No one can say for certain what the images mean, yet we can piece together various sources to give us clues to their meaning;  Oral histories from Native Americans, ethnographic studies, location, content, and style of the glyphs may all offer clues as to possible interpretations.  Listed below are some of the proposed functions of rock art that have been discussed in the literature.

Boundary/Trail Markers: Perhaps some images were used as "highway signs" or "No Trespassing" signs.  Paint Rock, Madison County, may have served this purpose as well as the historic petroglyph, Chambers Rock, Swain County.

Ceremonial/Religious Purposes: Rock art found in hard to access locations is frequently thought to be associated with shamanic rituals.  Grant Campbell (1967) speculated that animal tracks may be associated with hunting magic.  Gardner Rock, Yancey County, is largely made of pecked animal tracks.

Decoration/Doodling: This use is often dismissed by rock art scholars but it certainly is a possibility for some images.

Initiation/Puberty Rites: Rock art was used in this context in other places, but so far we have no information that it served this purpose in North Carolina.

Event/Historical Marker:  Certainly this interpretation is true for numerous historic glyphs.  See the photograph of dates and initials in the Photo Gallery.  Prehistoric people could have also been making such recordings.

Astronomical/Calendar events: It has been suggested that some sites appear to be related to comets or solstice observations.  But again, there is no site in North Carolina thought to serve this purpose.  A Clay County petroglyph possibly could be interpreted to resemble the big dipper.  It is made of cupules and lines.