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.

1 comment:

  1. Canadian versions, east to North Carolina, and south to Peru exist.