Petroglyph Point Documentary

Project Description


Located within Lava Beds National Monument, Petroglyph Point is the largest petroglyph concentration in California. An estimated 5,000 glyphs are situated along the base of a steep volcanic cliff face on the western portion of the geologic feature known as The Peninsula. The cliff extends for approximately 480 meters along generally north-south oriented volcanic bluff overlooking the bed of the former Tule Lake. The soft, volcanic tufa provided an ideal surface for ancient artists to carve their designs.

The Peninsula is a mountain on the southeast side of the lake that comprises the heart of the traditional Modoc homeland, both in terms of its geography and its spiritual importance. Numerous myths and legends describe the mountain’s sacred qualities. According to one tale, this mountain is made from the original earth matter, which the Creator spirit, Kumush, first brought up from the bottom of Tule Lake. The petroglyphs themselves are also said to have been made by his hand. Accordingly, Modoc and Klamath people continue to make spiritual pilgrimages to the site even today.

For over a century, these cryptic designs have continued to capture the imagination of the general public and rock art researchers alike. An estimated 100,000 people from all over the world visit the monument annually. What the symbols “mean” have been discussed in numerous research papers, journals, and newspaper articles since the early 1920’s. While the age of the petroglyphs remains uncertain, some researchers have proposed that the earliest carvings were made around 4,600 years ago, and that today’s Modoc ancestors continued making petroglyphs until the early 1850’s, when they were forcibly removed from their homeland. What this means is that the carvings seen today are the culmination of a petroglyph-making tradition that lasted for nearly 4,500 years.

Unfortunately, vandalizing the site has also become something of a local tradition. The chain-link fence seen today, in fact, was erected in the 1930’s to protect the petroglyphs from the tourists who would chip off sections of the rock to take home as souvenirs. But the fence did not separate all of the petroglyphs from park visitors, and as a result vandals have continued to scratch their graffiti over unprotected petroglyphs. This destructive practice appeared to cease just prior to the 1960’s. But in May, 2013, Park Rangers discovered over 50 new instances where individuals had carved over ancient petroglyphs across a 300 foot stretch of the site, irreparably destroying in seconds what had existed for more than four millennia.

What motivates the criminal behavior of these and similar vandals remains a mystery. But while both tribal representatives and park authorities agree that enhanced security is essential for protecting the site from further vandalism, so too is public education. Our goal for this project is to produce a film documentary on Petroglyph Point intended to reach the general public. Its purpose is twofold: to offer an interpretation of the petroglyphs grounded in traditional Klamath-Modoc spirituality, and to foster a widespread community of care for Petroglyph Point throughout the Klamath Basin.

This documentary will be a community-based heritage project that will incorporate multiple perspectives and narratives that surround Petroglyph Point. Interviews will include, but may not be limited to, the following:

Dr. Robert David, an archaeologist, rock art researcher, and member of the Klamath Tribes will explain his interpretations for the petroglyphs, and how they are grounded in the spiritual philosophy of his ancestors;

Tribal elders will be asked about their understanding of Klamath Basin rock art and how Boarding Schools and Federal Termination policies affected traditional knowledge;

Other tribal members will be asked about the importance of language and myth in terms of heritage preservation, as well as their own experiences with the site;

Dr. William Hyder, who previously studied the site, will be asked to explain how he and his colleagues arrived at their proposed dates for the petroglyphs;

Park geologists will be asked to describe how the site formed; while climatologists will be asked to discuss how both long- and short-term climatic fluctuations affected lake levels, periodic freezing, and how this may have affected the petroglyphs;

Park authorities will be asked about measures taken in terms of site security and management, and to explain its value to the visiting public and tribes;

Finally, efforts will be made to gather the perceptions and values of park visitors as well as from Klamath County residents.

Congruent with the filming of the documentary, a second film will also be made, intended as a supplement to the main documentary, and as a classroom tool for educating students in Ethnic Studies and Anthropology who can benefit from learning about community-based heritage projects. This will focus largely on the experiences shared by the project leaders and community members.

Funding Purposes

The requested funding will be used for purchasing equipment, paying stipends to the narrator, legal counsel, patents, and the documentary soundtrack. They will also be used to provide honorariums for participating scholars and specialists, and for furnishing project-related per diem funds for staff, contributors, and interviewees for things such as meetings, field visits, and travel to and from interview locations. A breakdown of project expenditures can be made available.


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  • jon McKellar 
    • $100 
    • 23 mos
  • Adam Garzoli 
    • $25 
    • 26 mos
  • douglas kennedy 
    • $75 
    • 26 mos
  • Rocio Baunsgard  
    • $20 
    • 26 mos
  • Val and Andy Anderson 
    • $100 (Offline)
    • 32 mos
See all


Robert David 
Chiloquin, OR
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