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Paint Rock


Paint Rock, 40 miles east of San Angelo


Archaeologists have found no evidence that this site served as a long-term home for any groups. Instead, it apparently served as a combination stopping place for travelers and possible meeting place for several groups. The oldest pictographs at the site are at least several hundred years old, while the most recent were painted in the 1860s.

The Site

Paint Rock is home to more than 1,000 pictographs painted on a limestone cliff that is as much as 70 feet high on the north bank of the Concho River. The paintings, done in red, black, yellow, and white, stretch for more than a half-mile along the layered cliff face.

Recent studies suggest that some panels at the site show some overall organization, which archaeologists had not previously recognized at the site. The paintings depict birds, mammals, people, suns, stars, crops, weapons, and other identifiable objects, as well as abstract geometric symbols. Some pictographs clearly indicate missions, indicating that they were painted after Spain began colonizing Texas in the 1700s. And one panel of pictures appears to depict the kidnapping of a 14-year-old girl from her home near Mason. Two women were killed in the abduction, and the girl was never heard from again.

Astronomical Significance

Kay Campbell, whose family has owned the site for more than a century, began wondering whether there was any astronomical significance to the pictographs or the overall site after learning that many other ancient Indian sites in the southwest served astronomical functions.

She contacted R. Robert Robbins, a University of Texas astronomer who had done research in the field of archaeoastronomy. He suggested that they look for interesting alignments of the pictographs and sunlight at local noon on the solstices in December and June. On the December solstice in 1996, Campbell discovered that a dagger of sunlight sliced through a shield pictograph at precisely local noon. (Local noon is the time the Sun stands on the meridian -- the line dividing the sky into eastern and western halves. Since we use Standard Time zones today, local noon at any given site varies by a few minutes from noon on the clock.) The dagger is formed by sunlight shining through a crack in the rocks above the glyph.

Two years later, Robbins discovered a similar alignment on another glyph at the summer solstice in June.

These alignments suggest that several groups may have gathered at this site on the solstices for rituals, trade, or other purposes. Religious ceremonies may have led up to the moment of local noon, when the Sun stood highest in the sky.

Other pictographs at the site also appear to depict the Sun, Moon, and stars, perhaps indicating other connections to the sky.

Public Access

Paint Rock is open for tours by appointment only. Admission. Contact Kay or Fred Campbell, Paint Rock Excursions, Box 186, Paint Rock 76866; 915-732-4376.

References, Resources

Rock Art of Texas Indians, by Forrest Kirkland and W.W. Newcomb; University of Texas Press, 1967, reprinted 1996.
Contains hundreds of Kirkland’s watercolor paintings of rock art throughout Texas.

The Indians of Texas: From Prehistoric to Modern Times, by W.W. Newcomb Jr.; University of Texas Press, 1961, reprinted 2002.

A Field Guide to Archeological Sites of Texas, by Parker Nunley; Gulf Publishing, 1989.

Handbook of Texas Online: Paint Rock


Tools of the Trade

'Shielding' the Sun

Leapin' Lizards!

Ancient images

Paint Rock imagery

Boating Trip?

Starry Lineup

Hawk-eyed Sentries

Catching the Summer Sun?

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Texas Native Skies is a production of StarDate Online. Copyright ©2004-05 The University of Texas McDonald Observatory