Filed Under Native Americans

Sego Canyon Fremont Culture Rock Art

Sego Canyon in Utah has rock art that dates back thousands of years. Four distinct time periods are represented in this collage of ancient artwork.

One of the most unique and easily accessible locations of ancient rock art in Utah is the Sego Canyon site near Thompson Springs in eastern Utah. Encompassing only three panels of rock art, four successive and distinct periods of human use are illustrated: Archaic, Fremont, Ute, and Anglo-American. Archaic, or Barrier Canyon style. The last of these styles may date as far back as 7000 BC and often features pictographs of large, rounded anthropomorphic figures. Fremont style paintings, dating from 600 AD to around 1250 AD, are pecked into the rock and depict angled anthropomorphic figures and abstract shapes. Ute style dates from 1300 AD to the mid-1800s and depicts animals, war figures, and shields painted in red and white. As American settlers arrived in the late nineteenth century, many sheepherders and cattlemen added their own additions to the artwork.

The site sits halfway between Thompson Springs, a center of ranching and railroading on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway, and the current ghost town of Sego, built to extract coal from the mines in the Book Cliffs first explored by Henry Ballard in 1881. G.K. Gilbert of the U.S. Geological Survey described the rock art in his 1883 report. In 1911, construction began on a railroad called the Ballard & Thompson Railway, which ran right in front of the largest of the three panels. After decades of vandalism by railroaders, miners, and ranchers, including a period where the cliff face was quarried out for building-stone, the BLM acquired the site in 1988. A restoration effort began in 1993 wherein they removed modern graffiti and patched the bullet holes to make the panels more visible.

Images

Sego Canyon Rock Art
Sego Canyon Rock Art The largest panel shows three successive layers of Archaic, Fremont, and Ute designs marked on the wall. This photograph was taken from the grade of the Ballard & Thompson Railroad; to the left out of camera is the rock quarry. Source: Photograph by author.
Restored Panel of Sego Canyon Rock Art
Restored Panel of Sego Canyon Rock Art A small corner of the canyon is still private property, including this panel which has not been restored. Archaic style figures are strung across the top in red paint, while Fremont style and nineteenth century graffiti are pecked over them across the center. Source: Photograph by author.

Location

Metadata

Joshua Bernhard, Brigham Young University, “Sego Canyon Fremont Culture Rock Art,” Intermountain Histories, accessed May 18, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/182.