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Coso Rock Art District

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Title: Coso Rock Art District  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Coso people, Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons, Visual arts by indigenous peoples of the Americas, Classification of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Maturango Museum
Collection: Historic Districts on the National Register of Historic Places in California, History of Inyo County, California, History of the Mojave Desert Region, National Historic Landmarks in California, Native American Archeology, Native American Art, Native American History of California, Paiute, Petroglyphs in California, Protected Areas of Inyo County, California, Protected Areas of the Mojave Desert, Ridgecrest, California, Rock Art in North America
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Coso Rock Art District

Coso Rock Art District
Bighorn sheep, a characteristic design at Coso
Nearest city China Lake, California
Governing body United States Navy
NRHP Reference # 99001178[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 8, 1999[1]
Designated NHLD July 8, 2001[2]
Archaic abstract curvilinear-style petroglyphs by Coso People
Nearest city China Lake, California
Area Coso Rock Art District
Governing body United States Navy
NRHP Reference # 66000209[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966[1]
Designated NHL July 19, 1964[2]

Coso Rock Art District, containing the Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons, is a rock art site containing over 100,000 Paleo-Indian and/or Native American Petroglyphs.[1] The Coso Range is between the Sierra Nevada and the Argus Range. Indian Wells Valley lies to the south of this location. This north-south trending range of about 400 square miles (1,000 km2) consists of rhyolitic domes and outcrops of volcanic rock. Also known as Little Petroglyph Canyon and Sand Tanks, Renegade Canyon is but one of several major canyons in the Coso Range, each hosting thousands of petroglyphs (other locations include Haiwee Springs, Dead End Canyon, and Sheep Canyon). The majority of the Coso Range images fall into one of six categories: bighorn sheep, entopic images, anthropomorphic or human-like figures (including animal-human figures known as pattern-bodied anthopomorphs), other animals, weapons & tools, and “medicine bag” images. Fortunately for the petroglyphs, most of the Coso Range is on the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, where visitation is restricted, vandalism is low, and preservation is most likely. China Lake is located near the towns of China Lake and Ridgecrest, California. There are several other distinct canyons in the Coso Rock Art District besides the Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons. The most popular subjects are bighorn sheep, deer, and antelope. Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons were declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964. In 2001, they were incorporated into a larger National Historic Landmark District, called Coso Rock Art District.[2]

A November 2007 Los Angeles Times' Travel feature article includes it within a top 15 list of California places to visit.[3]


  • Prehistory detail 1
    • Petroglyphs Tour Info 1.1
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • Further reading 4
  • External links 5

Prehistory detail

According to that article: "No one knows for sure who decorated Little Petroglyph Canyon with images out of a dreamscape, some thought to be more than 10,000 years old. Or why the basalt walls of a narrow wash in the bone-dry Coso Mountains at the northern edge of the Mojave Desert became a magic canvas for flocks of bighorn sheep, hunters with bows and arrows poised and more. But the area is probably the richest Amerindian Petroglyph / rock-art site in the Western hemisphere. To see the canyon, one must contact either the Navy Base, or join a scheduled tour offered by Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest, California or attend a Rock Art 101 program. A 40-mile drive on paved road except for the last 6 miles to access the trailhead, followed by a hike and a scramble along the canyon. Visits are scheduled only in the spring and fall."[3]

There is considerable archaeological evidence substantiating trade between the Coso People, possibly of the Northern Utoaztecan affiliation Paiute tribe, and other Indigenous peoples of the Americas and Native American tribes. For example, distant trade with the Chumash People is confirmed by archaeological recovery from coastal California sites in San Luis Obispo County and in prehistoric sites on the Channel Islands.[4]

Petroglyphs Tour Info

Note: only US citizens are allowed on the tours, and advance reservation is required. [3]
  • Maturango Museum, 100 E. Las Flores Ave., Ridgecrest, CA 93555; (760) 375-6900, [1].
  • Naval Air Weapons Station, (760) 939-1683.
  • California Rock Art Foundation (805) 312-2261,
  • Rock Art 101 Program,

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  2. ^ a b c "Coso Rock Art District". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-11-17. 
  3. ^ a b c Susan Spano (2007-11-15). """10. Mojave Art on the Rocks, in "THE GOLDEN 15: 15 places to visit to see the real California. Los Angeles Times. 
  4. ^ C.Michael Hogan (2008) Morro Creek, The Megalithic Portal, ed. by A. Burnham [2]

Further reading

  • Whitley, David S. "By the Hunter, for the Gatherer: Art, Social Relations and Subsistence Change in the Prehistoric Great Basin". World Archaeology 25.3 (1994): 356-373.

Garfinkel, Alan P. 1978 “Coso” Style Pictographs of the Southern Sierra Nevada. Journal of California Anthropology 5(1):94-101. [Reports on two sites in Indian Wells Canyon with painted images similar to the Coso Representational bighorn images. Concludes that these are the product of historic activities of the Kawaiisu and/or Panamint Shoshone and likely do not show cultural continuity but are probably evidence of the historic copying of more ancient imagery .]

1980 A Cultural Resource Management Plan for the Fossil Falls/Little Lake Locality. U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Cultural Resources Publications, Archaeology. Bakersfield, 1980. Reprinted by Coyote Press, Salinas, California. Available on-line at:

2003 Dating “Classic” Coso Style Sheep Petroglyphs in the Coso Range and El Paso Mountains: Implications for Regional Prehistory. Society for California Archaeology Newsletter 37(4):34-37. 2005 Comment on Clarus Backes’ “More Than Meets the Eye: Fluorescence Photography for Enhanced Analysis of Pictographs.” Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 26(2):95-99. R

2006 Paradigm Shifts, Rock Art Theory, and the Coso Sheep Cult of Eastern California. North American Archaeologist 27(3):203-244. [Evaluation of hunting magic model versus individual shamanism as the primary function for the imagery represented in the Coso Representational Style petroglyph complex in the Coso Range of eastern California.]

2007 Archaeology and Rock Art in the Eastern Sierra and Great Basin Frontier. Maturango Museum Publication Number 22. Maturango Museum, Ridgecrest. [Lightly edited version of Garfinkel's Ph.D. dissertation. First detailed synthesis of far southern Sierra and eastern California prehistory. Focuses on ethnic identification of archaeological patterns and the timing and explanation of hypothesized prehistoric population movements based on linguistic prehistory.]

Documentary film, Talking Stone: Rock Art of the Cosos,

Garfinkel, Alan and Don Austin 2011 Reproductive Symbolism in Great Basin Rock Art: Bighorn Sheep Hunting, Fertility, and Forager Ideology. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 21(3):453-471.

Garfinkel, Alan P., Donald R. Austin, David Earle, and Harold Williams 2009 Myth, Ritual and Rock Art: Coso Decorated Animal-Humans and the Animal Master. Rock Art Research 26(2). [The Journal of the Australian Rock Art Research Association (AURA)and of the International Federation of Rock Art Organization (IFRAO)]

Garfinkel, Alan P., Geron Marcom, and Robert A. Schiffman 2007 Culture Crisis and Rock Art Intensification: Numic Ghost Dance Paintings and Coso Representational Petroglyphs. American Indian Rock Art Volume 33, Don Christensen and Peggy Whitehead, editors, p. 83-103. American Rock Art Research Association, Tucson, Arizona. Enhanced on-line version available at:

Garfinkel, Alan P. and J. Kenneth Pringle Dating the Rock Drawings of the Coso Range: Projectile Point Petroglyphs in American Indian Rock Art Volume 30, James T. O’Connor, editor, pp. 1-14. Tucson: American Rock Art Research Association. R, A, I Enhanced on-line version available at: [Documents petroglyphs in the Coso Range with associated images of dart or arrow points and argues that they most likely represent Rose Spring or Eastgate forms dating the glyphs to a time from ca. AD 300-1300. Recent studies provide new information altering these conclusions. It now appears that most of these glyphs antedate the use of bows and arrows and are depictions of Elko and Humboldt Series points rather than Rosegate Series points and as such would date to a minimum of about 2000 years ago. Experimental XRF dates of projectile point petroglyphs in the Coso Range now center on an age of about 3000 years ago.]

Garfinkel, Alan P., David A. Young, and Robert M. Yohe, II 2010 Bighorn Hunting, Resource Depression, and Rock Art in the Coso Range of Eastern California: A Computer Simulation Model. Journal of Archaeological Science 37:42-51.

External links

  • Talking Stone - Rock Art of the Cosos Documentary Film
  • Coso Rock Art and the Coso Bighorn Sheep Cult
  • Maturango Museum
  • 7 photos
  • Archeology Program: Coso Rock Art, at National Park Service
  • Dating Coso Projectile Points
  • Visiting the Coso petroglyphs at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake

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