Sunday, August 21, 2011


I have written elsewhere about the dangers of relying too much on statistical analysis in drawing conclusions about rock art. I have also written about professional bias among professional archaeologists when it comes to rock art research. In all fairness I must say that this really cuts both ways and the rest of us need to keep an open mind about things as well.

When we have studied some aspect of rock art deeply and have come to some degree of understanding about it we cannot let that become dogma to the extent that we are not willing to consider other possibilities. I can illustrate this with a story. There is a well-known Lakota story about the coming of the buffalo with the appearance of Buffalo Woman. Most versions of it have her appearing to two young warriors and her beauty drives one of the warriors to lust after her. Upon his approaching her there is a sudden appearance of a cloud, concealing them both. The cloud dissipates within a few minutes leaving behind only the skeleton of the lustful young man for his friend to see.

This is usually presented as a punishment for his impiety; he was instantly killed and stripped of all flesh because he insulted the sacred figure of Buffalo Woman. A few months ago, however, I heard another version of this story that almost reverses that assumed meaning. My informant said that the traditional interpretation was wrong, that, in fact, the lustful young man had married Buffalo Woman and their offspring became the buffalo. They had lived a long and full life until his normal death of old age. What his companion had perceived as only an instant until the appearance of the skeleton was sort of like the time rift of science fiction, his companion had lived his whole life in that instant, and it was the other warrior’s perception that was wrong.

While this is at odds with the usual interpretation of the story it is a lovely version and believed by at least a few people for it to have come to my attention. We need to be aware of other possibilities, and always beware of dogma.

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