[Rock Art of the Lower Pecos]
Rock Art of the Lower Pecos, Carolyn E. Boyd
2003, Texas A&M University Press, College Station, cloth, d/j
139 pages, 5 color plates, 60 figures, 2 tables, 8-3/4" x 11-1/4"

Four thousand years ago bands of hunter-gatherers lived in and traveled through the challenging terrain of what is now southwest Texas and northern Mexico. Today, travelers to the Lower Pecos canyonlands can view large murals these early peoples left behind on the canyon walls and cliff overhangs of this arid region. Rattlesnake Canyon, White Shaman, Panther Cave, Mystic Shelter, and Cedar Springs, which together represent some of the most complex and enigmatic rock art panels, contain messages from the distant past that are now interpreted for modern readers by artist-archaeologist Carolyn E. Boyd.

Scholars have feared that the meaning of this ancient art was lost with the artists who produced it. However, thanks to research breakthroughs, the elaborate rock paintings are again communicating a narrative that was inaccessible to humanity for millennia. In these ancient murals, Boyd sees a way that hunter-gatherer artists expressed their belief systems; provided a mechanism for social and environmental adaptation; and acted as agents in the social, economic, and ideological affairs of the community. She offers detailed information gleaned from the art regarding the nature of the Lower Pecos cosmos, ritual practices involving the use of sacramental and medicinal plants, and hunter-gatherer lifeways.

Now, combining the tools of the ethnologist with the aesthetic sensibilities of an artist, Boyd demonstrates that prehistoric art is not beyond explanation. Images from the past contain a vast corpus of data—accessible through proven, scientific methods— that can enrich our understanding of human life in prehistory and, at the same time, expand our appreciation for the work of art in the present and the future.

Carolyn E. Boyd is the executive director and a founder of the Shumla School, an archaeological research and educational nonprofit corporation that has been formed to study the human use of materials, land, and art. She lives in the canyonlands of West Texas.

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