Saturday, October 13, 2018


Dare Stone, front side,
Brenau University., Public domain.

This is another story about a questionable historical inscription on a piece of rock, discovered under questionable circumstances and never rigorously tested for authenticity, which some people desperately want to be authentic, and others are convinced of its status as a hoax.

"The Dare Stones are a series of inscribed messages supposedly written by English colonists, members of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island off North Carolina. The colonists were last seen in 1587, when John White, the colony's governor, returned to England for supplies. White's return was delayed until 1590, when he found that all the settlers had gone. A single-word message indicated that they had moved to another place, but poor weather meant that White had to abandon the search. No subsequent trace of the settlers was ever found.

The stones purport to give accounts of what happened to the colonists. They are mainly supposed to have been written by Eleanor White Dare, who was the daughter of John White and the mother of Virginia Dare, the first child of English descent to be born in North America." (Wikipedia)

Dare Stone, back side,
Brenau University., Public domain.

The first stone was supposedly found by one L. E. Hammond, a California tourist, in 1937. He took it to Emory University, Atlanta, where he gave it to History Professor Haywood Jefferson Pearce to examine. Pearce did not declare the stone to be authentic, but did argue that the content was not incompatible with known historical facts, and that the spelling content was not "conformed to expectations of"  Elizabethan usage. (Wikipedia)

One side of the first stone said:
"Ananias Dare &
Virginia Went Hence
Unto Heaven 1591
Anye Englishman Shew
John White Govr Via"

And the second side had a much longer inscription about the deaths of the colony:
"On the other side it explained that all but seven of the colonists had been killed by savages, and it was signed 'EWD'." (Wikipedia) The second side also mentioned a burial of the victims on a hill marked by another inscribed stone.

Pearce was eager to find the second stone mentioned on stone #1 and put an ad in a local paper offering a reward for further stones."By 1940, forty-seven more stones allegedly had been found by a local farmer, William Eberhardt. They told a complicated tale of the fate of the Lost Colony. The stones were addressed to John White and called for revenge against the "savages" or told Eleanor's father the direction taken by the survivors." (Wikipedia)

All of the subsequently discovered stones were quickly suspected as forgeries, manufactured by Eberhardt, and in 1941 an investigative reporter from the Saturday Evening Post took up the question. It was quickly proven that these subsequent stones had been manufactured with the assistance of a hand drill not available to a lost colonist in the 1500s. Additionally, the fact that they were all discovered hundreds of miles from where the colonists would reasonably have been expected to be aroused suspicion.

"The stones were exposed as forgeries by journalist Boyden Sparkes in the Saturday Evening Post in 1941. He raised a number of questions without definitively indicating any individual as having responsibility, questions about the information given by the stones themselves, and also about the characters and background of those who purported to have found them. He also questioned the circumstances of stones having traveled so far from where they were supposedly left by Eleanor Dare to the spot where they were found. Sparkes put it to Pearce that "it must have been and exceedingly friendly naked savage who had carried a twenty-one-pound stone message across hundreds of miles of South and North Carolina." " (Wikipedia)

Sparkes noted that Emory University had washed their hands of the whole business when Hammond  had proposed charging people to see the stone, at which point Pearce took the stone himself to Brenau College (now Brenau University).  Sparkes was unable to retrace Hammond, having only a post-office box for an address, and the Pinkerton Detective Agency was also unable to locate the original discoverer. (Wikipedia)

Although I, like every American school kid, was introduced to the subject of the "Lost Colony" in grade school, my first introduction to the subject of the Eleanor Dare Stone came in the form of an episode of the television series America Unearthed, hosted by "forensic geologist" and scam artist Scott Wolter, so I assumed from the beginning that the whole thing was a hoax. And, to be honest, there are many questions and doubts about the authenticity of the first stone as well, although some people still believe it might be authentic. A 2015 documentary on the History Channel Return to Roanoke, Search For The Seven reached this conclusion, that the first stone might be a real inscription by Eleanor Dare and that further tests were called for. The History Channel documentary was certainly done better than America Unearthed and is worth watching as a reasonably conducted investigation and interesting piece of documentary, no matter what your position is on the authenticity of the Eleanor Dare Stone(s). To me the fascination of this story, and I do find it fascinating, is that people will still fall for these hoaxes.

NOTE: The 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 this report you should read the original at the site listed below.


Saturday, October 6, 2018


All 22 San Luis Valley
lithophones set up for a
playing demonstration.

This might seem like a stretch for RockArtBlog, but music is certainly an art form. Indeed, in the form of vocalizing, singing and humming, it was probably mankind's first art form. And in this case the music comes from rock. I am talking about lithophones, instruments where the notes are made by striking pieces of rock with some form of striker or mallet - think a xylophone made of stone. I have written elsewhere about instances in the painted caves of Europe where stalactites and flowstone sheets have been found with impact scars showing that they were utilized to produce musical sounds. (Faris 2010)

San Luis Valley lithophones
being played with 
xylophone mallet.

Now archaeologist Marilyn Martorano has proposed that a number of ground stone pieces from Colorado's San Luis Valley comprise one or more lithophones. (Martorano 2017) According to reports the stones were originally collected from a number of locations with the assumption that they might have been manos or some other tool but Martorano, having read of lithophones elsewhere, did some testing and found that some of the stones gave a clear ring when struck by a hard tool.

San Luis Valley lithophones.

She has since assembled a broad selection of examples and, with the help of a musician named Jason Reid, assembled them into a full lithophone which Martorano says has a range of 6 octaves. Most of the stones play two different notes depending upon where they are struck. All in all Martorano found 22 ground stone artifacts that had acoustic properties from the San Luis Valley. The fact that these lithophones were from different locations (and probably times) means they would have not been used as they have since been displayed in a single large assembly.

Ethiopian monastery lithophones
hanging in their frame.

It does, however, seem unlikely that the original inhabitants of the area, were unaware of the musical properties of their pieces of ground stone. Indeed, so-called "kiva bells" have been recovered in next door New Mexico from archaeological contexts. "So-called kiva bells were large suspended stones that resonated when struck." ( "Go find a chunk of stone, hang it from a tree or viga and strike it with another stone. Will it ring like a bell? It is perhaps hard to imagine, but stone bells used by Pueblo peoples in their underground kiva chambers 600 years ago were amazingly resonant." (Weideman 2013)

San Luis Valley lithophones.

This would seemingly make it likely that the pieces tested by Martorano could have been used in such a manner in their ones or two's, like chimes or gongs as part of a ceremony. Some kiva bells, though, have been found in caches, for example a cache of 23 were found at Cuyamungue, New Mexico and reported in an article in the newspaper The New Mexican (Wednesday, August 6, 1952;, access 4/3/2018).

So what is our conclusion? They are definitely real, they exist, and they can be played - they make musical tones. The interpretation might not be quite right, but the lithophones are real, and found right here in our magical San Luis Valley.

Marilyn is interested in continuing this study. If you know of any artifacts from the San Luis Valley or surrounding areas that could qualify as lithophones, please contact Marilyn Martorano,, or Fred Bunch at (Martorano 2017)

NOTE: The photographs of the lithophones are used with the permission of Marilyn Martorano.

This is a link to a KUSA, channel 9 news, Denver, story about the San Luis Valley lithophones (if the link does not work cut and paste this address into your browser) -

And this is a link to a NPR story about them (if the link does not work cut and paste this address into your browser)  -


Faris, Peter
2010 Music At Rock Art Sites (Continued), April 26, 2010,

Martorano, Marilyn
2017 Ancient Tones: The Lithophone,

Weideman, Paul
2013 Sounds & amp; Shadows: Ancient Instruments of the Southwest, May 10, 2013,, access 4/3/2018

Monday, October 1, 2018


On September 24, 2018, I had the opportunity to make a long postponed, but highly anticipated, visit to Canyon's of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. Previous to driving down that way I had sent a couple of e-mails to the park's manager, to ask for advice on rock art sites that I could visit for RockArtBlog. The e-mails were sent roughly three and two weeks ahead of the scheduled visit which I assumed would allow adequate time for her to check out RockArtBlog and respond to me. I pointed out that a number of years ago I had been on the schedule for a rock art field trip to Canyon of the Ancients that was arranged through the monument staff, but I had to miss it when something came up that required my return to Denver. I just wanted to make up for that missed opportunity. Unfortunately, I received no response to either inquiry. This led to a phone call one week before the visit (which was not answered in person) where I left a message on her receiver with my phone number asking her to call me back.

The next day I sent an e-mail to the BLM press office and they forwarded it to the monument to be answered. I then received an e-mail which essentially claimed that there was little rock art to see, anyway, and all of the sites were closed except one called Painted Hand Pueblo which has some painted hand prints. Now I have, in the past, seen rock art sites in Mancos Canyon, and also in Hovenweep which is immediately adjacent to Canyons of the Ancients, but I was asked to believe that this large area in the most heavily petroglyph and pictograph decorated part of the state has virtually no rock art.

On Sunday, September 24, we went to the Anasazi Heritage Center outside of Mancos, Colorado, which serves as the visitor center for Canyons of the Ancients. I inquired with a very nice young lady behind the desk who confirmed that they have thousands of rock art sites, and yes, they are all closed, with no reason given. I asked about Painted Hand Pueblo which I was told I could visit and she said that it is now closed too. She gave me a map to Newspaper Rock near Monticello, Utah.

Now, I don't claim to be some famous and important and powerful political figure, I am certainly not a wealthy political donor, but I do claim, at some modest level, to have academic credentials in the field of rock art studies, based upon 40 years of serious studies and analysis of the subject, a number of published papers and many presentations, and nearly 500 columns written on RockArtBlog. All I asked for was a modicum of professional courtesy - I got none (by the way I also asked my congressman to help me - he never responded).

Unfortunately, this brings up many questions about the power of public servants and officials who do not wish to go to the trouble to serve the public. If Canyons of the Ancients is sworn to protect these ancient markings from academic inquiry, what in the world are they keeping them for? Now we hear that oil and gas drilling is being contemplated on National Monuments, but apparently not academic studies. My only conclusion can be that I had the bad luck to run across a so-called "public servant" who is way too self-important to actually serve the public, so I will be sharing no rock art with you from Canyons of the Ancients.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


Haida Wasgo, from a tattoo image.

Among the pantheon of mythical and legendary animals that populated the belief systems of the tribes of the Pacific Northwest was the Sea Wolf. On July 22, 2012, I published a column titled Native American Astronomy - The Constellation Gonakadet/Wasgo, about the beliefs of North American northwest coast tribes in this creature and concerning a constellation in the heavens that they identified with the sea wolf (Faris 2012). A powerful swimming creature with the head of a wolf and the body of a sea creature, some authors have relegated this creature to the realm of mythology, while others have argued it represents a sea serpent or some other crypto-zoological survivor. 

Cliff at Sproat Lake, British
Columbia. Sea Wolf at lower
left of picture.
Photo Peter Faris, 1995.

Sea Wolf from Sproat Lake,
Vancouver Island, British
Columbia, petroglyph.
Photo Peter Faris, 1995.

Gonakadet/Wasgo has the head of a wolf, and a body based upon that of the killer whale. Various other portrayals of him combine these themes, from showing a wolf with fins, to a sea animal with a wolf's head. The sea wolf is one image from the catalog of creatures commonly portrayed in the various media among the tribes of the North American Pacific Northwest. Gonakadet/Wasgo is carved on totem poles woven into basketry and fabrics, shown as tatoos and decoration on tools and utensils, and carved into the rocks as petroglyphs.

Swimming Sea Wolf,

Well, it turns out that there actually are sea wolves and that a few fortunate zoologists (and of course the Native tribes) have always known about them. Known as Gonakadet by the Tlingit, and Wasgo by the Haida, this coastal sub-species of the gray wolf has adapted to a maritime lifestyle and lives predominately on seafood. "Unlike their inland counterparts that hunt deer and caribou, the sea wolves comb the beaches along B.C.'s iconic Great Bear Rainforest and, by and large feed off the ocean. They can swim for miles between coastal islands and eat whatever the sea serves up. They are known to prey on salmon for several months out of the year with fish making up 25 percent of their diet during the spawning season. They hunt seals and sea lions, chew on barnacles, turn up at the herring spawning grounds and feast on whale carcasses. Some even specialize in digging up clams and turning over rocks to look for crabs." (Talmazan 2016)

The sea wolves have been studied for years by British Columbian photdographer Ian McAllister. "We know from exhaustive DNA studies that these wolves are genetically distinct from their continental kin," says McAllister. "They are behaviorally distinct, swimming from island to island and preying on sea animals. They are also morphologically distinct - they are smaller in size and physically different from their mainland counterparts." (Talmazan 2016)

Sea Wolf petroglyphs at Nainamo
Petroglyph Park, Vancouver Island,
British Columbia.
Photo Peter Faris, 1995.

"Chris Darimont, science director at the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, has studied the carnivores' unusual lifestyle for nearly two decades. Coastal wolves live with two paws in the ocean and two paws on land, Darimont says. When hunting for food, sea wolves can swim miles between islands and rocky outcrops to feast on seals and animal carcasses found on the rocks. "Our farthest record [of their swimming abilities] is to an archipelago 7.5 miles [12 kilometers] from the nearest landmass," he says. They once roamed all the way down to California in its former temperate rain forests. Now they only go down to just north of Vancouver", he says." (Petri 2016)

The peoples of the Pacific Coast of North America had a maritime lifestyle, roaming the ocean in their large sea-going canoes. Many of the tribes included whaling in their hunting/gathering inventory and they were used to long ocean voyages. Imagine the experience of a canoe crew a few miles off shore meeting a sea-going wolf swimming by. This story would be told and re-told, perhaps getting embellished in the re-telling, until it became a tenet of their rich and creative mythology.  


Faris, Peter,
2012 Native American Astronomy - The Constellation Gonakadet/Wasgo, July 22, 2012,

Petri, Alexandra E.
2016 Meet the Rare Swimming Wolves That Eat Seafood, August 3, 2016,

Talmazan, Yuliya,
2016 Update: Photo of B.C. Sea Wolf Honoured by National Geographic, Sept. 24, 2016,

Saturday, September 15, 2018



 Halibut, La Pileta Cave, Spain.

The question of the meaning of images in rock art has been perennially discussed. It usually reflects one of two positions; animals in rock art represent spiritual powers that the people perform rites to, or animals in rock art represent groceries for the people producing it. If we visualize these two theses as opposite ends of a spectrum, then most rock art students fall somewhere in between in their own understanding of what they might represent. My position is more toward the groceries end of the scale. (I wrote on this in my May 2, 2011 column; Bighorn Sheep Petroglyphs - Groceries, or Metaphor?) While I cannot deny that people may have had spiritual feelings that involve the animals (in much the same way that the Native Americans revered the bison that they subsisted on), my intuition is that they were more focused on acquiring food than worshiping it.

Close-up, Halibut, La Pileta
Cave, Spain.

I certainly feel that this is the case with the painting of a halibut found in La Pileta Cave, in Spain. La Pileta, in the Province of Malaga, Andalucia, in southern Spain, is currently 34 km. (approx. 21 miles) from the ocean, although with the lowered sea levels during the glacial Paleolithic it would have been farther then. It was certainly not too far for a hunter to have traveled before returning home to picture the remarkable sight he had seen.

"At the end of the longest gallery in the deepest part of the cave, is the "Fish Chamber", which is dominated by La Pileta's most famous drawing: a large black fish (thought to be a halibut), about 5 feet (1.5m) in length." (

Public domain.

The Atlantic halibut "is the largest flatfish in the world, reaching lengths of up to 4.7 m (15 ft) and weights of 320 kg (710 lb). Its lifespan can reach 50 years."(Wikipedia)

The halibut is "not only the largest of flatfishes, but is one of the best characterized; its most obvious distinctive characters, apart from its size, being that fact that it lies on the left side, that its mouth gapes back as far as the eyes, and is armed with sharp curved teeth; that the rear edge of its tail fin is concave, not rounded; that its two ventral fins are alike; and that its lateral line is arched abreast of the pectoral fin. Furthermore it is a narrower fish, relatively, than most of our flatfishes (only about one-third as broad as it is long) but is very thick through, and its eyes are farther apart than they are in most of the other flounders. In the eastern Atlantic, halibut have been reported doubtfully from the Gulf of Cadiz, and definitely from the Bay of Biscay." (

As to the date of this picture, "one recent radiocarbon test of charcoal taken from a drawing of one of the aurochs in The Sanctuary (of La Pileta), gave a date of 18,130 BCE. Relying on this analysis, archeologists believe that the earliest art in the cave was created during the era of Solutrean art (20,000 - 15,000 BCE), though some of it might belong to the preceding period of Gravettian art (25,000 - 20,000 BCE). The remaining Upper Paleolithic works are assigned to Magdalenian art, created during the period 15,000 - 10,000 BCE." (

Whether the artist of this picture had been personally involved in hunting for this giant fish, or perhaps, saw it while visiting people who lived along the shore and who possessed more of a maritime culture we cannot know. I can conjecture, however, the impression such a fish would have made on the artist, and understand the desire to record such an experience for the rest of the group.

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.


Saturday, September 8, 2018


View of Drinking Reindeer in Les Combarelles,, public domain.

I LOVE this one. Carved into the grotto of Les Combarelles, in Les Eyzies de Tayac, Dordogne, France. It was officially discovered by pre-historians Denis Peyrony, Abbe Breull, and Louis Capitan in September, 1901 (although it had been used as a stable by local peasants for years).(Wikipedia) The engraved "Drinking Reindeer" reaches and delicately extends his tongue to lap at water that once seeped from a crack in the wall of the cave.

Drawing of Drinking Reindeer,
Les Combarelles. Peter Faris.

"The long corridor of Les Combarelles extends for 240 m (790 ft) into the heart of the rock - with most of the art only appearing more than 160 m (525 ft) from the entrance - and 14,000 to 12,000 years ago during the late Magdalenian times much of it would have been accessed on hands and knees, or lying flat along the narrowest sections (today the floor level has been deepened, enlarging the height from floor to ceiling to allow easier access for tourists). Although some of the artworks can be clearly seen, such as the reindeer with lowered head drinking water that once emanated from a crack in the rock, the only way of finding much of the more than 600 artworks would have been to carefully look on the walls, oil lamp in hand, one person at a time and face almost pressed against the rock in the narrow space." (David 2017: 181-2)

Drinking Reindeer in Les Combarelles, public domain.

Students of rock art love to identify examples of incorporation of natural features into the images, has another example of incorporation ever been so beautifully done? If the measure of art is the emotional response it elicits from the viewer, this is great art - primitive man, who's kidding who?

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.


David, Bruno
2017 Cave Art, Thames and Hudson, London.

Hitchcock, Don
2015 Combarelles,


Saturday, August 25, 2018


100,000-year-old engraved
ocher, Blombos Cave, South
Public domain.

What might indeed be the oldest date for a petroglyph so far has been found on a block of ocher dated to approximately 100,000 years BP. This discovery came from Blombos Cave in South Africa. Other ocher blocks in Blombos have been given dates of 77,000 years of age. These discoveries consist of pieces of ocher that have engraved lines or cross-hatching on them and they have engendered considerable debate on the origins of symbols and their meaning.

77,000-year-old engraved
ocher, Blombos Cave, South
Public domain.

All students of this question seem to share the assumption that the ocher was ground to make a pigment powder that can be mixed into paint for other use. What the current debate seems to be about is whether the designs on the ocher have any symbolic significance or whether they were perhaps only doodles.

100,000-year-old engraved
ocher, Blombos Cave, South
Public domain.

"About 100,000 years ago, ancient humans started etching lines and hashtag patterns onto red rocks in a South African cave. Such handiwork has been cited as the first sign our species could make symbols—distinct marks that stand for some meaning—and thus evidence of a sophisticated mind. But a new study, reported here this week at Evolang, a biannual conference on the evolution of language, finds that these markings and others like them lack key characteristics of symbols. Instead, they may have been more for decoration or enjoyment." (Erard 2018)

Checkered gunstock,,
Public domain.

While either of these explanations is equally good, and probably equally unprovable, they do not cover all of the possibilities. Were I tasked with grinding a quantity of powdered pigment from small pieces of ocher, I imagine that one of my concerns would involve having a secure grip. In many other applications that involve manipulating a small object that secure grip is achieved by modifying the surface with knurling or checkering. What if these patterns of lines incised into the surface of the ocher represent checkering and have no symbolic or decorative  significance at all? Or, to phrase that in another way, instead of having symbolic or decorative significance, perhaps they just represent an engineering solution to the problem of securely holding a small object. Now, I will admit that they look like decoration to me, but that does not mean that they are not also meant to assist with a secure grip. The checkering on the wooden stock of a rifle is meant to be decorative as well as help provide a secure grip. Possibly they represent the first example of knurling or checkering, the first known manifestation of engineering - not art, and that, in its own way, is just as exciting.

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 this report you should read the original at the site listed below.


Erard, Michael
2018 Is This 100,000-Year-Old Hashtag the First Humanmade Symbol - or Just a Pretty Decoration?, April 20, 2018,