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Ash Springs Archeological District


About The Ash Springs Rock Art Site

The Ash Springs Rock Art Site is typical of much Great Basin rock art sites. Petroglyphs, or rock art which is engraved, is the dominant form found at the site. They are etched onto rockfaces by pecking, abrading, scratching or a combination of these techniques. All petroglyphs at Ash Springs are pecked and display a wide range of line widths. These glyphs adorn rock surfaces that have been subject to a noticeable amount of weathering and natural spalling, as well as some marked human defacement. Pictographs, or painted rock art, and cupules, or pit-and-groove rock art, are both absent from this site but can be observed at other sites in the area.

Rock art is composed of separate motifs or designs called elements. These elements are often arranged in groups on the sides of rock faces, and are referred to as panels. Much of the imagery at Ash Springs is clearly non-representational, however, it would have been clearly understood by the cultures who created it. Other glyphs are more recognizable. Elements resembling animals are called zoomorphs and include all four-legged typeAsh Springs Photo2s or quadrupeds, as well as birds, insects, and other animals. Mountain sheep are the most common zoomorphs at Ash Springs, and occur throughout the Great Basin and western United States. Human figures, or anthropomorphs, are the other recognizable forms found at Ash Springs and exhibit striking variations in design.

The predominant rock art style at Ash Springs is the Great Basin Pecked Style. This includes the substyles of Great Basin Representational, Great Basin Curvilinear Abstract, and Great Basin Rectilinear Abstract. There are no examples of the Great Basin Painted Style present.

Rock art is found wherever there has been human activity. It is found at both public and private sites, and played an essential role in the transmission, reception, and storage of information. Although we cannot be sure what most rock art means, we suspect it was deeply significant to those who created it. We know that some rock art was ceremonial and therefore contained sacred knowledge. Other speculated uses for rock art are the marking of game trails, the designation of cultural territories, and the functioning as astronomical markers pertaining to such phenomena as the solstices and equinoxes.

Even with the development of scientific dating methods, we still find it difficult to accurately calculate the age of most rock art. Sophisticated methods of C-14 dating have been designed to analyze the tiny particles of organic matter which collect in the grooves of petroglyphs after having been etched onto the rock surface. Despite the continual refining of these methods, there are still significant problems related to the contamination of the organic matter. In some instances, rock art can be related to artifactual material that is datable and thought to be contemporary with the rock art, but often it is impossible to generate anything other than an estimated timeframe. Ash Springs Photo4


The Ash Springs Rock Art Site was frequented by a culture known as the Pahranagats, one of several known Southern Paiute groups. The area is known to have been a winter site accommodating a small village (25-40 individuals). In general, less food-gathering took place during the winter months, although there was occasional hunting. Instead, winter was a time of visiting, gambling and story telling.

The presence of debitage, or stone flakes, indicate that many stone tools were created here. These include knives, drills, scrapers, hammerstones and a variety of projectile points. Tools were fashioned mostly out of cherts that were obtained locally, and obsidians that came from farther away in Utah. The Pahranagats also had a highly specialized basketry tradition. Baskets specifically fashioned to gather and process plant foods included burden baskets, winnowing and parching trays, bowls, and seed beaters. By contrast, pottery was simple and utilitarian, although some vessels had cord-impressed or fingernail-incised decorations. At the Ash Springs Site, sherds of Fremont-like greyware have also been found, indicating the presence of these Southwestern groups who co-existed in this area along with the Pahranagats c. AD 500-1250.

The Pahranagats, like other culture groups in this area, represented a long-standing tradition (c. 12,000 years) of diverse lifeways which included hunting and gathering combined with periods of sedentism. Approximately AD 1000, a major subsisteAsh Springs Photo3nce change may have occurred when hunting was increasingly replaced by the consumption of plants and small animals (i.e., rodents, birds, insects) as major sources of nutrition. Horticulture became an important subsistance activity, a practice which may have been borrowed from the Virgin Anasazi, another Southwestern group present in this area along with the Fremonts. Other than this, no major disruption is inferred throughout this cultural sequence until the nineteenth century. At this time native inhabitants were severely affected by the presence of European settlers in the area, particularly during the great mining boom of the 1860's. Indigenous populations were displaced, eradicated or at least greatly attenuated.

The Pahranagats' primary political and economic unit was the mobile extended family. These small parties ranged throughout the region during the course of the seasonal round to take advantage of the varying availabilities of local resources. Despite the Pahranagat's excellent survival skills, starvation was often prevalent in the spring when winter stores were depleted and spring food plants had not yet begun to germinate. When food plants did become available, populations dispersed along the valley floors during the spring and summer. Seeds, roots, tubers and berries were collected and small animals were trapped and eaten. The practice of horticulture yielded crops of maize, beans, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, lamb's quarters and winter wheat. Garden plots were situated along the margins of lower altitude lakes and marshes and were watered by irrigation ditches.

During the fall, people came together in large gatherings for the purpose of harvesting pinenuts, communal rabbits drives and mourning ceremonies. Winter was the most permanent phase Ash Springs Photo1of the seasonal round and was spent in villages, usually around the lower fringes of the pinyon-juniper forests (5000-8000 ft.), although Ash Springs is not in this area and is at a much lower altitude (3600-3800 ft.). The boulders here would shelter people from the cold. Water was ordinarily obtained from snow meltoff, however, the constant availability of (warm) water at Ash Springs rendered this unnecessary and made this site extremely desirable.


The Ash Springs Rock Art Site is located approximately 5 miles south of the intersection of Route 93, 375, and 318, on the east side of Route 93 at mile 45.5 across the road from the white trailer with the white picket fence.

Rock Art Etiquette

To explore the Ash Springs Rock Art Site (as well as other sites in Nevada), you will need a comfortable pair of walking shoes (hiking boots or sneakers are preferable), comfortable clothes, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. Also, keep a watch out for rattlesnakes. Never put your feet or hands where you cannot see them (ie., in deep nooks and crannies of rocks and boulders while climbing). Most importantly; always bring water. Even though you may only plan to go for a short hike, be sure to always have water with you.

When examining rock art, please be sure to observe the following; Do not ever touch rock art and do not ever walk on it. The rock art is very fragile and the application of any material, including water and especially oil from your skin, can cause irreparable damage. If you yourself see any vandalism taking place, please call the Bureau of Land Management's resource protection hotline (1-800-722-3998). Always exercise courtesy while visiting archaeological sites and do not disturb any artifacts you may find.

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: Leave What You Find, Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly

Leave What You Find means retaining the special qualities of every wildland area for the long term. One of the most exiting aspects of traveling through America's deserts is coming upon relics from the past. The arid environment preserves human history and you often find rock art, potsherds, corn cobs, and ruins tucked up in canyons or spread across the mesas. Discovering such evidence of earlier cultures is exhilarating. Cultural sites add to the mystery and allure of the desert, but take care when you come upon a site. Watch where you walk and try not to touch anything. There can be no compromise if we wish to protect these irreplaceable and fragile treasures. Visit cultural sites with care, respect, and impeccable Leave No Trace techniques. Leaving such things as we find them helps us to pass the gift of discovery on to those who follow.

If you detect any vandalism, suspicious activity or desire further information please contact the Ely District office at HC33 box 33500, Ely, Nevada 8931-9408. (phone 1-800-633-6092, 775-289-1800). Also please remember that excavation, collection, damage or destruction of archeological resources (pottery, chipped stone, rock art and other resources) is prohibited under the Archeological Resources Protection Act (43 CFR Part 7). Please enjoy your visit.

Always remember to Leave No Trace skills and ethics and Tread Lightly minimum impact camping techniques.

Ely Field Office
HC 33 Box 33500
Ely, Nevada 89301-9408
(775) 289-1880

Caliente Field Office
PO Box 237
South US 93
Caliente, Nevada 89009
(775) 726-8100

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