Sunday, December 27, 2015


As of January 11, 2016, Google will be restricting the ability of people to use Twitter, Yahoo, Orkut, and other non-Google accounts to connect and follow Blogger (and Blogspot) blogs. In their own words:

"We encourage you to tell affected readers that if they use a non-Google Account, they need to sign up for a Google Account, and re-follow your blog." ( "With a Google Account they'll get blogs added to their Reading List, making it easier for them to see the latest posts and activity of the blogs they follow."

Please take this suggestion - I would hate to lose you.

Saturday, December 26, 2015


Engraving of a brush hut.
Marcos Garcia-Diez, and
Manuel Vaquero, 2015,

There have been many attempts to define shapes and symbols found in paleolithic paintings or engravings on the walls of caves in Europe as habitation sites or structures. For the most part those have not been generally accepted by scholars.

Now we have the recent announcement and presentation of the discovery of "an engraved schist slab recently found in the Molí del Salt site (North-eastern Iberia) and dated at the end of the Upper Paleolithic, ca. 13,800 years ago. This slab displays seven semicircular motifs that may be interpreted as the representation of dome-shaped huts. The analysis of individual motifs and the composition, as well as the ethnographic and archeological contextualization, suggests that this engraving is a naturalistic depiction of a hunter-gatherer campsite. Campsites can be considered the first human landscape, the first area of land whose visible features were entirely constructed by humans. Given the social meaning of campsites in hunter-gatherer life-styles, this engraving may be considered one of the first representations of the domestic and social space of a human group." (Garcia-Diez and Vaquero 2015)

Drawing of the schist slab with
engravings. Marcos Garcia-Diez,
and Manuel Vaquero, 2015, PLOS One.

"The iconography of Paleolithic art is largely made up of figurative depictions of animals and, less commonly, human figures. There is also a wide repertoire of non-figurative signs. It is generally assumed that this imagery shows the importance of the animal world in the economic, social, and ideological systems of prehistoric hunter-gatherers. Moreover, these animal figures exhibit the capacity to represent reality in a naturalistic style. The signs are commonly interpreted as symbolic representations with a heavy ideological burden. However, other interpretations offer a vision of Paleolithic art as social images linked to the realm of the everyday world, challenging its association with a socially restricted religious sphere." (Garcia-Diez and Vaquero 2015)

I suspect that these interpretations of non-figurative, "abstract" images probably teach us more about the scholar making the interpretation then they do about Paleolithic art. "It seems that Paleolithic humans were less interested in representing features of the landscape. In particular, natural landscape features would be rarely represented and uncertain, let alone those forming part of the human landscape (huts and campsites). The few representations interpreted as huts are formally undefined and open to alternative interpretations." (Garcia-Diez and Vaquero 2015)

The schist slab with locations of the
engravings circled. Marcos Garcia-Diez,
and Manuel Vaquero, 2015, PLOS One.

The schist slab from the Molí del Salt bears seven domed or rounded, flat-bottomed shapes engraved into the surface that truly look like the portrayal of a village of huts made by a group of hunter-gatherers.

"There are seven graphic units in the upper surface, while only a small set of lines are recognized in the lower one. The graphic units correspond to seven semicircular motifs whose interior was filled by straight parallel lines. The geometric structures are constructed from two different contour lines–one straight and one curved–that define the convex character. The straight line defines the lower part of the motif, so all structures have the same disposition. The interconnection between the two structural lines is blurred, as neither contour line touches or exceeds the other (normally, the bottom line exceeds the ends of the curved line). The number of internal lines varies between 7 and 11, mostly covering the entire interior space. The internal lines, in general, do not reach the contour lines, and they show a horizontal (two cases) or oblique (five cases, three of which show a marked tendency to vertical) disposition. The size of the graphic units varies between 43 and 20 mm in width and between 22 and 14 mm in height. If we consider only the semicircular shape, without considering the appendices of the lower contour line, the dimensions range between 30 and 18 mm in width and 22 and 14 mm in height." (Garcia-Diez and Vaquero 2015)

"We hypothesize that the seven semicircular motifs in the MS engraving represent dwellings or huts. In addition, the close formal, metric, and technical linkages among these motifs, as well as their distribution in the graphic field, indicate their compositional association and their execution in a short time. To support the interpretation of the MS engraving as a campsite, we will focus on three aspects for which we have ethnographic information: the outline of the huts, their proportions, and the number of huts in a campsite. The use of ethnographic information in archeological interpretation has been common since the 1970s. This is based on the assumption that there are some analogies between present and past societies that produce similar archeological outcomes. Hunter-gatherer architecture is strongly conditioned by one of the characteristics associated to most hunter-gatherer societies: residential mobility. According to this assumption, mobile hunter-gatherers will show common traits in their architectural patterns, regardless their historical contexts." (Garcia-Diez and Vaquero 2015)

Added to this argument is the undeniable fact that the natural materials used for construction of such huts really only go together effectively in a limited number of ways, and the modern (and presumably paleolithic) brain is inherently in favor of efficiency  and effectiveness in preparing such structures. These huts should be expected to resemble the brush huts found in hunter-gatherer societies found in other times and places, and so they do.


Garcia-Diez, Marcos and Manuel Vaquero,
2015    Looking at the Camp: Paleolithic Depiction of a Hunter-Gatherer Campsite, PLOS One, Published Dec. 2, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/Journal pone.0143002.

Saturday, December 19, 2015




FROM RockArtBlog

Little Dominguez Canyon,
Mesa County, Colorado

Friday, December 11, 2015


Tom Horn, 1894, inscription. South-central
Montana. Photograph by Timothy Urbaniak,
used by permission.

Periodically, I include historic inscriptions in RockArtBlog, not that they are art per se, but because they provide a direct link to the history of the Western US. This week I am illustrating the inscription pictured above, Tom Horn, 1894.

"Thomas "Tom" Horn, Jr. (November 21,1860 - November 20, 1903) was an American Old West scout, who carried out varied roles as hired gunman, Pinkerton range detective, cowboy, and soldier." (Wikipedia)

Tom Horn, photograph from internet.

"At Names Hill in western Wyoming, local ranchers continued to participate in the cultural tradition of inscribing at that site. During that time there (were) new threats coming to the cattle ranches across the Northern Plains in the form of rustlers. As part of an effort to control rustling, Wyoming ranchers from around Cheyenne hired Tom Horn as an enforcer. In 1894 he was brought in as a detective by the Swan Land & Cattle Company of Cheyenne. Reputed as a cold-blooded killer that liked to shoot from afar, the placement of an inscription reading "Tom Horn, 1894" (Figure 5.68) is placed high along sandstone rimrocks. An interesting note about the inscription site is that it is placed on a cliff at the top of a valley between Billings and Hardin, Montana, with an excellent vantage spot of the travel corridor, and a place in a break in the sandstone cliffs large enough to contain a horse and bedroll." (Urbaniak 2014:128)

"Believed to have committed 17 murders as a hured gunman in the West, in 1902 Horn was convicted of the murder of 14-year-old Willie Nickell near Iron Mountain, Wyoming. The boy was the son of sheep rancher Kels Nickell, who had been involved in a range feud with neighbor and cattle rancher Jim Miller. On the day before his 43rd birthday, Horn was executed by hanging in Cheyenne Wyoming.
While in jail he wrote his autobiography, Life of Tom Horn: Government Scout and Interpreter (1904), which was published posthumously. Numerous editions have been published of this book since the late 20th century, and debate continues as to whether he was guilty of Nickell's murder." (Wikipedia)

Tom Horn presents us with an interesting and controversial case because, as noted above, historians of he are still argue over his guilt or innocence in that particular murder. Horn had reportedly confessed to it while drunk but the circumstances throw enough doubt on the case to keep the question open. Not that Horn did not deserve hanging. His career of murder as a hired gun certainly qualified him for capital punishment. Reportedly, when asked if he had any last request before his 1903 hanging Horn asked to have a friend of his in another cell sing him the song "Life's Railway to Heaven" or "Life is Like a Mountain Railway." This is also one of my favorite hymns.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 

NOTE: Presented through the generosity of Tim Urbaniak, who compiled this material for his 2014 PhD thesis, HISTORIC INSCRIPTIONS OF THE NORTHERN PLAINS IDENTITY AND INFLUENCE IN THE RESIDUAL COMMUNICATION RECORD at the University of Montana, in Missoula.


Urbianik, Timothy Rostov,
2014    HISTORIC INSCRIPTIONS OF THE NORTHERN PLAINS IDENTITY AND INFLUENCE IN THE RESIDUAL COMMUNICATION, Dissertation Presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology The University of Montana Missoula, MT,  July 2014.


Saturday, December 5, 2015


On  November 6, 2011, I reviewed a paper by Ekkehart Malotki and Henry D. Wallace about the discovery of a possible petroglyph of a mammoth along the San Juan River, near Bluff, Utah. (Malotki and Wallace, 2011: 143)

In the article by Agenbroad and Wallace (2004) cited below the authors argue that the belief that Paleo-hunters did not live on the Colorado Plateau because the megafauna that they depended upon were absent is just a myth. They point to fossil remains located throughout the area in question, as well as rock art that they identify as the megafauna in question, as proof that both the animals and the hunters occupied the Colorado Plateau from 12,000 to 6,000 BP. (Agenbroad and Hesse 2004:189-195)

Fig. 16.7 - rock art showing
proposed mammoths, 
Agenbroad and Hesse, 2004.

If this is indeed the case, then the rock art that they show as evidence toward their claims must be illustrations of the extinct megafauna species (mammoth and bison) that existed during that period. The actual existence of rock art illustrating mammoths is somewhat problematical although opinion is not as closed against it as before.

The Clovis culture is a prehistoric Paleoindian culture, named after distinct stone tools found at Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1920s and 1930s. The Clovis culture appeared around 13,200 - 12,900 years before present, at the end of the last glacial period. Clovis is characterized by the manufacture of Clovis points and distinctive bone and ivory tools. Clovis peoples are considered to be the ancestors of most of the indigenous cultures of the Americas. (Wikipedia)
Some instances of mammoth remains with evidence of intentional butchering have been recorded and Clovis artifacts are often found with mammoth remains in archaeological contexts pointing to the Clovis culture as mammoth hunters.

"The distribution of 35 Clovis localities, most of which are surface finds, closely resembles the reported mammoth distribution. In other words, mammoth hunters were where the mammoths were."  (Agenbroad and Hesse 2004:194)

"Only 14 of the 42 documented mammoth sites (33 percent) have been radiocarbon dated. These dates range from 30,800 to 10,350 B.P., with no major temporal absence. The weighted average of the four youngest radiocarbon dates for mammoths is 11,270 ±  65 B.P. , which approximates the time of mammoth extinction on the Colorado Plateau (Agenbroad and Mead 1989)." (Agenbroad and Hesse 2004:195)

Fig. 16.7 - rock art of mammoths
and bison,  Agenbroad and Hesse,

"Figure 16.6 shows the known rock-art localities that depict mammoth and bison on the Colorado Plateau. Some of the mammoth petroglyphs are in the same canyons that contain mammoth skeletal and fecal remains. Figure 16.7 provides examples of mammoth rock art on the Plateau." (Agenbroad and Hesse 2004:195)

The so-called Moab mastodon, 
photograph by Dell Crandall, 

Proposed San Juan river mammoth
and bison petroglyph.  Ekkehart Malotki
and Henry D. Wallace, 2011.

While I am certainly open to the possibility of some rock art in North America portraying mammoths, I am skeptical about many of the claimed examples. I have previously argued against the authenticity of the so-called "Moab mastodon", and I have guardedly accepted the identification of a petroglyph along the San Juan river near Bluff, Utah, as a Columbian mammoth by Malotki and Wallace (2011). In Agenbroad and Hesse's figure 16.7, however, I fear a number of the illustrated examples do not strike me as convincing.

Farrington Springs Colorado petroglyph,
discovered by Mike Maselli, 2002. - image
rotated 90 degrees clockwise. Photograph
Peter Faris, 2002.

Farrington Springs Colorado petroglyph,
discovered by Mike Maselli, 2002. - image
rotated 90 degrees clockwise and inked in
on the photo. Photograph Peter Faris, 2002.

One image that I personally do find very convincing was discovered in 2002 by Mike Maselli on an outlying boulder at the Farrington Springs site in southeastern Colorado. In this instance Larry Agenbroad disagreed, stating he did not believe that the image represented any type of pachyderm (personal communication). On the question of mammoths in rock art, I fear the votes are not yet in, and we will have to wait a while for further data before we can state conclusively yes or no.


Agenbroad, Larry D., and India S. Hesse,
2004    Megafauna, Paleoindians, Petroglyphs, and Pictographs of the Colorado Plateau, in The Settlement of the American Continent: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Human Biogeography, edited by C. Michael Barton, Geoffrey A. Clark, David R. Yesner, and Georges A. Pearson, University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Malotki, Ekkehart, and Henry D. Wallace
2011    Columbian Mammoth Petroglyphs From The San Juan River Near Bluff, Utah, United States, in Rock Art Research 2011, vol.28, number 2, pages 143-152, Australian Rock Art Research Association, Caulfield South, Victoria, Australia.