Archive for Projectile Point Petroglyphs

Projectile Point Petroglyphs of the Coso Range: Chronology and Function


Signed book above is available directly from the author. For more information in acquiring the dvd and joining the California Rock Art Foundation click here or to purchase at The Bradshaw Foundation click here

Alan P. Garfinkel, Ph.D.

Principal Archaeologist

UltraSystems Environmental


Founder and Director

California Rock Art Foundation



By: Alan P. Garfinkel and J. Kenneth Pringle


Alan P. Garfinkel Ph.D., Principal Archaeologist, UltraSystem Environmental,

  1. Kenneth Pringle, formerly with the China Lake Naval Weapons Station Ridgecrest, California. Co-author of Rock Drawings of the Coso Range, Maturango Museum Monograph Publication 4, 1968


Identification and analysis of a series of corner-notched  and basal notched projectile point images and those rendered in association with human and animal-human supernatural figures are located in the Coso Range of eastern California.  These images when considered in detail appear to date to the period when Elko and Humboldt Series points were in use.  Two direct, experimental XRF dates made directly on two of the images support this determination. 

The XRF dates provide a mean age of 2,750 plus or minus 700 calendar years before present for these images (and also provide an indirect basis for dating the other similar figures).  The dates provide a general age range for these corner notched and basal notched point depictions.  The age is consistent with the well documented and radiocarbon supported ages for Elko Series dart points and Humboldt Basal Notched thrusting spears, knives and dart points. 

Therefore we believe those dart point depictions and XRF dates place the Coso projectile point drawings during a range of time from about 2000 BC to AD 1.  The latter age range is synchronous with the a period of dart and atlatl use and is coterminous with the earliest accepted dates for the initiation of Rose Spring Series arrow points (ca. AD 1).

Also some surprising new observations associate the feminine gender with at least two of the projectile point petroglyph images.  Both figures are either animal-human or human hunter (shamanistic?) depictions.  Alternative suggestions are included for understanding this apparent paradoxical relationship of male weaponry with the feminine gender.


The depiction of realistic renderings of projectile point forms is an unusual feature at a handful of prehistoric rock art sites in the United States. This rare occurrence has only been documented at a few archeological sites in North America (Callahan 2003; Keyser and Klassen 2001; Riggs 2001; Sutherland and Steed 1974; Thomas and Thomas 1972).

Campbell Grant and his associates initially recognized a number of such projectile point petroglyphs within the Coso Range rock art tradition (Grant et al. 1968:37). The authors mention them briefly and only devote a single paragraph within their 147 page monograph. However, even after mentioning them and providing pen and ink sketches of these elements and figures they did not attempt to date them.  Neither did they comment on the character of the figures or their possible meaning and function of the images of the projectile points themselves.

For this study, we relocated many of the Grant et al. projectile point sites, discovered some new ones and attempted to correlate the most common corner-notched and basal notched forms with temporally diagnostic (time sensitive) southwestern Great Basin point styles to help date these specific petroglyphs (Figure 1). This study was limited to the area within the confines of the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station and the glyphs at Little Lake. Other examples of Coso Style petroglyphs are known outside that area including those in the El Paso Mountains, Panamint Mountains, Argus Range and north of the base at Centennial Springs. Those other areas were not included in this research.



Figure 1.  Location of Coso Style rock art area

Read more