The Coso Rock Art Complex

by George Kline

The rock art shown in this presentation are all from Petroglyph Canyon in Eastern California, within the confines of the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station. The Petroglyphs are unique to this general geographic area due to the content and style. The Big Horn Sheep motifs are represented in such a way as they are profile in body position, but the head is placed in such a way as to be facing the viewer.
In addition to the sheep and other animal representational motifs, there are many anthromorphic, and abstract glyphs. The Anthromorphic (or man-like shapes) are also unique to this area but seem to be somewhat similar to some Freemont examples I have seen in southern Utah. The abstract glyphs are proportionally fewer in number than are found in the greater-great basin and southern California Deserts where these motifs outnumber other anthromorphic, zoomorphic, and other representational examples.

The Petroglyph Canyon from which these photos were taken are located along an approximately ½ mile-long basalt fault scarp that is also an ephemeral drainage. The fault has spread open a crack in the basalt bedrock that varies in width between 30 to 100 feet wide, and from 10 to 30 feet deep. The fault is more or less oriented in an northeast-southwest direction, and the water in the canyon drains to the southwest. At the end of the canyon there is a severe drop-off (about 40 feet) where there would be a waterfall during or after heavy rains. All along both sides of the walls of this canyon the petroglyphs are constant. There are literally thousands of glyphs. I limited myself to these due to the time I had to spend was limited to one day (travel time included).


What does it all mean?

Several researchers have given their theories as to the meaning of the glyphs but only the artists really know. Shamanistic  practices, Hunting Magic, the “sheep cult – religious practice are all theoretical associations assigned to the Coso Rock Art Complex.  
Although there have been many more researchers published on the subject, here is a good start:

For further research on Rock art theories see: Whitley, David S., Gold, Alan P., Garfinkel, Alan P., Gilreath, Amy J., Grant, Campbell.