Ceremonial Imagery of Dinétah
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rock wall
Photograph by Tom McCarthy, Museum of New Mexico
Images of corn, deities, animal tracks, mounted soldiers, and horned figures stretch along the lower walls of Crow Canyon. 

Seen from above, from the doorway of a pueblito or a rock ledge swept by afternoon winds, the lower walls of Dinétah's canyons are broken with boulder fields, fallen slabs, and shadows. Walk along the base of the cliff in Largo Canyon or Delgadito, Crow Canyon, or Palluche, and the walls come to life. The Yeis, the Holy People, the Hero Twins, the heavens, animals and plants all take their places on the rock.  

Within each canyon, the symbols vary. In some, the Holy People meet your eye. In others, star tracks and footprints trail along the walls and history rides between the cliffs on horseback. Images are painted or carved over much older work; many have been painted and repainted, carved again and again over many years. Some have now been lost, swallowed by the rising waters of Navajo Reservoir. In times of stress, it is said, the Navajo people can return to these places and petition for aid through prayer.


rock art, holy people
Photograph by John Roney,
New Mexico Bureau of Land Management.
Yei" pictographs, Delgadito Canyon. In Navajo tradition, the Holy People, or Yeis, are sometimes shown holding "recurved" bows. This technological innovation is thought by some to have been introduced by the ancestors of today's Navajo and Apache. The distinctive double curve is sometimes shown alone as a symbol for Naayéé' Neizghání, or Monster Slayer, one of the Hero Twins.

The corn plant has a special place in Navajo ceremonial imagery. One of the four sacred plants, it serves as a symbol of strength and as a metaphor for the geography of the canyon country. In some oral histories, Gobernador Knob, Ch'ool'í'í, is described as the tassel at the head of a large corn plant. Gobernador Canyon is the stalk and the side canyons are the leaves and fruits. In many other stories, Ch'ool'í'í is said to be a male forked-stick hogan. Rock art, corn plant

rock art, horseback riders
Photograph by Sarah Schlanger,
New Mexico Bureau of Land Management.
Horseback riders with wide-brimmed hats and raised swords are drawn in several places in the canyons of Dinétah. These are probably Spanish members of expeditions into the Gobernador between 1705 and 1716. The mounted horseman image occurs across the Southwest, marking the Spanish entrada permanently on the landscape.

rock art
Photograph by James Matthew Copeland,
New Mexico Bureau of Land Management.
Detail of pictograph panel, Crow Canyon. Navajo people interpret this as a representation of Gháá' ask'idii. His horns tie him to the Mountain Sheep People, an ancient race associated with the night chant, Tl'eejí. Generally a benevolent figure, Gháá' ask'idii carries many kinds of seeds and foods in his feather-crowned backpack.

 

 


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