Nevada History by John C. Evanoff is excited to present this series of articles by noted author and poet, John C. Evanoff. John will tell us about Nevada history and cover some of the more remote and unusual things to see and do in Northern Nevada.

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Nevada's Terrific Trivia Part III

December, 2011
by John Evanoff

Before the 1800's, Nevada was more or less entirely inhabited by Paiute Indians their cousins and the Shoshone for more than five thousand years and before that an earlier tribal nomadic relative of the Paiute moved around the northern part of the region for between three and five thousand years. Previous to that, around 12,000 to 18,000 years ago, a nomadic member of the Anasazi or " The Ancient Ones" moved through the canyons, hillsides and beside the desert creeks of Northern Nevada. You may have seen some these peoples history left to us by their art work on rocks throughout the region known as Petroglyphs or stone carvings. Some of these glyphs were used by many migrations of early man and were noted for their location near ancient Lake Lahontan shorelines some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. Most notably, the best example of rock drawings is at Grimes Point southeast of Fallon, Nevada where early man used the large bolder rocks as a type of fence to hide behind in anticipation of passing herds of antelope and deer. This nearby historical attraction is the largest of its kind in North America and because it is close to Hidden Cave which has a well documented timeline discovered and carefully documented by archeologists, we now know a lot about the different periods of the inhabitants, the stone tools they used and the way they lived and coexisted in their primitive culture. The aboriginal writings at Grimes Point depict the preceding ceremonial drama, the hunts and the spirited festival after a successful harvest of fish and game. So, here's the question. What do all the writings mean and do they have any other significance?

What do those figures in the rocks mean?
We all like to talk to our friends over the phone, by email and more currently by Twitter and you guessed it, that's what the figures are. They are symbols of what was happening at the time sort of like the emoticons we use in emails or the tons of "jpegs" we forward to each other through Facebook and the shortened tweets we like to use in Twitter. They are not ancient graffiti left to mark a territory. They are information passed on through ceremony and descriptive narrative. They are the first books. Only, most of the talking was done by just a few of the tribal members known as Shamans. Long ago, the hierarchy was very clear, designated members of the clan learned how to treat sickness with herbs and concoctions of various types, many of which were toxic or conscious altering. They passed this knowledge on through generations of family and because they held such power as mediators of the spirit world with the physical world, they were many times looked upon with great reverence. Some Shamans were viewed as "Medicine People" and others as "Spiritual Guides," but all were very important to the status and stability of the clan or tribe. The Shaman was the keeper of the word and the history of the family and the entire tribe. They handed down the word through story telling around the campfire or in the caves of early man. One thing measured a Shaman better than anything and that was how they expressed their stories. It was believed a good tale was not enough. It had to be backed up by things that could be seen. So, many of the Shaman learned to create amazing and weird looking costumes and dances and each son or daughter added their feather, beads, bones or other ornamental intricacies called talismans to give their characterizations more individuality and reputation. But it didn't stop there. Shamans knew how to pass on information through paintings and sometimes tattoos on animal skins and even their own skin in ceremonies, but they also knew the power of leaving their information in rock drawings. Not only were the tales of past ceremonies and hunts passed down year after year and generation after generation, but the spirit and personality of their tribe was also bestowed upon the land. This was great power. Nature and man coming together in rock art was commonplace throughout Neolithic cultures all over the world for thousands of years. Some historians and archeologists give petroglyphs much more significance than just ancient mapping and spirit awakening. They believe petroglyphs were the first successful attempts of writing and thus civilization. Shaman passed on the history of their tribe and their "word" in rock art through generations of knowledge. Knowledge brought people together in creating and building society and trade. The clans who had the most knowledge of where the best hunting, fishing and agricultural were, actually and effectively eliminated the harshness of nature on their families and thus they became more sophisticated in dealing with life. The more sophisticated the clan, the easier it was for them to trade with other people who wished for more abundance in their own tribe. Geography, vegetation and wildlife were not the only reasons tribes stayed in Nevada. Many believe Shaman kept the tribes here because of the power the clan had in the region due to trading of valuable foodstuffs and stone tools. This form of civilization and spirit characterization was inherent throughout all of northern Nevada for more than ten thousand years and rock art is the historical evidence.

So rock art is more than just the saga of a journey or hunt, it was the narration of nature and man and every ancestor's life to that moment in which the Shaman delivered it into the rock.

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