Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Before there was Digital

Pictograph along trail to Mouse's Tank, Valley of Fire, NV

Humans have been creating images for as long as they have been, well, human.  Long before we learned to capture visual information on digital sensors or film or anything else, we learned how to draw on any kind of flat surface we could find.  Nowhere in the U. S. is this more evident than in the desert southwest.  People have been leaving visual evidence of their presence for thousands of years.  You can find images in places like the Grand Canyon or Capitol Reef or in smaller parks like Valley of Fire SP, NV.  This pictograph, for example, can be found along the trail to Mouse’s Tank in VOF (a “hideout” of sorts for a local outlaw about a hundred years ago). 

Why did they do it?  Did they make images for the same reasons that we do?  And who were they trying to communicate with?  Were the 4 people pictured above a family?  It sort of looks that way – there are 2 that appear to be adults and 2 that might be children, all holding hands.  But why do the 2 “adults” have flatter heads?  Where had they been and where were they going?  Were they part of a larger group?

If, 500 years from now, some poor idiot “discovers” my photographs, will they ask the same questions?  Not likely, I’d guess.  Far more likely, I think, that they’ll ask what the hell I was thinking when I took them.

2 Responses to “Before there was Digital”

  1. Ken Bello

    The primitive drawings were probably record keeping or story telling. These probably predate written language among those that created them. That’s my guess, but I’m sure there are probably archeologist, historians or linguists who have studied these and know far more about them than I do. It’s amazing that they have endured for such a long time. I wonder if there has ever been an attempt to try to conserve this valuable piece of history, or if it’s even possible, being exposed to the elements constantly. Still, we’re a resourceful nation, can’t we think of something to preserve them?

    It’s a wonderful image, Paul. Very nice texture.

    • Paul Maxim

      Yes, Ken, probably all those things and more. Or maybe as with us and our images it was a simple attempt to say “hey, I was here. I existed”.

      I’ve seen much of this kind of art out there and they do attempt to protect it. But it’s usually just a small fence or a sign warning against defacement. This one you can literally walk right up to, do whatever you want. Hopefully, no one will decide to spray paint it or something. Eventually, erosion will do its inevitable work on some of them.


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