Sunday, January 19, 2014


Purgatory Canyon, south of the bear, Bent County,
CO., Photograph: Peter Faris, June 1991.

I had actually thought that I was probably through with Barry Fell but I ran into another couple of examples of Barry Fell’s inaccurate methods. This one can be found detailed in the interesting 1996 private publication by Phillip M. Leonard and William R. McGlone titled A Study of Script-Like Petroglyphs in Southeast Colorado, Mithras Inc., Kamas, Utah. This 70 page booklet outlined their multi-year studies comparing abstract figures or symbols found in southeast Colorado with old-world scripts, especially scripts from the Arabian Peninsula. In this posting I will present the case of one single row of figures found south of the famous bear panel in the Purgatory river canyon.

Leonard and McGlone, Fig. 8, p. 14.

The row of symbols in question is found high above the present ground level due to erosion of the valley bottom (described below). This portion of the cliff face is currently unreachable without a ladder or some other artificial aid. The arrangement of markings on this very interesting cliff can be likened to the stratification of a traditional archaeological excavation because the older markings are high up and were later unreachable. More recent petroglyphs are found lower down on the cliff with some examples of Plains Biographic Style images down just a few feet above the ground. Apparently some early devotee of epigraphic interpretation did go to the trouble to carry a long ladder in because the particular symbols in question have actually been painted in with aluminum paint to make them legible from the ground (personal observation).

Detail, dated trident symbol on right.
Leonard and McGlone, Fig. 8-A, p. 14.

One symbol from this line of characters was dated by Ronald Dorn using cation-ratio dating (this must have been done before the aluminum paint was added but I am not aware of the actual dates of either the testing or the painting). The trident-like character on the right side of subgroup-A dated to 1,975 years plus or minus 200 years BP (before present). (Dorn, McGlone, and Leonard 1990:23-36). It should be noted that Dorn subsequently withdrew the results of all of his dating work citing possible contamination of specimens. I maintained to him that this particular date, given the fact of the stratification on this cliff of rock art by age and height, presented additional evidence that this age may well be accurate.

Detail, dated trident symbol on right.
Photograph: Peter Faris, June 1991.

Leonard and McGlone described it as follows: 
“In the fall of 1981, we visited a well-known petroglyph site in southeast Colorado where there were hundreds of glyphs in an assortment of styles on the base of sandstone cliff faces 80 feet high. Some of the panels are 20 feet or more above the present ground level owing to progressive erosion of the valley floor as evidenced by mineral deposits on the cliff wall. Many of the glyphs are in the Pecked Abstract Style and are so old and heavily patinated they are difficult to see clearly even when the light is favorable. Others, in the Plains Biographic Style, appear to be much more recent, judging from their lack of patination and weathering.

One set of signs in a row (Figure 8A) was published as a “What is it?” in the December 1983 issue of Western Epigraphy with the hope that someone could explain its script-like appearance. Greg de la Castro of Conifer, Colorado, responded, saying he thought they were letters of the Sabaean alphabet. When Barry Fell was informed of this a few months later, he agreed. Although the sequence was short, both correspondents saw the presence of two different pitch-fork-shaped characters as pointing toward Sabaean.” (Leonard and McGlone 1996:13-15)

“On a later trip to the site, we saw that only a portion of the line of characters had been included in the original transcription. A search for Native American styles with similar long sequences of signs was unproductive. Study of the complete set (Figure 8B) and comparison to many alphabets world-wide convinced us that the glyphs corresponded more closely to North Arabian than South Arabian (Sabaean) letters - . When we advised Fell of this  and sent him a better photograph, he sent back a translation using the Safaitic (North Arabian) alphabet. The reading was published in McGlone and Leonard (1986) in order to establish priority of discovery and to stimulate comment." (McGlone and Leonard 1996:15)

This translation was accepted by McGlone and Leonard and published in 1986. It read: "Stayed here to trade, then departed after negotiating an augmented trade agreement - Fasih" (p.202) With the word "Fasih" supposedly representing the signature of either the trader, or the inscriber of the passage. McGlone and Leonard later returned to the site and the story is picked up again in their book from 1996.

"When we returned to the site and carefully recorded the full inscription, we found that the transcription developed by Fell from our photograph omitted two signs, improperly included some from a line below, employed natural rock inclusions as letters, and generally mis-applied the Arabic language in the translation. We asked him not to publish the faulty reading and proceeded to study the regional script-like signs ourselves. Our approach has been to collect groups of the signs and send them to knowledgeable specialists for evaluation and comment.” (McGlone and Leonard 1996:15) 

I have previously criticized Barry Fell for his unscientific method and basing his interpretations on improper evidence and falsified data. In this instance we have published testimony of his errors by two of his (at that time) collaborators. This conclusion is backed up by subsequent statements made to me by Bill McGlone on more than one occasion, that he could no longer abide by Fell’s work due to such errors (purposeful or otherwise) and that he regretted his previous association with Fell (private communication). I pointed out above that this row of symbols has been highlighted with aluminum paint. Bill McGlone always maintained that he and Phil Leonard had nothing to do with that and I have no reason to doubt his veracity. I do not know who applied the aluminum paint to the symbols but it was assuredly done by one of Fell’s collaborators (nobody else has really been interested in those particular symbols) so we can point that back at Barry Fell as well. 

The main thing here is that many of these characters are indeed like characters in Old World alphabets, I do not deny that. This does not mean, however, that this is anything more than a coincidence. I do not accept it as actual writing in any Old World script. McGlone and Leonard were interested in the apparent correspondence between many symbols in southeast Colorado and characters from Old World scripts, but their methods were scientific, and they seldom made claims that they could not substantiate. Fell on the other hand - - - ?


Dorn, Ronald I., William R. McGlone, and Phillip M. Leonard
1990    Age Determination of Petroglyphs in Southeast Colorado, Southwestern Lore, 56(2), 23-36, Colorado Archaeological Society, Denver.

Leonard, Phillip M., and William R. McGlone
1996    A Study of Script-Like Petroglyphs in Southeast Colorado, Mithras Inc., Kamas,               UT.

McGlone, William R., and Phillip M. Leonard
1986    Ancient Celtic America, Panorama West Books, Fresno, CA.

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