Southern Utah is filled with petroglyphs on the rocks and cliffs carved into the patina and leaving a record of earlier people.

These panels with pictures of animals, people and different forms are fascinating. I have studied them, trying to make sense of what is there on the rocks.  

Most of the proclaimed experts on rock art say it is a record left and only understood by the person who scratched it into the rock. There has been little headway made to understand the writings and only vague descriptions of what they might mean. 

There was a very interesting man named LeVan Martineau who was born in Kanab and moved to Cedar City. He was orphaned at a young age and raised by a Paiute man who took him in. Martineau learned Paiute and also Indian sign language as he grew up. He later served in the military and was trained somewhat in breaking codes. 

With this combination of languages and learning to find the meaning behind symbols, Martineau began to understand the writing on the rocks. He noticed similarities between the sign language, that was universal among tribes, and the pictures tapped into the patina. He claimed the petroglyphs were a way to communicate using pictures that conveyed what was said in sign language. 

His real breakthrough came when he discovered a petroglyph panel that told the story of Custer and his war with the Native Americans. Because he knew the story, it helped him interpret the pictures and what they meant. For example, he shows how direction is described by the way an animal is facing and how the journey went is shown between the horns. If it is clear there, the journey was easy, if it is solid between, they had a lot of trouble. 

Photo by Cole Marshall on Unsplash
Photo by Cole Marshall on Unsplash

Martineau died in 2000, but during his lifetime he translated hundreds of panels and wrote a couple books. The books are interesting, and he describes different rock art and what it means. As a bonus, Martineau grew up in Southern Utah and spent time with many of the panels found throughout this area. If you have wondered what all these petroglyphs might mean, you may want to check out these books. 

Explore for Petroglyphs at These Places in Colorado

There are multiple locations in Colorado where great examples of ancient petroglyphs can be found.

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