Lava Beds National Monument is significant as one of the longest continually-occupied areas on the North American continent and features a number of artifacts as testament to its rich Native American history. Featuring over 5,000 individual carvings as well as many pictographs, Petroglyph Point Archeological Site contains one of the largest panels of Native American rock art on the continent. The age of these artifacts is estimated to be between 2,000 to 5,000 years old, with some possibly older than 6,000 years.
Estimating the age of petroglyphs is difficult because, as carvings, material is removed from the surface rather than added. Another obstacle in determining the age of the petroglyphs is weathering due to the rise and fall of Tule Lake, an ancient lake within which Petroglyph Point was once an island. The indigenous people of the area (largely the Modoc and their predecessors) traveled to the cliff face in canoes to etch the images into the stone.
Pictographs, which are paintings on the surface of the rocks, can be more easily estimated based on carbon-based materials in pigments. The pictographs at Lava Beds National Monument (largely found around cave entrances) have been estimated to be 1,500 years old.
The images depicted at Lava Beds are largely geometric patterns rather than images of animals and people that are commonly seen in other parts of the West. Due to the fracturing of the Modoc people following the Modoc War in the 1870s and their forced relocation, it is difficult to determine the meaning, creators, and intent of the artifacts.
Petroglyph Point was geologically formed approximately 275,000 years ago from basalt and andesite eruptions from the waters of Tule Lake. In the 1930s, a chain-link fence was added around the images at Petroglyph Point to protect against vandalism and damage to the artifacts at the site. In 1975, Petroglyph Point Archeological Site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.