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The peopling of the Americas is both the oldest and most frequently researched question in American archaeology.
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Stylized anthropomorphic figures of various types are also common, with a smaller number of canids/felines, snakes, weapons, and a few other identifiable designs.
But simple and complex geometric designs are typical (roughly one-third of the total) and are frequently intermingled with the ostensibly identifiable images.
More confidently, there is a consensus that the initial immigrants where behaviorally modern, in the archaeological sense of these terms (e.g., ).
A key attribute of archaeological modernity is the ability to conceptualize and employ symbols, including the capacity to make and use art .
This question is addressed starting with a reconsideration of rock varnish chronometrics as applied to Great Basin, eastern California, petroglyphs.
This demonstrates, conservatively, that the petroglyph tradition began before 11,100 YBP, probably before 12,600 YBP, and potentially in the 14,000 years range.
No accurate figure has been obtained for the number of Coso motifs, but credible estimates vary from hundreds of thousands to millions of individual engravings.By the mid-1990s, three independent rock varnish dating techniques had been developed and applied to petroglyphs: cation-ratio (CR) dating, varnish microlamination (VML) dating, and AMS ; one result of which is the widespread but incorrect assumption among archaeologists that rock varnish dating as a whole is no longer viable .Although AMS-WRO dating is in fact currently unusable [33, 34], the controversy strictly had no implications for the other techniques, and significant geomorphological research on them has occurred in the interim.Figure 1: Mojave Desert, California, rock engravings are predominated by images of bighorn sheep, followed numerically by anthropomorphic figures and next by a variety of geometric forms.
This example is from Sheep Canyon in the Coso Range.
Although rarely considered, early art has the potential to provide insight into questions that may be obscured by other kinds of evidence, particularly stone tools.