Saturday, July 13, 2013


 Baca County, CO., Photo: Peter Faris, Feb. 1996.

Back in the late 1980s I took frequent trips down to southeastern Colorado to accompany my friend Bill McGlone on trips to rock art sites. Bill lived in La Junta, the gateway to literally thousands of rock art sites in the Purgatoire (Picketwire Canyon) and elsewhere in that region. As an amateur epigrapher Bill was fascinated by correlations between so-called abstract rock art and characters in some Old World scripts, and his first focus in that interest had been the linear groupings that believers call Ogam.

I was never able to share in the belief that Bill and his friends held back then that these groupings of lines consisted of Ogam inscriptions. In order to make any deciphering work at all they had to postulate a variety of Ogam not used in the Old World, an Ogam that consists of consonants only, and no vowels. Additionally, in order to explain the presence of Ogam in southeastern Colorado one has to invoke at least one pre-Columbian visit by a party of Celts from somewhere in Europe where Ogam writing was used. As no believable physical evidence of such an expedition has ever been found I was not able to agree to their arguments for the existence of actual Ogam inscriptions. Groupings of lines – yes, I saw hundreds along with Bill and his friends. Ogam – no. On my visits to the area I would usually stay with Bill McGlone and we would often stay up until late discussing/arguing about epigraphy and diffusionism. My often stated position in those discussions was that I was not able to agree that these were actual Ogam inscriptions, but that I did not have a better explanation so I could not prove that he was in error in this belief.    

I did try as many ways as I could come up with to define these lines as tallies of some sort. I was never able to prove that because I could not specify what they were counting. Oh, some might come close to enumerating the days in a lunar cycle, or the moons in a year, but I could never prove any connection. Vague suspicions do not hold up well in a debate with a person who deeply believes his position.

Well now that better explanation has finally come along. Dr. Lawrence L. Loendorf in his book Thunder and Herds, Rock Art of the High Plains, has drawn attention to the resemblance of many of these groupings of lines to the so-called ribstones of the Northern Plains. “Ribstones may vary in their details but all consist of a long, vertical line or groove along the length of a boulder that is crossed by shorter grooves, creating a figure that represents the backbone and ribs of a buffalo.” “Plains groups like the Cree believed that ribstones embodied the spirit of a bison, which they honored by leaving offerings and saying prayers at sites where the stones occur.”  (2008:214)

Well done Larry, from now on I do have my better answer and in the event of a repeat of those debates of old I can cite you, and I no longer have to worry about taking a ribbing (or a stoning) over not having an answer.


Loendorf, Lawrence L.
2008    Thunder and Herds, Rock Art of the High Plains, Left Coast Press, Inc., Walnut Creek, CA.


  1. I was speaking at a Spirit of Place Conference at Mesa Verde in about 1990. A friend and I went to a non-touristy kiva and settled in. When leaving, I saw what appeared to me to be Ogam writing, which I'd seen in New England, and in books. Single long horizontal lines, with curly hang-downs from it. When I gat back to the conference and mentioned it. A woman put her hand up and said she was the national secretary of Ogam writing. My jaw dropped. Took her to the place, she confirmed and read it, but my memory doesn't hold that any more!