A symposium tonight and Friday night from 7 to 9 will mark the end of “Sacred Images,” an exhibition of Native American rock art in the Museum of Art.
The symposium is in recognition of the Utah Centennial and the 50th anniversary of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at BYU.
The Utah Humanities Council has given BYU’s Department of Anthropology a grant of “financial support” in connection with the symposium, said Ray T. Matheny, professor of anthropology.
“The purpose of the grant was to bring greater public awareness to the value of North American rock art and to stimulate people to preserve and honor this great work and not destroy it,” Matheny said.
Tonight’s symposium, in the museum’s mezzanine area, will feature speakers Sally Cole, an independent researcher from Dolores, Colo.; Jane Young, from the Department of American Studies at the University of New Mexico; Larry Lowendorf, from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at New Mexico State University; and Harry Walters, director of the Cultural Center at Navajo Community College in Tsaile, Ariz.
Cole will give “new understanding” to the “Barrier Canyon” style of rock art, which dates back to times before Christ, Matheny said.
“This is thought by many to be the most significant artistic manifestation on the North American continent for that time period,” Matheny said.
According to Matheny, Young will discuss ethnographic analogies in the rock art of Western Pueblos. “Enduring values in the rock art relate to Western Pueblos today,” Matheny said. “The continuity to the past gives us a chance to better understand rock art symbols in a cultural context.”
Lowendorf will discuss the “shield figures” which are found over the Colorado plateau and interactions of cultures that produce rock art, Matheny said.
Walters will speak on the perceptions of Native Americans to rock art and to other Native American groups, Matheny said.
Friday’s symposium, in the museum’s study center, will feature speakers Jerry Spangler of the Deseret News; Matheny and his wife, Deanne; Edward Geary, BYU professor of English; and Von Del Chamberlain, former director of the Hansen Planetarium in Salt Lake City.
Spangler will discuss newly-recorded archeological sites from Utah’s Great Basin to the Colorado Plateau, Matheny said.
The Mathenys will examine “animal ethology,” which is knowledge about animal behavior as recorded in rock art, Matheny said.
“It tells us what careful observers the Native Americans were and how they accurately portrayed groups of animal activities,” Matheny said.
According to Geary, his presentation is not about rock art itself, but about axle-grease inscriptions and other messages written along Utah’s trails by fur hunters, explorers, freight workers and other historical figures.
“It’s not as old as the rock art, but it is old enough to tell us something about the past,” Geary said.
Chamberlain will speak on “star ceilings,” petroglyphs chipped or carved into the ceilings of Navajo caves.
“Perhaps it was to protect the area and keep rock from falling down,” Chamberlain said. “That’s one idea of a much bigger protection symbolism.”