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.


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