Wednesday, September 2, 2009


THUNDER AND HERDS: ROCK ART OF THE HIGH PLAINS, by Lawrence L. Loendorf, Left Coast Press, Inc., Walnut Creek, California, 2008.

Dr. Lawrence Loendorf is certainly one of the most important figures in North American rock art research. A former president of the American Rock Art Research Association, since the late 1980s he has focused much of his research on the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeastern Colorado. Larry has run recording projects on this extension of the US Army’s Fort Carson that set an extremely high standard for rock art field work. His studies have been ambitiously multidisciplinary models of how to collect and record data in the field and interpret data in the laboratory.
In writing this book Larry has displayed his depth of knowledge, and has tackled a project that most researchers would cringe at. The rock art of southeastern Colorado covers a period of a few millennia, and an amazing range of styles and types. These are often mixed up in large sites, with thousands of images that prove to be a veritable palimpsest of styles and times. Anyone who knows it well knows how daunting the task would have been. Most rock art researchers who have experienced the rock art of southeastern Colorado have fallen back on the ploy of simply describing sites and listing images. Larry, however, is not content to have just described styles and sites. In addition he has applied to this analysis an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the pertinent ethnography of the peoples who inhabited the area during historic times.
In Thunder & Herds he has tied the catalog of types and styles of rock art to the complicated sequence of population groups that lived in southeastern Colorado, and the people who just passed through in migrations. Applying the broad range and depth of his multidisciplinary field studies and analysis, he has produced what has to be considered one of the best books about regional rock art ever written, and has set the bar very high for students of rock art in the southeastern Colorado region and surrounding areas.

I have been involved in rock art studies in the area for three decades now and was around through the bulk of the controversy involving so-called Ogam inscriptions in southeastern Colorado. Although not personally involved in the controversy, I had friends on both sides of the argument, which, at times, grew quite public and heated. In my posting of Monday, April 20, 2009, THE QUESTION OF OGAM IN NORTH AMERICA, I wrote about the controversy of so-called Ogam inscriptions. I also confessed that I am not a believer, I do not accept the idea that ancient Celtic seafarers had somehow visited southeastern Colorado to leave a number of inscriptions in a vowelless Ogam that is unknown in their homeland. I had to confess, however, that I was unable to offer any competing theories as to these markings other than the lame supposition that they were some kind of unknown tally or count. Dr. Loendorf has, in this book, provided a highly plausible explanation for many of these so-called inscriptions. In Chapter 7 he has compared them to “rib-stones” of the northern Great Plains and his comparison is exceedingly convincing.

Additionally, he has shown exceedingly good taste in reproducing one of my field drawings of Hicklin Springs (5BN7), in Bent County. This does, however, bring up one error in his book. On page 28 he credits someone else with leading the 1994 recording project at Hicklin Springs (5BN7). In fact it was I who first proposed the Hicklin Springs recording project to the Denver Chapter of the Colorado Archaeological Society, I organized the planning and recruiting for that project. I applied for, and received a grant for supporting funding from the Colorado State Historic Fund. And I personally supervised each and every recording session during the course of the project. I cannot, however, blame Larry for making this error since he was clearly misinformed.

All in all, this book is a marvelous addition to any rock art library. It is a must for anyone with a personal interest in rock art of this area, and should be looked at as an extremely valuable example for publishing studies of the rock art of any region.

No comments:

Post a Comment