Archaeology: Oldest American Art Discovered in Barren Nevada Lake

Rock Art
(Photo : REUTERS/Sergio Moraes) Researchers found the oldest Native American rock art in North America at a dried-up Nevada lake.

Deep, ancient carvings were discovered on the west side of Nevada's dried Winnemucca Lake in several limestone boulders.

According to Discovery News, some of the art resembles trees and leaves, where other engravings are more abstract, resembling ovals or diamonds in a chain-like structure.

Scientists have not yet determined the age of this rock art, but an analysis suggests that the petroglyphs are the oldest in North America, dating between 10,500 and 14,800 years ago.  To determine the age of the art, researchers had to figure out where the boulders were above the water line of the previously filled lake.

The Winnemucca Lake is now dried, but in the past, it was full of water. This means that the rocks would have been submerged at certain times. The overflowing lake left crusts of carbonate on the art-adorned rocks. Radiocarbon tests proved that the carbonate film underlying the petroglyphs dated back to 14,800 years ago, while a layer of carbonate coating the rock art dated back to 11,000 years ago. 

"Prior to our study, archaeologists had suggested these petroglyphs were extremely old," study researcher of University of Colorado Boulder Larry Benson said in a statement. "Whether they turn out to be as old as 14,800 years ago or as recent as 10,500 years ago, they are still the oldest petroglyphs that have been dated in North America."

The new discovery dethrones the previously regarded "oldest rock art" at Long Lake, Oregon. The carvings were created at least 6,700 years ago, before being covered in ash from the Mount Mazama volcano eruption. 

Researchers are still at a loss as to what the petroglyphs meant to Native Americans. "We have no idea what they mean," Benson said. "But I think they are absolutely beautiful symbols. Some look like multiple connected sets of diamonds, and some look like trees, or veins in a leaf. There are few petroglyphs in the American Southwest that are as deeply carved as these, and few that have the same sense of size." 



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