Honoring ancient petroglyphs in Utah to be mammoth event

Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford

Residents of Bluff, Utah, inspired by a column written by Fort Lewis College professor Andrew Gulliford, built a 16-foot-tall wooden mammoth and plan to burn it on the winter solstice, Dec. 21.

By Sarah Ford
Durango Herald

Fort Lewis College Professor Andrew Gulliford, who wrote earlier this year about the discovery of mammoth petroglyphs near Bluff, Utah, is tickled by the creative offering some residents of the town are making to the ancient rock art.

On Dec. 21 - the winter solstice - they will burn a 16-foot-tall mammoth effigy.

"Who needs to go to Nevada for the Burning Man Festival when you can go to Bluff and burn a mammoth?" Gulliford wrote in an email with a photo of the mammoth attached.

Joe Pachak, a rock expert and local artist who was the first to discover the petroglyph, said the idea of the burning is to draw attention to the petroglyphs.

"This will promote more recording by scientists of rock art in the future," he said.

The petroglyphs, first of discovered in 1987, have long been a subject of controversy.

Scientists question whether these illustrations really depict mammoths, and many residents of the town have advocated for further protection of the site where they were discovered.

Since the first discovery, more possible mammoth petroglyphs have been discovered.

Gulliford, in his Durango Herald and Cortez Journal column "Gulliford's Travels," also argued for further protection by the Bureau of Land Management.

The wooden mammoth was built over a three-week period by Pachak and local Bluff residents using only sticks and two support poles. It is built to the scale of an actual mammoth.

Pachak said many volunteers helped with the making of the mammoth, with a group doing the design and about 30 others assisting in construction on a volunteer basis. The sculpture has been on display for a week.

Gulliford is a frequent visitor to Bluff.

"What really appealed to me is the size of the mammoth - it's to scale," he said. "Mammoths are smaller than mastodons, and I didn't know that."

Gulliford plans to go to Bluff for the burning.

The mammoth will be burned at 8 p.m. in a ceremony complete with drumming and flaming darts to set the structure on fire.

Pachak said residents of Bluff are excited about the petroglyphs, which, at about 13,000 years old, may be some of the oldest rock art in North America.

In March, a group of 30 volunteers led by resident Anne Phillips recorded the fourth mammoth petroglyph.

Pachak hopes to see these practices continue because it could lead to more discoveries in the future.

"That's why it's very important to record the rock art - the other elements were discovered by documenting very well," he said.

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