This archived article was written by: Allie Mangum
A retired Brigham Young University professor of anthropology gave a presentation on his “New Dimensions in Rock Art Studies – Exploring Interpretation” book on Friday at the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum to 30 community people.
Sponsored by the Castle Country Regional Information Center and CEU Museum, 80-year-old Dr. Ray Matheny teamed with CEU’s Pam Miller, on co-writing a chapter in a book based on the rock art of Nine-Mile Canyon.
Miller told about how the area was originally visited during the Blackhawk War and later some came back to explore and finally settle in the region when people were looking for places to farm.
“Augustus Ferron surveyed Nine-Mile Canyon as early as 1878, but homesteads were not made official until 1910,” Miller said. Prior to that, people were buying and selling land that they technically did not own.
Matheny, who got stuck in traffic, arrived late and began his lecture by discussing some of the other chapters in the book, such as M. Jane Young’s unique approach of ethnographic analogies and Laurence L.’s often overlooked ideas about shield and shield warriors.
Matheny focused on the chapter that he co-wrote: Hunting Strategies and Winter Economies. He emphasized that much of these two concepts are revealed in the rock art found in Nine-Mile Canyon.
The primary paintings and etchings of game animals are of big-horned sheep, elk, bison and birds. The accurateness of the anatomy and ethnology – or behavior – shows the significance these animals had to the people.
Perhaps the most interesting representation was one expressing “sheep hierarchy.” The rams, ewes and lambs were all gathered together, arranged in several rows based on their significance and power. According to one expert on sheep behavior, this event actually takes place during late November. This is when the animals would be especially vulnerable to hunters, when their thoughts are on “other matters,” as Matheny discretely put it.
“The most significant method of hunting,” said Matheny, “was depicted in images where big-horned sheep were surrounded by several hunters – even canines – and bordered by a ‘field of dots.'” Usually another man stood at the edge of the dots holding what appeared to be a bow and arrow. This was an ambush method, where the hunters would chase or “herd” the sheep into nets, which were portrayed by the field of dots. “They couldn’t spell it out in English, but they couldn’t have spelled it out any better though – that’s just my feeling, but I’m prejudiced as heck.”
Matheny stressed the importance of the patterns and repetitions of the images: if these had occurred only once or twice, “we wouldn’t have given it a second thought.”
These points seem very obvious, but he and his colleges were very thorough in their studies, only coming to such strong conclusions after meticulously gathering much evidence.
Matheny believes that Nine-Mile Canyon is still a very important and unique source for research. He urges the community to protect it from “mindless vandalism” and preserve its resources.