Saturday, October 4, 2014


Red Ant, Bluebird, Sun, Crow, Katsina, Corn, and Coyote clan
symbols. From Don D. Christensen, Jerry Dickey, and Steven
M. Freers, 2013, Rock Art of the Glen Canyon Region,
Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, p. 180A.

I have recently written some postings on the subject of tallies in rock art. Another example of rock art panels that needs to be discussed in this light are the Clan Symbol Rosters found in certain locations of the southwest. These are sections of cliffs or boulders where a grouping (often a line or row) of identical symbols has been engraved. In order to qualify as a Clan Symbol Roster obviously the image has to be identifiable as the emblem of a specific clan. These assemblages are predominately created by Hopi Indians on their annual pilgrimage to gather sacred salt for their ceremonies. One of the most extensive groupings of such images is the Clan Symbol Roster at Willowsprings, Arizona, where some 40 boulders display a recorded 2,178 symbols. (Michaelis 1981:3-5)

Michaelis (1981) identified Willowsprings as Tutuveni, a Hopi shrine on the Salt Pilgrimage Trail to the Grand Canyon and recorded imagery that designated approximately 40 clans from the Hopi villages.

This was described by Campbell Grant in his 1967 book Rock Art of the American Indian. “An American Indian clan is an intratribal group, related by blood and organized to promote its social and political welfare. The clan is named for the totem animal or object that is considered its guardian spirit. This is not to be confused with the personal guardian spirit obtained by the individual during puberty dreams and trances. The membership in a clan is usually inherited at birth and the individual is identified during his lifetime as a member of the Bear Clan or the Eagle Clan or the Oak Clan – the possibilities are almost endless. Each clan has one or more symbols to represent the clan.
Many of the often repeated designs found pecked in the rocks, particularly in the Southwest, are clan symbols. At Willow Springs near Tuba City, Arizona, there are sandstone boulders covered with drawings of many different elements. There are repeats of each element, usually neatly arranged in a row. Modern Hopi Indians are able to recognize all but a few of these as clan symbols. Each symbol records that a member of that particular clan passed by that way on a trip from the Hopi villages to collect salt at the springs near the junction of the Colorado and the Little Colorado. (Grant 1967:38)

Symbols of the Crow, Corn, Red Ant, and possibly Katsina clans.
From Don D. Christensen, Jerry Dickey, and Steven M. Freers,
2013, Rock Art of the Glen Canyon Region, Sunbelt
Publications, San Diego. p.179.

Christianson, Dickey, and Freers (2013) have pointed out that “we must be open to viewing them in such a literal context, and also recognize that they may be symbolic of other concepts and may have contained multiple meanings over time”. They also point out that “it is possible that some motifs might actually be clan symbols that cannot be identified by contemporary Native American consultants because those clans are now extinct or have relocated to the New Mexico pueblos. In any case Hopi elders have identified many of these images as being clan symbols, and traditional Hopi continue to exercise a number of ritual activities in the region.”

My question, as implied in the title of this posting – is a Clan Symbol Roster actually a tally, or not? I ask that because, as I have written previously, I am uncomfortable with calling every instance of multiple repeated images a tally as advocated by James Rauff (2013) (See my September 6, 2014, posting: Tallies in Rock Art Continued.) To a great extent the answer to this will depend upon the opinion of the viewer, and I suspect that my answer will never fully agree with James Rauff. I feel that whether or not a grouping of similar images is a tally depends upon whether or not what is important about the group is the number of images. A warrior counted 3 coups, or we captured 8 rifles in battle, or 11 horses – the purpose is found in the enumeration of something. To me that is not what a Clan Symbol Roster is about. Yes, of course it can be seen as a record of how many times members of my clan visited the site, but I suspect that they are making each image to inform the spirits of their presence this particular time. I see it more as an offering than a tally. What do you think?

NOTE: The beautiful color photographs accompanying this are from the 2013 book Rock Art of the Glen Canyon Region by Don D. Christensen, Jerry Dickey, and Steven M. Freers, an excellent summary of the complicated rock art styles and chronology of this important region. (See my listing under References).


Christensen, Don D., Jerry Dickey, and Steven M. Freers,
2013    Rock Art of the Glen Canyon Region, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego.

Grant, Campbell
1967    Rock Art of the American Indian, Promontory Press, New York.

Michaelis, Helen
1981    Willowsprings: A Hopi Petroglyph Site, Journal of New World Archaeology, 4(2), p. 2-23.

Rauff, James V.

2013    Rock Art Tallies: Mathematics on Stone in Western North America, Journal of        Humanistic Mathematics, 3(2), p.76-88.

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