Saturday, February 16, 2019


Quadruped from Viracocha
statue, Semi-subterranean
Temple, (head to upper
right, tail to lower left),
Tiahuanaco, Bolivia.
Magicians of the Gods,
Gaham Hancock, p. 389.

In the past I have presented a number of columns on RockArtBlog about extinct animals portrayed in rock art, both real and imagined, even including one on April 1, 2015 about extinct giraffes pictured in Utah that was meant as an April Fool's Day joke (it did, however, succeed in detecting a few April Fools).

Viracocha statue,
Semi-subterranean Temple,
Tiahuanaco, Bolivia.,
Public Domain.

There are many real examples of animals that are no longer extant that are pictured on caves walls and cliffs. The most famous examples that come to mind are the mammoths and aurochs of European Paleolithic cave art. Examples that are not accurate include all of the so-called dinosaurs found by fringies in rock art. Another example of an extinct animal that I consider to be unwarranted is represented by nebbish-looking quadrupeds at Tiahuanaco that the fringies have declared to be pictures of Toxodons.

Toxodon platensis,
Public Domain.

"Toxodontidae, is an extinct family of notoungulate mammals known from the Oligocene to the Holocene (5,000 BP) of South America, with one genus, Mixotoxodon, also known from the Pleistocene of Central America and southwestern North America (Texas). They somewhat resembles rhinoceroses, and had teeth with high crowns and open roots, suggesting that they most often fed on tough pampas grass. However, isotopic analyses have led to the conclusion that the most recent forms were grazing and browsing generalists." (Wikipedia)

Close-up of Viracocha statue
head, the quadrupeds can be faintly
seen on the right side of the head.
Photograph Graham Hancock. 

Well, if the Toxodon survived until 5,000 BP isn't it possible that someone in early Tiahuanaco saw one to picture on stone? No, it is not. The earliest date estimates for Tiahuanaco were Posnansky's 11,000 - 17,000 years BP were based upon geological estimates and archaeoastronomy. "Beginning in the 1970s Carlos Ponce Sangines proposed the site was first occupied around 1580 BC, the sites oldest radiocarbon date. This date is still seen in some publications and museums in Bolivia. Since the 1980s, researchers have recognized this as unreliable, leading to the consensus that the site is no older than 200 or 300 BC." (Wikipedia) Perhaps some of these cryptozoology enthusiasts are genuinely fooled by the original improbably early dating of the ruins. I suspect, however, that most of them are just cynically publishing these stories for financial gain or career notoriety.

Quadrupeds on right side of
head. Drawing of Viracocha

Indeed, in reading various reports of the Tiahuanaco Toxodon, it is difficult to even determine where he is supposedly pictured. Some reports imply that the image(s) are carved on the gateway of the sun. In his book Magicians of the Gods, Graham Hancock (p. 389) correctly states that the figures are carved on the sides of the head of a humanoid statue. This figure was found in a structure known as the Semi-subterranean Temple and is assumed to represent the deity Viracocha. Many sculptures of the figure of Viracocha have been found but this is the only one with these particular quadrupeds carved on the sides of the head, and what these represent is a mystery, but I am confident that they do not represent the poor Toxodon, long dead and gone.

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with 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.


Hancock, Graham
2015 Magicians of the Gods, St. Martin's Press, New York.

Friday, February 8, 2019


Cambodian Mine Action Center
sign at Laang Spean
Cave, Cambodia.

While we are almost always opposed to modern paint being sprayed on the rocks (tagging) there is a picture in Archaeology Magazine (Jan.-Feb. 2019) that we have to applaud. It is a photograph of red initials CMAC painted on the cliff at the mouth of a cave in Cambodia. CMAC stands for Cambodian Mine Action Centre, the organization tasked with locating and neutralizing land mines left over from the wars of the 1960s and 1970s in southeast Asia. This is only a small part of the story in their article Cambodia's Cave of Bridges, by Karen Coates, and well worth reading. It chronicles new research in a cave named Laang Spean (Cave of Bridges) which has opened new windows on Cambodia's past. This CMAC inscription tells the local people, and the archaeologists working in the cave, that they have cleared nearby mines and it is safe to go there. RockArtBlog has to applaud this particular tagging. I do not know how much rock art can be assigned a life-saving function, but I think it is a wonderful idea - and I wonder what other examples might be found.

NOTE: The image in this posting was retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of 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. For further information on these reports you should read the original at the site listed below.


Coates, Karen
2019 Cambodia's Cave of Bridges, Archaeology, pages 48 - 52, January-February, 2019, Vol. 72, No 1.

Saturday, February 2, 2019


Upper Sand Island petroglyph panel,
Utah. Ekkehart Malotki. Bison and
mammoth are seen at the far right.

On November 6, 2011, I posted a column titled The Upper Sand Island Mammoth Petroglyph, Utah, about Ekkehart Malotki's identification of a petroglyph there as representing a Paleolithic mammoth. Malotki is incredibly knowledgeable about rock art of the American west and southwest, and I would personally give his interpretation of any rock art panel a great deal of credence. Now he is back with a paper that proposes the identification of another quadruped on the same panel as a Bison antiquus of the Paleolithic period.


Closeup of bison and mammoth,
Photograph Ekkehart Malotki.

"The bison motif clearly dominates the scene not only due to its size but also because its more deeply scored silhouette partially cuts into the dorsal ridge of the underlying pachyderm. Anatomically inaccurate, the bison's legs are engraved all the way to its back: however, they do correctly end in split or cloven hooves. Taphonomically, the mammoth's more smoothly worn engraved lines and overall softer rock wear indicate that it must have experienced considerably more weathering than the bison, consistent with an earlier date of creation. Determining the precise temporal difference between the two manufacturing episodes is impossible; based on the bison's grooving depth, however, the likelihood is small that it was made by contemporaries of the mammoth artist. Bison did not die out in the final Pleistocene but eventually evolved into the living species American bison (Bison bison) - popularly but inaccurately called buffalo. Nevertheless, a comparison with historic bison petroglyphs (see Fig. 37.13) makes a strong case that the over-printed animal with its massive shoulder hump actually represents a Late-Pleistocene or Early Holocene Ancient Bison or Bison antiquus (Fig. 37.12)." (Malotki 2019:572)

Closeup of bison and mammoth,
mammoth, digital enhancement
(mammoth white, bison brown)
by Julia Andratschke,
Photograph Ekkehart Malotki.

Malotki generously also mentions an alternative identification proposed by archaeologist Winston Hurst, that this image illustrates an extinct musk ox, based on the observation that the creature's legs do not extend below the line of its belly, much as the long winter fur of a musk ox obscuring its legs and dragging on the ground. (Malotki 2019:573) My personal observation is that the horns are too unlike a musk ox to give this idea any credence.

"If my interpretation of a Bison antiquus depiction is accepted, its creator may have been a Paleoindian hunter-gatherer of Folsom cultural affiliation." (Malotki 2019: 574)

"While an ars-gratia-artis explanation that the bison would have been chiseled into the rock divorced of any specific function can probably be ruled out, more reasonable is the idea that it represented the totem animal with which members of a group felt a strong affinity. Carefully executed, the bison shows no sign that it was intended to desecrate or disfigure the underlying image. In the context of the universal phenomenon of sympathetic or compulsive magic which, based on the principle that "like affects like" and, in the case of rock art, that an image can stand as a substitute for its subject, the mere act of depicting it would have meant gaining control over the represented animal, both in the form of facilitating hunting success or assuring fecundity of the envisaged prey. Also by placing the bison over the mammoth, the former could have co-opted the assumed supernatural potency of the latter. Perhaps the mammoth as a mythical beast, imbued with powerful magic, was still alive in the traditional narratives of the later Folsom hunters." (Malotki 2019:575)

Bison antiquus skeleton, - Public Domain,
photo reversed digitally.

While I am personally skeptical about its role as being a participant in hunting magic per se, I feel much more comfortable with Malotki's suggestion that it represented a totem animal for a specific group. I can imagine a representative of that group creating a picture of their totem bison to share in its mystical power and to provide a visual reminder of the group's identity, in the same way that a crucifix in the front of a Christian church endows the members of the congregation with feeling blessed, and identifies them as a specific group.

Unfortunately, to my way of thinking, Malotki then explains that position by invoking the S-word - shaman. "From a shamanistic point of view, the bison could be regarded as symbolic of an auxiliary spirit with whose assistance the shaman, as a broker between this reality and that of a perceived other world, would have brought about blessings for his group. Ultimately, of course, we will never fathom what motivated the creation of the bison image. Still, it is hard to explain it depiction from a natural or functional perspective, its raison d'être is most credibly linked with the realm of ritual and spirituality." (Malotki 2019: 575)

I questioned Ekkehart on this reference to shamanism because, if I have not made it clear before, I will go on record again now as decrying the over-use of the S-word (shamanism) in explaining rock art. Not that some examples might not actually represent activities that can be attributed to shamanism, I am sure there are some - somewhere. My problem with it is that it has become the fallback position for every example of rock art that cannot be explained in some other way, the same way that the term "ceremonial" was used by archeologists and students of rock art to explain everything that they could not otherwise explain a few decades ago. If it cannot be identified as something else it is identified as shamanistic. Ekkehart told me that this paper was originally written for a conference with a focus on religion and he felt he should emphasize all religious possibilities, and it is  ". . . an interpretation that - he no longer subscribes to.” (Malotki and Dissanayake 2019, pp. 169-176).

Malotki goes on - "While the precise identification of the overlying zoomorph - bison or musk ox - will have to remain undetermined, neither Winston Hurst nor I concur with rock art specialist Polly Schaafsma's claim that the quadruped stylistically echoes historic Ute bison renderings. As Schaafsma correctly remarks, most known bison represented in the parietal art of the region, apart from a few recent examples attributable to Navajo artists, are Ute in origin." (Malotki 2019:576) I have to agree with Malotki and Hurst here, this figure does not seem to fit well with most of the Ute renderings of Bison bison from that region, although with the caveat that if we include Ute renderings from other parts of their historically occupied region we do find some wondrously strange depictions of bison. So, Ekkehart,  once again you might have something here, something wondrous. Thank you for your work - and for sharing.

NOTE: Most of the illustrations here are used with permission of Ekkehart Malotki. The photograph of the Bison antiquus skeleton was retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain pictures. I urge anyone interested in this subject to read Ekkehart Malotki's complete paper listed below, and also the new book by Malotki and Dissanayake. Enjoy the wonderful photographs.


Malotki, Ekkehart,
2019 Columbian Mammoth and Ancient Bison: Paleoindian Petroglyphs Along the San Juan River Near Bluff, Utah, USA, in A. Klostergaard Petersen, e.s. Gilhus, L.H. Martin, J. Sinding Jensen, and J. Sorensen (eds.), Evolution, Cognition, and the History of Religion: A New Synthesis, Festschrift in Honour of Armin W. Geertz, 562-599, Leiden, Brill.

Malotki, Ekkehart, and Ellen Dissanayake,
2018  Early Rock Art of the American West, the Geometric Enigma, University of Washington Press, Seattle.

Saturday, January 26, 2019


Recovered image of a deer,
white lines reproduced on the
computer generated image,
Grottes d'Agneux II,

Back in the 1980s I was contacted by a small tech startup company that was developing what they presented as new technology for imaging. Essentially, their work involved taking a number of high definition photographs of a site and then performing magic in a computer that turned them into a three dimensional image that could be used among other things, for taking precise measurements. They were looking to develop new markets and wanted me to guide them to some archaeological sites. I countered by offering to take them to some rock art sites, and they accepted although not fully enthusiastically. I think they pictured themselves working at places like Mesa Verde, but, with me, they ended up in the Picketwire River Canyon south of La Junta, Colorado, recording two different petroglyph sites. I had it in mind that what they had been promoting to me might be useful for things like analyzing superimposition, and bringing out details that might be difficult to see from just one angle. I never found out because after our return to home I never heard from them again, and never even got a response to my inquiries. My guess is that they were less than successful. I bring this up as an introduction to the following subject.

Scientists have recently recovered the engraved images of a horse and a deer from one of two caves known as Grottes d'Agneux in eastern France. The images on the walls of Agneux II had been totally obscured with layers of names, initials, and graffiti left by visitors from the 16th to 19th centuries.

"Scientists with the university (of Tubingen) in Germany and researchers from Spain recently used scanning technology to peer through graffiti layers, reconstructing carved prehistoric images of a horse and a deer buried underneath. After scans revealed the figures, the scientists reconstructed the artwork with image-processing software." (Weisberger)

Although the articles I have seen so far do not mention the specific technology I suspect that the work was done with a laser scanner. I can imagine a process like Lidar should be quite effective.

Having recovered the images "then, they used charcoal found in the caves in order to determine the age of (the) drawings. Using carbon dating, researchers determined that both pieces are approximately 12,000 years old and belonged to the Upper Palaeolithic period." (Bashir)

Modern technological developments are allowing almost miraculous new techniques in analysis, imaging, and recording. This might truly be the golden age of rock art studies.

NOTE: The image in this posting was retrieved from the internet with 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. For further information on these reports you should read the originals at the sites listed below.


Bashir, Hira
2018 Prehistoric Cave Art Found Hidden In Graffiti, November 16, 2918,

Weisberger, Mindy
2018 Ice Age Cave Art Found Under Layers of Centuries-Old Graffiti, November 15, 2018,

Saturday, January 19, 2019


Reproduction of the supposed
map mural of Catalhoyuk.

On April 30, 2016, I posted a column titled "Ancient Map Preserved In A Mural Of Volcanic Eruptions At Catalhoyuk". (Faris 2016) This was about a wall mural at Catalhoyuk which appears to record not only a map of the town, but, in the distance, a possible volcanic eruption.

Remains of the map mural of
Catalhoyuk still on the wall,, Public Domain.

Now there are allegations that James Mellaart forged many of the murals and artifacts supposedly recovered from Catalhoyuk. Writing for LiveScience, Owen Jarus (March 12, 2018) stated "A famed archaeologist well-known for discovering the sprawling 9,000-year-old settlement in Turkey called Catalhoyuk seems to have faked several of his ancient findings and may have run a "forger's workshop" of sorts, one researcher says.

James Mellaart, who died in 2012, created some of the "ancient" murals at Catalhoyuk that he supposedly discovered; he also forged documents recording inscriptions that were found at Beykoy, a village in Turkey, said geoarchaeologist Eberhard Zangger, president of the Luwian Studies Foundation. Zangger examined Mellaart's apartment in London between Feb. 24 and 27, finding "prototypes," as Zangger calls them, of murals and inscriptions that Mellaart had claimed were real." (Jarus 2018)

Different reports on this are somewhat confusing as they conflate his supposed counterfeit murals at Catalhoyuk with other subject areas. For instance the documents supposedly recording Luwian inscriptions are scrambled into the Catalhoyuk  murals. These are actually two discrete subjects from two different time frames. Catalhoyuk, "was a very large Neolithic Chalcolithic proto-city settlement in southern Anatolia which existed from approximately 7500 BC to 5700 BC, and flourished around 7000 BC." (Wikipedia) The Luwians were Indo-European immigrants who migrated into Anatolia with the first evidence of their presence dating to circa. 2000 BC. (Wikipedia) Since there seem to be questions and charges being made agains Mellaart on both subjects the issues have become intertwined.

I will pass on the Luwian questions, I am not an epigrapher and have no intention or interest of getting involved in the thorny thickets of translating unknown languages. I am, however, an art historian and questions of the possible counterfeiting of the murals at Catalhoyuk interest me greatly. As I said above I have previously cited this in RockArtBlog concerning one mural that has been interpreted as a map of Catalhoyuk with a volcano erupting in the distance.

Further complicating the question is the fact that Eberhard Zangger is somewhat controversial on his own for theories he has espoused, and also that his charges have not been published in peer-reviewed journals, but in the press. All-in-all this is a subject that will need to be watched closely. Undeniably James Mellaart did make discoveries that rocked archaeology. However, he was also involved in more than one controversy during his life, and now these charges have cast doubt on a new area of his accomplishments.

NOTE: Images in this posting were obtained from the internet with 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.


Faris, Peter
2016 Ancient Map Preserved In A Mural Of Volcanic Eruptions At Catalhoyuk, April 30, 2016,

Jarus, Owen,
2018 Famed Archaeologist 'Discovered' His Own Fakes at 9,000-Year-Old Settlement, March 12, 2018,


Saturday, January 12, 2019


Newspaper Rock, San Juan
County, Utah. Photograph
Peter Faris, September 2018.

On October 1, 2018, I posted a column titled Public Access/Public Servants/Responsiveness/and Responsibility, an editorial about my attempt to visit the rock art of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, in Montezuma County, Colorado on September 24, 2018. I was refused access by Marietta Eaton, the Monument Manager, who was totally uncooperative with my hopes to be able to bring some of its rock art to RockArtBlog. (Ironically, as recently as May 2018 they were advertising an Artist-in-Residence program which was supposed to provide access to all of its cultural resources including rock art to the winning artists)

Newspaper Rock, San Juan
County, Utah. Photograph
Peter Faris, September 2018.

Instead, a very helpful young lady at the Monument Visitor Center referred me to Newspaper Rock, in San Juan County, Utah, and gave me a map to the site. I had been to Newspaper Rock before, but it was nearly forty years ago, so I took the opportunity to revisit it. Back around 1980 you had to find the site on your own, now there are signs and a parking lot for visitors, a paved trail, and a large slab of flat rock turned into an improvised viewing platform, and they have put a fence around it to suggest to visitors that they stay back. In other words Utah's response to visitors is the polar opposite from that of Eaton and the Canyons of the Ancients. And, while not mitigating in any way my anger and disgust at the policies of Canyons of the Ancients, a visit to Newspaper Rock is always worthwhile, and it was a lot like reconnecting with an old friend.

Newspaper Rock, San Juan
County, Utah. Photograph
Peter Faris, September 2018.

Newspaper Rock is west of the midpoint between La Salle Junction and Monticello, Utah, off of State Highway #211. It is open for visitation like most Utah sites, and nowadays has a nice paved parking area. (Back when I first visited there it was dirt roads and parking lot). 

Interpretive sign,
Newspaper Rock, San Juan
County, Utah. Photograph
Peter Faris, September 2018.

The panel itself is behind a fence to demark the area that visitors are asked to stay out of, and it is accompanied by an explanatory sign with the following explanation: "Newspaper Rock Archaeological Site:
Newspaper rock is a petroglyph panel etched in sandstone that records approximately 2,000 years of early human activity. Prehistoric peoples, probably from the Archaic, Basketmaker, Fremont and Pueblo cultures etched on the rock from B.C. tom to A.D. 1300. In historic times, Ute and Navajo people, as well as European Americans made their contributions.
In interpreting the figures on the rock, scholars are undecided as to their meaning or have yet to decipher them. In Navajo, the rock is called "Tse' Hane'" (Rock that tells a story).
Unfortunately, we do not know if the figures represent storytelling, doodling, hunting magic, clan symbols, ancient graffiti or something else. Without a true understanding of the petroglyphs, much is left for individual interpretation. Newspaper Rock is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Please continue to preserve it." (Utah Parks sign at Newspaper Rock).

The petroglyphs themselves are pecked through a coating of patina that is literally blue-black over most of the surface and so even fairly old images show up spectacularly, making for great photography. If you are ever in that area you should make a point of visiting it, it is well worth the few extra miles.

Saturday, December 29, 2018


Petroglyphs, Swelter Shelter,
Dinosaur National Monument,
Utah, Photograph Peter Faris,

I am going to break with my usual practice this year, and instead of giving the 2018 C.R.A.P. (Certifiable Rock Art Prevarication) Award to an individual or organization for egregious falsehood in the field of rock art, I am awarding it this year to a whole sub-category of fringe rock art research - SPACE ALIENS IN ROCK ART. Many years ago I naively assumed that something as silly as that just could not be taken seriously. After a 1984 field trip to Dinosaur National Monument I found out differently when I showed a co-worker the picture  above taken at Swelter Shelter. His instant reaction was "see, that proves that aliens have visited us." He was totally serious and I was smart enough to immediately drop the subject.

Supposed UFO pictograph,
Charama, Chhattisgarh, India., Public Domain.

The amount of material devoted to so-called evidence of alien visitation nonsense is truly vast, and also half-vast (say that latter quickly). I assume that most serious rock art researchers really have not looked at the quantity of books and web sites devoted to this, and don't. If you are any sort of real scholar or serious researcher what you find will only depress you. The other examples I am illustrating come from a 2014 discovery in Chhattisgarh, India.
Supposed space alien
pictograph, Charama,
Chhattisgarh, India.,
Public Domain.

This was taken seriously enough that a conference was convened to examine the so-called evidence. "A couple of years ago, several influential scientists from across the globe, including Prime Minister Narenda Modi, attended a presentation at the Indian Science Congress where ancient flying "spaceships" in the Solar System were discussed. It was a historical event as nothing of the sort has ever occurred in the history of the Congress ever before. And every year, this subject receives more and more recognition and debate." (Stephani 2017)

Supposed space aliens
pictograph, Charama,
Chhattisgarh, India.,
Public Domain.

This subject is a pictograph site at Charama, Chhattisgarh, India. "Chhattisgarh state department of archaeology and culture plans to seek help from NASA and ISRO for research on 10,000-year-old rock paintings depicting aliens and UFOs in Charama region in Kanker district in tribal Bastar region. According to archaeologist JR Bhagat, these paintings have depicted aliens like those shown in Hollywood and Bollywood flicks. Located about 130km from Raipur, the caves come under village Chandeli and Gotitola." (Drolial 2014)

Unfortunately, this is only one example out of very many. So this year the prestigious 2018 C.R.A.P. Award is given to any and all of the hundreds of books and websites devoted to convincing people that there is proof of outer space alien visitation to be found in rock art - especially "Ancient Aliens". This is for all of you. Keep it up people and you will convince the aliens that there really is no intelligent life on this planet.

HONORABLE MENTION: This year I am also awarding my first Honorable Mention in the C.R.A.P. Awards to Marietta Eaton, Monument Manager of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, for her lying e-mail to me on September 19, 2018, claiming that here really was not much rock art to see in Canyons of the Ancients (See my editorial response from October 1, 2018). Marietta, your own staff confirmed to me that there are thousands of examples of rock art in your monument so I am awarding you the very first Honorable Mention C.R.A.P. Award. Congatulations!

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the Internet with 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.


Drolial, Rashmi
2014 10,000-Year-Old Rock Paintings Depicting Aliens and UFOs Found in Chhhattisgarh, July 15, 2014, The Times of India,

2017 Incredible10,000-Year-Old Rock Paintings Depict Extraterrestrial Visitors, February 13, 2017,