2500 BCE to 1000 BCE
The Pecos River style may be the oldest extant body of pictographs in the New World and it is certainly one of the oldest religious art forms in the Americas. The claim for its origin in an animistic religion, commonly called shamanism, lies in its rigorously defined subject matter, the redundancy of its message, and the iconographic conventions employed to convey many of the basic precepts of shamanism as they are known ethnographically and in modern populations. Within a 90 mile radius of the confluence of the Rio Grande and the Pecos Rivers, over 300 paintings, made sometime between 3000 and 4000 years ago, present to their audience, then and now, a very specific public message about the mythic three-tiered universe and the spirit beings who populate it. Chief among their representations is the shaman who in an entranced state, has the power to transcend life—to die and be reborn—to assume the form of an animal familiar to fly, to swim and to climb to the spirit world where he and he alone could bargain for the fate of his people. These voyages were recorded for posterity on the limestone canvas of the canyon walls where they reified the role of the shaman as spiritual guardian of his people, curer of all ills, predicter of the future, and keeper of the past.