SAS Bulletin
Volume 19 Number 3/4 July /December 1996


Rock Images and Landscapes Digital Mapping and Recording Project

James I. Ebert, Ebert & Associates, 3700 Rio Grande Boulevard NW, Suite 3, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87107

Rock "art" or images1, in the form of petroglyphs, pictographs, rock paintings, and a variety of symbols, drawings and representations made on rock faces by past peoples, constitute a fascinating component of the archaeological record. It could also be asserted that rock images represent one of the most underexploited parts of the archaeological record; only a small portion of the information about the human past that they can potentially provide has been tapped. There are a number of reasons that this is the case. The meaning and function of symbolic artifacts, of course, are probably among the most difficult of archaeological questions to approach; at a very specific level, form may be almost totally unconnected with symbolic meaning. The conception among some archaeologists that rock images are primarily symbolic, ceremonial, or "artistic" -- with little other content -- has probably channeled much effort away from its study into studies of more seemingly utilitarian artifacts with more "obvious" functions in society.

At a more methodological level, however, the reason that rock image studies have been relatively unchanged by the technical and analytical approaches that characterize much contemporary archaeology is fairly simple. Rock images are special sorts of artifacts, much less easily "collected" for study in the laboratory than stone implements or potsherds. Neither is it easy or straightforward to record rock images in the field. Recording even single instances of most sorts of rock images by drawing or sketching requires great skill and patience, and the difficulty or impossibility of representing all of its details by such methods frustrates rock image specialists. Photographing rock images is fraught with problems largely due to the subtlety of their markings, which only increases in time through environmentally- or culturally-induced deterioration. The best -- and sometimes the only -- way to see the subtle markings and tiny details that characterize most rock images is to actually be there, and to view the markings from different directions and distances, in varying lighting conditions, and from different positions.

"Hands on," 3-dimensional digitizing, supplemented by electronic mapping techniques and photogrammetry, are the focus of research currently being conducted under partial funding from the National Science Foundation (Grant No. DMI-9560452), entitled "Rock Art Data Recording, Management and Analysis: An Integrated System Incorporating 3-Dimensional Digitizing, Geographic Information Systems, Photogrammetry and Other Digital Mapping and Imaging Technologies."

This research is being undertaken by Ebert & Associates, Inc., an Albuquerque, New Mexico firm specializing in archaeological, anthropological, forensic and environmental applications of remote sensing, photogrammetry, image processing, and digital mapping technologies. Funded under a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant, the research is directed toward determining the feasibility of innovative products or processes for an initial 6-month period, following the successful completion of which a proposal for a 2-year, Phase II period of product development is submitted.

Eileen Camilli and James Ebert are co-principal investigators, and Larry Loendorf and Julie Francis are research consultants to the Rock Images and Landscapes Digital Mapping and Recording Project.

Rock image studies are currently experiencing increased use of digital technologies, particularly digital imaging techniques. Ebert & Associates' research will build upon such interests, incorporating a wide range of methods and techniques for the "total" recording of rock images and their significantly associated environments and landscapes. Such techniques will include

3-dimensional digitizing of rock art elements and their minute details, as well as geochemical sample locations, in the field;

the collection of locational data for mapping rock images, rock faces, and details of the terrain a wide range of resolutions and scales using electronic distance measurement (EDM), global positioning systems (GPS), aerial and terrestrial photogrammetry, analog and digital photographic and imaging, and 3-dimensional digitizers;

the integration of all scales of spatial data, as well as associated non-spatial data, in a single spatially-organized database utilizing 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional computer aided design (CAD) and geographic information systems (GIS) technologies; and

software developed specifically to facilitate the integration of all stages of the "total system," from in-field 3-dimensional digitizing and other map data collection, through integration and management of the database in CAD and GIS environments, to viewing, statistical analysis, and data output in multiple forms.

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1 The term "rock images" will be used in the course of this research to denote petroglyphs, pictographs, and all other "rock art" to help resolve terminological ambiguity as well as in recognition of the creators, users, and shareholders to whom the concept of these images as "art" is troublesome or incongruous.


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