Saturday, May 3, 2014


No matter how certain you or I are of the identity of a particular rock art element it is inevitable that on some occasions we will disagree on it. Thus, in many instances people recording rock art rely on lists that define and identify the shapes and images in an attempt to standardize the results and promote such agreements - trait lists or element lists.

Hicklin Springs , 5BN7, Bent County, Colorado.
Photograph Peter Faris, 1993.

Personally, I have never been in favor of using so-called trait or element lists to identify images in rock art recording just because of the disagreements in their identity. My favorite example is usually a variant of the "is it a man or a lizard" based upon the length of the middle lower appendage.

Back in the early 1990s I organized and led a multi-year project to record the rock art at Hicklin Springs (5BN7) in Bent County, Colorado. One of the panels that we dealt with in 1993 is illustrated here. According to published descriptions of rock art styles in that area the team agreed that this was a panel of abstract figures, and it was recorded as such. Not what are often called “geometric abstract” based upon simple geometric shapes, but certainly not readily identifiable as to a specific subject matter. While I found the fact of this group of similar figures existing in this one panel to be unusual and even remarkable, I acquiesced with the group vote on their identification and labeling at that time.

Centipede, Vogel Canyon, Otero County, Colorado.
Photograph Peter Faris, 1993.

Later that same year I was in Vogel Canyon south of La Junta and saw the remarkably large centipede (illustrated) in the trail. I immediately thought of the panel from Hicklin Springs and its enigmatic figures.

Tarantula, Picketwire Canyonlands, Otero County,
Colorado. Photograph Peter Faris, 1994.

Then, the next year, and also down in the Picketwire Canyonlands south of La Junta, I came across the large tarantula (illustrated) again in the trail. Compare its size to the footprints in the dust. In both these cases it occurred to me that an insect that notable might be a candidate for recording in petroglyph form.

I am now more than ever convinced that you really cannot trust the so-called trait or element lists in rock art recording. I recognize the desire for standardizing descriptions to make any data base more user friendly, but you just cannot discern the intentions of the creators of different images and panels in that way. So, the question remains – Abstract or Insect?

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