Anasazi Hands Southern Utah


Basketmaker II or III 100 B.C to 800 A.D. San Juan County, Utah


Across the Colorado Plateau there are hundreds of handprints: painted hands, carved hands, handprints stamped with images and negative handprints.  Spitting or blowing a white calcite substance over a hand placed on the cliff wall created these negative image handprints.  Like many handprints, they are located above a cliff dwelling.

What do these prints mean?  Ownership?  Ceremonial participation?   Individual signatures?  Rock art researcher Polly Schaafsma says Pueblo Indians continued the practice of leaving handprints at sacred places where they prayed in the belief that supernatural beings would identify the supplicant by his handprint.

Recently, tribal nations have challenged the use of the designation of  “Anasazi” (Navajo term for “ancient enemy”) to describe the cultures who are the descendents of the Puebloan cultures and lived in southern Utah.  The Hopi Tribal Nation prefers to call them Hisatsenom (“ancient ancestors”).   The Navajo Tribal Nation prefers “ancestral Pueblo people.”  I sympathize with efforts to find more accurate names for ancient cultures. 
Many accessible Cedar Mountain cliff dwellings have been looted.  Visitors remove or rebuild the stone walls.  Sites historically protected by anonymity and remote locations are no longer safe.  GPS positions for rock art and ruins are posted on the Internet and avidly shared with other people.  The popular sport of geocaching sometimes guides participants to remote archeological designations.  The use of off-road vehicles enables more people to venture further into Utah’s desert wilderness.  The rugged Colorado Plateau landscape can no longer hide her secrets.  We need a new ethic.