Traces of a Lost People- page 2 | People & Places | Smithsonian
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Traces of a Lost People

Who roamed the Colorado Plateau thousands of years ago? And what do their stunning paintings signify?

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(Continued from page 1)

Twenty minutes into the canyon takes us around yet another bend and to the base of a cliff perhaps 1,000 feet high. There, about 200 feet above us, I spy the ancient images. Clambering up a slope of rubble from past rockfalls, we work our way to the paintings, very possibly retracing the steps of the artists who made them. The main panel bears a red rectangular block, an anthropomorphic character with antennae, and what appears to be a bighorn sheep. Asecond, presumably older set of images features two anthropomorphic beings. While nobody knows for sure what these figures signify, speculation centers on shamanistic or religious figures.

Edging closer, Sucec raises his hand above several streaks obviously made by the artist. “You can actually see how big this person’s hand was. My hand is bigger than his,” he says. “You can actually see in the smears up here a fingerprint.”

One day, as we rest high above the sandy floor of WildHorseCanyon, I ask Sucec if he and Law will ever find all of the artworks. “Probably not all of them—maybe 90 percent,” he answers. There are simply too many sites in too many canyons. And too often, Sucec tells me, the slant of the sun has to be just right for an image even to be spotted. “Sometimes you have to go back two or three times to do a canyon,” he says. “This canyon is six miles long. It will take us 10 to 12 days to do this. And there are 10,000 canyons.”

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