Lincoln County Rock Art Inventory

The purpose of this multiyear recordation project is to gather baseline data on known sites in the county to assess their management needs, research potential, and suitability for public interpretation. Since fall 2009, a total of 127 sites and approximately 2,000 rock art panels have been inventoried. To date, NRAF volunteers have contributed over 2,500 hours to this project, accounting for its impressive progress and the quality of the data gathered.

With such a large sample of sites recorded, the project now switches to reporting its results. This includes preparing site records and a narrative report that describes the heritage and research significance of recorded sites. The latter is particularly important for evaluating the significance of individual sites as historic properties and how rock art can contribute to better understanding prehistoric lifeways in eastern Nevada. The data gathered will refine knowledge of the spatial distribution of Lincoln County rock art styles, and provide more detailed information about its associated archaeological and environmental contexts. Given the character of Lincoln County’s rock art, this region is particularly important for exploring broad themes in Great Basin archaeology. In particular, can stylistic variation in the county’s rock art be used to identify prehistoric cultural affiliation, time-sensitive social practices, and whether stylistic attributes exhibit patterned distribution in the landscape? These questions are important for building chronological sequences, identifying culture change, and exploring changes in social and settlement practices accompanying changes in adaptive strategies.

During the project, a number of sites were recorded that contain anthropomorph types associated with the Fremont cultural adaptation. Knowledge of the stylistic properties of Fremont rock art and its archaeological signature in eastern Nevada can be refined based on the data collected. Likewise, the properties of the regionally distinctive Pahranagat Representational Style can also now be better understood and its relationship to other Great Basin rock art styles clarified. Resolving the relative chronology of this style and clarifying its spatial distribution will help determine whether this style is the product of a distinct culture, or reflects shared practices and institutions that developed in specific social contexts. More broadly, can variations in style, site size, setting, and associated archaeology be used to identify different rock art site-types in Lincoln County that help clarify the chronology and functions of Great Basin rock art.

Regional studies of rock art data offer the prospect of comprehensive, quantifiable approaches that can scientifically explore the archaeological significance of rock art, going beyond the generalizing and subjective approaches that have tended to characterize the discipline because of the lack of systematic data collection. The work completed for the Lincoln County Inventory Project provides a detailed regional rock art record that can be the subject of methodical research, producing a more nuanced archaeological understanding of the rock art of eastern Nevada.