Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument

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Newspaper Rock
Indian Creek State Park
Newspaper Rock in 2009
Location20 Mi. SE of Canyonlands at Newspaper Rock State Park
Nearest cityMonticello
Coordinates37°59′18″N 109°31′05″W / 37.98833°N 109.51806°W / 37.98833; -109.51806
AreaCanyonlands NP
Elevation6080 ft
OwnerUtah State Parks Commission
Official nameNewspaper Rock State Historic Monument
DesignatedMarch 15, 1976
Reference no.76001833
Newspaper Rock in 1972

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument is a Utah state monument featuring a rock panel carved with one of the largest known collections of petroglyphs.[1] It is located in San Juan County, along Utah State Route 211, 28 miles (45 km) northwest of Monticello and 53 miles (85 km) south of Moab.

It is along the relatively well-traveled access road into the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park, 12 miles (19 km) from US 191 and 30 miles (48 km) from the park boundary. The 200-square-foot (19 m2) rock is a part of the vertical Wingate sandstone cliffs that enclose the upper end of Indian Creek Canyon, and is covered by hundreds of petroglyphs—one of the largest, best preserved and easily accessed groups in the Southwest. The petroglyphs feature a mixture of human, animal, material and abstract forms.

Newspaper Rock was designated a State Historical Monument in 1961,[2] and was added to the National Register of Historic Places listings in San Juan County, Utah as Indian Creek State Park in 1976.


The first carvings at the Newspaper Rock site were made around 2,000 years ago, left by people from the Archaic, Anasazi, Fremont, Navajo, Anglo, and Pueblo cultures.[3]

In Navajo, the rock is called "Tse' Hone'" which translates to a rock that tells a story.[3]

Closer view of the petroglyphs.

The petroglyphs were carved by Native Americans during both the prehistoric and historic periods. There are over 650 rock art designs. The drawings on the rock are of different animals, human figures, and symbols. These carvings include pictures of deer, buffalo, and pronghorn antelope. Some glyphs depict riders on horses, while other images depict past events like in a newspaper. While precisely dating the rock carvings has been difficult, repatination of surface minerals reveals their relative ages. The reason for the large concentration of the petroglyphs is unclear. One suggested explanation is that the rock was used as a place for communication through the petroglyphs between travelers.[4]

The pictures at Newspaper Rock were inscribed into the dark coating on the rock, called desert varnish. Desert varnish is mainly made up (~70%) by clay materials, but gets its blackish color from iron and manganese oxide deposits that gradually form on exposed sandstone cliff faces owing to the action of rainfall and bacteria.[5] The ancient artists produced the many types of figures and patterns by carefully chipping the coated rock surfaces with sharpened tools to remove the desert varnish and expose the lighter rock beneath. The older figures are themselves becoming darker in color as new varnish slowly develops.[6]

Depiction of Polydactyly[edit]

Petroglyph on Newspaper Rock showcasing polydactyly in feet

Many of the petroglyphs appear to be depicting polydactyly, the condition of having an extra toe or finger. In other Puebloan sites, burial remains with bifid metatarsals have been found near petroglyphs depicting polydactyly, suggesting that the pictures factually represent a real physical abnormality.[4] One team of anthropologists excavated 96 skeletons from the nearby site of Pueblo Bonito and found that 3.1% of the skeletons had an extra toe on the right foot. This is a significantly higher rate of polydactyly than is seen in current Native American populations.[7] There was evidence towards those with six toes being buried with items associated with higher social status, like an ornate bracelet, and turquoise.[7] Polydactyl is also considered a moderately heritable condition, with 30-35% of those displaying the distinction also having a close relative with polydactyl.[8] This means that it may be possible to use polydactyl to reconstruct ancient Puebloan lineages.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Newspaper Rock". Utah Travel Industry Website. Archived from the original on August 16, 2009. Retrieved July 29, 2009.
  2. ^ "Newspaper Rock". Markers and Monuments Database. Utah Department of Heritage and Arts. Archived from the original on April 3, 2013. Retrieved March 2, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Sign at Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument
  4. ^ a b Hirthler, Maureen A.; Hutchison, Richard L. (2012). "Polydactyly in the Southwest: Art or Anatomy—A Photo Essay". HAND. 7 (4): 464–468. doi:10.1007/s11552-012-9459-4. ISSN 1558-9447. PMC 3508009. PMID 24294174.
  5. ^ Elvidge, Christopher D.; Moore, Carleton B. (1980). "Restoration of Petroglyphs with Artificial Desert Varnish". Studies in Conservation. 25 (3): 108. doi:10.2307/1505807. JSTOR 1505807.
  6. ^ "Newspaper Rock, Petrified Forest". 2003. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Magazine, Smithsonian; Daley, Jason. "Why Ancestral Puebloans Honored People With Extra Digits". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved March 10, 2022.
  8. ^ Case, D. T.; Hill, R. J.; Merbs, C. F.; Fong, M. (2006). "Polydactyly in the prehistoric American Southwest". International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. 16 (3): 221–235. doi:10.1002/oa.820. ISSN 1047-482X.

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