Documenting Painted Rock Petroglyph Site

Fran Maiuri, Archaeology Southwest member and volunteer

(February 14, 2017)—We’re in the middle of over 500 boulders with petroglyphs on them and we’re wearing bright orange vests that say ARCHAEOLOGIST. Five of us—Kirk Astroth, Carl Evertsbusch, Jaye Smith, and Lance Trask—are volunteering for Archaeologist Southwest, recording the Painted Rock Petroglyph site. This site is managed by the BLM, and it is part of the proposed Great Bend of the Gila National Monument. Surprisingly, even though it is a public site with a formal trail and interpretive signs, the site has never been formally recorded. We’re here to help Aaron Wright do that.

The project begins with the Rock Art Stability Index (RASI), shared with us by Niccole Villa Cerveny, one of the developers of the index. We attend a half-day training and wonder how will we ever remember all the new terms—lithobiont, fissure independent of lithification, efflorescence vs. subflorescence. With the other volunteers we joke about all this new language, but we go home and read through the online references, and study. When we arrive on site for the two-night campout and three days of work, we are unsure of our skills. Niccole leads us through sample boulders and we’re on our way. The process becomes familiar and we sail through the analyses until we run out of forms. It turns out Aaron has underestimated how much work a small group of volunteers can complete in two and a half days! As our schedules allow, we come back for two days each of the next two weeks and finish the nearly 600 boulders. 

Painted Rocks Survey Team

The Painted Rock team completing RASI on the boulders to analyze potential rock decay that puts the petroglyphs at risk.

Now, it is time to photograph. We learn a whole new process for photograpy. We will photograph for three-dimensional representation with direction from Archaeology Southwest’s Doug Gann. Each boulder needs from 60 to more than 100 photos from all angles and directions so that Doug has enough to stitch together to make a 3D representation of each! We’re game, and the work continues. We are using auto windshield reflectors for shade and a small, high-quality point-and-shoot camera.

The first couple of days are slow. The shade is clearly not large enough for the super boulders on this site. The photography involves bending, holding the camera still, and keeping an 18-inch distance from the boulder, while stepping around boulders nearby. As the photographer, I’m glad I do boot camp workouts three days a week! My body is in many different configurations those two days.

In a day and a half we complete 43 boulders. Can we sustain this? We have more than 550 more to photograph! During the week, Doug runs some of our photos to create the 3D example. The surface of this boulder with the pecking looks awesome. On our cell phones and computers we can navigate around the rock, look at all sides, and turn it around. Unfortunately, there are holes in two sides of the rock. We did not have enough good photos to stitch a complete 3D representation. We go back to the drawing board.

After problem-solving by email and with consultation from Doug, the team shows up the next week, with a new shade contraption, selfie sticks, a Go-Pro camera and the original point-and-shoot camera. Two photographers and a two-person shading team work for two more days, and now we have nearly 200 boulders photographed. Now we’re waiting to see how it all works out. If the Go-Pro works, it is a much faster and easier-to-use option. We’ll know more soon, but the mystery of archaeology and new methods of data collection are part of what keeps us coming back!

Archaeology Southwest’s work at Painted Rock continues. If you visit the site, and you see some folks among the boulders wearing orange vests, don’t be fooled. We’re not all trained Archaeologists. Most of us are volunteers, being challenged, sharing our skills, and enjoying our time in these special sites we are working hard to document and preserve!

Orange Archaeologist Vest

Me, modeling the orange vest on my birthday at Painted Rock Petroglyph site.


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One Response to “Documenting Painted Rock Petroglyph Site”

  1. Katherine Cerino Says:

    Fran – great article. You guys seem to be having so much fun and I love that it is getting shared widely on Facebook. Maybe I should have joined you afterall.

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