Friday, April 18, 2014


Procession panel, 42Sa24318, Wilshusen et al., Fig. 11.5.

This posting began as a review of an interesting book by Richard H. Wilshusen, Gregson Schachner, and James R. Allison editors, titled Crucible of Pueblos: The Early Pueblo Period in the Northern Southwest (Monograph 71, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, UCLA, Los Angeles, 2012). More specifically, it was going to focus on one chapter in that book; chapter eleven entitled Processions, Leaders, and Gathering Places: Changes in early Pueblo Community Organization as Seen in Architecture, Rock Art, and Language (pages 198 – 218), by Richard H. Wilshusen, Scott G. Ortman, and Ann Phillips. The book itself is an excellent summation of much new information and new conclusions about the development of the early Pueblo cultures in the 4-Corners area and the Colorado Plateau. However, I find that instead of merely reviewing this excellent volume I also want to make some comments on the rock art illustrated. This has considerably lengthened what would have been a simple review and has led me to divide it up into two postings. This, the first one presents the authors (Wilshusen, Ortman, and Phillips) conclusions on the so-called Procession panel from southeastern Utah.

First things first, however. This book is an up-to-date survey of new knowledge of the 4-corners and Colorado Plateau civilizations we know as Basketmaker and Early Pueblo. Written by a new generation of archaeologists it discards some of the old assumptions and fills them in with new data that provides a clearer picture of what was actually happening at that time. It traces the development of that civilization from Basketmaker to Early Pueblo. I certainly give it a five-star rating. Anyone interested in the archaeology of the 4-corners and Colorado Plateau areas should read this book carefully. For the purposes of RockArtBlog, however, I was personally most interested in their Chapter 11, titled Processions, Leaders, and Gathering Places, and which looks closely at two rock art procession panels to illustrate some of the social evolution.

“The late Basketmaker-early Pueblo procession panels appear to reflect these changes in social life. Nowhere are these changes more clearly depicted than in the well-known Procession Panel, a 7-meter long composition in southeastern Utah (Figure 11.5). This panel illustrates a ritual gathering of at least two large groups coming from opposite directions to a great kiva or dance circle. The composition dates no earlier than A.D. 650 and no later than A.D. 800, based on the style of the rock art, the presence of a bow and arrows in the image, and construction dates for early great kivas and dance circles. The panel is located on the crest of a prominent ridge from which one can view much of the surrounding landscape. Robins and Hays-Gilpin (2000:fig. 12.7) discuss this panel with a primary focus on gender relations and the shifting division of labor and power during late Basketmaker III period. Our discussion here focuses on the creation and transformation of group identity reflected in this panel. The organization of the assembling groups and the identities of their members are partly revealed in the elements, organization, and design of the panel, along with its subject matter, narrative, and setting.” (Wilshusen et al 2012:210) 

Procession Panel, right side, from Wilshusen et al, Fig. 11.5.

“It is a narrative, a visual “telling” of at least two social groups coming together from different directions. Of course, it also may be a composite story of several repeated gatherings at the same place involving the same groups of people. The panel appears to have objectified and sanctified this event by showing the involvement of supernatural beings and powerful images. Numerous elements of the panel and its design reflect aspects of archetypical Pueblo gatherings as they occur today. Although the visual focus is clearly on the two lines of anthropomorphic figures approaching from opposite directions, two smaller and less conspicuous lines also approach the center. The number four is typical in Pueblo emergence accounts, directional symbolism, and ceremonial performances.” (Wilshusen and Ortman 2012:210-11)

Procession Panel, left side, from Wilshusen et al, Fig. 11.5.

“Closer inspection of the panel reveals details about the organization of these groups and the identities of some of the individuals. The majority of the anthropomorphic figures in the four procession lines are nondescript, but about one in five have notable hairstyles or headdresses (ponytails, top knots, feathers, or birds), badges of office or instruments of power (crook neck staffs, bags on their backs, lobed circles, and so forth), or are gesturing with their hands or carrying unique items in their hands (lobed circles, bow and arrows, a flute?). The sheer variety of items and the distribution of items throughout the lines suggest that some, or all, of these figures may represent specific individuals known to the artist. The fact that symbols of authority are distributed somewhat evenly throughout the procession lines suggests that leaders of distinct household groups from both directions may have orchestrated the gathering. Although the right-side procession line has four times the number of figures in the left-side line, it is remarkable that the same number of figures with notable characteristics such as hairstyles, headdresses, gestures, or authority symbols occur in each line (24). This panel provides a livelier and more detailed picture of late Basketmaker-early Pueblo society than is possible using the excavation record alone.” (Wilshusen and Ortman 2012:212)

Notice that the authors mention identifiable personal characteristics in the panel. I have written elsewhere that for a culture in which personal possessions are all hand-made, and are thus usually unique, the presence of such items as recognizable costumes, adornment, headdresses, etc., make those characters recognizable to anyone who knew them. In this way they approach our concept of portrait; a recognizable portrayal of someone’s unique possessions representing the owner of the items. This means that we can speculate that this procession panel may represent either a symbolic gathering or meeting of specific groups of people, or the actual occasion of such a gathering.

The panel also represents a narrative, and not only a narrative on what is happening right at that time, but also what has happened previously. Note that there is a line of dots on the left side coming down from above about half way down the length of the procession, probably representing tracks joining the left row of figures indicating that people from farther in the distance in that direction walked over and joined the procession. This gives every indication of being a narrative of actual events. Not that every detail is meant to be accurate. For instance I doubt that whatever processions actually occurred had been accompanied by gigantic deer. There seem to be many symbols in the composition, possibly mythological references that would have conveyed meaning to the intended audience at that time. This remarkable artistic composition brings social and cultural events of that time to life in a way that no scientific examination of data possibly can.

The article Processions, Leaders, and Gathering Places: Changes in early Pueblo Community Organization as Seen in Architecture, Rock Art, and Language goes on with an examination of another procession panel, the Waterflow panel (LA79511) in New Mexico, and I will address that in a future posting.


Robins, Michael R., and Kelly A. Hays-Gilpin
2000    The Bird in the Basket: Gender and Social Change in Basketmaker Iconography. In Foundations of Anasazi Culture: The Basketmaker-Pueblo Transition, edited by P. F. Reed, pp. 231-247. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

Wilshusen, Richard H., Scott G. Ortman, and Ann Phillips
2012    Processions, Leaders, and Gathering Places, in Crucible of Pueblos: The Early Pueblo Period in the Northern Southwest, by Wilshusen, Richard H., Gregson Schachner, and James R. Allison, editors, Monograph 71, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, UCLA, p. 198-218.

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