Wednesday, October 14, 2009


The descriptive term of “sport” in the natural world is used to define an animal that is somehow different or non-typical for its species. According to Webster it is an “animal or plant that shows an unusual or singular deviation from the normal or parent type; mutation”. I have discussed elsewhere my opinion that in a culture that endows all of nature with spirit power, the sighting of a unique animal - a sport - would be interpreted as a spiritual occurrence by the witness.

Carrizo Creek, Baca County, CO.

Along Carrizo Creek in southeastern Colorado there is a remarkable petroglyph panel that includes three very strange animals. On the right side is a deer with a head of antlers that has 27 or 28 points depending on how you count it – definitely a sport. The topmost animal of the three appears to be a desert bighorn sheep with partially curled set of horns, and another set of horns growing out of the first set, and another set growing out of that set, etc., etc., etc. These stacked sets of horns climb up the rock face and disappear over the top. Between those two animals is the third which can be interpreted as a Push-me-pull-you, a quadruped with an antlered head at each end. This animal has a fairly normal head on the left side, and what appears to be another head with large, looping horns at the other end. There are a couple of other quadrupeds on this panel but they seem essentially normal.
Carrizo Creek (close up), Baca County, CO.
I had wondered for many years at the possible meanings of the animal with the 28-point antlers. Not unrealistic enough to be dismissed as a whole fantasy, but certainly not totally accurate and realistic it seemed. Then one day, while in the waiting room at my dentist’s office, I was browsing through an outdoor magazine and ran across an article about deer hunting which told about a deer hunt that had bagged a non-typical buck. This article mentioned that the Boone and Crockett Club, which maintains the list of records for animals taken by hunters has a category for non-typical (or sport) deer. Indeed, visiting the page for non-typical Mule or Blacktail deer on their website, you will find a picture of a set of deer antlers with 28 points, just like the deer on Carrizo Creek. Linea Sundstrom has mentioned the possibility that such an image might be a record of an unusual animal. Could the petroglyph actually be a picture of a real deer seen, or even bagged, by a Native American hunter – could this panel be a prehistoric Boone and Crocket register? And even if that explains the deer with the 28-point antlers, it does not address the other two figures.

In his book Thunder and Herds: Rock Art of the High Plains, Lawrence Loendorf has proposed (p. 138) that some figures with outsized or exceedingly complicated antlers have shamanic purpose. Loendorf stated; “The antlers of a number of quadruped figures resemble nets as much as they do antlers and, on some figures, the net-like antlers have replaced the figure’s head entirely. Since, in reality, the antlers of deer captured by net hunting are invariably entangled in those nets, it is easy to appreciate why antlers and nets might have become combined in the hunter’s mind and substituted for each other in an instructional rock art panel.” This also seems to be a possibility. In addition to these there will be a certain number of people who will want to credit hallucinogenic plants, and the entoptic images crowd as well.

One other possible motive for these sorts of exaggerations would be to emphasize the trait of the animal that the exaggerated organ is believed to represent. In the case of phallic figures, whether human or animal, if the phallus is exaggerated we have absolutely no trouble in crediting that to an intended emphasis on fecundity and sexuality. If the example is a bear with an emphasis on its claws or teeth we automatically assume that the meaning has something to do with the fierceness and danger represented by that animal. Well, just like the bear’s claws and teeth are its weapons, the antlers of the deer, and the horns of the bighorn sheep, are their weapons. Perhaps these are just an attempt to portray the greatest and most macho of each of these species, perhaps with spiritual meanings.

As for the Push-me-pull-you, other than vague hints of trying to show more than one aspect of a creature in a single image, such as its physical presence and its spiritual meaning at the same time, I haven’t the faintest idea - do you?

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