Saturday, February 13, 2016


Fremont pictograph, great blue heron, Rabbit Valley, CO.
Photograph: Peter Faris, 1981.

Close-up of great blue heron pictograph, Rabbit
Valley, CO. 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. 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.

Figure 11.1.2, page 150, William M. Eaton,
1999, Odyssey of the Pueblo Indians.

"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 concept.

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 supersitition 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. "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 actual panel this can be seen as a feathered plume which is actually attached to the bird. Careful examination of the photo shows that the surface of the area surrounded by dots had been scraped smooth. It would have originally appeared lighter against the patina of the rock surface.

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.

Great blue heron, Wikipedia.

So, do I have a better suggestion? This is in a drainage of the Colorado River in a stretch where it goes through a very dry countryside near the Colorado/Utah border. If a native inhabitant were going to see a great blue heron in the wild it would have certainly been near here, along the Colorado River. And, we still have the fact that people of the Puebloan and Fremont cultures were agricultural. This leads me to suggest that the heron, as a water bird, is a logical image to find symbolically representing the needed moisture for their crops. It is an idea anyway.


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


1 comment:

  1. Love your work. I live in western Colorado. What do you think it with the heron on the wall? (I just visited this site)