Saturday, February 17, 2018


Cross of Caravaca,
photo: Wikimedia,
public domain.

Widow skimmer dragonfly
close-up, http://www.public

When the Spanish colonized in the American southwest they were accompanied by priests. The original motives of these Spanish had been to find gold, new land, and souls to convert to Catholicism, but in the generally arid southwest the desire for gold and land generally faded away before too long, however, the need to convert heathens to the true faith always remained. Because of this, they were accompanied by missionaries whose job was to tend to the religious needs of Spanish settlers as well as convert Native Americans to the church. These missionaries were Franciscans or Jesuits (generally at different times) but both of these carried the double-barred Cross of Caravaca to the New World.

Shield, star, and dragonfly,
Galisteo dike, NM.
Photo: Peter Faris, 1988.

Dragonflies, La Cienegilla,
                Santa Fe, NM. Photo: Pat
                 Price, Dec. 1991.

It is not my purpose to rewrite the history of colonizing and the missionaries in New Mexico and the American southwest, there are plenty of good references for those stories. My purpose here is to explore the influence of symbolism in the success of that effort. The cross of Caravaca is a double-barred crucifix, like the better known cross of Lorraine, and whether by coincidence or by divine influence it very strongly resembles the Native American symbol of the dragonfly.

Cross of Caravaca created by
Native American craftsman with
influences of the dragonfly.
Public domain.

This was touched upon in Bahti (1970) when he wrote "the similarity between the Franciscan's double-barred cross of Caravaca and the dragon fly designs used on Pueblo pottery resulted in the ready acceptance among Southwestern tribes of this religious symbol for non-religious reasons." (Bahti 1970:3)

In my admittedly cursory research I found it much easier to locate references to Jesuits and the cross of Caravaca than Franciscans, but I will not dispute Bahti, I will, for this column, assume that he is correct and that both may have carried the cross of Caravaca, and that it had the same basic effect upon the natives.

Three Rivers, Otero County, NM.
Photo: J. & E. Faris, 1988.

Bahti's position, I believe, is basically that the Native peoples saw these strangers entering their land, but carrying a recognizable symbol that seemed to be one they shared, and so they afforded the strangers a less hostile reception.

"The Hopi and their ancestors have always venerated the dragonfly. They often asked the dragonfly to confer benefits on their people. Dragonflies are portrayed on altars, pottery, and petroglyphs because the Hopi believe that dragonflies have great supernatural powers and are shamanic. They are positive symbols of water, fertility and abundance. The Hopi people actually credit dragonflies with saving their tribe from starvation by using their supernatural powers to grow corn to maturity in four days at the ancient time when their tribe was migrating in search of their permanent home. Dragonfly song is believed to warn men of danger and resembles the Hopi word for water: twee,tsee,tsee." (

Shaman Rock near Helena,
Montana. Photograph by Julie

"In the Hopi and Pueblo tribes, the dragonfly was considered a medicine animal, associated with healing and transformation, whose spirit was often called upon by medicine men and women. Killing a dragonfly was considered highly taboo in the Pueblo tribes. To the Navajo tribe, the dragonfly is a symbol of water, and dragonfly images frequently appear in sacred sandpaintings to represent the element of water. In Plains Indian traditions, dragonflies are symbols of protection or even invincibility, and pictures of dragonflies were often painted on war shirts and tepee covers to ward off danger and injury." (

By the time the Native peoples learned that the symbol carries by the Spanish priests was not, in fact, their dragonfly, and did not mean shared beliefs and mores, it was probably too late, and the conquest of the New World continued apace. It is, however, and interesting example of a single symbol meaning completely different things to two peoples, and a conundrum which we now face, which is it - cross or dragonfly?


Bahti, Tom
1970 Native Religions and Foreign Influences, Southwestern Indian Ceremonials, KC Publications, Las Vegas.

Native American Dragonfly Gods and Spirits, 

Ryder, Julie,


Saturday, February 10, 2018


Ain Sakhri Lovers, calcite. 
Ca. 11,000 BCE.
Photo: Public Domain.

This charming little sculpture, known as the Ain Sakhri Lovers, is credited to the Natufian culture from the Near East. The "Natufian culture existed from around 12,500 to 9,500 BC in the Levant, a region in the Eastern Mediterranean. The culture was unusual in that it supported a sedentary or semi-sedentary population even before the introduction of agriculture. The Natufian communities may be the ancestors of the builders of the first Neolithic settlements of the region, which may have been the earliest in the world. Natufians founded Jericho which may be the oldest city in the world. Some evidence suggests deliberate cultivation of cereals, specifically rye by the Natufian culture, at Tell Abu Hureyra, he site of the earliest evidence of agriculture in the world. Generally though, Natufians exploited wild cereals. Animals hunted included gazelles." (Wikipedia)

Ain Sakhri Lovers, calcite. 
Ca. 11,000 BCE.
Photo: Public Domain.

Found in the 1930s by Bedouin shepherd boys, it was sold to the French Fathers at Bethlehem. The French counsel and prehistorian Rene Neuville attributed it to the cave of Ain Sakhri where he excavated and found Natufian material. "Although the source area of the figurine is not in doubt, its association with Ain Sakhri is unproven. - Although unique in showing a couple, simple phallic carvings are known from other Natufian sites. The natural shape of a calcite cobble has been used to represent the outline of two figures making love face to face in a sitting position. Their heads, arms and legs appear as raised areas around which the surface has been picked away. The figures have no faces. The arms of one hug the shoulders of the other and its knees are bent up underneath those of the slightly smaller figure." (British Museum)

Archaeologists have dated this piece to the Stone Age, approx. 11,000 years BCE. It is called the earliest known depiction of people making love. (British Museum)

Although lacking facial features, at least one of the figures shows an indicated hair line. It portrays a tender moment of love with none of the salacious nature of many other pornoglyphs. Not only did the Natufians create this sculpture which is sometimes called the first portrayal of sex, they are also considered the first people who brewed beer. I wonder if they also had rock and roll?

NOTE: Images in this posting were retrieved from the internet after a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the originals at the sites listed below.


Saturday, February 3, 2018


A few days ago I was visiting rock art sites on the internet when I came across a site I had never seen before. It was an RSS feed that included many of my postings from RockArtBlog. In scrolling through them I found one posting that seemed odd to me. While I did remember writing it for the blog, in thinking back I did not remember any entries for it in the cloud index at the bottom of RockArtBlog. I went to the blog and searched the index and could find no references to this particular posting. So next I went to my Blogspot dashboard and searched the accumulated history archives of past postings. I would have supposedly been posted on July 28, 2012, so I could look for an entry for that day. The strange thing was that it was not there; there was no posting at all for July 28, 2012. I know I did not delete it, and its presence on the RSS feed site proves it once existed. Someone had deleted it without informing me. Anyway, here it is again (below), reconstituted, and restored to keep the record complete. 

Possible buffalo soldiers with a Ute
or Comanche horse, near Vernal,
Uintah County, Utah.
Photo: Peter Faris, September 1989.

I photographed the panel illustrated in September, 1989, on a private ranch near the town of Vernal, in Uinta County, UT. While the petroglyph panel includes a number of historic images done by Ute Indians (the graceful horse in the center is certainly Ute or Comanche in style), it also contains prehistoric images that suggest a considerable age span. Indeed, in the upper right we can see (barely, it is very hard to make out) the torso of an anthropomorph which seems to exhibit characteristics of the much earlier Barrier Canyon Style. This part of the state certainly contains a large amount of Barrier Canyon Style rock art and, although the greater portion of that is painted, Barrier Canyon Style petroglyphs are  known.

Close-up of possible buffalo
soldiers with a Ute or Comanche
horse, near Vernal, Uintah
County, Utah. Photo: Peter Faris,
September 1989.

The ranch owner stated that this panel had been visited by professors from the University of Utah and that they had identified the historic figures in this panel as buffalo soldiers, based upon the facial features and hair portrayals. Given the inaccuracies often seen in rock art I must admit that I feel that is a risky supposition, but based upon history it certainly does seem to be possible.

According to Will Bagley in the Salt Lake City Tribune (8/19/2001) “The 9th Cavalry (buffalo soldiers) joined four companies of the 21st Infantry in 1886 to found Fort Duchesne in the Uinta Valley. They were sent to keep an eye on the Ouray and Uinta reservations, a fact not appreciated by the Utes, some of who probably remembered fighting the Buffalo Soldiers at Milk River in 1879.” - Their first commanding officer had been Major Frederick Benteen, a survivor of the Custer Massacre ten years earlier. - “Except for six months during the Spanish-American War, the 9th Cavalry and its Buffalo Soldiers garrisoned the fort from September 1892 until March 1901. Benjamin O. Davis Sr., an officer who served at Fort Duchesne, became the first black general in U.S. military history. -The last Buffalo Soldiers left the fort in 1901, ending another surprising chapter in Utah's history.

History suggests that this identification just might be right.


Sunday, January 28, 2018


Salmon, Nainamo Petroglyph
Park, Vancouver Island, BC.
Photo: Peter Faris, 1992.

At Nanaimo Petroglyph Park, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, is a panel that has been identified as representing salmon, but, instead of illustrating the fish naturally, or even in the interior design motifs common to Northwest Coast peoples art, these fish are hatched with interior lines, sort of like interior scaffolding. These are generally meant to represent  a portrayal of the internal skeletal structure of the fish. Virtually all Northwest Coast peoples depended upon the yearly salmon runs for food, and virtually all of them had some variation on the First-Salmon Ceremony to influence the availability of the salmon and the size of the catch.

Ceremonial Feast in long-house.
Northwest Coast First Nations.
Public domain photo.

"Historically, first-salmon ceremonies differed from tribe to tribe, but all had some things in common. The salmon chief of the tribe would select a fisher to catch the first salmon. This was an honor, and before entering the river the fisher would undergo a blessing or a purification. Once a fish was caught it would be brought to shore and carefully prepared, cooked and distributed to the people in a manner unique to the location and tribe. The head of the fish would be kept pointed upriver to show the salmon's spirit the way home. The bones would be carefully cleaned and returned to the river, where it was believed the salmon would reconstitute itself and continue its journey. Throughout, there was an underlying theme of respect for the salmon as a gift, and the hope that by properly respecting the fish the salmon king would continue his benevolence through the coming months of salmon returns and again the following year." (Harrison 2008)

Leaping salmon in Deschutes River.
Olympia, Washington.
Photo: 1995, Peter Faris.

Brian Fagan described this in detail in his 2017 book. "The First Salmon Ceremony was the most important ritual, an expression of reverence and respect when the run's first fish was caught. Some groups honored the first salmon with a praise name. Often, shamans conducted elaborate ceremonies before the fish was butchered and served. Prayer and ritual also greeted the first eulachon or herring caught, an occasion for joyous celebration and renewal. The fishers recognized the natural cycle of human and animal live by clubbing the first fish with one blow and then honoring it with a prayer. The normal routines of butchering and cooking received exceptional care and attention. When the fish had been eaten, most groups threw the eating mats and bones into the sea, both to ensure that the salmon would become whole again and return to let the other salmon know the first had been well treated so that they would duly proceed up the river. All prayers and rituals conveyed respect for the foods of river and ocean." (Fagan 2017:94-5)

Nanaimo Petroglyph Park on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, is located in an area traditionally occupied by Nootkan people. This unique panel could well represent the bones of salmon being returned to the water after the ceremonial First-Salmon meal, and may illustrate this belief cycle as it was expressed by these Nootkans.

NOTE: One image in this posting was retrieved from the internet after a search for public domain photographs. If this image was not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the originals at the sites listed below.


Fagan, Brian
2017 Fishing, How the Sea Fed Civilization, Yale University Press, New Haven, p. 94-5.

Harrison, John
2008 First-Salmon Ceremony, Oct. 31, 2008,

Saturday, January 20, 2018


Rock art panel, Saudi Arabia.
Jeddah blog, public domain.

Hundreds of images of domesticated dogs have been found in rock art of the Arabian peninsula at the Shuwaymis and Jubbah sites in northwestern Saudia Arabia. "While documenting thousands of rock-art panels there, Maria Guagnin, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, counted 156 dogs at Shuwaymis and 193 at Jubbah." (Gannon 2017)

Shuwaymis rock art,
public domain.

"Etched into the rock walls of dried-out valleys and slopes in the Arabian peninsula, the 8,000-year-old hunting scenes even feature some dogs on leashes. Those images - the oldest archaeological evidence of dog leashes - suggest humans were controlling and training dogs even before they settled down into farming communities." (Gannon 2017) These dog petroglyphs, which may be the oldest dog images known in rock art, are beautifully done, with graceful lines. They suggest an appreciation of, even affection for, the subject.

Rock art and Canaan dog.,
public domain.

The canines portrayed look similar to the modern breed of Canaan dogs with "pricked ears, short snouts, and curled tails - and they look distinct from the hyenas and wolves depicted elsewhere in the rock-art panels." (Gannon 2017) In other words, they seem to be domesticated dogs, not wild canids.

Shuwaymis rock art panel, Saudi
public domain.

"The team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute report that the panels they found on the Arabian Peninsula are between 8,000 and 9,000 years old, which might make them the oldest dog images on record. That title currently  belongs to painted pottery from southwestern Iran that's also about 8,000 years old, so which is unequivocally the oldest is not yet clear." (Sloat 2017) It illustrates that man's best friend may also be his oldest, and documents a relationship between canine and human., public domain.

"The archaeological record shows the first undisputed dog remains buried beside humans 14,700 years ago, with disputed remains occurring 36,000 years ago - The dog was the first species to be domesticated." (Wikipedia) So, while these images are not the earliest evidence of domesticated dogs, they may well be the first images of domesticated dogs - until older ones are found.

NOTE: Images in this posting were retrieved from the internet after a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the originals at the sites listed below.


Gannon, Megan
2017 8,000-Year-Old Rock Art Includes the World's Oldest Images of Dogs, Live Science, November 20, 2017, https:/

Sloat, Sarah
2017 Earliest Known Images of Dogs Reveal Origins of Their Bond With Humans, November 17, 2017,

Saturday, January 13, 2018


I honestly do not know why I find the story below so charming, but the picture of the camel is really good, it is unique, and represents a new subject added to the catalog of rock art imagery. Enjoy!

 Camel painting, Kapova Cave,
Southern Urals, Russia.,
public domain.

After some restoration work to remove built-up calcite layers a wonderful painting of a two-humped (Bactrian) camel has been revealed in a Russian cave, which raises questions about the travel patterns of prehistoric peoples. "The image, said to date back between 14,500 to 37,700 years, was found in the Kapova Cave, part of the Southern Urals mountain range, by renowned restoration scientist Eudald Guillamet. Located in Russia's Bashkir Ural Territory, the limestone grotto is almost a natural museum to Paleolithic art with more than 150 examples of ancient depictions." (Rees 2017)

Panel before restoration
(you can see the hindquarters
of the camel on the left)., 
public domain.

A press release from Lomonosov Moscow State University, quoted in stated that "the age of the drawings in this panel cannot be accurately established yet, but the results of uranium-thorium dating of the calcite deposits on which the image is painted, and which cover it, unambiguously show that the time period during which the drawing was made was during the upper Paleolithic age, which is no earlier than 37,700 years ago and no later than 14,500 years ago. In the course of excavating the Kapova cave, only the upper layer of deposits with traces of activity of Paleolithic artists, about 17,000 - 19,000 years ago, has been dated so far." ( 2017)

Kapova Cave map. 

Range of Bactrian Camel.

Also of great interest is the fact that the painted camel in Kapova cave is a very long distance from the historic range of the Bactrian camel. A couple of centuries ago the nearest that wild Bactrian camels ranged was over 1,000 miles from Kapova. I have been unable to find the information on Paleolithic ranges for this animal, but "this artwork confirms the belief that artists in the Upper Paleolithic could migrate over long distances, especially as camels were not native to this region during this time." ( 2017)

Mammoth panel, Kapova Cave,
Southern Urals, Russia.
public domain.

The paintings of Kapova have long been known and admired. More than 150 images of mammoths, wooly rhinoceroses, and large ungulates are to be found there, but the camel image only recently came to light during a careful restoration on the cave wall by renowned restoration scientist Eudald Guillamet. (Rees 2017) So much to see with no end in sight. What a wonderful world.

NOTE: Images in this posting were retrieved from the internet after a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the originals at the sites listed below.

REFERENCES:, 27 November 2017.

Rees, Lindsay
2017 Prehistoric Russian Camel Painting Could Be 38,000 Years Old,

Saturday, January 6, 2018


Flatfish petroglyph, Nanaimo
Petroglyph Provincial Park, 
Vancouver Island, British Columbia,
 Canada. Photo Peter Faris, 1992. 

On the eastern side of the island of Vancouver Island is Nanaimo Petroglyph Provincial Park, dedicated to displaying and explaining rock art of the local indigenous Nootkan First Nations people. Not only does Nanaimo boast areas of bedrock petroglyphs, but casts and reproductions in cement of petroglyphs from other locations are also on display. One image on a section of exposed bedrock is the charming little flatfish shown above.

Flatfish petroglyph, Nanaimo
Petroglyph Provincial Park, 
Vancouver Island, British Columbia,
 Canada. Photo Peter Faris, 1992.

Now Northwest Coast tribes are famous for their fishing skills, and are known to regularly catch halibut weighing hundreds of pounds, but this does not seem to represent a halibut. Flatfish are found in the northern Pacific in many shapes and sizes, up to three dozen different fish are counted, but this petroglyph reminds me most of one specific fish. The shape, small size, and the conformation of his fins suggest to me that this image is of a Pacific Sanddab.

Much smaller than some of its giant cousins, the Pacific Sanddab, Citharichthys sordidus, achieves a length of only about sixteen inches when grown. Were it identifiable as a halibut, it could commemorate an important idea; possibly a young man's first major catch as a fisherman, or a clan symbol important to the local residents. But this fish, if it is a Pacific sanddab, is considerably smaller and probably less significant.
Pacific Sanddab, Citharichthys sordidus., public domain.

The Pacific sanddab, Citharichthys sordidus, also known as the mottled sanddab and soft flounder is left-eyed. The "eyed side (is) dull light brown, mottled with brown or black, and sometimes yellow or orange. Blind sde off-white to tan. Body elongate to oval with long scales. Caudal fin only slightly rounded." (Kramer et al: p. 14)

In size it reaches up to 41 cm. (16 inches), and weighs up to two pounds, but most weigh less than a half pound. It is "common in coastal waters from British Columbia to California. It is considered an excellent food fish. (Kramer et al: p. 14)

As to the motive behind creating this image, it would, of course, depend greatly on the identity of the flatfish portrayed, but if the identification of it as a Pacific Sanddab is correct, I imagine that the motive or meaning refers to someone portraying a favorite food rather than a memorable catch or an important clan symbol. In any case, I enjoyed seeing it and speculating, and isn't that what much of our interest in rock art is all about?

NOTE: An image in this posting was retrieved from the internet during a search for public domain photographs. If this image is not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them.


Kramer, Donald E., William H. Barss, Brian C. Paust, and Barry E. Bracken
2008 Guide to Northeast Pacific Flatfishes, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.