Lesson Plan

Cultural Contributions

Rock Art

NPS photo

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Grade Level:
Fourth Grade
30 minutes
in the park
National/State Standards:
Utah State Core Curriculum Topic, Social Studies Standard One: Students demonstrate the sequence of change in Utah
over time.
rock art, artifacts, Utah history, prehistory, archeology, cordage, petroglyph, pictograph, pottery


A pre-trip activity introduces archeology and the artifacts that provide clues to the lives of ancient people. On the field trip, students make their own pottery, cordage, and rock art replicas, and examine an ancient rock art panel. Back in the classroom, students create a timeline of their own lives to learn how vandals can destroy the archeological record.


Pieces of the Past

a. Name at least one reason why it is important to leave artifacts where they are found.
b. Describe ways of enjoying archeological sites without disturbing them.

Making Cordage

a. State one way prehistoric people used cordage in everyday life.
b. Perform the skill of making cordage.

Symbols on Rock

a. Describe the difference between petroglyphs and pictographs.
b. Name one reason for preserving rock art panels.


a. Identify at least one reason that artifacts are important.
b. Perform the skill of making a coil pot or figure.

All Mixed Up

a. Define chronology or describe what a timeline represents.
b. State at least two reasons that artifacts shouldn’t be removed from archeological sites.


This program introduces students to the field of archeology and its role in preserving our human past. Students experiment with making cordage, rock art, and pottery. Students learn how to enjoy archeological sites without damaging them and are introduced to some of the threats to preserving past cultures, such as vandalism of archeological living sites and rock art.

Even though ancient peoples in this area grew corn, beans, and squash, and the cultures hunted animals to varying degrees, they also used wild plants for food and other needs.

Cordage, one example of a household item made from the area’s wild plants, consists of several strands of fiber twisted together into a string or rope. Prehistorically, cordage was made from a variety of materials including the long plant stalk fibers of milkweed and dogbane, yucca leaf fibers, and juniper and sagebrush bark. Ancient people also used human hair and animal sinew. The different sizes of cordage that were made probably depended on both the plant fiber source and the intended purpose of the finished object. Some archeologists make replicas of cordage artifacts in order to learn more about how they were made and how much time was required for their production. A ranger at Arches National Park spent two months making a pair of cordage sandals similar to those found in the area. Most cordage artifacts have been found in dry cave sites in the western United States. Although many are only small pieces of larger items, a net measuring 140 feet by 4 feet was found at Hogup Cave in northwestern Utah (Smith, Moe, Letts, & Peterson 1992, 133).

Archeologists Winston Hurst and Joe Pachak (1989, 1) state that “in modern America, the most common kind of ‘rock’ art is that which is painted on the concrete and brick walls of the artificial canyons of our cities and on bridge abutments and rock faces along our highways. In modern American culture, as in all cultures, it expresses the values, attitudes, beliefs, and desires of the society.” Others believe art in modern society often reflects the fringe or cutting edge of society, whereas ancient rock art usually represents more central societal values and beliefs. Because of this, some archeologists now prefer the term rock images to rock art.

Rock images can be found around the world, yet there are few places where it is as widespread or varied as in southern Utah. Although it is possible to identify some of the images, such as bighorn sheep and sandal prints, the context or symbolic nature is more difficult to determine. While modern tribal members can shed light on this discussion, their insights also confirm that one image may have different meanings in different contexts and cultures.

Because of the durability of fired clay pottery, potsherds are one of the most common types of artifacts. Pottery styles are distinctive to particular cultures and changed through time, so pottery is helpful in determining both the age of a site and which group of people lived there. Pottery artifacts also give insights into how ancient people cooked and stored food and seeds.

The 1979 Archeological Resources Protection Act prohibits disturbance of any archeological sites more than 100 years old on any federal lands. The act sets penalties for those convicted of violations. A first off ender may be fined up to $250,000 and could spend up to two years in jail. A second off ender may be fined $250,000 and could spend five years in jail. A similar 1990 state law protects state lands. The state law allows digging on private land with permission of a landowner. Digging on private land without permission may bring penalties similar to those on federal land. Disturbing a human burial is a felony offense.



All Mixed Up

Ask students to complete a timeline of significant events in their lives and describe its importance to them. Then, have them relate the importance to an archeological site. Have students create informative posters on why people should not alter archeological sites.

Additional Resources

Brady, I. (1998). The redrock canyon explorer. Talent, OR: Nature Works.

Cole, S. J. (1990). Legacy on stone: Rock art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners region. Boulder, CO: Johnson Books.

Cornell, J. (1979). Sharing nature with children. Nevada City, CA: Ananda Publications.

Henley, T. (1989). Rediscovery: Ancient pathways - new directions. Vancouver, BC: Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

Hurst, W. B., & Pachak, J. (1989). Spirit windows: Native American rock art of southeastern Utah. Blanding, UT: Edge of the Cedars Museum.

Kankainen, K. (ed.). (1995). Treading in the past: Sandals of the Anasazi. Photography by L. Casjens. Salt Lake City, UT: Utah Museum of Natural History and the University of Utah Press.

Sherlock, K. (1994). Silent witness: Protecting American Indian archeological heritage learning guide. Washington, DC: National Park Foundation.

Smith, S., Moe J., Letts, K., & Peterson, D. (1992). Intrigue of the past: Investigating archeology. Salt Lake City, UT: United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management.

Southern Utah University. (1993). Sherdy: The storyteller. Videotape. Cedar City, UT: Utah Interagency Task Force.

Last updated: December 12, 2017