Interpreting Rock Art Of The Anasazi


This lesson uses Native American art to acquaint students with the culture of the Anasazi and the lands where they lived. In the Four Corners region of the United States, a large amount of land contains cultural remains of prehistoric Anasazi pueblo farmers. Some remains are in the form of rock art—a general term for the pecking, incising, or painting of designs onto rock surfaces.

Students are introduced to the ancient Anasazi people through samples of rock art preserved in the public lands of the Four Corners region. The national parks, which protect this land from vandalism and neglect, serve as a showcase for this Native American rock art. By studying these archaeological remains, students will understand more about the history and culture of these ancient pueblo farmers.

Connections to the Curriculum:

Geography, history, art

Connections to the National Geography Standards:

Standard 12: “The processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement”

Standard 18: “How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future”


One hour

Materials Required:

  1. •Computer with Internet access
  2. Map of the United States
  3. •Photocopies and transparencies of images of Anasazi rock art (reproduced from Web sites found under Related Links)
  4. •Paint or markers, paper


Students will

  1. •identify key terms related to rock art;
  2. •convey the significance of rock art as it depicts elements of culture;
  3. •locate the Four Corners region of the United States on a map;
  4. •understand the cultural heritage of the Anasazi as depicted through rock art; and
  5. •create individual pictographs that depict elements of their own cultures.

Geographic Skills:

Analyzing Geographic Information

S u g g e s t e d   P r o c e d u r e


Ask the students to list ways that we learn about other cultures. Write the students’ responses on the chalkboard. Then ask the students what they already know about Native Americans. Who are they? Where do they live? Where did they once live? How did they provide food for themselves? What do we know about their beliefs and customs?

Tell the students that they will be learning about the culture of one group of Native Americans, the Anasazi, by studying their rock art. Explain that Native Americans decorated rocks with pictures that told a story about what was going on in their tribe at the time. By examining the pictures on these rocks, students will learn about the beliefs, customs, and everyday lives of the Anasazi.

Before looking at samples of rock art, provide the following rock art terms and definitions for the students:

  1. •Symbol—a thing that represents something else
  2. •Petroglyphs—images carved or inscribed on a rock surface
  3. •Pictographs—ancient drawings or paintings on rock
  4. •Rock art panel—a group of pictograph and/or petroglyph symbols

Tell students that in order to better understand the lifestyle of the Anasazi people, they will be looking at the Anasazi people’s rock art that has been found in the Southwest region of the United States known as the Four Corners. Locate this region on a map of the United States and ask students if they know why it is called the Four Corners. Have them identify the states that make up the region, and explain to them that there are public lands in the region that contain prominent Anasazi ruins. As a class, they will be looking at images of the rock art of the Anasazi. By doing so, they will gain an understanding of the lifestyle of these Native Americans.


Have students explore the following Web sites, and/or copy several images of rock art from the Four Corners region:

Anasazi Pictographs and Petroglyphs
Anasazi Rock Art
Anasazi Rock Art Panels
Bureau of Land Management: Anasazi Heritage Center

Note: If you prefer, distribute samples or place clear images on an overhead projector for the entire class to see.]

Give students ample time to consider what they see. Challenge them to try to “decode” the rock art. Conduct a discussion about the images and symbols on the rock art panels. Ask the following questions to help students analyze the rock art panels:

  1. •What do you see? Describe the symbols.
  2. •What do you think the designs mean? What conclusions can you make about the culture of the Anasazi people based on their rock art?
  3. •Why do you think the Anasazi created these designs?
  4. •Why didn’t Native Americans just use words to write down their stories?
  5. •What are some other ways that we can learn about the Anasazi culture?

After the students have tried to make inferences about the Anasazi based on their rock art, provide them with factual information about the Anasazi lifestyle. Using the links above, share with the students the most visible elements of the traditional Pueblo culture, such as architecture and pottery. Describe the cliff dwellings where they lived and how they farmed and irrigated their lands. Ask the students if this information changed how they now interpret the rock art.

Next, give each student a piece of paper and a marker. Have them create their own renderings of rock art, depicting something about their own lifestyles, beliefs, or customs. Ask them to describe what their symbols and pictures represent.


Discuss as a class the importance of preserving ancient artifacts. What is the signifigance of rock art to archaeologists? To Native Americans? What is vandalism? Why is it so important that we preserve and protect these images made by ancient people?

Suggested Student Assessment:

Have each student select his or her favorite rock art panel from the photos and write a short story to accompany it. The story should be creative but focused on what the student thinks the artist was trying to say about his or her people.

Extending the Lesson:

  1. •Have students develop a coloring book with about five to ten rock art symbols—either actual or imagined.
  2. •Invite a Native American storyteller to share Indian folklore with the students. Discuss the symbols in the stories.

Related Links:

Anasazi Pictographs and Petroglyphs

Anasazi Rock Art

Anasazi Rock Art Panels

Bureau of Land Management: Anasazi Heritage Center

Native American Petroglyphs

Upper Midwest Rock Art Research Association