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Upper Sheep Canyon Petroglyphs

Photographs of Coso rock art, California.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

The Coso Range is situated between the Sierra Nevada’s on the west and the Argus Range to the east. Owens Lake lies to the north and Indian Wells Valley lies to the south. This north–south trending range of about 400 square miles consists of rhyolitic domes and outcrops of volcanic rock.  Annual rainfall is less than 20 inches and much of the habitable areas are above 5000’ elevation.  

Sheep Canyon is one of several major canyons in the Coso Range. It lies between Renegade Canyon a few miles to the south and Big Petroglyph Canyon two miles to the north. Each of these canyons contains thousands of petroglyphs and it is estimated that the 91 square miles encompassing the five major canyons contain approximately 100,000 petroglyphs, making the Coso Range the highest concentration of petroglyphs in North America. The majority of the Coso Range images thus far cataloged fall into one of six categories: bighorn sheep, entopic images (images created by the optic nerve while in a trance like state), anthropomorphic or human-like figures (usually male), other animals, weapons & tools, and “medicine bag” images. The similarity of images and style indicate the rock art in these canyons were made by the same people and made over several thousand years. Sheep Canyon is divided into an upper and a lower section. The upper section is at about 5300 feet elevation, is narrow and has blocky basalt walls about forty feet high on both sides. This section extends for several hundred yards in a roughly east to west orientation and most of the petroglyphs are located on the south facing side.

The petroglyphs are found as isolated images or in concentrations in larger panels on large vertical surfaces and on all sides of large boulders. Most of the basalt boulders have a amenable rock varnish which allows the images to show well, although some petroglyphs are covered with lichen growth and are difficult to discern. As with other Coso sites, there is a preponderance of shaman and bighorn sheep images found in Sheep Canyon. All of the rock art seen were petroglyphs, no pictograph images were noted. Images of atlatls are rare in this canyon and images of bighorn sheep are in the style associated with the Transitional and Late Periods (200 BC - AD 1300).

Sheep Canyon, Coso Range petroglyphs


Looking east into the entrance of upper Sheep Canyon.

Typical Late Period bighorn sheep petroglyph with characteristic lateral extending horns, well defined ears, boat shaped body and skinny legs.

Shoshone petroglyphs

Coso anthropomorphs

It is difficult to tell what some images represent, although the one on the left may be a Shoshone burden basket.

Petroglyphs are found on the basalt blocks going up the canyon walls.

hunter & sheep petroglyph

fringed shield petroglyphs

Hunter and bighorn sheep imagery is common in the Coso Range and may represent a hunter's magic for a successful hunt, or a shaman's magic to make it rain.
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Complex shield-like designs are found throughout the Cosos. Since the people who lived here did not have shields, what these images represent is unknown.

Sheep Canyon anthropomorph rock art

lichen petroglyphs

Very unusual anthropomorphs (human-like figures).

Some petroglyphs in Sheep Canyon are covered with lichens and are difficult to discern.

arrowhead petroglyphs bighorn sheep petroglyph

Petroglyphs of arrowheads can be dated by the type of arrowhead represented.
see Dating Coso Projectile Point Petroglyphs

Is is speculated that some petroglyph panels are orientated in a manner that suggest the images are related and together may form a "story".

See...    Petroglyph Replicas Carved in Stone
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