Annotated Bibliography: Zuni Rock-Art

Kenny Acord, December 16, 2002

Cole, S.J.

1990  Legacy On Stone: Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners Region. Johnson Books, Boulder.

Cole focuses on Zuni and Hopi iconography and symbolism when discussing the rock-art that is found along the Little Colorado River.  Cole’s analysis of the rock-art in this region suggests that the katsina cult was present prehistorically in a manner similar to the masked personators at modern Zuni and Hopi.  Another important element that must be taken into account, according to Cole, is the context of Zuni and Hopi rock-art on the landscape.  “Physical context is seen as important for the interpretation of Hopi and Zuni symbols….  In the use of symbols at shrines and fields, often in rock art form, there is a sense of place inherent in the symbolism that serves to reinforce cultural and spatial identity (Cole 1990:40).”

Cole further hypothesizes that sites associated with religious significance were repeatedly visited to renew past symbolism.  A “renewal” was often achieved through the addition of rock-art and modifying existing rock-art.  An example of this can be inferred from a Zuni fertility ritual that takes place at a shrine called “Mother Rock.”  “Zuni women and men wishing to have a female child visit a shrine called “Mother Rock” where pregnant women remove grains of sandstone for an offering to be left at the site.  An illustration of Mother Rock shows a surface that is densely pockmarked with abstract imagery, including small pits, larger holes or niches, and grooves.  Vulvalike symbols have been formed by using pits and incised lines (Cole 1990:41).”

Cunkle, J.R. and M.A. Jacquemain

1995    Stone Magic of the Ancients: Petrogylphs, Shamanic Shrine Sites, and Ancient

Rituals. Golden West Publishers, Phoenix

Cunkle and Jacquemanin examine the symbolic elements and ritual aspects of rock-art concentrated in the Upper Little Colorado River Region.  Cunkle incorporates his previous ceramic research to make symbolic comparisons with rock-art throughout the book.  Cunkle believes that ceramics are important because they were created by one person at one point in time, symbols and images often illustrate a story, myth, or legend, and ceramic images offer valuable clues concerning the life ways of prehistoric people to researchers (Cunkle and Jacquemain 1995:7).

The Zuni people figure prominently into the rock-art of the Upper Little Colorado River area and this book gives them due attention.  The book addresses elements of Zuni culture like animistic cosmology and shamanism to provide a Zuni perspective and interpretation regarding the prehistoric rock-art found in the region.  A number of shamanistic elements and rituals found in Zuni culture are represented in rock-art of the region.  Some of these shamanistic elements and rituals include healing and protection magic totems (badger and wolf) and stick or arrow swallowing (Cunkle and Jacquemani 1995).  Icons like the centipede (death), mountain lion (north), birds, insects, lizards, and frogs have symbolic and ritualistic meaning in Zuni culture as well.  Zuni mythology also affiliates colors with direction (Cunkle and Jacquemani 1995:119).

Grant, C.

1967  Rock Art of the American Indian. Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York.

A general overview of American Indian rock-art in the United States that includes some great photographs and illustrations.  Grant examines the possible connections between the Toltec god of learning, Quetzalcoatl, and motifs found in the Southwest.  Grant states that “North of Mexico, the symbol appears frequently as a feathered or horned rattlesnake.  In Zuni mythology he was known as Kolowisi, the Great Horned Serpent, guardian of the springs and streams (Grant 1967:57).”

Grant describes the historical importance of Inscription Rock at El Morro National Monument where Spanish explorers and early settlers left signatures alongside the rock-art of Zuni ancestors, the Anasazi.  The site contains the ruins of two Zuni villages, thus providing an important link to contemporary Zuni culture.

Muench, D. and P. Schaafsma

1995  Images in Stone. Brown Trout Publishers, Inc., San Francisco.

Schaafsma provides a general background on the people that created the rock-art to accompany the incredible photographs by David Muench.  Although few Zuni perspectives are provided for the rock-art included in the book, it does offer some of the best photographs published of contemporary Zuni katchina pictographs.  One panel of contemporary Zuni paintings of kachina masks contains prehistoric petroglyphs pecked approximately 800 years ago.  Schaafsma states that the “… the contemporary Zunis view these (the prehistoric petroglyphs) as an important part of their mythic past.  They say that stick figures and lizard-like men depict man at the ‘time of the beginning’ before he was ‘finished’ or completely human.  Spirals are sometimes considered to be spiritual ‘maps’ representing the ‘journey to the center’ or to Zuni itself (Muench and Schaafsma 1995:90).” Another panel of historic petroglyphs contains “a group of ceremonial participants that possibly represent the Mudhead Clowns (Muench and Schaafsma 1995:92).”

Eggan, F. and T.N. Pandey

1979  Zuni History, 1850-1970. In Southwest, edited by Alfonso Ortiz, pp.474-481. Handbook of North American Indians, Vol.11, W.C. Sturtevant, general editor, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

The Mexican Revolt of 1821 successfully ended Spanish control of New Mexico, but it also left Spanish-Mexican settlements and Indian Pueblos exposed to attack by Navajos, Apaches, Commanches, and various other tribes.  In 1848 the United States acquired the New Mexico region through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and New Mexico became a U.S. territory in 1850.

Numerous survey parties and expeditions visited Zuni during 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s.  Ethnographers like Frank H. Cushing and Matilda Stevenson who were associated with the Bureau of Ethnology lived with the Zuni and made important contributions to the knowledge of Zuni.  The late 1800s was characterized by diminishing warfare and marked a gradual change in traditional Zuni leadership.  In 1834 the Zunis accepted the provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act and a formal tribal council was elected.

The last half of the 20th century witnessed the expansion and growing importance of the tribal council.  This period saw the tribal council develop community services that included new housing, water systems, sew disposal, electricity, and new roads.  “In the 1970s there was a considerable expansion of federal grants and projects, which enabled the tribal council to expand the employment of Zunis on the reservation (Eggan and Pandey 1979:479).”  The Zunis have adapted to the pressures of western life, yet their ceremonial system and worldview have remained intact and vibrant.

Schaafsma, P.

1972  Rock Art in New Mexico. State Planning Office, Santa Fe.

The results of an extensive six month survey on New Mexico rock-art are detailed in this book.  Schaafsma includes a brief summary and some excellent photos of the rock-art (Schaafsma 1972:24-29, Figures 18-22) located around the Upper Little Colorado River and Zuni.  No inferences or attempts at a Zuni perspective are made concerning the meaning of any of the rock-art sites.  Schaafsma does include characteristics, distinctions, and comparisons for the rock-art located in the area.  Distinctive motifs in the region include long, lean animals with tails carried over their backs, outlined crosses, and fish (Schaafsma 1972:25). 


“The remaining rock art in this area of the Little Colorado River drainage consists of Rio Grande Style and modern depictions of katchinas and other figures, both ceremonial and secular, attributable to the late prehistoric and modern Zuni (Schaafsma 1972: 25).”

Schaafsma, P.

1980  Indian Rock Art of the Southwest. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

A comprehensive look at the rock-art of the American Southwest that defines the various rock-art styles and interprets the possible functions in regards to contemporary Native American cultures.  The Zuni perspective on rock-art is given due attention throughout the book.

Schaafsma first addresses the Zuni during her examination of possible meanings for the representations of ducks found in Southwestern rock-art from Basketmaker III to early Pueblo II.  According to Schaafsma the duck is a figure widely associated with shamanism that has a long history of ritual significance in the Southwest.  “In the Pueblo world, ducks serve as messengers to the rain clouds of the four sacred directions, as seed bearers, and as messengers of the gods.  At Zuni they may even be the kachina dead or the gods themselves transformed.  The leader of the Zuni katchinas, Pautiwa, may on occasion take the form of a duck.  The duck is also associated with supernatural curing (Schaafsma 1980:134).”

Because the upper and middle Little Colorado River drainage continued to be inhabited by the Hopi and Zuni after the Pueblo III period in the Anasazi developmental sequence, Schaafsma notes that the rock-art in the region exhibits continuity from the Anasazi tradition (Basketmaker II –Pueblo III) into the Rio Grande Style that appeared in the early 1300s.  In general, the Rio Grande Style consist of petroglyphs that are “…characterized by ceremonial figures and prolific depictions of masks (Schaafsma 1980:254).”  The masks depicted in rock-art at Zuni, Hopi, and the Little Colorado River drainage have outlined circle eyes, open mouths, and teeth that most closely resemble the Rio Grande Style found in the Galisteo Basin (Schaafsma 1980:289).  The Rio Grande Style rock-art found in the Zuni region “…occurs in association with sites occupied between A.D. 1300 and A.D. 1600 (Schaafsma 1980:289).”

The influence of Western art on traditional subjects, like masks, is next examined.  This is often seen in attempts to indicate three dimensions.  Schaafsma describes this influence in a number of painted masks that are found near Zuni.  “In these the use of three-quarter views, frontal perspective and foreshortening, and shading contributes to the illusion of three-dimensional form (Schaafsma 1980:293).”

Schaafsma explores possible interpretations for rock-art found in the Zuni region by examining religious and medicine societies found at Zuni.  Katchinas, clowns, arrow swallowers, and bow priests are some of the icons thought to be represented in rock-art of the area.  Schaafsma also briefly explores the possible symbolic connection between Pueblo rock-art and katchinas with the Mesoamerican plumed serpent god, Quetzalcoatl.  Schaafsma points to the parallels that have drawn between Quetzalcoatl and the Horned or Plumed Water Serpent of the Pueblos by previous researchers.  The Zuni refer to him as Kolowisi and he is almost always represented as a serpent in graphic art (Schaafsma 1980:238).

Slifer, Dennis and James Duffield

1994  Kokopelli: Flute Player Images in Rock Art. Ancient City Press, Santa Fe.


Slifer and Duffield incorporate Native American myths and stories to present a comprehensive examination concerning Kokopelli, the humpbacked fluteplayer of the American Southwest.  The book includes a Zuni perspective on the origins and the symbolic role of Kokopelli.  The authors state that rock-art continues today at Zuni and that the Zuni people believe Kokopelli rock-art symbols assist in bringing moisture to the area.

Welsh, E.C. and P.Welsh

2000  Rock-Art of the Southwest: A Visitor’s Companion. Wilderness Press, Berkeley.

This book offers a clear and concise overview of Southwestern rock-art that includes a couple of brief, but significant Zuni perspectives regarding rock-art.  The authors note that certain rock-art has often been perceived as a reference to stories or myths.  “In New Mexico, modern Zuni people who were asked about rock-art in their area ascribed it to the long-ago time when animals could speak with people.  For contemporary Zunis, observing this ancient rock-art has often stimulated the recounting of stories about mythical events or creatures (Welsh and Welsh 2000:66).”  Research indicates some spiral and concentric circle (geogylphs) rock-art interacts with sunlight and shadows to mark important dates.  In agricultural societies like Zuni, this type of rock-art may have been used to mark important planting, harvesting, and ceremonial dates (Welsh and Welsh 2000:70).

Woodbury, R.B.

1979  Zuni Prehistory and History to 1850. In Southwest, edited by Alfonso Ortiz, pp. 467-473. Hanbook of North American Indians, Vol. 9, W.C. Sturtevant, general editor, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

Woodbury provides a general introduction and summary of Zuni prehistory and history to 1850.  The present town of Zuni is located just west of the continental divide in western New Mexico on the banks of the Zuni River, a tributary of the Little Colorado River.  “The area traditionally used by the Zunis extends 35 miles to the east and northeast to the Zuni Mountains, which rise to elevations of 8,000 to 9,000 feet, and about 50 miles west and south into lower, drier country (Woodbury 1979:467).”

Zuni contact with Europeans began approximately in 1540 when Francisco Vasquez de Coronado was searching for the fabled “Seven Cities of Cibola”.  Coronado captured the historic village of Hawikuh (occupied A.D. 1300 to 1680) before moving east to the Rio Grande Pueblos.  Coronado found “…neither gold and riches nor the Seven Cities of Cibola, nevertheless, the name Cibola became attached to the Zuni towns and region (Woodbury 1979:470).”  Sporadic Spanish contact dominated the 17th century with a mission being built and destroyed numerous times.  The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 finally destroyed the mission for good and all Spanish mission efforts had ended by 1820.  The Zunis aggregated to a single town, Zuni, in 1692.

Archaeologist, Frank H.H. Roberts, excavated three sites (Kiatuthlanna: Pueblo I and III, Village of the Great Kivas: Pueblo III, Allantown ruins: Basketmaker III, Pueblo I and II) during the 1930s that have provided a record of continuous cultural development in the Zuni area.

Young, Mary Jane

1982  Images of Power, Images of Beauty: Contemporary Zuni Perceptions of Rock

Art. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania. University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor.

This dissertation is the foremost scholarly research concerning rock-art found in the Zuni region of New Mexico.  Young uses contemporary Zuni interpretation and the ethnographic record to develop an authoritative look at rock-art from a Zuni perspective.  Part one of the dissertation presents Young’s “documentation of a significant number of sites, identification of many of the design elements found at the documented sites, and establishment of a chronological framework for the documented sites (Young 1982:1).”  Young also offers a general introduction to the topographical and ecological features found in the region.  Part two discusses the meaning of some of the images from a contemporary Zuni perspective and then uses the ethnographic record from the past one hundred years “to draw parallels between Zuni interpretations today and those made in the recent past (Young 1982:3).”

Specifically, Young is interested in contemporary Zuni interpretations of rock-art.  Her findings suggest a great diversity of interpretations for rock-art by contemporary Zuni people.  “It is of interest that known or identified images were frequently grouped and labeled by content, while unknowns were grouped by form.  Many of the recent images were described as ‘as beautiful designs’, whereas, certain of the ambiguous, older images were regarded, especially by the elderly Zunis, as power-invoking ‘signs from the past’.  These images sometimes called forth Zuni myths and folktales of the ‘time of the beginning’ when animals and people did not look or act the way they do now (Young 1982:3).”

Young’s research indicates that contemporary production of rock-art is predominantly a male activity, although designs used on pottery by women and fetish carving are similar to ones that appear in rock-art (Young 1982:95).  Zuni informants often identified rock-art images with images that appear in other media like pottery and fetishes.  “For example, the mountain lion is often depicted in other visual forms with its tail bent back over its body, so informants tended to identify quadrupeds with their tails bent back in that manner as mountain lions (Young 1982 107).”  Anthropomorphic images were also often identified by particular elements as well.  “Katchinas or dancers in general tended to be identified by the dance kilts they wore and/or feathers on their heads, while the identification of ‘Zunis at the time of the beginning’ were often based on the existence of webbed hands and feet and, usually, tails (Young 1982:107).”

Young, M.J.

1988  Signs From the Ancestors: Zuni Cultural Symbolism and Perceptions of Rock Art. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

This book is based on Young’s dissertation research and contains much of same information provided in the dissertation, albeit in a much more readable format and style.

The introductory chapter provides a brief introduction to Zuni rock-art and how the Zuni perceptions and interpretations about rock-art reveal their cosmology and worldview.

Chapter one provides an ethnographic perspective on the Zuni People.  Zuni perspectives are addressed from the environment and landscape to their current socio-cultural setting.  Along the way Young provides a brief background on Zuni archaeological data and historic contacts with the Spanish, Mexicans, and the U.S. anthropological expeditions that studied Zuni.

Chapter two serves to give the reader a background on rock-art found in the Zuni region.  Techniques and terminology, image size and placement, and description and chronology are discussed.  Excellent photographs and drawings accompany the text throughout this chapter.  Young concludes the chapter with a section on the contemporary Zuni perceptions of rock-art.  This part of the chapter is in large part the card experiment that Young conducted during her dissertation research.  The basis of the experiment was to show a diverse group of Zuni people sets of cards that contained rock-art images and then document their responses to the images.

Chapter three focuses on Zuni Cosmology and Cultural Symbolism.  The Zuni perception of direction, verbal art, and perceptions of space and time comprise this chapter.

Chapter four discusses Zuni cultural images found in contemporary forms of art that include wall murals, ceramics, and fetishes.  The chapter addresses the cultural symbolism found in Zuni myth and how it may be represented in the rock-art of the area.

Chapter five explores why rock-art is produced and the function of particular rock-art at Zuni in the present or recent past.  Contemporary Zuni perceptions of rock-art focus on the power of images because of their ability to evoke myth or their association with a particular aspect of the physical world.  Zuni people often view prehistoric rock-art as messages from their ancestors.

Chapter six focuses on contemporary rock-art and interpretations.  Often contemporary rock-art includes masks and figures that represent katchinas, which indicates that some rock-art has religious significance.  “Zuni commentary suggests that many of the newer images owe their existence to aesthetic rather than strictly religious motivations.  Thus, Zunis do not regard all pictographs and petroglyphs surrounding the pueblo as powerful: they classify some as destructive graffiti, others as non-Zuni, and still others as beautiful but not necessarily efficacious (Young 1988:195-196).”  Interviews conducted by Young seem to indicate that graffiti is often ignored except when it associated with or superimposed on older sites or sacred places.

Chapter seven concludes the book with a brief overview of the material presented in the six previous chapters and a few concluding thoughts.

Young, M.J.

1995  The Zuni-Cibola Area. In Canyon Country: Prehistoric Rock Art, by F.A. Barnes, pp. 284-289. Wasatch Publishers, Salt Lake City.

Zuni rock-art scholar, M. Jane Young, establishes links between Chaco Canyon and the Village of the Great Kivas located near present-day Zuni through similarities that exist in architecture and rock-art.  “Much of the rock art above the ruins (the Village of the Great Kivas) falls into the same time frame and is stylistically related to that of the Chaco Canyon area.  Most of the figures of this time period are solidly pecked and grouped in panels.  Human stick figures with slightly rectangular bodies and small heads are characteristic.  Some are depicted with their arms held up or down, others with arms and legs bent in an attitude of motion.  Hand-holding couples and rows of figures also occur (Young 1995:284).”

Young briefly describes the artistic and ceremonial complex that originated with Jornada Mogollon to the south and spread west to Zuni and Hopi during the early fourteenth century.  “This new artistic tradition brought with it increasingly representational human and animal forms, as well as kachina figures, masks, and shields.  In contrast to the deeply pecked images of earlier periods, the predominant techniques of this time period are incising, abrading and drilling, with the retention of some lighter pecking (Young 1995:284).”

Young has spent extensive time conducting research with the Zuni and states that “the Pueblo of Zuni has encouraged the recording, preservation and study of this rock art, for it forms an important part of the Zuni cultural heritage (Young 1995:284).”  A number of photos accompany the text and provide excellent visual examples regarding the rock-art discussed in the essay.