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Preserving Signs of the PastWhere Are They NowAbout the ExhibitionEducational ResourcesHome Preserving Signs of the Past

The Pictured Cliffs site, on the San Juan River, consists of a sandstone cliff almost a mile and a half long, with at least 4,000 petroglyphs inscribed on the cliff face and isolated boulders. The petroglyphs span the time period from about AD 700 into the twentieth century. Ancestors of the Pueblo tribes created the majority of the glyphs before AD 1300, but examples of historic Navajo, Spanish, and Anglo engravings are also found there.

In 1977, planned improvements to US 550 threatened the petroglyphs on boulders separated from the cliff face. As a result, the New Mexico Department of Transportation asked the Museum of New Mexico to conduct the first complete inventory of the glyphs. Petroglyphs on boulders endangered by highway construction were photographed and drawn.

After recording, the Department of Transportation took extraordinary measures to preserve the petroglyphs by moving the boulders that had been scheduled for destruction to new locations outside of the highway right-of-way.

View of the Pictured Cliffs from the highway.

One of the methods used to record petroglyphs at the Pictured Cliffs was by tracing elements of the panels onto acetate film.