January 29, 2012

The Hopi's "newspaper rock"

Tribes join forces to save petroglyph site

By Pauline ArrillagaIn the far reaches of northern Arizona, where city sprawl gives way to majestic canyons and a holy place is defined not by steeple and cross but rather by earth and sky, lies a monument to a people’s past and a symbol of the promise of peace between two long-warring Indian nations.

The Hopi people call it Tutuveni (tu-TOO-veh-nee), meaning “newspaper rock,” and from a distance this place is just that–a collection of sandstone boulders set on a deserted swath of rust-stained land outside of Tuba City, some 80 miles from the Grand Canyon and a four-hour drive north of Phoenix.

It is only when you step closer that you begin to understand what Tutuveni really is: a history of the Hopi Indian tribe carved into stone.

The site contains some 5,000 petroglyphs of Hopi clan symbols, the largest known collection of such symbols in the American Southwest. According to researchers with the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, the many etchings on the boulders of Tutuveni date as far back as far back as A.D. 1200.

On the dark desert varnish of the boulders are rows of bear paws, corn stalks, spiders, coyotes, kachinas, clouds, cranes. Some of the symbols represent various aspects of Hopi cultural life, but most are the markings of the Hopi clans, or family systems, which are usually named for animals or other natural objects.

The Hopi made these engravings during ceremonial pilgrimages from their land to the Grand Canyon to mark the passage into adulthood for Hopi young men.

“They would stop at Tutuveni and camp there, and they would peck their clan symbols on those rocks to mark their participation in that pilgrimage. And they did this for four or five centuries at least,” said Wes Bernardini, an archaeologist and professor at the University of Redlands who has been studying Tutuveni for years. “When people from the same clan would visit the site, they would put their symbols next to the previous symbol that somebody had left earlier. There’s no other site that we know of like that, that shows these repeated visits.

“It’s a very important place.”

It is also a place threatened by modern-day vandals who view Tutuveni not as the sacred site and archaeological treasure that it is, but rather a canvas for their own graffiti.

Scattered among the many ancient impressions are the markings of lovers, history buffs and random visitors looking to leave their mark with etchings such as: “Aaron Myrianna 07,” “The Victor 10-20-85,” “Van.B,” “Ramon Albert,” “Ariz. Hy. Dept.” Even: “1969-Man Land on Moon.”

On one rock is a carved image of the two World Trade Center towers, with a plane heading for them. Elsewhere, clan symbols have been chiseled away or spray-painted over.
Hopi Petroglyph SitesSite Description

Tutuveni is an important site along the Hopi pilgrimage route to Ongtuvqa, also known as the Grand Canyon. The site lies west of the Hopi Reservation in Arizona, and within the neighboring Navajo Nation. Meaning Newspaper Rock in Hopi, Tutuveni contains 5,000 petroglyphs of Hopi clan symbols and is the largest known collection of clan symbols in the American Southwest. Among Tutuveni's 150 sandstone boulders are the records of more than 1,000 years of Hopi history and culture.

Hopi clan petroglyphs completely cover the sides and tops of a number of towering sandstone blocks up to 5 meters tall and are found sporadically on the surfaces of smaller boulders along the base of a small mesa that forms part of the Echo Cliffs. The style of the petroglyphs at Tutuveni is remarkably consistent: iconic symbols, typically of recognizable animals, plants, or cultural items, and of moderate size (about 10x10cm). Unlike most large petroglyph sites, the symbols at Tutuveni rarely overlap. Even more atypical is the fact that the symbols appear in rows of repeated images--up to 20 or more in a line--representing repeated visits by members of the same clan.


The concentration of clear-cut clan symbols at Tutuveni, corresponding to known historic and extinct Hopi clans, is absolutely unique in the American Southwest. The site was a stopping point on a pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon undertaken by male initiates of the Hopi village (kitsoki) initiation ceremony, the Wuwtsim. Traditionally, all Hopi men underwent Wuwtsim initiation between adolescence and marriage. Ceramics associated with the site, the dating of ancestral Hopi villages in the surrounding area, and the very heavy repatination of the petroglyphs at Tutuveni point to the use of the site by ancestral Hopi populations beginning in at least the 1500s, and perhaps as early as 1200 CE. As a record of clan activity over the past several centuries, the Tutuveni site is vital in educating younger generations of Hopis about the traditional cultural history of the tribe.


Considering their age and relatively close proximity to well traveled roads, the Tutuveni petroglyphs survived in a remarkably well-preserved condition into the mid-twentieth century. Unfortunately, in the last few decades, the site has suffered from increasing vandalism, including painting, scratching, and chiseling of petroglyphs. The sheer number of petroglyphs present at Tutuveni means that most of the site is still intact, but a recent study indicates that up to 10% of the symbols have been damaged. Analysis of datable graffiti shows that almost 80% of the vandalism at Tutuveni happened recently, between 1980 and 2005. In 2010, Arizona Public Services funded the installation of a fence to surround and protect the site. Fortunately, two relatively complete sets of photographs from the 1930s and 1970s allow most of the site to be digitally reconstructed back to its pristine, early 20th-century condition using the highly accurate 3D model and high-resolution photographs generated by CyArk.
Comment:  I used to read the Hopi Tutuveni newspaper every week. That was years before I started my Newspaper Rock blog. But I didn't realize the name "Tutuveni" meant "newspaper rock."

I was thinking of the more famous Newspaper Rock in southern Utah when I named my blog. I knew there were other "newspaper rocks," but I didn't know the Hopi had one. It's a small world after all!

For more on rock art, see Red Rock Vandal Sentenced and "Not Cool" to Deface Rock Art.

Below:  "Photograph of the petroglyphs along Boulder 17's north face."

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