidden cisterns and are where the "trail" crosses the "wash."

I'm not a teacher, but an awakener.”
Robert Frost

Both glyphs are placed immediately adjacent, and in fact touching, a natural crack which most likely represents a travel line — A term known as "Rock Incorporation." The line actually runs north-south on the rock, mirroring the real trail along the mountain range toward the river and joins another crack running northeast into Utah (i.e. the Virgin River).


Technique: All of the lines seem broader than what we normally see (which usually has the meaning of "something there," "encumbered" or, occasionally, "bad"); however, that may just be an artifact of the difficulty of chipping.

Their positioning with one lower than the other suggests that it was "inferior" or "last" in what was being discussed — i.e. travel. Therefore the author may have been traveling right to left.

Symbols: The lower-left glyph is nearly a circle, although parts of its lower edge have been lost. The circle shape usually means "holding" similar to the arm motions of the same shape in sign language. However, it is a bit pointed on one side which extends the meaning into "end" or "ended."

The upper-right glyph is an upside down "U" which represents "rock." The enclosing travel line at the bottom extends to "hill," "mound," "heap," or "mountain" due to its steep shape.

The two straight lines on the top can have a couple of meanings. The sign language for "seeing" or "looking at" is two fingers of an otherwise closed hand pointing at what is being seen from in front of the eyes. In other words, this mountain (or hill) can be seen from the East (i.e. up the river toward Utah).

The doubled lines also mean "nothing there," or "gone from." When they are attached to something it means "gone from" that object or "empty."

Putting it Together

Other glyphs: There doesn't appear to be any other glyphs associated with this cluster; however, the "petrodroppings" are worn and defaced. There certainly is enough "character" in the rock that other "rock incorporation's" may spring to mind should one have the time to "sit and ponder." There is another glyph in the area which describes a waterfall with cisterns which appears during a rain — I'll describe them in another post.

Possible Story: This seems to be a "travel story" or "map" (the absence of glyphs representing people); however, glyphs nearly always have a purpose because they are difficult to create. The mountain can be seen from a distance and following the trail will lead to journey's end, or place to stay for awhile.

Why Not Learn More

The book "The Rocks Begin To Speak" is probably the landmark text which opened this field of study to large numbers of people, and it is still in print, new or used at Amazon.

Consider how much more meaningful your trips to the "Glyphs of Gold Butte" would be if you knew the "meanings" of a few of the glyphs you saw.

If you decide to purchase the book, let me suggest that you please use the links on this page. There is absolutely no extra cost to you, however a portion will go to keeping this site going and the trails coming.


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