Saturday, August 3, 2013


Picture Canyon, Baca County, Colorado. 
Photograph: Peter Faris, 21 Sept., 1986.

Back in the 1970s there was considerable public interest in the diffusionist theories of Barry Fell. Fell believed that many rock art inscriptions and images had been produced by pre-Columbian travelers from the Old World.

“Barry Fell (born Howard Barraclough Fell)( June 6, 1917 - April 21, 1994) was a professor of invertebrate zoology at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. While his primary professional research included starfish and sea urchins, Fell is also known for his controversial work in New World epigraphy, arguing that various inscriptions in the Americas are best explained by extensive pre-Columbian contact with Old World civilizations.” Wikipedia.

In my early years as a rock art researcher I felt I should read all sides of an argument in order to be able to fairly judge it for myself so I undertook the task of reading some of the writings of Barry Fell. As an aside here I should add that I do believe that there was pre-Columbian contact between the Old and New Worlds. We have physical proof of Viking presence at l’anse aux meadows in Newfoundland dating to around AD 1000. Additionally, I have posted about the hundreds of botanical and zoological indications outlined and explained in the book World Trade and Biological Exchanges Before 1492, by Carl L. Johannessen and John L. Sorenson, (2004). I have no trouble accepting limited contact, and even exchange, between peoples of the Old and New Worlds before Columbus. I just cannot accept the claims of diffusionists that so many of the cultural traits of New World peoples came from the dozens or hundreds of expeditions of Celts, Egyptians, Phoenicians, and everyone else they can think of roaming back and forth across North America leaving carved images and inscriptions.

Picture Canyon, Baca County, Colorado. 
Photograph: Peter Faris, 21 Sept., 1986.

As I said above I tried to read enough of Barry Fells’ writings to understand his premise and be able to give a fair evaluation to his claims. I read much of his writing and I have to confess that it would be really exciting to just open up to his conclusions. If I had just gone with it I could have been in on so many of the exciting discoveries that Barry Fell and his disciples claimed. Unfortunately, I found myself constrained by judgment and truth, and just could not adopt his conclusions. Part of the problem was the fact that I could visit some of the sites he translated and see for myself.

Cast by Gloria Farley, in America B.C.
Barry Fell, Demeter Press, 1976, p.182.

In 1986 I spent some time in Picture Canyon, in Baca County, southeastern Colorado. There I visited the petroglyph that Barry Fell had translated, and explained as follows, based upon a casting from a mold made by Gloria Farley: “Chief Ras left this bilingual autograph to record his exploration of the Cimarron River in Oklahoma, probably around 500 B.C. Gloria Farley obtained this latex impression under a rock overhand on the river cliffs. Above right the Egyptian hieratic letters T-P (Chief). The eye symbol itself is the Egyptian hieratic word R-S (“Watchful”). The two Libyan letters cut into the eye sign, also spell R-S. Bilingual Egypto-Libyan inscriptions in North America probably reflect the lasting influence of the Libyan pharaohs upon the Egyptian navy. In later centuries when the Greek Ptolemies ruled Egypt, their Libyan queens continued to promote the interest of the navy, still manned largely by Libyan mariners. Malcolm D. Pearson” (Fell 1976:182)

First, the image is not on the cliffs of the Cimarron River, this symbol is actually in Picture Canyon, in Baca County, Colorado, and it is found a number of miles from the Cimarron River cliffs in New Mexico. Second, the actual image is somewhat different than the supposed casting which one would expect to be an exact replica of the original. Notice that the right end of the image is flattened, not sharply pointed as in the “casting”, also, please note that the actual shapes of Fells’  “two Libyan letters cut into the eye sign”, which ”also spell R-S” are not the same in the photograph as on the “impression”. There are also a number of other markings on the panel, including a group of pits within the right side of the “eye” that do not appear to be on Gloria’s “impression” at all.

Additionally, the lines of the “eye” and the “Libyan letters” in the casting are much sharper edged than the lines of the original, all of which suggests to me that the so-called “impression” has been worked over with tools to achieve the end they desired. Finally, we can see that the background surface of the “impression” that was supposedly made with latex directly from the surface of the rock does not match the actual background surface of the rock face itself. In any scientific context that I know of that is called falsification of data and is considered to be a fraudulent practice at the very least. So, back in the beginning – this is where Barry Fell. I will continue this exploration in the future.

Note: I wish I could claim to be clever enough to have originated the title “Where Barry Fell” for myself, but I cannot. This title came from a slide program debunking some of Fells' claims that was assembled by Bill McGlone back in the early 1990s, in cooperation with Phil Leonard.


Fell, Barry
1976    America B.C., Demeter Press, New York.


  1. It looks like the mold was taken with the mold material inside a plastic bag, which produced wrinkles and diminished some of the finer details perhaps? Also wondering if weathering could have been responsible for the rt. side of the "eye" disappearing? That eye edge, though, doesn't match up with the adjacent carving, but perhaps they had to wrap the "bag" around the corner there to pick that up? It would of course look further away once laid out flat. Just sayin' ...

  2. Peter Farris' photo seems to be taken from a sharp angle whereas Farland had to take the impression exactly right on at a 90 degree angle. Also what does "Miles from the Cimarron River" mean?
    Anything more than one mile would be miles.