Saturday, July 11, 2015


View of Fate Bell Shelter, Seminole Canyon
State Park, Val Verde County, TX.
Photo: March 2004, Peter Faris.

Among other aspects of the fascination in rock art is the material question or physical aspect of their presence, especially the tools and materials used to create them. I make special note of any reports of tools and materials I come across - especially the pigments used in pictographs. Some evidence of this came from excavations in the wonderful Fate Bell rock shelter, in Val Verde County, Texas.

Fate Bell Shelter-2, Val Verde County, TX.
Photo: March 2004, Peter Faris.

“The Pecos River style paintings utilized a number of colors in highly interesting combinations. Depending upon which subdivision of the style they belong to, one color was often used to outline another, and alternating lines of color are common. A dark red was the most frequently used color, and next in descending order of frequency were black, light red, yellow, orange, and white. The red, orange, and yellow shades were obtained from ocher, the black appears to be carbon, and the white was derived from clay.” (Newcomb 1967:41-42)

Fate Bell Shelter, Seminole Canyon
State Park, Val  Verde County, TX.
Photo: Teresa Weedin, February 1995. 

The 1930s excavation of Fate Bell Shelter produced samples of the paint that were used to create the pictographs. “At depths of 26 and 32 inches, against the wall of the shelter, at the 145-foot line from the south, were uncovered two unusual pieces of limonite, or yellow ochre. The one from a depth of 26 inches was broken and shattered at the edges of the break, but is about 14 inches long. It is triangular in cross-section and comes to a point at each end. Two other features of interest are: (1) the bottom side is flat, while the other two sides are slightly convex; (2)one side has four shallow grooves, or depressions, running lengthwise. The grooves are about one-fourth inch wide and suggest wear by a fiber brush, the edge of a pebble, or the end of a round stick. The other bar is of the same shape, slightly smaller, and without grooves. The presence of pictographs of a mustard-yellow color would indicate that these bars of ocher of the same color, were to be used as paint.” (Pearce 1933:55)

Bar of yellow ocher, Fate Bell Shelter,
Val Verde County, Texas, p. 50,
Pearce and Jackson, 1933.

“In addition to the two shaped bars of ocher, one lump of orange-colored ocher and ten lumps of various sizes of red ocher, or hematite, were found.
Among the rubbish was found a charcoal “pencil” that showed unmistakable signs of use.” (Pearce 1933:56)

It is not that common to find samples of the paint used in pictograph sites. The only other location I know of is Shield Cave in Glenwood Canyon, Eagle County, Colorado, which I wrote about in “Ochre Pigments In Pictographs,” December 26, 2011. I know there must be many other sites where paint materials have been found along with the pictographs they were used in the creation of, I just cannot personally recall any. This is quite unlike the case with petroglyphs where the hammerstones used to create them are fairly common on the ground in their locations. In any case, in a field where so much has to depend on opinion and interpretation, it is a joy to once in a while find actual factual data and evidence to examine.


Newcomb, W. W., Jr.
1967    The Rock Art of Texas Indians, Paintings by Forrest Kirkland, University of Texas Press, Austin and London.

Pearce, J. E., and A. T. Jackson,
1933    A Prehistoric Rock Shelter In Val Verde County, Texas, Anthropological Papers of the University of Texas, Vol. 1, No. 3, Bureau of Research in the Social Sciences, Study No. 6, University of Texas, Austin.

No comments:

Post a Comment