Little Petroglyph Canyon contains many petroglyphs of animals which is appropriate I suppose since it was likely a hunting camp in the fall. The canyon was an ideal site since the infrequent rain storms flood the canyon leaving water in concave bedrock pools covered by the loose sand and gravel of the canyon floor. Deer, antelope, and desert or mountain bighorn sheep were hunted with spears, bow and arrows. Rabbit was the most common game. Other small animals such as marmots, ground squirrels, and porcupines were also caught using noose snares and nets. Birds such as grouse, ducks, and other waterfowl were hunted by the Northern Paiute, who also collected duck eggs for eating. The Owens Valley Paiute did not do as much bird hunting. This is a remarkable collection of Native American art, encapsulating centuries of knowledge into simple drawings. Northern Paiute people call those writings on the rock etsatubono, which means, literally, “Coyote writings.” But this suggests not so much that the people believe that Coyote wrote them, as it is reference to their age. In Paiute traditions and legends, the animal people were put into this world before human beings. So the reference to Coyote writings is intended to suggest that those writings and images are ancient, and were made by the first creation. Like all great art, they are approachable in terms of content but each image is intertwined with myths, stories and culture extending back for millennia. There is no simple answer to what they mean, only endless variations on the names and stories.
If you visit Little Petroglyph Canyon, you will inevitably ask who created these petroglyphs. The short answer is, nobody knows who made them or in fact, how old they are. The Coso people were inhabiting the Coso area when the Europeans first arrived but there were only about 150–250 Coso people in the area and they claimed to know nothing about the petroglyphs. Over the past 100 years significant effort by anthropologists and archeologists have worked on clues from the past to explain the entrance of humans into the Americas and what they did once they were there. Since it was a long time ago, many things have been washed away by time. However, looking at stone tools, pollen counts from pack rat middens, linguistics and retained native customs we have a hotly debated but reasonable idea of how things changed over time for the Coso people and humans all over the Americas. This post is an overview of this work and while it will not tell you the who and when the petroglyphs were made, it will give you context to decide for yourself. I think you will be surprised at the ultimate influence this tiny, out of the way place, had on the entire southwest.