Saturday, July 2, 2011


Anasazi Ridge, UT. Photograph
by Richard Colman, 2011
On December 9, 2009, I published a posting on polydactylism (extra fingers or toes) in rock art, and explained Marie Wormington’s theory on what it indicates. At that time I wrote:

“Back in 1982 I had the privilege of meeting H. Marie Wormington on a few occasions. During the course of one conversation over dinner we discussed her theory of why so many 6-toed footprints (and 6-fingered hand prints) can be found in rock art.

Marie had joined the Denver Museum of Natural History staff in 1935 as an archaeologist, and was the curator of archeology there from 1937 to 1968. Her knowledge and opinions were extremely influential in early studies of prehistoric cultures of the 4-corners and Great Plains.

She explained to me that her theory had been based upon the circumstances of a Fremont culture burial that she had excavated many years before. This particular male skeleton was found with valuable grave goods suggesting a VIP, and she found that this person had displayed polydactylism - the man had six fingers. She had put those two facts together and theorized that perhaps the presence of the polydactylism had contributed to the person’s status. We frequently hear that among Native American cultures physical and mental differences were looked upon as marking a person as special instead of being a cause for discrimination against them. Following this thought it only made sense that a person born with six fingers might have gravitated to a position of influence in the society, perhaps a shaman or medicine man. And then, to expand on that thought we have to ask who was most likely to have been commemorated in rock art?

It is often assumed that a hand print in rock art represents a person’s signature or identity and, if this is indeed the case, the six-fingered hand print or footprint represents a particular important individual who possessed that trait.”

This particular example was photographed by Richard Coleman in 2011 at Anasazi Ridge, in the area of St. George, Utah. You can see that the two lower footprints each have six toes. Wormington’s hypothesis works for me here as well. Footprints with six toes on each foot would have been made that way on purpose, you just don’t miscount when making something like that. So, I see them as representing someone with polydactylism, someone specific. In other words they serve as a portrait of a certain individual; an individual perhaps memorialized by these images.

Also, at Anasazi Ridge, a pair of what appear to be bear paw prints with seven claws each can be found. Since the claws are the dangerous part, perhaps extra claws are meant to portray greater danger, or an encounter with a bear that involved great risk. Who knows?


  1. Wow, how interesting!!! I'm curious to see the bear paw panel too now! Deb

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have been going to a few sites in Wyoming and keep running across a six toed bear paw petroglyphs and have been very puzzled. I like this explanation. Has anyone found there to also be the same artwork in different sites?