Fremont designs include both petroglyphs (patterns chipped or carved into the rock) and pictographs (patterns painted on the rock). Pictographs are relatively rare here, perhaps because they are more easily weathered. Some petroglyphs show traces of pigment, possibly indicating that many designs originally included both carved and painted areas. Many sandstone cliffs darkened with desert varnish, a naturally formed stain of iron and manganese oxides, provided an ideal canvas for carving petroglyphs. Most of these designs are outlines, but some are completely pecked to form solid figures, and a few consist of small holes in closely-spaced rows.
The style and content of Fremont designs vary throughout the region. The “Classic Vernal Style” predominates in Dinosaur National Monument. This style is characterized by humanlike figures, animal-like figures, and abstract designs. Human figures typically have trapezoidal bodies, which may or may not include arms, legs, fingers, and toes. Elaborate decorations on the bodies suggest headdresses, earrings, necklaces, shields, or other objects.
The animal figures include recognizable bighorn sheep, birds, snakes, and lizards, as well as more abstract animal-like shapes. Purely abstract or geometric designs, such as circles, spirals, and various combinations of lines, are common.
Why did the Fremont create these designs and what did they mean? Perhaps the designs served some ceremonial or religious purpose, related to hunting activities, identified clans, or simply expressed the artist’s imagination – or perhaps all or none of these. Attempts to interpret the designs by comparing them with recent Native American groups may provide clues, but the true meaning remains a mystery.
Many designs in the monument are fairly easy to access and allow up-close viewing. These designs are very fragile. Touching the petroglyphs and pictographs can damage the designs by leaving oils behind that abrade the rock. Tracing and rubbings can damage the soft sandstone designs. For these reasons, please do not touch the designs.
Last updated: February 16, 2021