Rock Art In Horseshoe Canyon Is Younger Than Archaeologists Previously Thought

Aug 25, 2014

Southeastern Utah’s Horseshoe Canyon contains one of the most iconic rock art panels in the West. Now, new research from scientists at Utah State University suggests the life-size figures in the Great Gallery may be younger than previously thought.

Rock art is difficult to date, say scientists, and previously suggested ages for the anthropomorphic paintings are heavily debated and range over 10,000 years. USU geology professor Joel Pederson used his unique background to look at the rock art from a geologic perspective. Using stream sediments, the timing of a rock fall and cutting-edge luminescence dating techniques, Pederson was able to narrow down the age of the art panel.

“One of the intriguing results is that, in fact, we outlined this window of time that wasn’t when anybody thought it was made, and was generally a little bit younger than most archaeologists thought,” Pederson said.

These new dates suggest that Barrier Canyon Style rock art may have appeared at the same time as Fremont art. USU anthropology professor Steve Simms says the new dates, which range between zero and 1100 AD put the rock art at the same time as when farming first appeared in the region.

“It’s quite possible that the Barrier Canyon Style is borne of this really very multicultural time, a time of great change.  These are the times when we see artistic traditions being born and altered and religions being born and altered, and so Barrier Canyon takes its place in this time of upheaval,” Simms explained.

Simms said the use of the new dating technique will help future researcher move away from circumstantial evidence for dating and instead rely on direct evidence for the age of rock art in the region.