Lower Pecos Rock Art

The latter part of the Middle Archaic period (by 2600 B.C.) saw the establishment of a rich “rock art” tradition—painted polychrome images and complex scenes on the walls of rockshelters (natural overhangs) in the canyonlands of the Lower Pecos. Over the next 4,000 years, four distinct styles of rock art evolved in the region—Pecos River, Red Linear, Red Monochrome, and Historic. These styles are thought to have developed in succession. The best known and most abundant is the earliest, the Pecos River style, which dates from about 2700 B.C. (4200 radiocarbon years B.P.) to 1200 B.C. (2950 radiocarbon years B.P.) during the latter part of the Middle Archaic period and the earliest part of the Late Archaic period.

Although many Texans do not know it exists, the rock art of the Lower Pecos is world class—one of the best preserved and most vivid traditions of prehistoric art known anywhere. For years archeologists and others dismissively professed that the meanings of the Pecos River pictographs could never be unraveled except speculatively and vaguely—“hunting magic.” Today with the work of several researchers, especially Dr. Carolyn Boyd of the Shumla School, the Pecos River style is seen as communicating a narrative with carefully composed mural panels reflecting a strong historical and spiritual tradition. Shamanistic religious practitioners are depicted on spiritual journeys sometimes triggered by the sacramental use of medicinal plants. These rituals and the rock art are seen as integral elements of hunter-gatherer life in the region.

To learn more about the art and how anyone can visit some of the best-preserved Lower Pecos rockshelters, vist the following TBH sections and other websites:

Plateaus and Canyonlands exhibit section, Artistic Expression

Lower Pecos exhibit section, Rock Art

Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site website

Rock Art Foundation website

Shumla School website

photo of rock art panel
This rock art panel has several styles of Lower Pecos rock art. Most of the elements including the large shaman figure just to the right of the sign board are of the Pecos River style, which is at least 3,000 years old. But the smaller dark red anthropomorphic figure with down-turned arms just to the right of the shaman element is of the Red Monochrome style, which dates several thousand years later. This 1958 photograph was taken during the early phases of the salvage archeological work done within what is today Amistad Reservoir near Del Rio. The chalk board incorrectly reads VL 18; the correct site number is 41VV18. Photo from ANRA-NPS Archives at TARL.
photo of pictographs
Pecos River style pictographs in Rattlesnake Canyon near Langtry, Texas in the Lower Pecos canyonlands. One of the serpentine "rattlesnakes" can be seen to the left of the dark shaman figure. Photo by Steve Black.