Interpreting Petroglyphs: Perspectives on Prominent Panels

“There’s always variations of understanding of how sites [were] used by Ancestors,” explained Bertram Tsavadawa on a recent summer morning, standing alongside a petroglyph panel near the Colorado River. Tsavadawa, a Hopi guide, belongs to the corn clan from the village of Old Oraibi, 3rd Mesa in Arizona. He joined Don Montoya, a retired archeologist, and the Moab Museum to interpret four prominent petroglyph panels along the Colorado River near Moab this summer in a recorded conversation coordinated and sponsored by the Utah Humanities Council.

This Humanities in the Wild video, coordinated by the Utah Humanities Council, presents interpretations of Moab-area rock imagery sites by Hopi guide Bertram Tsavadawa and archeologist Don Montoya.

Tsavadawa and Montoya offered two lenses through which to look at petroglyphs: an Indigenous understanding and an archeological perspective, which together allow for a more thorough interpretation of any given petroglyph panel. Their conversation was recorded as a video, summarized in a temporary exhibit now on view at the Moab Museum, and an online event on September 28th will feature conversation between Tsavadawa, Montoya, the Utah Humanities Council, and the Moab Museum. In the wake of the 2021 defacement of Birthing Rock and another petroglyph panel damaged by a rock climber, this project emphasizes the importance of rock imagery sites to Native communities today, with the goal of promoting stewardship and cross-cultural understanding about the significance of these sites.