Rock art compels interest from both researchers and a broader public, inspiring many hypotheses about its cultural origin and meaning, but it is notoriously difficult to date numerically. Barrier Canyon-style (BCS) pictographs of the Colorado Plateau are among the most debated examples; hypotheses about its age span the entire Holocene epoch and previous attempts at direct radiocarbon dating have failed. We provide multiple age constraints through the use of cross-cutting relations and new and broadly applicable approaches in optically stimulated luminescence dating at the Great Gallery panel, the type section of BCS art in Canyon-lands National Park, southeastern Utah. Alluvial chronostratigraphy constrains the burial and exhumation of the alcove containing the panel, and limits are also set by our related research dating both a rockfall that removed some figures and the rock's exposure duration before that time. Results provide a maximum possible age, a minimum age, and an exposure time window for the creation of the Great Gallery panel, respectively. The only prior hypothesis not disproven is a late Archaic origin for BCS rock art, although our age result of A. D. similar to 1-1100 coincides better with the transition to and rise of the subsequent Fremont culture. This chronology is for the type locality only, and variability in the age of other sites is likely. Nevertheless, results suggest that BCS rock art represents an artistic tradition that spanned cultures and the transition from foraging to farming in the region.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2014, Vol 111, Issue 36, p. 12986-12991