There are more than 20,000 petroglyphs along a volcanic escarpment, called the West Mesa, a 17-mile long table of land, which emerged about 200,000 years ago when lava flowed from a large crack in the Earth's crust.
While some of the petroglyphs have lost their meaning over the centuries, some images possess direct meanings for today's Indian peoples. Whether or not their meanings are clear, all petroglyphs preserve the beliefs of their makers. They are part of the heritage of the American Indian peoples who continue to live here -- equally so, they are a part of our national story and heritage.
Why were these images created? What do they mean? Answers to these questions come from the clues in the subject matter, carving technique, or setting. It took a long time to create each image with stone tools, so subject and setting for each petroglyph were carefully planned. Images of birds native to Central America indicate that the Native people were involved in an extensive cultural network.
The majority of these petroglyphs were made by the ancestors of modern Pueblo people. The petroglyphs were made by striking a basalt boulder with stones, in much the same way a hammer and chisel are used. Archeologists refer to these images as being made in the "Rio Grande style."
This style developed rather suddenly around 1300 and continued until 1680 - coinciding with a dramatic increase in local population and the construction of many pueblos (villages) along the Rio Grande. Images frequently seen are human figures, such as flute players or dancers with upraised arms; masks and masked figures; animals, including serpents, mountain lions, birds, reptiles, and insects; human hands and feet; animal tracks; spirals; four-pointed stars; and geometric designs.
Volcanic Rock. About 150,000 years ago a series of volcanic eruptions began to create Albuquerque's 17-mile-long West Mesa escarpment. There are lava ridges all over our area in the form of cinder cone peaks, many of which are dormant volcanic cinder cones. The thickness of basalt rock from the volcanic lava flows ranges from 5 feet to over 50 feet.
|Basalt Rock on the hillside|
|Basalt Rock in the foreground|
The Pueblo Peoples. There were severe droughts in this area between the years 1275 and 1300. People gravitated toward areas providing a permanent supply of water and good farmland, such as the Rio Grande Valley. Between 1300 and 1540, more than 40 pueblos were built on both sides of the Rio Grande between Bernalillo and Belen. Archeologists estimate that more than 1,000 people lived in several of these pueblos. Made from adobe, some pueblos were two or three stories high and had several hundred rooms built around an open space.
The Pueblo Indians who settled there planted and harvested corn, beans, and squash from fields along the Rio Grande. They built agricultural terraces along parts of the escarpment to build up soil and slow down runoff. They trapped and snared rabbits and birds, and also hunted deer, elk, and antelope. Domesticated dogs and turkeys were a common sight in the pueblo village.
The pueblos established extensive trade networks with various cultural groups throughout the Southwest and beyond. They created jewelry out of seashells from the Pacific Ocean. They expressed their culture in many ways. One was the many thousands of petroglyphs they carved onto rocks. They developed their own pottery style, which added to the early tradition of pottery making in the Southwest. They also painted colorful murals on the interior plastered walls of their kivas. Many of the petroglyph images are also found painted in murals.
From 1540 to 1680, Spaniards came into the Rio Grande Valley; conflicts broke out; the Spaniards brought colonists to settle in the valley, and much of what had been Indian land was divided into land grants. In the 1600s Indian populations decreased due to relocation, epidemics, crop failures, and Spanish colonial practices. In 1680 Indians across the region united in the Pueblo Revolt, driving the Spaniards south to present El Paso, Texas. This was the first time a major European power was defeated and exiled from a North American territory. The Indians remained independent until 1692, when the Spaniards reoccupied the area.