Rock Art

Subject: Art

Grade: K-12

Topic: Art

Content: Students will learn about rock art.

Goals: Students will better appreciate the diversity of their surroundings and understand the Apsáalooke have lived here for hundreds of years.


Art Standard 5: Students understand the role of the Arts in society, diverse cultures, and historical periods.

Art Standard 6: Students make connections among the Arts, other subject areas life and work

Essential Understanding 1: There is great diversity among the 12 tribal Nations of Montana in their languages, cultures, histories and governments. Each Nation has a distinct and unique cultural heritage that contributes to modern Montana.

Objectives: After completing this lesson students will know about some of the rock art located in Apsáalooke country, and how it is viewed by the Apsáalooke.


Rock Art Handout [PDF]

Internet access to, lesson plan, handouts. Additionally teachers may request a poster of photos from Pictograph Caves State Park by calling Fish Wildlife & Parks at 406 247 2955 or by contacting manager Terry Walters by e-mail at

Introduction: Teachers will begin the lesson talking about the proto history and historic and their meanings. Then tell the children how the Apsáalooke have lived in Montana, parts of Wyoming, and Canada since protohistoric times.

Development: Students will understand the Apsáalooke have lived across a large portion of Montana for hundreds of years, and were here hundreds of years before and non-Native settlers arrived in the area. Students will learn about another form of art and some of the history behind it.

Practice: The teacher will read a description of the rock art handouts and ask students to color the images. While coloring the images the teacher can tell students how rock art was formed and the different names used for different techniques.

Checking for Understanding/Evaluation: Students will explain what the rock art handouts mean.

Closure: Students will discuss how art changes, and how time changes landscape and how art is viewed.

Pictograph Caves State Park is located just southeast of Billings Montana The images are inside the largest of thee caves and contain over 1000 painted images.

Rock art falls into two categories, pictographs - images created by painting with either natural or traded pigments, and petroglyphs - images that are either incised with a another object such as a knife or awl, or pecked into the rock surface with another object. Pictograph caves contains pictographs, images painted onto the surface. Archeologists date this artwork using clues based on the imagery and based on interviews with tribal members. When viewing rock art it is read from the right to the left.

Two terms used for dating are Protohistoric - before the introduction of horse and gun, and historic - after the Apsáalooke obtained both horses and guns.

Most of images at Pictograph Caves State Park are ascribed to the Apsáalooke and are from both the protohistoric and historic time periods.

The Apsáalooke call rock art baáhpawaalaatuua “where there is rock writing”. The Apsáalooke have two interpretations of rock art, some images were created by humans to portray biographic or historic events and other images were created by the souls of deceased human beings ahpaláaxawaalaatuua or ghosts who are thought to change these images to describe the future of the viewer or his or her group. The two categories are mot mutually exclusive. Because the viewer will not always know what he is looking at many Apsáalooke do not like to see or look at rock art, because it may have been created by ahpaláaxawaalaatuua.

The handouts labeled Bear Imagery are protohistoric and show that the artist had bear power, meaning the individual gained guidance and help from the bear. In rock art the bear is represented by the sort of buns seen on the top of the individuals head, representing the bears ears. In addition you will see a sort of tear drop eye in these images. The circle representing the body represents a shield used by warriors. One shield depicts a bear comeing from his den, while the others show rain, indicating the individual has above world powers, meaning they can control the weather. One shield bearer has no buns or hair, he has singed his hair so that the enemy may not grab him by the hair.

The handouts showing weaponry and humans is historic the first image relates a story of an enemy forced into the trenches. The dashes represent people, and the guns are flint locks firing. This image can be attributed to sometime inbetween the early 1800s and 1870s, most likely sometime between the 1860s. The other image depicts someone surrounding the enemy on foot. This is shown by the dashes representing someone walking. The two enemies depicted may not be the only individuals involved, but are simlly the only participants depicted. The artist is showing that he approached the enemy’s entrenchment and touched them with his coup stick. This is considered a war honor by the Apsáalooke. This image was created with commercially traded red ochre and was probably painted in the 1860s or 1870s.

This is a protohistoric shield bearing image. The warrior has singed hair, to keep the enemy from grabbing him by the hair. His shield shows a bear coming out. The individual has bear power; it is represented in the marks under his eyes.

This protohistoric image portrays a shield bearing warrior. He has bear power as represented by the sort of hair buns or ears on the head. In addition he has above world powers; depicted by the slashes, or rain falling from the sky line on the shield. This mean the individual can control the weather.

This image depicts a warrior with bear power as seen by the tear drop eyes and bear like feet. This individual is saying “I have bear power”.

This image can still be seen at the Pictograph Caves State Park. The image represents someone entrenched. The rifles firing are flint locks; the dots represent the humans firing these weapons. The image was painted with traded red ocher, and dates to sometime between the 1800s and the 1870s, most likely around 1865.

This image dates to around the 1860s or 1870s. It shows someone surrounding the enemy on foot. The dashes represent people walking in a circle, the additional dashes on the right show the direction they came from. The men inside the circle are the enemy, the image crossing over the dashes is someone’s coup stick reaching over to touch the enemy. The image was made in red ochre.