Saturday, August 30, 2014


One category of rock art symbolism that has not been satisfactorily explained is the series or group of markings classified as a tally. We assume that they are a tally because we would use marks like these that way, but, of course, no-one really knows at present whether most of these are or are not actually tallies in the sense of counting something. For want of a better term I like to call these by the name tallyform.

Markings identified as Ogam, Baca County, CO. 
Photograph: Peter Faris, Feb. 1996.

There is a category of tallies that are usually fairly easy to recognize and these are coup counts. I have written on this previously and will again in the future, but for now I am discussing the series of markings that look like a numerical tally and that cannot be interpreted. Attempts have been made to identify them as Ogam writing, but most students of the field just do not agree. The main problem to identifying these as a tally is the question “a tally of what?”

There are some sequences in nature that are often cited as possible reasons for keeping the tally. Advocates of Archaeoastronomy often argue the need for agricultural people to be able to use some sort of calendrical count to determine when is the proper time to plant. Therefore in a tallyform a count of 28 to 30 repeating marks is often cited as representing the lunar cycle and a 12 mark count would be identified as the lunar year. Actually, of course we have no way of knowing whether or not this is actually the true intention of the creator of the marks. As to the attempts to identify these as planting calendars I have a major problem. No farmer plants his crops according to the calendar, they plant according to the conditions. One year may have an earlier planting season, and the next year a later planting season. This is determined by ambient temperature and moisture, not a calendar. My grandfather in western Washington interpreted the clouds around Mount Rainier to predict weather and climate. In one ethnographic example I recall a Native American farmer on the Great Plains testified that he planted when the leaves of the trees were the size of a squirrel’s ear.

Awl sharpening grooves, Purgatory Canyon, Bent County,
Colorado. Photograph: Peter Faris, 9 July 1998.

Another factor to be considered is the type of mark we are considering. I do not consider that a row of awl sharpening grooves in a rock can be designated to be a tally, they were created for another purpose entirely.

"Music", Purgatoire, Bent County, CO.
Photograph: Peter Faris, June 1991.

"Music" close-up,  Purgatoire Canyon, Bent County, CO.
Photograph: Peter Faris, June 1991.

Down in the Picketwire Canyonlands, south of La Junta, Colorado, there is a unique form of this tallyform type of petroglyph. Long horizontal lines on cliffs, with many fairly evenly spaced short vertical lines hanging down from them, and a dot on the end of the short vertical lines. Because of the vague resemblance of these to the notes in musical notation we always referred to these with the shorthand designation of "music", and some are impressively long stretching over 40 or 50 feet of cliff. These certainly look like monumental tallies of some sort.

"Music" , Purgatory Canyon, Bent County, CO.
Photograph: Peter Faris, 9 July 1998.

So what do we make of a line of markings in a cliff, say seventeen, or thirty five, or many more, that does not correspond to any natural cycle we can determine? Might it perhaps represent the number of buffalo killed by hunters in the season, or the number of rainy days? Perhaps, but unless we are given more information how will we ever know? 

Saturday, August 23, 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.

On July 12, 2014, I posted part one of a review of the wonderful book Fraternity of War, Plains Indian Rock Art at Bear Gulch and Atherton Canyon, Montana, by James Keyser and George Poetschat. 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 repeat here 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.

This comprehensive volume provides coverage of much of the material found at these locations. With a record of detailed tracings of more than 900 panels they authors could not include everything, but they put an amazing amount of material into this volume.

In discussing chronological contexts for the sites the authors included a fascinating ethnographic account of a rock art panel from Curley Head, a Gros Ventre native. Speaking in 1937 from memories of his childhood (believed to be from about 1870) Curley Head stated: “Then we crossed the Missouri River and camped at the mouth of a creek, which empties into the river. Here the Little People had made paintings on the cliffs and in the caves nearby. I decided to sleep near one of these cliffs to see if I could obtain some power. I prayed and cried until I fell asleep. I had a dream that the Little People were coming for me with a big kettle of boiling water and each one was picking a part of my body that he wanted to eat. I woke up and left that place right away. People always have bad dreams when they sleep near painted cliffs (Pohrt 1937)”. (Keyser and Poetschatt 2013:23)

Face paint designs, Keyser and Poetschat, 
Fig. 2.181, p. 155.

One of the qualities that I have most admired in Jim Keyser’s work is the ability he has always shown to recognize and point out significant details in the rock art. For instance, where most of us would look at the figures painted and pecked and see that some have face painting, Keyser carefully noted 27 different face painting designs, and illustrated them (on page 156). He repeats this with many other details of portrayal, including headdresses and hairstyles, including at least 13 wolf hat headdresses (pages 158-160).

Wolf hat headdresses, Keyser and
Poetschat, Fig. 2.183, p. 158.

So much of rock art literature in the past has been limited to a record describing and illustrating what is portrayed. This has, however, never been Jim Keyser’s modus operandi. Not only do Jim Keyser and George Poetschat spend hundreds of pages on detailed description of rock art panels and figures in this book, they devote many, many more to detailed analysis of the iconography and meaning of the images. Jim Keyser has always been a master at reading the narrative in a rock art panel, and the rock art of Bear Gulch and Atherton Canyon is presented the same way.  

I hope that in talking so much about Jim Keyser I have not shorthanded other deserving personnel involved in this volume. As I said, I do not know most of the people involved (although I still wish I did) and cannot fully know their contributions and personal strengths. I have known Jim Keyser and have long had an extremely high regard for his scholarship and work ethic, and when I think I see his hand in the material I guess I tend to automatically attribute it to him. It is also my firm belief that Jim would be the first to brush this off, and to pass the credit to his co-workers. On May 20, 2014, he wrote to me about his partner George Poetschat: “He was awarded the Crabtree award a couple years ago by the Society for American Archaeology in recognition of his MANY contributions to these publications is just one of his many skills.” If I have wrongly attributed any element of this book let me say that it has not been my intention to slight any of the people involved in this marvelous publication, and thank all of them for their contributions.

I finished the first part of my review of this book with the following paragraph. "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. 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."
I see no reason to change that opinion now.


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, August 16, 2014


Chaco Canyon, trail to Penasco Blanco, San Juan
county, NM. Photograph: Peter Faris, May 1994.

Twenty seven years ago, on August 16 and 17, 1987, I was camped in Chaco Canyon with a group of friends from the Colorado Archaeological Society on one of our field trips to view the amazing ruins and the rock art of Chaco Canyon’s fluorescent culture. 

Una Vida petroglyph panel,  Chaco Canyon, San Juan
county, NM. Photograph: Peter Faris, Aug. 1984.

Penasco Blanco, Chaco Canyon, San Juan
county, NM. Photograph: Peter Faris, May 1994.

In the weeks leading up to this trip we had seen stories in the news about the so-called “Harmonic Convergence” which marked the end of one of the cycles in the Mayan calendar. Supposed at the same time there was to be a syzygy in the heavens, an alignment of the sun, earth, moon, and planets (I forget which) that would activate the earth’s lines of force and do something or other spiritual (I have also forgotten what). When this occurred locations that were where the earth’s lines of force met would be especially blessed, and it turned out that Chaco Canyon was one of those locations according to some fringie prophet. I have borrowed a great explanation of the event from Kenneth Feder’s 2010 book, Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum.

“On August 16 and 17, 1987, all over the world, people congregated in various special locations to mark the beginning of a new age. The moment was one apparently resonant with earthshaking possibilities, for it heralded the beginning of a change in the trajectory in human evolution and history.
This was not because August 16, 1987, was the tenth anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, though that irony (or perhaps it was a joke after all) seems to have been lost on true believers. No, those days had been singled out in a very popular book, The Mayan Factor: The Path beyond Technology, by Jose Argualles. He called that two-day period (conveniently on a weekend so the celebrants wouldn’t have to take a day off from work) the Harmonic Convergence." (1987, 170)

Rin gong at Kiyomizu dera, Kyoto, Wikipedia.

It turned out that we were not the only campers there that weekend. The place was absolutely crawling with fringies undergoing mystical and spiritual experiences, and driving the park rangers nuts by climbing on things that were not supposed to be climbed (like the ruins), making noise, doing drugs, and burying offerings at Chacoan ruins (digging being forbidden at such sites – it is called vandalism). The only serious crimp that this put in our visit, however, was the loss of most of the night’s sleep. That was due to what I recall as a very large Rin Gong, the “Tibetan singing bowl”, in the back of a pickup truck. According to its size and shape I believe it was half of a home propane tank. When a rosined stick was rubbed around the rim this began to vibrate and soon a surprisingly loud hum was soon moaning and echoing back off of canyon walls. Sitting in a pickup truck bed only made it resonate louder, certainly too loud for anyone else to sleep. Apparently the fringies would only acquire the miraculous spiritual benefits if they kept it going without a break all night. Additionally, they danced around to the music of the gong, whooping and yelling and believing themselves to be genuinely tribal. Eventually a group of park rangers came and broke it up, having finally received a critical mass of complaints from other campers.

Feder continues “In that book, Arguelles argues that the Maya weren’t just regular folks but were, instead, intergalactic beings who visited the Earth. They were not the crude, high-tech types of Erich von Daniken’s fantasy, cruising the universe in spaceships. Instead the Maya were beings who could “transmit themselves as DNA code information from one star system to another” (59). Their purpose on Earth, again according to Arguelles, is rather obscure (to me, at least):
“The totality of the interaction between the Earth’s larger life and the individual group responses to this greater life define “planet art.” In this large process, I dimly perceive the Maya as being the Navigators or charters of the waters of galactic synchronization. (37)”

If that doesn’t quite clear it up for you, Arguelles adds that the Maya are here on Earth “to make sure that the galactic harmonic pattern, not perceivable as yet to our evolutionary position in the galaxy, had been presented and recorded” (73). Well, there you go.
Apparently, the Maya, who are actually from the star Arcturus in the Pleiades cluster, materialized in Mesoamerica a number of times as “galactic agents.” They introduced writing and other aspects of civilization to the Olmec as part of some quite vague plan to incorporate humanity into some sort of cosmic club.
Arguelles should be given credit (or rather, the blame) for being one of the first authors to claim that the end of the Maya cycle of time that began in 3113 BCE – the current baktun – will end on December 21, 2012 CE. Argualles is not one of the doomsayers who claim that the world will come go a catastrophic end on that date, though. Instead, he states that the Maya are on their way back to Earth via “galactic synchronization beams,” traveling by way of “chromomolecular transport” (169). The Maya will arrive on December 21, 2012, not to witness the destruction of Earth but to usher in a new age related to, in Arguelles’s incomprehensible and utterly meaningless phrasing, the “re-impregnation of the planetary field with the archetypal harmonic experiences of the planetary whole” (170). Of course.
Surprisingly (not), there is no reference to archaeological evidence or any sort of scientific testing for the speculations of Arguelles, There are no insights concerning the Maya and their civilization. The Harmonic Convergence ultimately was little more than a rather silly exercise based not on a scientific understanding of the ancient Maya but on some vague hope that the world will improve if we just wish it would.” (Feder 2010:134-5)

Mayan Calendar by Matthew Bisanz.,wiki,File,Maya_

Note above, that Arguelles stated that the Maya are actually from the Pleiades Cluster, well just a couple of nights ago I went out and saw a couple of meteors of the Pleiades meteor shower. A coincidence? I think not!
However, none of that nonsense could really spoil what is so special about Chaco Canyon. As long as we stayed away from the large parties of fringies we were able to experience the amazing ruins and the rock art in peace. If there was a moral to this story I guess it would be something like when you plan a special trip don’t just check your calendar, you'd better check the Mayan calendar as well.


Feder, Kenneth L.
2010    Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum, Greenwood, Santa Barbara, Denver, and Oxford.


Saturday, August 9, 2014


Painted pebbles (reproductions) on display,
White Shaman, Val Verde County, TX.
Photograph: Peter Faris, March 2004.

Forms of rock art that are often considered portable include rock slabs, stones or pebbles, or even stone tools that are carved, scratched, or painted. In the Pecos region of Texas painted pebbles are quite commonly found, often with burials in rock shelters. A large number of them were recovered during the 1933 excavation of Fate Bell Shelter by J. E. Pearce.

Painted pebbles, Val Verde County, TX, From Newcomb, 
1967, The Rock Art of Texas Indians, paintings
by Forrest Kirkland, Plate 68, p. 107.

“Forty-eight painted pebbles were found in the shelter. Eight were broken.
Of the pebbles excavated 67 per cent came from the upper 25 inches, 21 per cent from depths of 25 to 40 inches, and 12 per cent from below 40 inches.
The painted designs on a few of the pebbles remain clear and bright, but on a majority they are somewhat dim. Frequently they are so nearly obliterated that but little remains of the original designs. On twenty of the pebbles the paint is barely discernible.” (Pearce 1933:79)  

“Black was the predominant color of the paint used. One design has a trace of red bordering the black; another bears a very dim design in red paint.
In length the pebbles vary from 1½ to 4½ inches, in width from ½ to 2¼ inches, and in thickness from 1/8 to ½ inch.
It seems worth noting that a number of the painted pebbles from Site No. 1, Seminole Canyon, and from other nearby rock shelters bear evidence of having been scratched and pecked in spots.” (Pearce 1933:83)

Painted pebbles, Val Verde County, TX, From Newcomb, 
1967, The Rock Art of Texas Indians, paintings
by Forrest Kirkland, Plate 67, p. 106.

“The design elements present and the number of times each was employed in the decoration of these pebbles are as follows:
Horizontal lines……………………….….24
Geometric figures………………….…..15
Ladder symbols………………………..…12
Vertical lines………………………….…..10
Sun Symbols …………………………..…..8
Projectile shafts …………………….…..7
Serpents …………………………….….…..5
Dashes, or enumeration dots.……..5
Human faces………………………….………5
Moon symbol s………………………………4
Trees or plants ……………………………4
Lightning symbols ……………….…..…4
“Death counts” ………………………..…3
Human figures ………………………..….2
Bird …………………………………………….1
Animal or insect………………………….1
Blanket-like figure ……………..…….1
Tepee-like figure ……………………….1” 
(Pearce 1933:84)

Now many of these categories strike me as problematical and arbitrary, especially since they were not accompanied with any sort of index to the meanings of these designations.  It is worth noting that Pearce footnoted this table with the disclaimer - “This tabulated study of designs is the work of Mr. A. T. Jackson. His co-author is dubious about some of his identifications of elements but accepts most of them. J. E. P.” (Pearce 1933:84)

“This study of the designs on painted pebbles is not intended to be exhaustive. Many more specimens must be secured, studied, and compared before any definite conclusions can be arrived at as to their significance. Their number, character, and distribution indicate that they were an important element in the life of the early men who lived in this shelter. They are suggestive of the churingas of Australia and were almost surely sacred objects.” (Pearce 1933:87)

Of course they were not “almost certainly sacred objects” as Pearce stated (the underline is mine). They are just as likely to have been gaming pieces, toys, or practice for the important job of painting on the shelter walls. They might even have been intended for juggling, in some sort of prehistoric Pecos vaudeville act, or for all we know a Pecos magician might have pulled them from some child's ear in an example of prehistoric prestidigitation. They were, however, obviously important for some reason because there are so many of them, and so many of those are quite neatly made with carefully delineated lines and patterns, not just splashed or smeared. Painted pebbles have been found in many other locations from throughout human history, including Paleolithic sites in Europe. Whatever else they were, they were certainly a widespread human cultural phenomenon, and they are worth looking at for that reason alone.


Newcomb, W. W., Jr.
1967    The Rock Art of Texas Indians, paintings by Forrest Kirkland, University of Texas Press, Austin and London.

Pearce, J. E., and A. T. Jackson,
1933    A Prehistoric Rock Shelter In Val Verde County, Texas, Anthropological Papers of the University of Texas, Vol. 1, No. 3, Bureau of Research in the Social Sciences, Study No. 6, University of Texas, Austin.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


Dr. Don Patton pointing to the claimed petroglyph
of a triceratops near Montrose, CO, in this
photograph from

Absolutely amazing, isn’t it? This is another example of the extremities that the Evolution-deniers and Young-Earthers will go to in order to prove that humans and dinosaurs lived together a few thousand years ago. Remember, that the goal is to prove the position that the bible says the earth is only 6,000 years old based upon 17th century Bishop Usher’s calculation that “the first day of creation began at nightfall preceding Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC” (Wikipedia). In order for that to be true humans and dinosaurs have to have coexisted for some period. Therefore, they study the rock art record for pictures that they can brand as dinosaurs. This picture (from shows a supposed triceratops petroglyph near Montrose, Colorado. In this picture the hand of Dr. Don Patton points to the image in question.

The anthropomorphs in this panel are Fremont in style which would date the panel to between over 2,000 years to approximately 1,250 years BPE. There is, of course, absolutely no way to prove that all the images were done back then, or that some were not added more recently. In fact, of the horns on this supposed triceratops one is obviously newer than the others; it is more heavily abraded, and brighter (less patinated) suggesting that it is considerably newer, and the longest one looks modified as well. So I have to assume that this so-called triceratops image has been modified, and it really wasn’t all that close to the original model anyway. It would seem that if people had indeed been living among dinosaurs when this image was created it should look a lot more like the real thing. In fact, to me, it looks much more like a Fremont portrayal of a dog which someone modified by adding another “horn” to two existing ears. In fact dog portrayals are relatively common in Fremont culture rock art.

By the way, this Dr. Don Patton has a background in geology, and his PhD is in Education. ( Perhaps someone ought to have educated him about never touching the rock art. It messes up any attempts at scientific dating. But then, if the dating cannot be reliably established, it cannot be proven that this is not at all genuine. Perhaps there is a motive for his handling the surface of the rock like this after all.

Scientific illustration of a Triceratops,

Now, according to conventional science the triceratops lived in the late Cretaceous period, 65 to 70 million years ago. Its range was Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, so this could have been within the area that they frequented, but they frequented it 65,000,000 years ago, not 6,000. (

This has obviously devolved into another situation where we have diametrically opposite belief systems and I doubt if the twain shall meet. Young earth believers will probably continue to see dinosaurs in rock art, and I, just as adamantly, will not see dinosaurs in rock art. How about you?