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Rock Art Creations - Desert Little Bear

What do the Designs Mean?

When visiting an ancestral rock art site, visitors want to know what the symbols mean. They are looking for a "Rosetta Stone" to interpret the designs found there.

It's important to remember that the development of a written language typically takes place in three stages. The final stage is represented by the words you see on this page. Each symbol (i.e. letter) represents a sound, and the sounds are combined to form words. To be able to read the writing, one only needs to know the 26 letters of the alphabet. An infinite number of words can be created out of those 26 symbols.

In earlier forms of writing, each symbol represented one word. To unlock the meanings of the language, one needs to know what each character represents. There may be thousands to characters to learn. This is why the Chinese language is so difficult to learn and why the Rosetta Stone was so important in unlocking the mysteries of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

There is a saying that "A picture paints a thousand words", and this is true of the earliest form of written communication - rock art. This is also why rock art is almost impossible to interpret. Just as visitors to an art gallery see different meanings in a given picture, rock art can be viewed the same way. Each person looks at the same picture from a different perspective. We will never be able to climb into the head of the artist to determine what they were thinking. Meanings and perspective are also changed by the passage of time. Often artists who discuss work that they created in earlier years and will say that a piece means something different to them now.

Even simple, "obvious" symbols are difficult to interpret out of context. As an example, suppose you are an archeologist 1000 years from now attempting to interpret the following symbol found on the bumper of an automobile:

It would be easy to assume that the symbol was for a fisherman - not a symbol for the Christian religion.

Given the caveats above, academia still attempts to interpret rock art. Current archeological interpretation relies heavily on the stories and symbols of modern Native Americans - as well as some guesses and subjective interpretation. Check out the "Books" section to find some more good resources about rock art - but remember that no one knows definitively.


Desert Little Bear uses many different motifs in his rock art from different Native American cultures. The following links provide additional information regarding the designs found in his rock art:

Glossary of Terms


We apologize for the short list of links here. We are still working on many of the motifs. Please check back later.

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