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Prehistoric art The Combat Center’s protected petroglyphs

10 May 2013 | Cpl. William J. Jackson

The Combat Center is home to the Foxtrot Petroglyph Preserve, located in the Lava Training Area, is listed on the National Register of Historical Places and is protected from destruction or development. Although the Combat Center houses many prehistoric art panels, the Foxtrot is the best known.

The Foxtrot site contains nearly 2,000 petroglyphs and some depictions are an estimated 10,000 years old. The etchings  are created by rubbing or scratching at the surface of a rock with another rock, exposing a lighter surface.

“The Foxtrot Petroglyph Site is perhaps the best-known archeological site aboard the Combat Center, and the most mysterious,” said Nick Chamberlain, cultural resource specialist with Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs. “Composed of nearly 500 rock art panels, the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, America’s official list of historic properties most worthy of saving.”

In 1973, the Marine Corps recognized the area’s rich potential for preserving cultural history and it has been off-limits to live-fire maneuvers ever since. 

Today, as with most rock art sites around the world, the greatest threat to this site comes from intentional vandalism, Chamberlain explained.

He also said the Combat Center was home to Native American tribes for nearly 10-thousand years and that based on carbon-dating sites where tools, weapons and fire pits were found, the rock art could very well be from the same era.

The rock art includes bighorn sheep, people and other designs made by the prehistoric natives. Red pictographs, or paintings, are also found throughout the Combat Center’s training areas as well as Foxtrot. The red pigment used was made from a mineral called hematite and images were painted by using fingers or brushes.

“With rock art, like those found at Foxtrot, there’s no real way to tell the date, but based on the Carbon-14 dates of, say burn piles or other sites (around the Combat Center), we have an idea,” Chamberlain said.

The prehistoric sites are home to images etched and painted onto stone by ancient Native American tribes like the Serrano, Chemehuevi, Cahuilla and Mohave tribes. The highly nomadic groups of people were responsible for the majority of the rock art that depict a unique, abstract and naturalistic portrayal of life, resulting in the images being referred to as rock art.

The natives used the Foxtrot site as a travel site, a site used for camping or hunting during their trips to different parts of the region. Their mobile lifestyle led to a shift in cultural beliefs and traditions and an ever-changing style of art.

While the petroglyphs continue to draw interest for NREA based on the cultural and historical data, they still retain their mystery. Some art is recognizable, like images of animals and stick figures of people, but there are many abstract images, which are simply shapes, unidentifiable even to the professionals.

For more information about the petroglyph sites contact the Archaeology and Paleontology Curation Center at 830-1196.


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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms