Saturday, June 29, 2013


The figure that we call Kokopelli has been adapted from the beliefs of the Pueblo peoples of the American southwest. This character often has a humped or rounded back and something like a flute held to, or projecting from, his mouth. In Pueblo beliefs he is sometimes also called the Robber Fly or Assassin Fly kachina because that insect is humpbacked and has long flute-like mouthparts. He frequently appears with a Flute Kachina and sometimes carries no flute until he borrows the flute from the Flute Kachina. When that occurs the Assassin Fly Kachina becomes Kokopelli, the hump-backed flute player. This character that we identify as Kokopelli is commonly found throughout the four corners region (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah) of the American southwest, and has been identified with prehistoric cultures from that area.

McConkey Ranch, Vernal, Uintah County, UT.
Photograph: John Faris, Sept. 1989.

McConkey Ranch,  Vernal, UT. From
Slifer and Duffield, fig. 169, p. 102.

I have often wondered exactly how far north these flute-player images extend. Last week I illustrated a kokopelli pictograph from Canyon Pintado, south of Rangely in western Colorado. In their 1994 book Kokopelli: Flute Player Images in Rock Art, Dennis Slifer  and James Duffield show examples located up in the Vernal, Utah, area and in Dinosaur National Monument. I have seen a couple of these northern flute-players. One is located at the marvelous McConkey Ranch petroglyph site near Vernal, Utah. He is found lying on his back beneath the central figure of a group of figures done by a Fremont culture artist. This figure is hard to see because he is pecked into an area denuded of the desert varnish that sets the other figures off so clearly. I have also included a site drawing of that panel from the Slifer and Duffield (1994:102) book "Kokopelli: Flute Player Images in Rock Art",  which shows the recumbent flute-player much more clearly. 

Cub Creek, Dinosaur Nat. Mon., Uintah county, UT.
Photograph: John and Esther Faris, Sept. 1989.

The other northern flute-player I have seen is from the wonderful Cub Creek site in Dinosaur National Monument (this site also contains the giant lizard petroglyphs on the masthead of this blog). Slifer and Duffield also list a handful of other examples from the Vernal/Dinosaur National Monument area.

So, as I asked above, I wonder how far north the flute-player image actually extends? This area does roughly approximate the northern boundary of the cultures who commonly portray the flute-player in rock art. Other Native American cultures, however, had the flutes and whistles that these figures are thought to represent. Are there examples to be found farther north than this?


Slifer, Dennis, and James Duffield,
1994    Kokopelli: Flute Player Images in Rock Art, Ancient City Press, Santa Fe.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors, 1533. Wikipedia.

There is a perspective trick used in the visual arts which can be used to manipulate proportion in an image to affect how it is perceived by the viewer.

 “An anamorphosis is a deformed image that appears in its true shape when viewed in some "unconventional" way. According toWebster's 1913 Dictionary: A distorted or monstrous projection or representation of an image on a plane or curved surface, which, when viewed from a certain point, or as reflected from a curved mirror or through a polyhedron, appears regular and in proportion; a deformation of an image.( When its effect depends upon viewing it from a certain point it is called Perspective Anamorphosis.

One well-known example in art history is the 1533 painting The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein. In this otherwise-straightforward double portrait the is an apparently unrecognizable long blob floating above the floor between the feet of the two subjects which can only be recognized as a skull, a memento mori (reminder of the inevitability of death) when viewed from a viewpoint below and to the left of the painting.

"The Ambassadors (1533) is a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger in the National Gallery, London. As well as being a double portrait, the painting contains a still life of several meticulously rendered objects, the meaning of which is the cause of much debate. It is also a much-cited example of anamorphosis in painting." (Wikipedia)

That skull represents an example of perspective anamorphosis, not recognizable until seen from the correct perspective. Now, what does any of this have to do with the great 3-Kings panel on McConkie Ranch near Vernal, Utah?

3-Kings panel, McConkie Ranch, Uintah County, UT.
Photograph: Peter Faris, September 1989.

On April 23, 2009, I posted a column titled Portraiture In Rock Art in which I discussed the central figure on the 3-Kings panel on McConkie Ranch. It explained my position that a portrayal with so many unique and identifiable features from anatomical details to clothing and accessories deserves to be thought of as a portrait of a specific individual, not just a generic figure. In that posting I wrote; “This figure also displays another interesting detail. When seen from the ground below, the figure appears in normal proportion. When observed from a vantage point near its height the figure is seen to be vertically elongated out of proportion (as seen in the photo above). This suggests that the hand that produced the work was guided by instructions from someone down below at ground level. I enjoy imagining a Fremont Indian artist and his young apprentice creating the portrait of an important man of the band or tribe. The young apprentice forced to climb the rocky crag with his tools and materials where he took direction from the master who stayed down on the ground below shouting to him to “make that line higher, no, a little down from there.” The result appears in realistic proportion from below on the ground, but it is elongated vertically when viewed from a raised viewpoint.”

Vertical proportion diagram (in head heights)
of central figure from 3-Kings panel.

Indeed, this figure measures eight head lengths in height as seen in this diagram, as opposed to the normal five and a half to six head heights seen in a normal human figure. This vertical elongation represents Perspective Anamorphosis, just like the skull seen in the Holbein painting. The only real difference is that I believe that in the McConkie Ranch example the perspective anamorphosis is caused as I said by the figures’ creation under direction from the ground below and the Holbein example is the purposeful result of the artist’s hand.



Saturday, June 15, 2013


Kokopelli, Canyon Pintado, Rio Blanco County, CO.
Photograph: Peter Faris, September 1990.

In 1776 the Spanish priests Fray Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Fray Sylvestre Velez de Escalante led an expedition from Santa Fe to try to reach the Spanish missions in Monterey, California.

Fray Dominguez was born in Mexico City about 1740, and joined the Franciscan order on 1757 at the age of seventeen. The first known reference to him is at the Convent of Veracruz as Commissary of the Third Order in October 1772, when he was thirty-two years old and in the order fifteen years. In 1775 he was sent to New Mexico from the Mexican Province of the holy Gospel to make an inspection of the Custody of the Conversion of St. Paul. He arrived in Santa Fe on March 22, 1776. He was also under instructions to investigate the possibility of opening an overland route between Santa Fe and Monterey, California. In 1777 he was recalled to Mexico and served as chaplain of presidios in Nueva Vizcaya. He was at Janos, Sonora, Mexico, in 1800. He died sometime between 1803 and 1805. 

Fray Escalante was born in the mountains of Santander in the town of Trecino, Spain, about 1750. He took the Franciscan habit in the Convento Grande in Mexico City when he was seventeen years old. He came to New Mexico in 1774 and was stationed first at Laguna pueblo and then, in January 1775, was assigned to Zuni. He continued to be its minister until summoned by Dominguez to Santa Fe in June the following year. He remained in New Mexico for two years following his return from this expedition. He died in Parral, Mexico, in April 1780, while returning to Mexico City for medical treatment. He was scarcely thirty years old.

On September 9, they encountered a large amount of Fremont-era and Ute rock art in a canyon south of present-day Rangely, Colorado. They named this Canyon Pintado in their journal of September 9, because of the painted pictures. Most sources state that they specifically noted the flute-player Kokopelli in the journal but in my cursory reading of the material I have been unable to locate this specific reference. “Half way down this canyon toward the south there is a very high cliff on which we saw crudely painted three shields or chimales and the blade of a lance. Farther down on the north side we saw another painting which crudely represented two men fighting. For this reason we called this valley Cañon Pintado.” In any case this 1776 record is an early report of rock art in western North America.

In October, with their expedition in Utah, deciding that they would not reach Monterey before winter, the fathers chose to return to Santa Fe. They reached Santa Fe, their starting point, on January 2, 1777.

The Kokopelli is painted on a surface that is sheet-spalling off the cliff face, and has in the past been reinforced with a cable set into the rock to hold it in place, an effort that has so far succeeded. This is one of the most compelling examples that I know of to provide motivation for developing improved conservation methods for pictographs and petroglyphs.

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Depictions of domestic dogs in rock art are found fairly common. Domesticated dogs can often be identified by the patterns of their coats. While the large wild canines of North America, the wolf and the coyote, tend to have a fur coat that is darker above and lighter beneath with a fairly even graduation between them on the sides, domesticated dogs can have broken, blotchy coat coloration.

Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands, Wayne County, UT.
Photograph:  Don I. Campbell, 16 May 1984.

Barrier Canyon style dog portrayals often seem to show them accompanying humans. This probable dog photo (above) is from Horseshoe Canyon in Utah.

Temple Mountain Wash, Utah.
Photograph: Peter Faris, 2002.

A Barrier Canyon style pictograph panel at Temple Mountain Wash, Utah (above), shows a group of figures accompanied by one dog (and perhaps a second one behind him).

Bi-colored domestic dogs, Brown's Park, Colorado.
Photograph: Peter Faris, 1987.

One unusual panel is found on a ranch in Brown’s Park Colorado which shows two domestic dogs alone, not as part of a scene of hunting or other activity. They can be recognized as domestic dogs by their coloration patterns.

Spotted dogs in a cavate, Mortandad canyon, NM.
Photograph: Peter Faris, 2003.

Another possible pair of dogs is found incised into the smoke blackened wall of a cavate room at the Mortandad ruin in New Mexico. This pair of quadrupeds has long straight tails but do not have claws on their feet so they were not likely meant to represent mountain lions and without horns, antlers, hoofs, or other identifiable traits from other animals they may well be intended to represent canines. Importantly they are shown covered with spots so if they are canines they must represent domesticated dogs. Their association with horned serpents suggests that they are involved in some myth or story of spiritual significance.

Dog petroglyphs, Nuuanu, Oahu, Hawaii. 
Photograph: Peter Faris, October 23, 2010.

This example of a Hawaiian dog petroglyph is from the Nu’uanu valley, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.  I presented this in a column on December 29, 2010, entitled The Nu’anu Petroglyphs, Oahu, and discussed some of the myths and legends surrounding this site.  

 Dog petroglyph, the Big Island, Hawaii. 
Photograph: Ellen Belef, September 10, 2012. 

Another dog petroglyph from the Big Island, Hawaii, photographed on 10 Sept. 2012, has been provided by Ellen Belef. Unfortunately this one shows signs of having been touched up by parties unknown with a straight edged metal chisel.

What examples of petroglyphs of dogs do you know of?

Saturday, June 1, 2013


F.B. Delgado, Signature Rock, Boise City, OK. 
Photo: Peter Faris, June 12,2006.

As we might expect in an area inhabited by a people as religiously devout as the Hispanic residents of the early Southwest, we find many crosses in rock art throughout the region. We must question, however, if they are actually Hispanic crosses or if they might be stars or some other symbols left by Native Americans.
This is definitely pertinent when the example in question is found in the American southwest where Native American and Hispanic cultures coexisted for quite some time. One clue to identifying some of the crosses as Hispanic can be found in the treatment of the ends of the arms of the cross.


Many of the crosses of Hispanic origin display the form known as the cross pattée (also known as the cross formée), which has arms that are narrow at the center and broader at the ends, an early medieval symbol dating back to at least the 7th century AD. This form was sometimes used by the Teutonic knights, a crusader military order. (Wikipedia)

The examples pictured are found in the southeast Colorado and western Oklahoma area. The Oklahoma examples are from Signature Rock near Boise City and are with the date 1859 suggesting association with the Santa Fe Trail.

Hispanic crosses, Picketwire Canyon, Colorado.
Photo: Dell Crandall.

The example from Picketwire Canyon in Colorado is from later and was probably created by pastoralists in the area. Indeed, there is still a reputed Penitente morada in that general area.


Another possible inspiration would be the Maltese cross although I personally have no examples of this in rock art from this area. The Maltese cross originated in the mid-16th century (it has been traced back to AD 1567 on coins from the island of Malta) with the Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of Malta.

Crosses, Freezeout Canyon, Baca County, CO.
Photo: Peter Faris, 1996.

I have also included a panel of possibly Native American crosses from southeastern Colorado which seem to considerably predate the Hispanic examples and do not exhibit the enlargement of the ends of the arms seen in the European inspired crosse(s) pattée. These may represent the traditional presentation of four-armed stars and some viewers have interpreted this panel as a Native American representation of a constellation in the night sky.