Rock House Cave, Petit Jean Mountain, Arkansas
Rock House Cave at Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas is known for its prehistoric rock art. The pictographs were made from a mixture of animal fat and eggs which created red, yellow, and black pigments. Although the rock art has faded over time, the images, which include geometric and irregular shapes, a deer head, a paddlefish, and other animals and objects, are still visible. Petroglyphs, which are etched into stone, can also be found at Rock House Cave. The rock art found at Rock House Cave is similar to other nearby sites, some of which are not fully documented.
Backstory and Context
Rock House Cave at Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas is accessible with a short hike that includes an overlook of Cedar Ridge Falls. "Turtle rocks" make up most of the hike from the state park parking lot to the cave. The hike is roughly 30 minutes, and well worth the effort.
The site features prehistoric rock art that includes images of a paddlefish, a deer head, a basket and many other animal and object shapes made using a mixture of animal fat and eggs, creating red, yellow and black pigments. In the 1920s, Dr . T. W. Hardison, a physician living on Petit Jean Mountain, along with other explorers found hundreds of pictographs and petroglyphs created by prehistoric Native Americans on the mountain. The art is mostly dated between 1000-1500 CE, and is defined by red pigments, line drawings, animal forms, stick figures, and geometric shapes.
In more recent years, Arkansas state archaeologists have theorized that the Rock House Cave may have been considered a sacred site. There is some evidence that the Tanico people used the bluff to perform rites.
Unfortunately, in April of 2020, vandals did damage to some of the art at the Rock House Cave. Vandalism is an issue, which park rangers have been dealing with for years, and they remind visitors that Rock House Cave is an archaeological site and to that the rock art can easily be damaged.
Higgins Jr., Donald P. “Three Hundred Pictographs: Dr. Hardison and a Century of Petit Jean Mountain Rock Art Discovery.” Arkansas Archeologist 53 (June 2014): 1–36.
JONES, B. T. “Bringing Ancient Cultures to Life.” Legacy (National Association for Interpretation) 21, no. 5 (September 2010): 21–23.
“Preserving the Legacy of Rock Art.” Lancet 359, no. 9318 (May 11, 2002): 1707. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(02)08551-3.
“Damage Done to Historic Native American Drawings at Petit Jean Mountain.” KNWA FOX24, April 2, 2020. https://www.nwahomepage.com/news/damage-done-to-historic-native-american-drawings-at-petit-jean-mountain/.