Human beings have lived in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands over 10,000 years, without doubt. Over 350 generations of people–grandparents, parents, children– lived their lives around these canyons and created cultures we will never fully understand.
Although handprints are not common in Lower Pecos rock art, a small group of people pressed their hands on the wall of a limestone cliff to reach out, to communicate in some way. What do they say to us today?
We can postulate various reasons why someone would smear red ochre on his or her hand and push it against the rock. Maybe they were just having fun, joshing and joking around. Maybe they were marking a particular spot that was important to them. Maybe they were shaking their fists at the gods. Maybe they were sealing a pact to undertake some serious business. Maybe they were the only ones left after a catastrophic event: the only survivors. Or maybe they were just saying “Joe was here.”
As you can see in the picture above, the handprints are much higher up the wall than an average person could reach. And people were shorter back then as well. So whoever left these images for us had to go to considerable trouble, probably building a scaffold of some kind, to do this. Perhaps this is no different from tagging water towers and other impossible places today. Are they marking territory? If so, why aren’t there hundreds of handprints throughout the Lower Pecos? The fact is, there are only a few known.
Yet they do speak to us, on a very emotional, human level. They tell us somebody was here long before us, living in ways we can barely fathom. Joe, or Jose, or Hwaxti, he was here all right.