Thomas Doty – Storyteller


Guide to Native Rock Writings  |  Refresh

Teaching Rock Writings

My work with Roy Phillips in our Reading the Rocks project has taken us to dozens of sites -- again and again -- and inspired us to translate and interpret the stories dramatized in ancient rock carvings and paintings.

When I began teaching the meanings of the symbols, it was in the style of a lecture. But now I have found a better approach. I discovered that rock writings are simply another form of native storytelling. It's all literature -- traditional oral telling of stories, contemporary publishing of stories, ancient stories carved and painted on the rocks. I noticed similarities between my performances of stories and how symbols told the stories in the rock writings. Many of the rock images are based on Indian sign language. And so it was no surprise to discover that many gestures and movements I had been using to tell a story (some spontaneous, some traditional) matched the symbols ... a counter-clockwise spiral to indicate upward movement, an arm extended from the eyes to show looking a long ways, that first step of a walking movement that shows the journey has begun, and on and on.

We create a spontaneous story, and every gesture and movement we do is a rock writing symbol. We experience stories the Rock People tell kinesthetically -- it's inside us! We have made a direct connection to an ancient storytelling tradition. As the Old Ones tell us, the Rock People are the oldest people, the first storytellers, and their stories are the oldest stories.

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8/1/2019: I recently retired from the teaching portion of my art to focus on my performances and talks. Since storytelling has always been the way native people have passed along cultural information, it feels I have come full circle. What I had been teaching in workshops I now weave into my presentations, including the knowledge that rock writings are an ancient form of storytelling ... our "published" works.