Saturday, March 10, 2012


Near Newspaper Rock, Petrified Forest National Park,
Arizona. Photo: Peter Faris, June 1993.

We have all seen examples of rock art that we interpret as meant just for fun, images that we find entertaining with no apparent clues to any deeper meaning. Of course, it is always possible that imagery like this contains a very deep meaning, but we just cannot see it. There is, however, one form of image that I think we can probably agree was created as a joke, or form of humor. This is what I would define as a visual pun. By the term visual pun I mean an image that could have more than one identity or definition, and I also think that it would be meant to be entertaining.
I would like to present a visual pun here that is found in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. This image consists of a hump-backed figure with a long zigzag proboscis or nose, bent over, holding his back as if it aches, and walking with a cane or staff which also consists of his nose. Now this figure might also have a very serious meaning behind him. Indeed, given the rounded nature of his back, the long projection from the front of his face, and the projections from his head resembling Kokopelli’s antenna he might be meant to remind us of Kokopelli. If so this adds a double layer of sophistication to the pun. An old man, who is at the same time Kokopelli, walking with a cane, which might at the same time be his nose or his flute. Or it might be a lightning bolt implying great power, which coupled with the apparent feebleness of the figure gives us another possible layer of meaning altogether.
Did whoever created this figure have all of the above in mind – probably not. Yet it was created as it is for a reason. And my best guess at that reason includes humor. 

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