Saturday, June 28, 2014


El Morro, Cibola County, NM. Photograph: Russ Finley.

One site that has seen much history is El Morro rock in Cibola County, in western New Mexico. This large rock outcrop has a permanent pool of water in an arid environment, and pre-historically had a pueblo built on top of the rock. Ancestral Puebloan rock art can be found on the cliffs and spires of El Morro, as can the inscriptions and names of later comers.

Onate inscription over prehistoric figure, dated 1605,
El Morro, Cibola County, NM. Photograph: Russ Finley.

The earliest historic inscription on El Morro is that of Don Juan de Oñate who annexed New Mexico to the Spanish empire.  “In 1595 he was ordered by King Phillip II to colonize the northern frontier of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. His stated objective was to spread Roman Catholicism by establishing new missions in Nuevo México. He began the expedition in 1598, fording the Rio Grande (Río del Norte) near present day El Paso in late April.” (Wikipedia)

“In January, 1598 a colonizing expedition moved north out of San Geronimo (located in what is now the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico). It was under the leadership of Juan de Oñate, a resident of Zacatecas who was fifty years old at the time. It included 121 Spanish soldier-colonists, some with their families, several missionaries, and a number of persons of mixed Spanish and Indian descent – about 400 persons in all. The colonists took wagons, tools, livestock and everything else needed for conquest and settlement.” (Slater 1961:4)

“Late in April, 1598 the expedition crossed the Rio Grande, in the vicinity of modern El Paso, Texas, and proceeded north. Headquarters were made at the pueblo of Caypa, renamed San Juan, on the Rio Grande north of modern Santa Fe.” (Slater 1961:5)

"On April 30, 1598, he claimed all of the territory across the river crossing to the north for the Spanish Empire. That summer his party continued up the middle Rio Grande Valley to present day northern New Mexico, where he encamped among the Pueblo Indians. He founded the Province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México, and was its first colonial governor.”  (Wikipedia)

El Morro, Cibola County, NM. Photograph: Russ Finley.

The first known historic inscription to be placed on El Morro "is that of Don Juan de Oñate, governor and colonizer of New Mexico, and founder of the city of Santa Fe, who in 1605, on his return from a trip to the head of the Gulf of California, passed by El Morro and carved a record of his visit.” (

“Although his contract authorized Oñate to bring two ships a year “free of taxes and import duty” to New Mexico, the adelantado still had not traveled to the coast and identified a harbor. That challenge he met at last between October 1604 and April 1605, while the fifty or so colonists left all winter at San Gabriel told stories by the fire, made love, and wondered if the ocean had swallowed him up. To prove that it had not, a member of the party inscribed deeply in the sheer sandstone wall behind the pool at El Morro: “Adelantado don Juan de Oñate passed this way on the 16th of April 1605 returning from the discovery of the South Sea.” “I discovered a great harbor,” he wrote apprehensively to a new viceroy, “and clarified the reports of extraordinary riches and monstrosities never heard of before.” (Kessell 2002:86)

The translation of this inscription, the earliest known historic inscription at El Morro, and quite probably the earliest historic inscription in North America reads as follows:

There passed this way the Adelantado Don Juan
De Oñate, from the discovering of the South
Sea, on the 16th of April, 1605.” (Slater 1961:7)

It is not my intention here to present the whole story of Don Juan de Oñate (you can look that up at your local library, or online), just to present what might be the single earliest authentic historic inscription in North America. Why historic inscriptions instead of older Native American rock art? In many instances a historic inscription can actually tell a story, we can research the details behind its history and know much more of its meaning and content. That, in itself, can bring us an exciting involvement that is harder to find with the more ambiguous Native American rock art. In past postings I have presented inscriptions about Antoine Robidoux, the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, the 5th Cavalry, General Crook, the 2nd Colorado Cavalry, and others. While the primary focus of RockArtBlog will remain prehistoric rock art, I will continue periodically present historic material that I feel to be of interest.


Kessell, John L.
2002    Spain in the Southwest, A Narrative History of Colonial New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and California, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Slater, John M.
1961    El Morro, Inscription Rock, New Mexico, Plantin Press, Los Angeles.


Saturday, June 21, 2014


Havasupai Canyon panel. Picture

One of the first, and still most popular, examples of dinosaurs in rock art that creationists and young-earthers point to is the Havasupai Canyon hadrosaur (duck-billed dinosaur). Creationists are driven to prove the position that the bible says the earth is only 6,000 years old based upon 17th century Bishop Usher’s calculation that “the first day of creation began at nightfall preceding Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC” (Wikipedia).

This dinosaur petroglyph was discovered by Samuel Hubbard, Curator of Archaeology of the Oakland Museum, in the late 1800s. Hubbard led an expedition to the Havasupai Canyon area of the Grand Canyon. “On two occasions in the late 1800s, Samuel Hubbard, Curator of Archaeology of the Oakland Museum, visited an area of the Grand Canyon known as the Havasupai Canyon. As an evolutionist, he was amazed to find a petroglyph (carved rock drawing) of an elephant made by Native Americans. But another depiction was “cut into the sandstone much more deeply than the elephant.” Its height was 11.2 inches, with a neck approximately 5.1 inches in length and a tail of 9.1 inches. What kind of animal is it? Dr. Hubbard believed that he had found an ancient drawing of a dinosaur.”

Charles R. Knight  painting of a hadrosaur. 
Photograph from

I first heard of this one many years ago. When I was young these creatures were often pictured as standing upright on the tripod formed by their legs and tail, pretty much as this petroglyph shows. Recently, of course, paleontologists have rethought those old assumptions and now know that these creatures held their body and tail much more horizontally. What this means is that, where some time back this image seemed to make some sense, we now know that this is totally incorrect. That brands this either as an error of identification, or a hoax. Indeed some researchers now point to the shape of the head and suggest it might be a poorly drawn bird, but, of course, then the tail makes no sense at all.

Grand Canyon hadrosaur petroglyph showing the 
supposed "bullet hole" at the base of the tail.
Photograph from

“An example of Native American rock art carved into the walls of Grand Canyon. It was discovered in 1879 by E. L. Doheny and documented in 1924 by a scientific expedition which included Dr. Charles W. Gilmore, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, United States National Museum. The resulting publication reported as "fact" that "some prehistoric man made a pictograph of a dinosaur on the walls of this canyon..." Doheny Scientific Expedition, p.5. Recently someone used it as a target practice and you can see a bullet hole at the base of the tail. It shows just how old the etchings must be since the fresh bullet mark cuts through the thick "rock varnish". (

Now I have to question the “bullet hole” alluded to above. It shows in the photo as a white disk with not internal textural detail or shading visible and no sign of the color of the base rock. Even if a real hole had been heavily chalked to make it stand out it would show differences of light and shadow with the brightest side facing the direction of the sun and shadowing on the side facing away from the sun. This leads me to suspect that the “bullet hole” was created in Photoshop or Microsoft Paint and is not real. Notice in the photo of the petroglyph with the illustration by Paul Taylor (below) there is no bullet hole.

Havasupai Canyon petroglyph and a rendering by Paul Taylor of
how the model would have been standing were it an authentic
picture of a hadrosaur.

That brings us to the pair of pictures by Paul Taylor. He shows a photo of the petroglyph on the left and a painting of his interpretation of the actual animal on the right, and he has concluded that it is an Edmontosaurus. This is explained as follows: “For example, in his creationism-promoting book The Great Dinosaur Mystery, which is aimed at young readers, Paul Taylor shows a petroglyph from Havasupai Canyon in Arizona. He highlights the petroglyph with a white outline, shown alongside a painting labeled "Edmontosaurus" (a type of two-legged Hadrosaur dinosaur). As depicted by Taylor, the two profiles look virtually identical. To an unsuspecting reader (especially a child) this might be impressive, and foster the conclusion artist must have seen such a dinosaur.” 

Edmontosaurus, a typical hadrosaur, Credit: Wikipedia.

Edmontosaurus skeleton. Edmontosaurus was a typical
hadrosaur. Credit: Palaeontologia Electronica.

As I said above, fifty years ago this would seem to have made sense because our picture of all dinosaurs (including hadrosaurs) was quite different. Compare the illustrations above with the illustration of the hadrosaur from Wikipedia, and look at the reconstructed skeleton. Indeed, had it really been made by a Native American who co-existed with dinosaurs and could see them in person, he would have known that the tail should stick out straight and portrayed it that way. This in itself brands this petroglyph as a modern hoax. Either that, or it is meant to be something else and was done so poorly that it is totally unrecognizable. Either way, it certainly is not a hadrosaur dinosaur.



Friday, June 13, 2014


Chirotherium Track, Joseph City, NM. 
Printed in Mayor and Sarjeant, 2001.

On February 9, 2011, I posted a column entitled Dinosaur Footprints and the Giant Lizard Petroglyphs at CubCreek, Dinosaur National Monument (see the RockArtBlog archive). In this I discussed the possibility that the presence of the giant lizard petroglyphs was influenced by the nearby Cub Creek dinosaur track site. In other words large lizard tracks suggesting large lizards.

In this regard it is of interest that Adrienne Mayor has related that the Aztec Indians of Mexico identified fossil footprints in the rock as the “hand prints” of the great feathered God Quetzalcoatl (Mayor and Sarjeant 2001:156). Quetzalcoatl is usually portrayed as a giant feathered serpent. This may cast some light on the question of prehistoric meso-American influence on the peoples of the American southwest. The Hopi Snake Dance is held to bring rain, a primary consideration of the agricultural people of the arid southwest. Snakes, who live underground, are believed to take their message of supplication underground to the Horned Water Serpent named Palulukong (Tyler 1964:245), who is portrayed as a giant serpent wearing feathers, or horns, or sometimes both. Perhaps a meso-American influence provided the Hopi with the idea that fossil dinosaur footprints are handprints of the Great Horned Water Serpent Palulukong leading to their portrayal on the kilts worn by the Snake Dancers whose ceremonial efforts are believed to culminate in a supplication to Palulukong to provide the rain.

Pictograph above Chirotherium Track, Joseph City,
New Mexico. Printed in Mayor and Sargeant, 2001.

Near Joseph City, Arizona, a petroglyph was inscribed 800 to 1500 years ago above a slab of the Moenkopi formation exhibiting footprints. The petroglyph appears to be a schematic depiction of the Triassic Chirotherium tracks visible on that slab. (Mayor and Serjeant 2001:151)

We know that Native American hunters were consummate trackers, their lives sometimes depended upon following and finding the game animals that they and their families depended upon. They must have been fascinated by the sometimes very large tracks that they would see in solid rock. This would not only have attracted their attention, I believe that it would have had an effect upon their mythology and belief systems. In this case we have an example of a human made copy of a dinosaur footprint in the rock. In future postings I will revisit the subject of dinosaur tracks and rock art.


Faris, Peter
2011   Dinosaur Footprints and the Giant Lizard Petroglyphs at Cub Creek, Dinosaur National Monument, February 9, 2011,

Mayor, Adrienne and William A. S. Serjeant
2001    The Folklore of Footprints in Stone: From Classical Antiquity to the Present, Ichnos, Vol. 8, No. 2, 143-163.

Tyler, Hamilton A.
1964    Pueblo Gods and Myths, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Saturday, June 7, 2014


Photograph by Paul and Joy Foster,
near Green River, Utah.

In this picture taken by Paul and Joy Foster near Green River, Utah, we see a couple of interesting conundrums. First, in the lower center of the picture we see a seven-toed footprint, or seven-fingered handprint. Then we have the quadruped with its bizarre head; it either sports three horns with two little ears behind them, or one horn with two huge, long ears and two strange little things on the neck behind them.

The foot/hand/paw print, is an example of extreme polydactylism. The only real clue I can see to its identity would be the length of the toes/fingers. If they are short they should be toes, and if they are long they should be fingers. So, to make it more difficult, of course they are in between. The image has the overall shape of a hand with palm and fingers, but as I said if they are fingers they are pretty short. They are a little long for toes and the shape is really too wide for a footprint. As for the animal, what can I say? Are they claws - they are not curved as claws often are? I just present this as one of the weird ones. What's your guess?