Petroglyphs of the Picacho Mountains, South Central Arizona

Part of the Tucson Aqueduct Project Phase A project

Author(s): Henry D. Wallace; James P. Holmlund

Year: 1986


This report presents the results of an intensive archaeological study of the petroglyph sites in the Picacho Mountains of south-central Arizona. Twelve sites with a total of 4,152 recorded designs are considered. A sample survey of the foothills of the Picacho Mountains and previous research performed by the authors at 31 additional petroglyph sites in the Tucson Basin and Samaniego Hills provide contextual information and a substantial comparative data base. The study was conducted by the Institute for American Research under the sponsorship of the Bureau of Reclamation (contract No. 4-CS-30-00788). It comprises one aspect of the archaeological mitigation program concerned with Phase A of the Tucson Aqueduct Project. Three major episodes of glyph making were identified in the Picacho Mountains: Western Archaic Tradition, Gila style, and Protohistoric. Clear evidence of a design style classed as part of the Western Archaic Tradition that is dated to the Archaic period is presented, extending as late as the Pioneer period of the Hohokam sequence. The majority of the Picacho designs are classed as Gila style and dated to the Hohokam occupation of the region. A significant Protohistoric utilization of the area is documented through survey data, and widespread repecking of glyphs is dated to this time period. The stylistic sequence is believed to represent cultural continuity between Archaic and Gila styles and discontinuity between the Gila style and the Protohistoric repecking. The latter is interpreted as representative of culture change following the Hohokam Classic period. Petroglyph site distribution in terms of design element numbers, time depth, and site complexity was found to be related to projecting bedrock points and a large natural corridor through the northern Picacho Mountains we refer to as North Pass. Survey of the corridor for isolated artifacts confirmed the interpretation that it was used for passage through the mountains. Intra-site spatial analyses identified a correlation of petroglyphs with the distribution of small rockshelters, quarries, and trails. Proximity and diversity analyses are used to test the significance of these associations and to test a series of functional hypotheses concerning the Picacho sites and the sites from the regional data base. The results of these studies strongly support the interpretation that Gila style petroglyphs are symbols recognized by multiple individuals and presumably multiple social and community groups. No evidence for consistent symbol-activity relationships were discovered, although diversity analyses demonstrate differences in the utilization of different types of cultural features. The application of proximity analysis to attributes not related to symbolism, in this case specific anthropomorph characteristics, produced the first clear evidence for stylistic variability within the range of the Gila style. An examination of petroglyph function and symbolism led to the conclusion that some of the Archaic designs related to the hunting of large game animals. perhaps in the manner discussed by previous researchers in the Great Basin. Many of the Gila style designs are thought to relate to ritual activities on an individualistic bas is. Specific ideographs identified and discussed include several "birthing" or fertility scenes, petroglyph "maps", and a possible curing ceremony. An unexpected result of the detailed studies of petroglyphs and repatination was the discovery that historic and prehistoric earthquakes had affected the study area. The significance of this finding to archaeologists working with rock art sites and to geologists interested in paleoseismicity is addressed.

Cite this Record

Petroglyphs of the Picacho Mountains, South Central Arizona. Henry D. Wallace, James P. Holmlund. Institute for American Research Anthropological Papers ,6. 1986 ( tDAR id: 378062) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8NS0VSJ

Spatial Coverage

min long: -111.543; min lat: 32.573 ; max long: -111.23; max lat: 32.893 ;

Record Identifiers

Bureau of Reclamation Contract No.(s): 4-CS-30-0078B

NADB document id number(s): 2204081

NADB citation id number(s): 000000168183

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