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Exhibits > Petroglyphs

Echoes from the Valley Floor:
Wyoming "Dinwoody" Petroglyphs

Rock art consists of petroglyphs and pictographs. Petroglyphs were made by pecking or incising the design into the rock surface, and pictographs were made by painting the design on rock. This exhibit is about petroglyphs that are part of the Dinwoody Tradition. Dinwoody petroglyphs can be large and complex and are among the most elaborate found anywhere in the world.

Dinwoody petroglyphs are only found in central Wyoming. They range from sites in the Wind River Mountains that are 7500 feet in elevation to sites that are several thousand feet lower in the Thermopolis region. Some sites are very large, containing hundreds of petroglyphs that are found over an area of three or four miles, and other sites are small with just two or three petroglyphs. Some Dinwoody petroglyphs are only a few hundred years old, but others were made more than 3000 years ago. Archaeologists know this because they have directly dated some of them and have also radio-carbon-dated soil deposits that were found covering the petroglyphs.

The locations of the petroglyphs are the mirror of the ancient Shoshone world. The sky people were common in the mountains. The ground people frequented the middle elevations.

The water people were often seen near the hot springs and lower streams. Water animals and creatures were also significant. One particular creature, the water ghost, was especially active in hot springs. These ghosts were both male and female, but one known as the water ghost woman was an extremely powerful force. These “water people” gave power to men to make good warriors.

Dinwoodypetroglyphs are closely associated with the Mountain Shoshone and the Plains Shoshone Indians of Wyoming. Shoshone traditions tell about “sky people” with thunderbirds, owls, and hummingbirds that had special powers. The thunderbirds and hummingbirds could bring the rains and the owls would help people find things like objects. 

Petroglyphs that resemble these birds are found in the mountains. Other animals also had power. Bears and bison were important animals that were part of the “ground people” to the Shoshone.

In the past, young Shoshone men would go to a rock art site to try to get power from the spirits associated with the petroglyphs. First, the young man would take a sweat bath and then bathe in a nearby stream or lake. Then he would sit in front of the images for several days and nights with no food or water, praying for one of the spirits to visit and give him power.

The Shoshone think that it is important to live in harmony with the spiritual forces associated with these animals and creatures. They would never consider damaging or harming petroglyphs because they know the petroglyphs are part of the natural order. They are part of the winds and the rains and should remain on the landscape as they have for thousands of years.

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