Saturday, July 26, 2014


Split Rock site, Picketwire Canyonlands, CO.
Photograph: Peter Faris, 21 June, 1998.

This photo represents a fascinating possibility, not any sort of certainty, but I put it out here for someone to look into if interested. I took the picture on June 21, 1998, the Summer Solstice, about mid-afternoon, at the Split Rock site in the Picketwire Canyonlands, south of La Junta, Colorado. As you can see a finger-like pointer of sunlight is approaching a group of seven (?) engraved vertical lines carved inside the passage of the giant split boulder. Now I was not there at sunrise, or at noon, or sunset, so I cannot speak to how this played out, but it certainly is intriguing from an archaeoastronomical viewpoint. It occurred to me then, as it does now, that the outer lines on the grouping might mark the points reached by the finger of light on the equinoxes, and the midpoint on the solstices. And then there is that interesting spot of light centered on the fifth line from the left. I have not been back to the site and have not done the field research to prove any of this, but I pass it on to whoever is interested to check out. Just please cite me correctly and let me know how it plays out, we can publish it on RockArtBlog.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


El Morro, Cibola County, New Mexico.

The site of El Morro rock in Cibola County, in western New Mexico, has seen much history. This large rock outcrop has a permanent pool of water in that arid environment, and prehistorically had a pueblo built on top of the rock. Ancestral Puebloan rock art can be found on the cliffs and spires of El Morro, as can the inscriptions and names of later comers. Thus, El Morro is literally a history book of the region imprinted with those stories and messages from the past.

Ancestral Puebloan images, El Morro, Cibola County,
New Mexico. Photograph Peter Faris, June 1993.

One of these was the inscription of Diego de Vargas Zapata Luján Ponce de León y Contreras. “Diego de Vargas Zapata Luján Ponce de León y Contreras (born in Spain, 1643 – 1704), commonly known as Don Diego de Vargas, was a Spanish governor of the New Spain territory of Santa Fe de Nuevo México, today the US states of New Mexico and Arizona, titular 1690-1692, effective 1692-1696 and 1703 – 1704. He is most famous for leading the reconquest of the territory in 1692 following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. This reconquest is commemorated annually during the Fiestas de Santa Fe in the city of Santa Fe.” (Wikipedia)

Diego de Vargas - left (p.242), and the
de Vargas coat of arms - right (p. 243),
Kessell, Kiva, Cross, and Crown, 1979.

“Gov. Diego de Vargas, capable, cocksure, and visibly daring, on February 22, 1691, assumed command of the dispirited New Mexico colony in exile. He found El Paso a hole. The poverty, misery, and constant dread of Indian attack had driven many New Mexico refugee families to desert the El Paso settlements. A muster of men capable of bearing arms, counting not only the poorly equipped presidial garrison organized in 1683 but Indian allies as well, turned out scarcely three hundred in all.” (Kessell 1979:243) Yet in 1692 he had organized troops and colonists to begin the reconquest of New Mexico.

“Vargas made a dashing entrada, took Santa Fe, then occupied by Indians, without bloodshed, and granted forgiveness to the rebels. He made excursions to many pueblos on and near the Rio Grande, all of which tendered obedience, and at the end of October he struck out west for Acoma, Zuni and the Hopi pueblos. Submission of the pueblo of Acoma was obtained, without the use of force, and the expedition proceeded toward Zuni. The General’s journal entry for Saturday, November 8, 1692 records the arrival of the expedition at El Morro – “a large rock, very high and broad, at the foot of which is a cavity, like an orange, and in it water may be collected if there is any; there is no certainty of finding it supplied with water but God be praised at present there is great abundance. . . “” (Slater 1961:13)

De Vargas inscription,  El Morro, Cibola County,
New Mexico. Photograph Peter Faris, June 1993.

Near this tank (pool of water) is found the De Vargas inscription of 1692, which may have been inscribed by De Vargas or by one of his men, and which says:

“Aqui estuvo de General Don Diego
de Vargas, quien consuisto
a nuestra Santa Fe y a la Real
Corona todo el Nuevo
Mexico a su costa.
Ano de 1692.”  (

“Here was the General Don Diego
De Vargas, who conquered
For our Holy Faith, and for the Royal
Crown, all the New
Mexico, at his expense,
Year of 1692” (Slater 1961:13)

Close-up of De Vargas inscription,  El Morro, Cibola
County, New Mexico. Photograph Peter Faris, June 1993.

General De Vargas surprisingly was welcomed at both Zuni and Hopi and he returned to Zuni on November 27, 1692. They passed El Morro again on their way back to the Rio Grande and it is also possible that the inscription dates to this visit. (Slater 1961:14)

“De Vargas reconquered the Pueblo Indians after their bloody rebellion in 1680 and succeeded in bringing many colonists from Spain to take up homes in this country. He lies buried under the altar of the parish church in Santa Fe.” (

I will cover a number of the other El Morro inscriptions in future postings on RockArtBlog.


Kessell, John L.
1979    Kiva, Cross, and Crown, the Pecos Indians and New Mexico, 1540-1840, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington D.C.

Slater, John M.
1961    El Morro, Inscription Rock, New Mexico, The Plantin
           Press, Los Angeles.


Saturday, July 12, 2014


Keyser, James D., David A. Kaiser, George Poetschat, and
Michael W. Taylor, 2012, Fraternity of War, Plains Indian
Rock Art at Bear Gulch and Atherton Canyon, Montana,
Oregon Archaeological Society Press Publication #21, Portland.

This is a truly remarkable book which presents an encyclopedic record of rock art in two locations in Montana. This 436 page volume was published by the Oregon Archaeological Society Press (volume 21) and was written by 14 contributing authors, edited by James D. Keyser, David A. Kaiser, George Poetschat, and Michael W. Taylor, with technical editing by John and Mavis Greer, and contributions by a handful of other people. Now I want to say up front that I do not personally know most of the people involved in this volume, but I wish I knew them all because they have to all be outstanding experts in their specialties, with James Keyser shepherding the process and setting his usual high standards.

The team or panel of rock art experts assembled to compile this material is truly impressive. Listed on the cover page are the writers, editors, and other contributors, comprising a who’s-who of expertise in rock art and archaeology.
Editors: James D. Keyser, David A. Kaiser, George Poetschat, Michael W. Taylor.
Technical Editors: John Greer, Mavis Greer.
Contributing Authors: James D. Keyser, David A. Kaiser, John Greer, Mavis Greer, George Poetschat, Carl M. Davis, Angelo Eugenio Fossati, Melissa (Ray) Gentry, Lisa F. Ripps, Melissa Greer, Mike Bergstrom, Sara Scott, Marvin Rowe, Amanda Derby.
Forward: Macie (Lundin) Ahlgren.
Technical Contributors: Susan Gray, Stephanie (Young) Renfro, Ray Baise.
Cover Design and Photographs: Michael W. Taylor.

Containing over 300 illustrations the Fraternity of War not only provides a detailed record of world class rock art, it provides a data base of the styles and periods of rock art from the area.

In the preface the authors state: “Bear Gulch and Atherton Canyon are already one of the most studied and extensively published rock art site complexes in North America, rivaling much better known locals such as Writing-On-Stone, The Dalles-Deschutes region of the lower Columbia River, The Coso Range, the lower Pecos River, and Chaco Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, and Barrier Canyon in the Southwest . . . we hope this report adds significantly to the discussion and study of Plains rock art. The number of shield bearing warriors, women, birds, weapons, and various warrior accoutrements composing the Ceremonial Tradition art at these sites far outstrips that from any other Plains site. In addition, though limited in number, the Biographic Tradition compositions at these sites add significantly to the repertoire of that art tradition across all of the Plains. Finally, there are several one-of-a-kind rock art images portrayed only at these sites, including a decorated hide robe, the Standing Bear and Hand of God shield designs, the wolf hat headdress, a trade blanket, and partisan-type lance heads derived from Spanish polearms. These images, and the few dozen others representing earlier styles and traditions, are sufficiently important that no future Plains rock art research will be conducted without reference to some of them. Accordingly, the profession of archaeology owes a major debt of gratitude to the Lundin and Melton families, who not only permitted access to their properties, but actively encouraged this research. ” (Keyser et al. 2012:xiii-xiv)

Shield bearing warrior figure, Bear
Gulch. Photograph by Mike Taylor.

The cover photograph of this book reproduces this beautiful polychrome panel from Bear Gulch, Montana. The white color in this figure is actually produced by scratching the surface of the rock, not by utilizing a white pigment (notice the additional white scratched figures as well). The red and black pigments are added to the surface of the rock. Faint black lines to the left and below the shield represent a feather bustle. These were cataloged on 185 shield bearing warriors at these sites and are considered to be representations of an aggressive buffalo bull's erect tail, conveying power and aggressiveness. (Keyser et al. 2012:133-4)

There is so much material in this volume that it constitutes, in itself, a reference library of Great Plains rock art. Clearly written, carefully cross-referenced, and full of citations, this book will be the go-to reference for many years to come. When I first heard of this book and decided to review it here for RockArtBlog I had no idea of the scope of the project I would be undertaking. Needless to say this is only the beginning and I anticipate many more postings over time about this wonderful book and material that it contains. On a five star scale for books this one has to be at least a full five and should perhaps be an eight or ten. Congratulations and thank you to the whole team for adding all of this knowledge to our field, and thank you as well to the Oregon Archaeological Society for making it possible.


Keyser, James D., David A. Kaiser, George Poetschat, and Michael W. Taylor
2012    Fraternity of War, Plains Indian Rock Art at Bear Gulch and Atherton Canyon, Montana, Oregon Archaeological Society Press Publication #21, Portland.

Saturday, July 5, 2014


Supposed sauropod dinosaur petroglyph in Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah. 

To return to the subject of whether or not there are depictions of dinosaurs in rock art as claimed by Young-Earthers we now take a look at the supposed petroglyph of a sauropod found in Natural Bridges National Monument, outside of Blanding, Utah. Remember, they are so eager to find pictures of dinosaurs in human created imagery because that should prove the claims of creationists who ascribe to the theory that the bible says the earth is only 6,000 years old based upon 17th century Bishop Usher’s calculation that “the  creation began at nightfall preceding Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC” (Wikipedia).

Supposed sauropod petroglyph outlined.

“The picture above was drawn by North American Anasazi (maybe Anasazi, perhaps Fremont, Ute, or Paiute) Indians that lived in the area that has now become Utah approximately 150 B.C. – 1200 A.D. Even noted anti-creationists agree that it resembles a dinosaur and that the brownish film which has hardened over the picture, along with the pitting and weathering, attests to its age. One evolutionist writes, “There is a petroglyph in Natural Bridges National Monument that bears a startling resemblance to a dinosaur, specifically a Brontosaurus, with a long tail and neck, small head and all.” (Barnes and Pendleton, Canyon Country Prehistoric Indians – Their Culture, Ruins, Artifacts and Rock Art, 1995.) Clearly a native warrior and an Apatosaur-like creature are depicted.” 

Supposed sauropod petroglyph and anthropomorph circled.

So the presence of an anthropomorphic figure in the same panel provides additional ammunition to these people's interpretation, that man and dinosaur coexisted.

Sauropod dinosaur.

Sauropod dinosaur skeleton. Wikipedia.

The main argument here is basically the same as the one I used in questioning the Havasupai Canyon hadrosaur. The posture of the animal is incorrect. Observing this fifty years ago nobody would have really thought about that because that was when dinosaurs, especially sauropods, were thought to be slow, plodding tail draggers. Now that scientists have revised this opinion and reconstruct dinosaurs with their tails sticking out essentially straight behind, we can see the errors in this petroglyph. Indeed, had it really been made by a Native American who was co-existing with dinosaurs, he would have known that the tail should stick out straight and portrayed it that way. This in itself brands this petroglyph as a modern hoax.

As I have said before, in interpreting rock art we are all entitled to our own opinions and interpretations, but we are not entitled to make up our own facts.


Barnes, F. A., and M. Pendleton
1979    Canyon Country Prehistoric Indians, Their Cultures, Ruins, Artifacts, and Rock Art, Wasatch, Salt Lake City.