Digging Up Ancient Art

By Jeanette Larson

Ancient art gives us insight into what people who lived before written records, like books, existed. Archeologists "dig up" these stories and try to interpret what the art means. While some scholars believe that some of the symbols have universal meanings, and there may be archetypal symbols such as the hand to represent a person, there is no way to confirm that similar symbols have similar meaning.

Books to Share

Maria and the Stars of Nazca / Maria y las Estrellas de Nazca by Anita Jepson Gilbert

Sand to Stone and Back Again by Nancy Bo Flood

The Shaman and the Water Serpent by Jennifer Owens Dewey

When Clay Sings by Byrd Baylor

Books to Show or Booktalk

Cliff-hanger: A Mystery in Mesa Verde National Park by Gloria Skurzynski and Alane Ferguson.

Easter Island Unearthing Ancient Worlds by Michael Capek

Kokopelli's Flute by Will Hobbs

A Native American Thought of It by Rocky Landon

Painters of the Caves by Patricia Lauber

Stories on Stone: Rock Art, Images from the Ancient Ones by Jennifer Owens Dewey

Bulletin Board

Newspaper Rock

Replicate the largest concentration of petroglyphs by lining the bulletin board with brown butcher paper. Use brown and black crayons to add petroglyphs, using the pattern provided at the end of this chapter or stencils from Fun with Southwest Indian Stencils by Paul E. Kennedy. Kokopelli, thunderbirds, hands, and animals are popular images. Add lettering to label the bulletin board "Newspaper Rock" and provide book jackets for books related to ancient art. Photographs of Newspaper Rock, located in Petrified Forest National Park, can be viewed at Science Views, http://www.scienceviews.com/indian/newspaper.html.

Your Community Cave

Follow the instructions provided by Susan L. Roth at http://susanlroth.com/letsholdhands/index.htm to create self-portraits of the children in your community. Create the portraits from paper, cloth, and recycled materials. Cover the bulletin board with brown paper and mount the portraits on the board.


A set of twelve photographs of original paintings in the Lascaux cave may be purchased from Crystal Productions, http://www.crystalproductions.com.

Audio recordings

Canyon Trilogy: Native American Flute Music by R. Carlos Nakai

Stories to Tell

Stories in Stone

Find photographs of rock art, petroglyphs or pictographs. Display them for the children and try to figure out what the story might be. If you don't have a book like Rock Art of the American Southwest by Fred Hirschmann and Scott Thybony, search Google Images for examples to share.

The Cave

Tell the story, "The Cave" by Martha Brady from Artstarts by Martha Brady and Patsy T. Gleason (available through NetLibrary, a TexShare resource). It's best to tell this story prior to doing an activity like the Anasazi Cave Art craft as it sets the stage for the project.


Anasazi Cave Art
  • Styrofoam meat trays
  • Scissors
  • Tempera paint
  • Small art brushes
  • Pencils
  • Stylus or other small pointed items (large nails, for example)
  • Heavy paper
  • Examples of rock art figures and icons

A photo of a stamped rock art figure using brown tempera paint, and a photo of a piece of Styrofoam from a meat try that has been carved with a petro glyph design into the foam.

(By Debbie Gonzales. Adapted with permission.)


In advance cut Styrofoam meat trays into 3 X 5 inch pieces. Provide metal or wooden styluses and photographs of Southwestern rock art figures. Alternately, provide the children with copies of the patterns provided with this craft. Use the pencil to trace a figure on to the Styrofoam. Use the stylus to carve the petroglyph into the Styrofoam being careful to trace a deep groove as shown in the photograph. Brush the tempera paint onto the raised side of the Styrofoam stamp. Press the stamp onto a piece of paper. Allow to dry. (Photographs courtesy of Debbie Gonzales, http://www.debbiegonzales.com, and used with permission.)

Create Your Own Pictographs

Follow the instructions at Texas Beyond History, http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/trans-p/kids/make/design1.html, to allow the children to create painting implements, like brushes and blow sticks, and as well as make their own pigments to create pictographs.

Sand Art
  • Small jars, like baby food jars, with lids
  • Sand
  • Tempera paint
  • Toothpicks
  • Paper funnels (optional)
  • Spoons

In advance clean the jars and be sure that they are completely dry. Also in advance, mix dry tempera paint into the sand to color it. Plan to have at least 4 or 5 colors. Alternately, buy sand that is already colored from a craft supply company such as S&S Worldwide, http://www.ssww.com/arts-and-crafts-supplies/sand-art-supplies/sand-art-sand/. Allow the children to spoon small amounts of sand into their jar, using the funnel if desired to ensure the sand layers the way they want it to. Place several layers of colors in the jar until the jar is completely filled with sand. Use the toothpicks to create shifting colors that will create peaks and valleys. Slide the toothpick around to experiment with patterns. Place a thin line of glue around the threads on the inside of the lip. Secure the lid to the jar.

Games and Activities

Rattlesnake Origami

Snakes were important figures in ancient art, especially in the Southwest where rattlesnakes live. Follow the folding pattern provided at the end of this chapter to create an origami rattlesnake.

Web-Based Activities

Lascaux: A Visit to the Caves


This virtual tour explores the art in the caves at Lascaux.

Web 2.0


Use a free movie making software package like Animoto, http://animoto.com/, or Animasher, http://www.animasher.com/ to let the children make short mock documentaries about prehistoric cave or rock art. One child can be the interviewer asking a question about who created the art and what it means. Include a gallery of cave and rock art. Animoto is free for 30 second films but it is inexpensive to purchase a subscription that allows longer videos.

Guest Speakers

Invite an art teacher to show samples of contemporary art, like that of Picasso, that has roots in ancient art.


Adventurepatrol: Totally Rocks (35 minutes)

Cave Painter of Lascaux (8 minutes)

Secrets of the Nasca Lines (50 minutes)


Rock Art of the Lower Pecos

A University of Texas professor combines commentary with more than 250 photographs to provide an interactive experience.

Exploring Rock Art: A North American Field Trip

Take a virtual field trip throughout the Southwest, creating and recording rock art and pictographs, while learning about the people who created them.

Professional Resources

Easy Field Guide to Rock Art Symbols of the Southwest by Rick Harris.

"Stories on Stone," Book Links, July 2005; p 41.

The Bradshaw Foundation


The website for this non-profit organization which studies rock art around the world, provides photographs and other information on sites, including the Kimberley region of Australia, along with a genetic map that shows the journey of mankind.

E-Museum @ Minnesota State University


In addition to information about rock art around the word, this site offers information about the figures depicted in petroglyphs and pictographs and explains how the images can be dated.

Humanities Interactive


The Texas Council for the Humanities provides teaching resources, including essays and photographs on Ice Age art, as well as games and learning activities for students.

Nasca Lines: The Buried Secrets


This National Geographic site provides a photo gallery of the lines along with information about the location of other geoglyphs around the world.

The Rock Art Foundation


This San Antonio based organization offers an online gallery of Texas rock art as well as information on sites in Texas.

A Teacher's Craft Guide for Sand to Stone and Back Again


Debbie Gonzales has created a teacher guide that provides ideas for writing poetry and creating crafts based on the book by Nancy Bo Flood.

Craft Materials

Newspaper Rock Bulletin Board Pattern

Printer Friendly PDF Version (215 KB) (Full Page)

This is a full page of ancient native American petro glyphs. One is an outline of kokopelli, then two outlines of hands, and finally a bear with an arrow through it.


Rattlesnake Origami

Printer Friendly PDF Version (193 KB) (Full Page)

This is a full page of directions for an Origami Rattlesnake. There are twelve steps from a square piece of paper with lines and arrows indicating where the folds appear to the final view of the paper snake.


Texas Reading Club 2011 Programming Manual / Dig Up a Good Book!

Published by the Library Development Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Page last modified: June 14, 2011