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News › What’s in an Image?
What’s in an Image?

Research Paper Kathy Moskowitz Strain

Humans have occupied North America for at least 15,000 years, having migrated across the Bering Land Bridge from Asia during a period of low sea levels. Land animals also moved in both directions across the bridge. For example, we know based on fossil remains that many animal species, such as camelids, evolved in North America and crossed into Asia. Asian mammals also crossed to North America, but many of them, such as lions and cheetahs, later became extinct.

Since North America has no fossil remains of a large, bipedal animal meeting the description of “bigfoot,” it is logical to assume that if this creature is real, it would have had to cross over the Bering Land Bridge from Asia at the same time as other mammals. That being so, we can assume that Native Americans would have been aware of bigfoot’s existence for thousands of years, and likely, as they did for other North American species, would have incorporated his image into their traditional stories and artwork. We already know that the image of bigfoot has been depicted in totem poles, masks, portable stone carvings, baskets, and at least one pictograph site. However, are there more? Are they rare or common? If a rock art design does represent bigfoot, how would we know? What constitutes a reliable source of what a drawing represents? What would or should a rock art depiction of bigfoot look like?

In this paper, I will examine some rock art images and their possible association with a large, unknown bipedal primate.

Rock Art

Rock art consists for three types: petroglyphs (pecked into the rock); pictographs (painted onto rock) and cupules (small, circular “divots” pecked as a pattern into stone). These can all be present at the same site location, and can be portable as well. In North America, it is generally accepted that the oldest form of rock art are cupules, followed by petroglyphs, with pictographs being a relative recent medium.

Rock art, like all art, was created by an individual as a form of self-expression. Only the artist knows why and what they are creating. Often, however, knowledge of the art is passed on to relatives, and later, descendents.

Native American work is a mix of abstract figures and easily recognizable images. Common motifs includes lines, crosshatches, rakes, spirals, circles, crosses, squares, dots, Gods, sun disks, anthromorphs, hands, feet, bear, deer, bighorn sheep, horses, moose, coyote, lizards, turtle, snakes, birds, insects, corn, flowers, water, and a whole host of everyday items. Here are some examples.

Figure 1. Bighorn Sheep from Grapevine Canyon, Nevada.

Figure 2. Abstract red shapes from California.

Figure 3. Newspaper Rock from Utah.

Figure 4. Abstract spiral from Picacho Mountains, Arizona.

Currently, the only rock art reported to be of bigfoot are the Hairy Man Pictograph at Painted Rock, California. These paintings are described elsewhere. The paintings are associated with tradition stories and have been verified through ethnographic research and interviews. The pictographs depict a frontal view of three life-size bigfoots, ranging in height from 8 feet to 4 feet. The art has always been referred to as at the “Hairy Man” pictographs, making it fairly easy to identify the intent of the artist.

Figure 5. The Hairy Man Pictographs.

After examining the list of known rock art motifs, only three “designs” (feet, faces, and whole bodies) seem likely to have an association, if any, with bigfoot.


There are many images of “feet” pictographs and petroglyphs. Generally, these images are thought of as representing either human or bear. However, bigfoot footprints are believed to be the most common “sign” of this animal in modern times. If so, what would make one image more bigfoot-like than others? Size? Shape of the feet? Here are some rock art foot motifs from Arizona, Nevada, Utah, California, and Idaho.

Figure 6. Black Mesa, Arizona

Figure 7. Nevada.

Figure 8. California.

Figure 9. Utah.

Figure 10. Idaho.

Figure 11. Utah.

As you will note, none of these images display claws, so it would seem that these do not represent bear tracks. However, all of the sizes of the feet in relation to other images on their respective panels are well within the human range. They also look human. Since feet, and the condition of said feet, would be very important to Native Americans due to them being their singular mode of transportation, it seems very likely that the vast majority of images are simply human.


Totem pole often Dzunukwa and her son Bukwas, bigfoot creatures in the Kawakiutl culture. Their depictions are either with pursed lips or with an evil grimed face (Figure 12). This rock art (Figure 13) from the Pacific Coast is called “Wild Man” and likely is associated with the Dzunukwa and Bukwas stories (although the presence of “cat ears” does not match the story).

Figure 12.

Figure 13.

This face (Figure 14) from Three Rivers, New Mexico is a human-like face with barred teeth. The face is oddly shaped and large for the other features around it. Many Native American stories describe bigfoot as a monster or cannibal, and physical descriptions within those stories are very similar to this petroglyph. If this is meant to represent a human, it would be very unusual. However, if it is a bigfoot, it would have to be confirmed through interviews with the local tribes.

Figure 14.

The Green Face mask from Grand Gulch, Utah (Figure 15) has been mentioned to me before as being a possible bigfoot. Although the face has long hair, there is nothing “bigfooty” about the picture. It likely represents a dancer during a traditional ceremony.

Figure 15.

Whole Body Images

As noted above, traditional Native American stories share a consistent physical description of bigfoot, but differ in what characteristics are ascribed to him. Besides monster or cannibal, bigfoot can also be an ordinary animal. The Hairy Man pictographs at Painted Rock, California depicts a hairy 8-foot animal, with a thick body and no neck. Several other images show a similar animal.

Figure 16. Lost City, Nevada.

Figure 17. Garfield Flat, Nevada.

Figure 18. Garfield Flat, Nevada.

Figure 19. Utah (last in the line with humans).

Figure 20. Grand Gulch, Utah.

Figure 21. Grand Gulch, Utah (small brown image).

Figure 22. Unknown location.

Figure 23. Unknown location.

Are these images of bigfoot? Probably not, but they are unlike other images that have been identified as human. Before any conclusions could be drawn, interviews with local Native American tribes about their knowledge of these images would have to be conducted.

Known Images of Humans

The following images have been mentioned by enthusiasts as being possible bigfoots, but have been identified by the tribes associated with the art.

Figure 24. Medicine Man from Barrier Canyon, Utah (note presence of neck and thin arm).

Figure 25. Shaman/dancers from Butcher Wash.

Figure 26. Spirits from the Great Gallery.

Figure 27. Spirits from Horseshoe Canyon, Utah.

Figure 28. Moab Man from Moab, Utah (note neck and jewelry).

Figure 29. Human from Utah (note presence of neck, thin trunk, arms, and legs).

There are also several devil images that have often been confused with bigfoot images. Information with Native Americans and the ethnographic record clearly identifies “devil” images as representing shamans in a trance state.

Figure 30. Temple Mountain Devil.

Figure 31. Devil from Utah.

Figure 32. Devil from Utah.


Images of bigfoot are known to appear in Native American artwork. There is only one known, verified image of bigfoot in rock art. The examples shown in this paper have not been established and may very well be stylistic human images. More work with the local tribes would need to occur before any conclusions can be drawn.

Posted by Kathy.Strain on Saturday, May 20, 2006 (22:30:44) (9482 reads)
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