Lesson Plan

Hands Over Time

NPS photo at Petroglyph National Monument

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Grade Level:
Kindergarten-Second Grade
American Indian History and Culture, Art, History
60 Minutes
Group Size:
Up to 36
indoors or outdoors
National/State Standards:
K-4 Benchmark I-B. (Grades: 1-4)

K-4 Benchmark I-C: Grade: 2

K-4 Benchmark II-E:  Grade: 3


Students will recognize that handprint petroglyphs and pictographs may be prehistoric signatures. By leaving behind their own handprints on paper, students will increase their understanding of the value of petroglyphs and the need for their preservation.


Students will:

Know: Identity over time: Why our fingerprints matter, how they are similar to others and how they are different.

Students will know what a petroglyph is, who made them and how they were made.

Students will know what a pictograph is and then compare the differences between petroglyphs and pictographs. (see petroglyph image handout to help with comparison)

Understand: Everybody has a unique identity and, therefore, everyone has different fingerprints that each tell a story.

Be Able to Do: Create their own handprints.


The sight of a handprint on a pictograph/petroglyph panel always seems to bring the observer just a little closer to the prehistoric artist who put that handprint on the rock. Handprints are personal; like the fingerprints sometimes found on ceramic pottery sherds. Handprints are unique and individual, only belonging to that one person. Some handprints are small and presumably belong to children. Imagine a child painting his or her hand with gooey mud and gleefully slapping a hand on the bedroom wall....something that would cause parents today to shudder!

Why are there so many handprints found on pictograph panels? Handprints may be a signature, a way for a person to say, ‘I was here.’ Some pictographs of hand prints are made by the artist painting artful lines across the hand before placing the hand on the rock. Maybe these have a spritual meaning as well. A way for the artist to leave a part of their spirit at a particular place.

Handprints are found at pictograph and petroglyph sites throughout the world. Just as we identify ourselves with fingerprints, maybe handprints were a prehistoric way for an individual to mark their place.


Photos of Handprint Petroglyphs

Pie plates or other pans to hold paint

Acrylic or tempera paint

Roll of white paper or newsprint



Creation and understanding/explanations of petroglyph handprints by students

After displaying the handprints, cut each individual handprint out so the students can take them home.

Park Connections

Ancestral Puebloan Lifestyles including: culture, traditions and symbols



Have students decorate their hands with several colors of paint, or make wavy lines on their hands before placing them on the white paper.

Instead of a long roll of paper, have each student place a handprint on a single piece of white construction paper. Have them write a short description of what makes their hand unique beneath their handprint.

Have all students use only one color of paint. When they are finished, DO NOT have the them sign their names. When the paint is dry, cut out each handprint individually and try to have each student find his or her handprint.

Additional Resources

Children books focused on Ancestral Puebloan Lifestyles:
Anaya, Rudolfo. La Llorona: The Crying Woman. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 2010.
Anaya, Rudolfo. The First Tortilla. University of New Mexico, 2007.
Ancient Dwellings of the Southwest. Western National Parks Association, 2004
Luenn, Nancy. A Gift for Abuelita. Lunarisingbooks, 1998.
Noble, David Grant. Ancient Indians of the Southwest. Western National Parks Association, 1998.


Identity: Our identities are the characteristics that define us and make us different from others. Fingerprints are an important part of our identities. Hands touch, feel and tell us the stories of all the places we have been. This understanding will ultimately help tell us where we came from, who we are and where we are going.

Last updated: February 24, 2015