Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Native American Rock Art: Terese Habitation Site, El Paso Mountains

An interesting and unusual site, this one. Parked next to what at one time must have been a reliable spring one finds classical Coso style petroglyphs, stone rings where dwellings once stood, obsidian flakes and shards, bedrock mortars, metates and manos and grindings slicks (a metate is a smoothed stone worn by the grinding of food, usually portable and flat or concave from use, the mano being a stone used to pound or grind these ingredients). The site dates back to 600-1300 A.D. which correlates to other Coso dwelling sites in the deserts around Ridgecrest, a time frame known in this context as the Haiwee period. So stark is the surrounding desert that it is difficult to imagine an ecology which would support a population of natives such as this site indicates. But the signs are clear, this site was a village. 

A common theme in Coso style art is the pecked representation of the bighorn sheep. As most rock art is widely acknowledged to be shamanistic in its symbolism, and ritual in nature, the recurrence of the bighorn sheep in Coso rock art indicates the significance of this animal in both the religious sphere and as a food source. At the Terese site there are numerous examples of the bighorn, as well as anthropomorphics, cosmological symbols, and other animistic representations. 

There are no large slabs or vertical rock formations here, just a scattering of small boulders, few of which stand above waist level. Many of these rocks are marked on multiple sides, some being absolutely overrun with scrawling symbology. Some of these rocks have distinctly worn aspects, indications that the surface was used for grinding. An adjacent flat seems to have at one time been cleared of larger stones. The ground has been tamped to such a degree that few plants have taken root, and stone rings measuring 6-12ft in diameter indicate where dwellings were placed. A careful eye can identify several metates and manos. Interestingly, several of these stones are fractured, most likely due to the inherent fragility of laval rock and the recurrent pounding these took. Shards of black obsidian and stone flakes of other strains of glass-like rock are scattered throughout the site, signs of tool and point knapping. In all, this site is a rich window into the daily existence of a vanished hunter-gatherer society.

Stone ring with central bedrock mortar.
Grinding slick.

I don't know what the worn holes might have been used for. I'm theorizing that they may have been used to hone wooden or bone points.

A fractured metate and on top, a worn mano.
These rock rings indicate dwelling placements.

These dishes are larger than cupules, yet smaller than mortars.

A metate and mano, and just a handful of the thousands of shards and flakes which litter this site.


  1. David, excellent write-up and job well done on capturing the full story at this site. Agreed, all signs present seem to point to an active village. Liking those bighorn petros!

  2. Of all the habitation sites I've been to, this one is my favorite. I guess because it's pretty darn pristine. There are so many flakes, partial points, shards and everything else you can think of...just sitting there. Nice photos and narrative David.