Prehistory Rocks – Part I: Where?

By Ruth Musser-Lopez
Prehistoric art in the eastern San Bernardino County region will be the focus of the American Rock Art Research Association’s (ARARA’s) intra-continental convocation to be held on Memorial Day weekend, May 22 – 25, 2015. Field trips bookend the Saturday and Sunday conference filled with colorful Power Point presentations and thoughtful analysis to be shared at the conference center this year held at the Colorado Belle Resort and Casino in Laughlin, Nevada. Friday and Monday’s field trip line ups are similar, so participants may select three alternatives from the list and be guaranteed participation in two of those, one for Friday and one for Monday. See the January 30, 2015 Glimpse of SBC’s Past in that week’s issue of the Sentinel for more information about the purpose of the ARARA conference and go to for more information about the conference.
Rock art this year will be visited largely in the region surrounding the section of the Lower Colorado River where the river canyon opens up into what is known as “Mohave Valley,” Arizona and includes the region between Laughlin and the Topock Gorge south of Needles. This region of the Colorado River is a wide river valley that in the prehistoric past was subject to seasonal flooding before the river was dammed and channeled as you will see it today.
Prehistorically, the Mojave Indian tribe occupied this section of the River. “Mojave” is an abbreviation and derivative of the word “Pipa Aha Macav” meaning “People of the River.” You may wonder why Mohave Valley, Arizona is spelled with an “h” and the Mojave Desert is spelled with a “j”. Basically, the spelling has to do with what side of the Colorado River you are on. In Arizona the “h” is used. In California, the “j” is used. This gets a little confusing when it comes to the name to use to identify a tribe that a person is associated with. Generally, if one is speaking about the Pipa Aha Macav who are members of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe based in Needles, California, you spell that affiliation with a “j” even if the person lives on the Arizona side of that portion of the river. In Parker, there are Pipa Aha Macav who are affiliated with and, or members of the “Colorado River Indian Tribes” (CRIT)—most of them live on the Arizona side of the river and they use the “h” spelling in the word Mohave. So, we have “Mojaves” and “Mohaves,” the first who generally live in the Needles area and the second who generally live in the Parker area.
The Mojaves speak, or did speak, a language that is classified as a Yuman dialect of the Hokan linguistic group. Prehistorically, various dialects of Yuman were spoken by a tribes along and surrounding the Lower Colorado River. These included the Havasupai up the river and northeast of the Mojaves in Peach Springs, Arizona; the Hualapais in Kingman Arizona region; the Quechan in the Yuma region and others. The Halchidhoma, a Yuman speaking tribe, once occupied the Lake Havasu region to the south of the Mojave, however reportedly to avoid tension with their neighboring cousins to the north and south on the Colorado River they relocated to the Gila River area. Their departure left open a void in a small segment of the river to which the Chemehuevi or Southern Paiute, a tribe of Numic speakers from a different linguistic family, Uto Azetecan, took possession. The Numic expansion into Havasu Lake and occupation of this small segment of the Lower Colorado River by Numic speakers is believed to have taken place about 500 years ago.
Prehistorically the Mojave claimed the area of the desert between the Mojave River (Barstow/Victorville) and the Colorado River. The cultural artifacts of what is described as a Desert Mojave people have been recorded by archaeologists in the east Mojave Desert in the area around Mitchell Caverns and the Hole-in-the-Wall region. It appears that older rock art was added to, altered, and, or, in some cases, scratched out by others of a different culture using a different style of artistic imagery. In the east Mojave Desert, some of this superimposition may have occurred during the Numic expansion within the last thousand years.
This year members will be able to relish the same artistic imagery enjoyed by thousands of years of ancestral Mojave while taking breaks at water stops at springs in the desert along the Mojave Trail Corridor (MTC) linking their Colorado River villages with their relatives and trading partners on the coast.

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