|The Lower Pecos region of Texas and northern Mexico is well known for the elaborate body of Native American mural art found along its deeply entrenched canyons. Amidst the splendid colorful paintings, one very different rock art site stands apart. Lewis Canyon is the only large petroglyph site yet discovered in this region, its abstract designs in many ways more enigmatic and mysterious than the paintings. Known to rock art enthusiasts since 1938 when Forrest Kirkland (Kirkland and Newcomb 1967) and A.T. Jackson (1938) recorded it for posterity, Lewis Canyon yielded more of its secrets when the Rock Art Foundation, (RAF) sponsored detailed photodocumentation and mapping of the site in 1991. A cluster of over 100 buried glyphs were unearthed, bringing the total number of individual designs to more than 900, and demonstrating for the first time that there were two stylistically and chronologically distinct episodes of glyph production.
The two petroglyph styles can now be differentiated by iconography, sophistication of design, horizontal distribution and relative elevation within the site. The older assemblage, here called the Lower Pecos Serpentine Style, is dominated by curvilinear lines, both separate and nested in series of two to four (Figure 3). Despite the prevalence of abstract designs, to some degree, this style favors composition and, in at least two cases, appears to be relating a story or mythic event. The most common representational motif, the atlatl or spear thrower, is of some use in determining the age of the Serpentine Style. In the Lower Pecos region, the atlatl was theoretically replaced by the bow and arrow, marking the shift from Archaic to Late Prehistoric, sometime between 1300 and 1000 years ago. Based on the frequent depiction of the atlatl, the Serpentine Style is tentatively considered to be Archaic in age, predating A.D. 600 to 1000.
At a slightly higher elevation, the second style is also composed of abstract geometric designs that concentrate in two areas with trailings of glyphs dispersed across the site. Over 770 glyphs are included in what is hereafter called the Lower Pecos Discrete Geometric Style. Despite their relatively clustered distribution, the individual designs are not conceptually joined by any other artistic device, such as the horizontal baselines, enclosures, or vertical separators so often used to differentiate conceptual space in petroglyph compositions (Ritter and Ritter 1994). There is no apparent rhyme or reason for the orientation of the designs nor any obvious relationship between them other than their generic abstractness. Whether angular or curvilinear, the lines are more irregular and tend to deviate from the principle of straightness or roundness in haphazard fashion. One of the larger motifs is purported to be a bow and arrow, which would imply a post-A.D. 600 age, but this identification is speculative. Three large projectile points found amid a jumble of geometric designs are not necessarily the work of the same people, and they do not with any certainty conform to well-dated stone tool types of the region, despite occasional claims to the contrary. Nevertheless, the Discrete Geometrics are apparently more recent than the long-buried Serpentine Style and may date as recently as the Late Prehistoric period, after the advent of the bow and arrow.
Lewis Canyon presents a number of interpretive obstacles. With the exception of two clusters of glyphs in the older Serpentine Style, no storyline or coherent relationships leap to meet the eye. The few realistic figures are lost amid a swarm of abstract designs whose meaning is not immediately apparent to the modem viewer. Even more problematic is the singularity of Lewis Canyon. The art of preliterate people is almost always a reflection of their cultural system and, as is the case in the well-known pictographs, identified as ritual art by the repetition of themes and motifs to the point of redundancy. This is apparent within both sets of glyphs, implying that they are a form of symbolic communication that was probably understood at the community or ethnic level.