Petroglyph National Monument

Dr. Jeffery R. Hanson


JRI Research Associate Jeffery Hanson has finished his project at Petroglyph National Monument (PNM). The purpose of the study was to analyze the distribution of the flute player motif in a landscape setting. The flute player, also known as kokopelli,has a wide distribution at petroglyph and pictograph sites in the American Southwest. The motif has been interpreted as a symbol of water and fertility, and is often associated with water/fertility symbols such as serpents, spirals and frogs. The study took a landscape approach to the flute player. The theory was that the motif would be more likely to be found in topographic settings where water might have been available, either seasonally or after heavy rains. We would expect then to find flute players and other fertility symbols on workable rock faces near drainages, seeps, or springs. The escarpment on the west side of Albuquerque provides an excellent landscape setting to test this idea. The cliff faces from north to south are cut by numerous large and small arroyos that would have acted as runoff drainages during times of heavy precipitation, such as during the monsoon season. These drainages could have produced temporary pools or alluvial runoff that would enhance hunting or collection of wild plants. Placement of the flute players and associated motifs would demonstrate a connection to these localities as places of water, life and fertility. During times of drought, these places might have attracted ritual use as points of communication between shamans and the spirits governing rainfall. In addition these places may have served an ethno-topographic function as a preferred drainage as a water source. Initial observation at the Piedras Marcadas section of PNM has found flute players located in boulder configurations at four drainages. Surveys along the escarpment of Piedras Marcadas Canyon, Boca Negra Canyon, and Rinconada Canyon are being undertaken to document the location of flute players, such as those in thees photos.


The survey resulted in the identification of 229 petroglyphs. Of these, 37 (16%) were fluteplayers, 73 (32%) were birds, 58 (25%) were snakes or serpents, 22 (10%) were spirals, and 20 (9%) were turtles or frogs (Figure 17). In addition, 19 boulder metates were identified.  With respect to the distribution of these motifs near or along drainages in all cases, with the exception of spirals, expectations were met, albeit some more likely than others. Figure 17compares the overall distribution of motifs with those identified along arroyos.  As can be seen, more than any other motif, fluteplayers were concentrated along arroyos, with 33 of 37 (89%) of those identified located along arroyos. Although the other motifs had tendencies in this direction, their association with arroyos was less likely (over 50%), spirals, however, were the least likely to meet predicted expectations. It has to be stressed that the sample here cannot be said to be representative of the broader petroglyph population throughout the canyons, it is clear that within this sample fluteplayers are closely tied to areas where seasonal water could have been available, due to mesa runoff, moisture retention by boulders and flow along arroyos, to nourish wild plants, attract game, and potentially be diverted for agricultural fields. The number of water control features that have been recorded within these canyons supports this interpretation.

Hot Spots

Within each canyon are areas where higher concentrations of petroglyphs occur. These are referred to as “hot spots,” that is, places that appear to reflect higher levels of ritual energy. These photos illustrate hotspots from Piedras Marcadas Canyon.