Cactus Wren
Rock Art Inventory - 2003-04-06
AZ Z:99:999
Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren: AZ Z:99:999


This rock art site consists of 20 panels and 96 elements within an area of 35 by 22 meters. The rock art panels are located on a granite cliff face near a continuously flowing stream. Eight bedrock metates are located on nearby basalt boulders.

Although there are several masonry ruins within an hour's walk, no dwellings, pottery, or lithics have been found within this site. All such artifacts have been washed away or buried by floods.

Category: Site Overview

Earliest Rock Art

It is always interesting to hypothesize over which were the first rock art elements to be created at a site. In this case, there is one particular panel that is a dominant natural feature and is likely to be chosen as the first panel. The panel is triangular in shape with the long side forming the bottom and the apex near the top center. It is also large, near the bottom of the cliff face and easily accessed. In the image below, an adjacent panel appears in the background on the top left, but the triangular outline of the panel can be seen by looking closely.

The first rock art created on this panel appears to be the three elements pictured below. The reason these three elements are considered the first rock art is because they occupy the left, center, and right positions of the panel and form a symmetrical design. The center element, an outline circle, has been overlaid with a zoomorphic. The rear legs are in the lower left and the tail extends through the circle. Less obvious is the newer repecking on the left element on the bottom right and upper right. The two outer elements are composed of small circles that have horn-like appendages that extend upward and curve outward near the top ends. The circle (or oval) is about 0.3 meters wide and the adjacent elements are about 0.2 meters high.

The two outer elements are unusual designs for the area and there are no known elements of similar design nearby.

Other Early Rock Art

An additional 70 elements appear to have been created by a second wave of artists. These include about 40 zoomorphic elements composed of deer and mountain sheep. All of these zoomorphic elements tend to be prey animals and are realistically drawn with rectangular torsos that are proportionately correct. While some similar zoomorphic elements can be found at nearby sites, many of the other sites in the area have zoomorphic elements with distinctive crescent-shaped torsos. Two examples of the elements at this site and one from a nearby site are shown below.

As shown by the left and center elements above, nearly all of the early zoomorphic elements and many of the anthropomorphic elements have been repecked. Based upon the patination differences, the repecking is from a later time period . The torsos are almost always repecked, and sometimes antlers and legs are repecked as well. The repecked areas form very crude cupules with no evidence of any attempt to smooth the cupules with grinding or abrasion.

Two repecked anthropomorphics and a third that was not repecked are shown below.

Geometric and abstract element that appear to be from about this same time period (based upon patina) include the examples shown below. However, the style of these elements and their location within the site suggest they may have been created slightly later by a different population.

The elements from this period do not overlay the original three elements even though several share the same panel.

Bedrock metates

The site includes eight bedrock metates. Based upon the depth of the metates these were heavily used and the number of metates suggest a small population. An example is shown below.

The metates appear to be associated with the population that created the zoomorphics with the rectangular torsos. Both appear to have been created by a small population that stayed at the site for an extended period of time or visited the site multiple times as part of an annual migration.

Later Rock Art

The later rock art appears to coincide with the same time frame as the repecking described above. These elements tend to be predator animals and are very crude stick-like figures. Two examples are shown below, these resemble a mountain lion and a coyote.

The unrefined nature of these elements and the crude repecking of the older elements suggest that these artists had neither time nor skill. There are about 10 elements that appear to have been created during this time period. About 30 older elements were repecked. These new elements overlay the older rock art. Creation of predator zoomorphics may indicate a hostile or warring people. The repecking and overlaid elements may represent disrespect for their predecessors.

Mining Activity

In the late 1880's, an arrastre was built directly below the rock art site. Despite this intense activity, there is no apparent vandalism of the site dating from this era. Shown below are smooth ground stones from the arrastre and a piece of iron pipe located several hundred meters from the rock art site.

Category: Historic Artifacts
Category: Historic Artifacts

Element Counts and Percentages by Class

The following table summarizes the element class counts and compares the element class percentages against all other surveys recorded in the DigitalRockart database. This site has a much larger percentage of zoomorphic elements than the average site.

Element Classes
Class Number
Percent All Other Surveys
Anthropomorphic 6 6 6
Mask Or Head 0 0 0
Anthro Prints 0 0 1
Anthro Tools 0 0 0
Historic 0 0 2
Vandalism 0 0 9
Zoomorphic 43 45 16
Zoomorphic Tracks 0 0 2
Phytomorphic 0 0 0
Pipettes 0 0 0
Geometric 17 18 26
Abstract 9 9 8
Indeterminate 13 14 25
Grinding Feature 8 8 4
Totals 96 100 99

Survey Particulars

The field survey was completed in April of 2003. The survey was updated in November 2006 with a new site overview image.

Digital images of the rock art panels were taken with a 3.2 MP Olympus C730UZ and a 5 MP Canon S2 IS. Distances between panels were measured with a Sonin Multi-Measure Combo Pro (acoustic). Bearings and facings were measured with a compass adjusted to true north. Inclinations and elevations were measured with a compass clinometer.