A Native American Bestiary
Objective: Use prehistoric rock art to explore ancient Native American beliefs systems.
Background: Many Native American groups believe that community well being in This World depends on maintaining a balance between the creative forces of the Upper World and the destructive forces of the Under World. This balance is often symbolized by images of animals with unusual characteristics, such as snakes with wings or panther heads. Can you find examples of these "mythological" animal figures in rock art?
Activity: Search the database (using the Search screen) by selecting Rock Art Category = Prehistoric Native American and General Motif = Zoomorph. Examine the images you retrieve and see how many "mythological" animal figures you can identify. What species are represented? What realms of the cosmos do these figures represent?
Additional exercise: Go to the library and find a book on Native American mythology (see bibliography section for suggested references). Can you find any myths that involve the species represented in your rock art selection? What roles and accomplishments are associated with those mythic animals? What connections can you draw between the rock art and the myths?