Saturday, August 1, 2015


Rabbit Valley, McDonald Creek, Mesa County,
Colorado. Photograph Peter Faris, 1981.

The painted bird in this panel is found in Rabbit Valley, the McDonald Creek drainage, in western Colorado, and is attributed to the Fremont Culture. I first visited it and took photographs in 1981. From the size and confirmation of the beak I have always thought of this bird as a great blue heron, although there are other possible identifications of it as well.

Great blue heron, public domain.

In his book, Odyssey of the Pueblo Indians, William M. Eaton, designated it a Puebloan calendar, based upon the numbers and patterns of dots on the chest of the bird as seen below.

Eaton, William M., 1999, Odyssey of
the Pueblo Indians, Turner Publishing
Co., Paducah, KY., p. 150.

"It is a calendar that utilizes dot patterns for a year (of 12 or 13 months) and is based upon a 28 day lunar month. The total of days (13 x 28) produces a year of 364 days. The 28 dots in the lower box represent days and were entered by working downward and to the right. The last row of dots shows the artist in the process of rechecking his dot count. Then a new and final dot was entered in the right edge of the box which indicated 12 vs. the desired 13 calendar months. But why not show 13 months. the answer is that this would have violated ceremonial rules of "duality," and would be" bad luck"." (Eaton 1999: 150)

Well, Mr. Eaton does have the correct count of the numbers of dots. I cannot, however, follow the reasoning that says it has to have 13 dots for months, but stopped with 12 because 13 would be bad luck. It seems to me that fear of 13 (triskadekaphobia) is pretty much a European/Christian.

According to Wikipedia:
"Triskadekaphobia (from Greek tris meaning "3", kai meaning "and", deka meaning "10" and phobos meaning "fear" or "morbid fear") is fear of the number 13 and avoidance to use it; it is a superstition and related to the specific fear of the 13th person at the Last Supper being Judas, who betrayed Jesus Christ and ultimately hanged himself." (Wikipedia)

Now, I admit that there is still a lot to learn about the Fremont Indian culture, but I am willing to predict that they were not Christians of European descent. The Fremont culture was a pre-Columbian culture found in eastern Utah and northwestern Colorado from roughly AD 1 to AD 1300, and not Puebloan. "It was adjacent to, roughly contemporaneous with, but distinctly different from the Anasazi culture." (Wikipedia) 

Note, the real panel has a great deal of other imagery on it that Eaton had to ignore. One other interpretation that he wrongly made is his portrayal of the star chart over the left shoulder (our left, not the bird's) of the heron. In the photograph of the panel this can be seen as a feathered plume which is actually attached to the bird.

So here is my argument with Eaton, he includes the Fremont Culture as a Puebloan group which they were not according to all references. And then he bases his analysis and interpretation upon a European Christian superstition which the Fremont people most assuredly did not share. So while I have no doubt that Mr. Eaton was sincere in his studies, and he certainly had a great deal of fun in the belief that he was making important contributions to the subject of rock art studies, his efforts have mainly contributed to the kind of sloppy interpretation that makes serious students of rock art cringe. Sorry Mr.  Eaton, nice try but no cigar.


Eaton, William M.
1999    Odyssey of the Pueblo Indians, Turner Publishing Co., Paducah, KY.


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