Wednesday, December 8, 2010


In March 2004, we had an opportunity to visit the fascinating rock art of Hueco Tanks, east of El Paso, Texas. While the main purpose of the visit was to see the numerous mask pictographs at that location we saw many other things as well. Named for a number of natural pools of rainwater (or tanks) so valuable to non-technological people in that arid landscape, Hueco Tanks has obviously attracted visitors for millennia. According to the DesertUSA website: “Over the millennia, Hueco Tanks has drawn desert plant and wildlife communities and prehistoric and historic man into its folds primarily because its huecos (a Spanish word for “hollow”) – especially the deep ones that lie beneath sheltering rock ceilings – trap and hold drinkable water, that most valuable desert commodity. Indeed, as Robert Miles and Ron Ralph said in an article in The Handbook of Texas Online, Hueco Tanks held virtually the only dependable source of water between the Pecos River, roughly 120 miles to the east, and El Paso, some 30 miles to the west.”

Mammoth rub, Hueco Tanks, Texas.
Photo: Peter Faris, March 2004.

Not too far from the park headquarters, our ranger guide pointed out an area up on the cliff face where the rock projection had been been artificially smoothed and polished. This smoothing had been done by mammoths scratching their itches by rubbing against the rock. According to the ranger this had been confirmed by laboratory analysis which found the remnants of proteins from their skin and hair absorbed into the rock.

A number of other such locations have been discovered and can be researched online. This vestige of Paleolithic giants gave one a sense of personal connection. Unlike the sterility of simply academic knowledge of their former existence, here we could personally experience contact with a rock that they had rubbed up against. This feeling was not at all unlike the feeling we get when in the presence of rock art, that we can somehow contact on a personal level the reality of the person who created the art, and what can be more exciting than that?

Although these are generically known as "mammoth rubbing stones" and that is certainly accurate and descriptive, I have been looking for a technical term to apply to these sites. In the context of RockArtBlog I have decided to name them pachydermaglyphs - what do you think?



  1. All hog-wash. You've been told a fib. 100% not true. Just climb up any of the taller 200 foot walls in the park and you'll find the same polished rock on sheer cliffs. It's simply flow-stone. Nothing more. Sorry.

  2. justin knows because he has mammoth testing equipment. i, as an artist, can testify that i know the feeling of contact/communication between a "creator" and us, the "perceivers". If you felt a wonderful connection to nature, that's great. Who cares if the science was right or not; i dont have a degree in falsifying pseudoscience.