Friday, March 22, 2013


Petroglyph, Pu'uLoa, Hawaii, Photo Joe Belef, 2007.

On 2/1/13, referring to a photograph taken by Joe Belef used in my posting GAME BOARDS, CONTINUED, on 12/29/12,  Anonymous sent the following comment: “The 8 hole pattern around a central hole looks exactly like a game board for Mu Torere.This game was played by the Maori people of New Zealand.The Maori were Polynesians as were the original Hawaiians.The conclusion is inescapable;this is a board for the same game.” 

That promising information required some checking out so I have been looking into this. I think that Anonymous may well be right. With two different, but related cultures (they both have Polynesian origins) as well as the possibility of prehistoric contact through long-distance sailing voyages, it seems eminently reasonable for us to assume this possibility.

Maoris playing Mu Torere, Dominion Museum Photo,
“MuTorere is one of two games that are known to have been played before they were absorbed into the British Empire (Wikipedia), and it is played on a board with a central hole, called the petahi, and eight or more holes around it called, kewai.” (

Mu Torere board diagram.

And from we are told  “this game, known as torere and mu torere, is one of the most interesting items we have to discuss, on account of its resemblance to our game of draughts, and the existence of a doubt as to whether or not it was a pre-European diversion. The board or diagram used is utterly different in form to that employed by us, there is no crowning of kings, and old natives have stated that, so far as they knew, it was an old Maori game.
Mohi Turei, a well informed and very old man of the Ngati-Porou tribe informs us (1912) that mu torere was the old name for the game, and, in this connection, he quotes an old saying:—"E mu torere mai ana ranei ko utou ki au, e hoa ma !" used in the sense of—"Are you striving against me, or, are you looking for trouble?" Tuta Nihoniho, of the same tribe, stated that the European game of draughts was introduced into that district in the time of his grandfather, probably by sailors, or early traders, or missionaries. In the far off Hawaiian Isles, a game resembling draughts was played, and known by two names, mu and konane.” 
According to available references mu torere boards could be painted or carved on wood as we can see from the illustration that shows the game being played , or just scratched out in the sand. This photgraph also illustrated a board with eight peripheral holes (the kewai), and one central hole (the petahi), exactly the same layout as the Hawaiian petroglyph. This is really exciting to me. Through discussion about our shared interest we have added a small, but real, item of knowledge to the encyclopedia of rock art. Thank you Anonymous! 



Saturday, March 16, 2013


Lone Dog, 1809-10, "Black-Stone made medicine",
Goode and Thornton, 2007, p. 147.

In their wonderful book The Year The Stars Fell: Lakota Winter Counts at the Smithsonian (2007), Candace Greene and Russell Thornton illustrate a symbol that was used by many winter count artists as the symbol for “making medicine”, performing a magical/spiritual deed that elicits some effect in the real world. This symbol is an abbreviated buffalo head connected to the maker of the medicine by a line. This has been described by both Mallery (1893), and Greene and Thornton (2007). “In the ceremonial of “making medicine,” a buffalo head, and especially the head of an albino buffalo, held a prominent place among the plains tribes. . . . The device in the chart is the man figure, with the head of an albino buffalo held over his own (Mallery 1893:275).” (Greene and Thornton 2007: 147-8)

Lone Dog, 1860-61,"The Elk Who Shows Himself While Walking
made medicine", Goode and Thornton, 2007, p. 247.

The Swan, 1810-11, "A Minneconjou named Little Tail
first made medicine with a white buffalo cow
hide", Goode and Thornton, 2007, p. 148.

The Flame, 1860-61, "The Elk Who Shows
Himself While Walking made medicine",
Goode and Thornton, 2007, p. 247

This symbol is to be found in a number of winter counts, and perhaps other examples of the handiwork of Native American peoples. In the winter counts the symbol is usually, but not invariably, connected to a human figure. in the Lone Dog winter count the medicine symbol is connected to a sketchy abbreviated elk but that is the name glyph for the human who made the medicine, Elk Who Shows Himself While Walking, and in the winter count by The Flame it leads to what appears to be a horse. The symbol itself, the outline of the bison skull with horns, would lend itself to use in many other circumstances and mediums. With this in mind I have been keeping my eye open for examples of this symbol for “making medicine” in rock art.

Nevada, petroglyph, Highwater, American Indian Painting, p. 21.

One example of what appears to be this “making medicine” symbol in a petroglyph is illustrated in the book Song From The Earth: American Indian Painting by Jamake Highwater (1976: 21). It is a photograph of a petroglyph panel from Nevada (location unidentified) which shows a crude footprint, a large spiral with something attached to the outer end, and our making medicine symbol to the right of the spiral. Upon careful examination, the shape attached to the outer end of the spiral at the top could also represent a skull as well, although it reminds me more of a pronghorn antelope than a bison.

If you know of any further examples, as always, please forward them to me. Thank you.


Greene, Candace S., and Russell Thornton,
2007    The Year The Stars Fell: Lakota Winter Counts at the Smithsonian, Smithsonian National Museum, Washington.

Highwater, Jamake
1976    Song From The Earth: American Indian Painting, New York Graphic Society, Boston.

Mallery, Garrick
1889    Picture-Writing of the American Indians, 10th Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1888-1889, by J. W. Powell, Director, Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


Rainbow with traces of supernumerary arcs. Yellowstone
Park, Wyoming. Photo: Peter Faris, 2007.

One weather phenomenon that is welcomed by everyone is the rainbow. It is welcomed for its beauty, agricultural people celebrate it for its relationship to the presence of rain, and in the case of severe weather the rainbow announces the end of the storm. Thus, the rainbow as a symbol is common in the American southwest, and is also found in the rock art of that region. The examples illustrated are found in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. It is also often found in conjunction with other weather symbols such as clouds and rain. The rainbow is also illustrated on the masks or headgear of a number of kachinas, reinforcing its importance as a weather symbol to the agricultural peoples of the southwest.

Rainbow, with anthropomorphs and quadrupeds, Antelope House,
Canyon del Muerto, Arizona. Photo: Peter Faris, 1997.

Ferron Box, San Rafael Swell, UT. From Simms and Gohier,
Traces of Fremont, Univ. of Utah Press, 2010,  p. 26

Red Hole Wash, UT.

Notice that in the example of the polychrome rainbow from Red Hole Wash, Utah, the arc of the rainbow encloses a faint concentric circle sun symbol. This is contrary to the reality of the rainbow being seen in the sky opposite to the sun, but it does seem to indicate some knowledge or realization that the sun and the rainbow are related.

Rochester Creek, UT. Photo: Peter Faris, 1993.

The rainbow is very often identified as a bridge to the sky in Native American mythology, and plays a role in many of the tribal myth cycles that involve traveling to the sky or returning from the sky. The example above from Rochester Creek in Utah is generally interpreted as an example of rainbow as bridge to the sky. Of course, with all of the additional figures in that panel, it is not hard to pick out elements that fit into any mythology.

It has also, and this is perhaps my favorite, been referred to as the “happy hunting ground for the flowers.” So happy hunting, for rock art and rainbows.


Simms, Steven R., and Francois Gohier
2010     Traces of Fremont: Society and Rock Art in Ancient Utah, University of Utah Press, p. 26.


Saturday, March 2, 2013


On February 23, 2013, we attended the excellent exhibit MAMMOTHS AND MASTODONS: TITANS OF THE ICE AGE, at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS). This is a traveling exhibit that originated at the Field Museum in Chicago, and can be seen at the DMNS from February 15 to May 27, 2013. Aside from being a fascinating and well done exhibit on a fascinating subject, the exhibit surprised me by identifying a supposed mammoth or mastodon petroglyph on a boulder under water in Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan.

Carved face of underwater boulder,
Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan.

This petroglyph was located by underwater archaeologist Dr. Mark Holley who was documenting shipwrecks when he found it. The supposed mammoth or mastodon is on one boulder in what he described as “a circular pattern of rocks on the bay floor.” If this image is human produced it must have been made more than 13,000 years ago when enough water was tied up in the Pleistocene glaciers and the site would have been on dry land.

Carved face of underwater boulder - retouched
in photo, Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan.

With no prominent bump on the top of the skull, and from the relatively smooth back approaching the horizontal instead of strongly sloping toward the rear, the animal (if authentic) may be provisionally identified as a mastodon. The animal’s trunk is described as in a curled up position as if it were drinking, and some  vaguely wedge-shaped lines within the body outline are described as representing the protruding end of a fletched dart or spear that a hunter launched at the creature with an atlatl. This leads to the speculative scenario of a hunter concealed at a watering spot, waiting until the creature came to the water to drink and then launching his dart into the prey.

Add this as one more entry on the speculative list of possible, but unproven, proboscidians in North America.