Native American Petroglyph Symbols and their Meanings

Many of our artists use a variety of “Petroglyph Symbols” as design themes in their jewelry. Artists such as Myron Panteah, Kee Yazzie, Arland Ben, Lawrence Namoki, and many others have gained widespread popularity creating art with Petroglyph Symbol designs. These symbols have their origin in actual prehistoric petroglyph sites, found throughout the southwest. The symbols found at such petroglyph sites were carved into sandstone walls many hundreds of years ago.


We love Native American art with Petroglyph Symbols, because not only are the designs beautifully simple, but each one is packed with cultural meaning and history. Some symbols can carry different meanings depending on the tribe. But often, there is a shared symbology across Southwest tribes.


Here is a list of common Petroglyph Symbols and the meanings behind them. This list is by no means complete! It is accurate to the best of our abilities, based on conversations with our favorite artists, but may not cover all explanations or potential meanings. If you’re looking for a symbol and not finding it, please email us at info@garlandsjewelry.com and we’ll add it to the list!

Antelope:

Decisive action 

Arrow:

Direction 

Avanyu:

Water serpent, metaphor for winding river

Bear:

Powerful healer, strength, spiritual journey through life

Bear Paw:

Strength

Butterfly:

Transformation, bringer of joy and love (learn more about the butterfly symbol here).

Dragonfly: 

Good fortune, always found near springs and life-giving water, insightful, sees through illusions 

Eagle:

Messenger to the heavens, carries prayers, conduit between man and God

Elk Man:

Medicine Man, Shaman

Feather (Prayer Feather): 

Messenger to the heaven. Prayer feathers are hung at the entrance to the home, giving good blessings to anyone who walks through the door. (Learn more about feathers here). 

Four Direction Symbol (Cross):

Sacred number four: represents the four sacred mountains, four sacred crops, four stages of life, and more... (Read more about the four direction symbol here).

Friendship Symbol:

Two humans holding hands or interlocking crescent symbols. Symbolizes friendship and cooperation. 

 

Hand: 

Helping, healing, oldest symbol of humanity

Heron:

Calm and patience

Horse:

Freedom, great stamina, strength

Hummingbird:

Beautiful messenger, healer

Kokopelli:

Fertility, abundance 

Lightning: 

Connecting between heaven and earth, closely associated with the Thunderbird

Migration: 

Represents the circled migration of Native American tribes to end up where they currently live. Metaphor for life's journey. (Read more about the migration symbol here.)

Naja:

Symbol for protection and "warding off evil". (Learn more about najas here). 

Rabbit:

Bringer of good fortune, fertility

  

Rain Clouds:

Rain clouds bring live-giving water, essential to survival in the arid southwest

  

Snake:

Transformation (shedding of skin), metaphor for winding river

Sun (Sunface):

Giver of life, critical for all growth of plants

Thunderbird: 

Earliest explanation of thunder was a bird so large that every time it flapped its wings, it created thunder and storms. (Learn more about the Thunderbird here).

 

Turtle:

Longevity

Whirling Log:

Healing symbol used most often in Navajo ceremonies. (Learn more about the Whirling Log symbol here). 

Wolf:

Loyalty, intelligence, teacher, and pathfinder

Symbology

4 comments

Kelly

I love everything about all of the story telling symbols. I need these in my life and as a seller of these collected pieces they are a connection and a healing for those of us who purchase these beautiful pieces. I can’t say enough about those native Americans who share their heritage with the rest of is. We respect and appreciate your work. Thank you for sharing.
Kelly Pates /Montana Nest
(I just collected and sold one of the most beautiful turquoise/ story teller pendants I’ve ever seen). This piece was made by Cody Hunter and Lorenzo Lee. My customer couldn’t feel more blessed to own these two pieces. The beautiful Navajo pearls and the pendant.
Thank you.
Kelly

Dr. Tom

Thanks so much for all the info. People can wear Native American jewelry now with meaning and not just aesthetics.

Frank Forman

I recently purchased a beautiful Kee Yazee cuff bracelet which shows many of the symbols I just read about. Thank you for putting this information available to your customers. Things like this is what separates Garland’s from other dealers, putting the extra effort in to making customers more informed, so we can make better choices when we purchase. Thank you indeed.

Frank Forman

amanda

wonderful. thank you.

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