Even before the advent of photography, American Indian pictures were used to communicate and celebrate tribal cultures. The tribesmen of old used pictures to convey messages much like we use writing today. In fact, modern writing evolved from the pictures of earlier peoples.
American Indian pictures are known as pictographs (sometimes called pictograms) and we have an abundance of archeological evidence from which we can learn about life in earlier times. Some parts of the country are graced with pictographs painted in rock walls. We can see them at such diverse places as Utah’s Canyonlands National Park and in a tiny state park near Yakima, Washington.
Nine Mile Canyon in Utah is called the world’s longest art gallery because of the magnificent display of rock art found on canyon walls. The Ute people are named as the creators of the paintings. The National Trust for Historic Preservation added the site to its list of America’s Most Endangered Places in 2004.
Some of the American Indian pictures painted onto rock walls are monochromatic and others feature several colors that have been vividly retained throughout the ages. It will never be known what these exquisite works of art looked like when they were first completed but what remains today is often breathtakingly beautiful and always awe inspiring.
The American Indian pictures remaining today feature a number of subjects. Hunt scenes featuring bison, antelope, and bears are common. The now-extinct mastadon and mammoth were once the subject of this primitive art form. Tribal warriors’ faces and headdresses are the subject of the paintings in Yakima and other locations have paintings that are simply hand prints of the earliest American residents.
Thanks to modern photographic technologies, we now have photographs of the peoples of various Native American tribes. These earliest photographs were taken of subjects in posed or staged settings and give us a wonderful glimpse at these first Americans. Unfortunately, however, we will never have photographs of day-to-day tribal existence as it occurred in a natural, real setting.