Lost Limbs Foundation

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Petroglyphs at Pyramid Lake Nevada

Petroglyphs are prehistoric rock carvings left by indigenous peoples around the world. They're not an exact language and for any given set of glyphs there can be any number of possible meanings, from the sacred to the artistic. But they are generally found in places of power and security for indigenous people because the glyphs take considerable time to carve with stone and wood tools. After carving, some were adorned with paints made from crushed stone and plants.

There are several sets of petroglyphs at Pyramid Lake but most are in caves used for burials from 8000-4000 years ago and are now protected from access, but one site exists on the mountains to the east of the lake. That is where my pictures are from. Inside a burst tufa formation, thousands of years of fires have blackened the curving half-roof. On the exterior jumble of rocks are carvings, intricate patterns and textures between 5000-6000 years old. Time has weathered them and the st
ones they were carved into, but a remnant of the prehistoric Paiute people remains.

The Stone Mother

The Pyramid Lake Paiute People have their own story of the peopling of the world.

The mother and the father had four children who constantly fought amongst themselves, so for the good of all, they separated them. One each went to the four cardinal directions, north, south, east, and west. Every night the children lit a signal fire to tell their mother they were safe. As the nights passed, the fires grew smaller and further away. One night the south fire disappeared entirely; the next, the north fire. Then the west fire disappeared and finally, the east fire. The mother wept for her children, lost to the world. She cried for hours, days, so long that her tears formed a great lake and her heart turned to stone. She was frozen by the shore of the lake forever, with her tule basket beside her where she had dropped it.

This is the Stone Mother, a tufa rock formation on the shore of Pyramid Lake in Nevada, on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Reservation, where I had the fortune to intern at the tribal museum. Tufa is a unique rock formation found only at Pyramid and Mono Lakes in Nevada - the two remnants of Lake Lahontan that once covered the Great Basin. Calcium Carbonite under the waters surface would form "rock bubbles" of enormous sizes that would sometimes "burst" creating a bowl shape filled with delicate sharp crystals. The Mother's basket is one of these burst bubbles while she herself is a weathered tufa formation. This formation was a landmark for the native peoples of the basin, a gathering place and a sacred place celebrating their birth and creation.

(portions of this article from Carole Buckwalter)

Cliff Dunning
 — Pyramid Lake Nevada Petroglyphs, Part 2 (8 photos)