Saturday, March 5, 2016


Bird-Headed Figure. Photograph:
John and Daphne Rudolph. 

This illustration is a new example of an Ancestral Puebloan bird-headed figure that I was given recently. The photograph was taken by John and Daphne Rudolph and provides another excellent example of this interesting theme. They had it labeled as from Train Rock on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation in southwest Colorado. I have not seen it in person, so I do not take any personal credit for the picture.

Bird-headed figure, Kiva Point, Ute
Mountain Tribal Park, Montezuma
County, CO. Photograph: Peter
Faris, June 1981.

On March 5, 2011, I posted a column that was titled BIRD-HEADED FIGURES. In this I presented a petroglyph panel from Kiva Point on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation in southeastern Colorado that includes a portrayal of an Ancestral Puebloan figure with a duck-like bird perched on its head, and I pointed out the fact that Lovelock Cave in Nevada held 3,000-year-old duck decoys. I cited Sandra Olsen's description of their creation and use:

"Remarkable preservation at Lovelock Cave, Nevada, has led to the recovery of 3,000-year-old duck decoys - - - that were made by stretching a bird skin over a tule reed form. Many ethnographic reports describe hunters putting duck skins - on their heads as they swam right up to live ducks. They captured the ducks by grabbing their feet and pulling them underwater, so as not to disturb other nearby fowl." (Olsen 1998:104)

It is difficult to see these images and not think of them as portrayals of one of these ancient duck hunters wearing his duck decoy on his head.

Cipikne katcina, From Fewkes,
             Hopi Katcinas, 1985.                 

Salimopia katcinas, From
Fewkes, Hopi Katcinas, 1985.

Other possibilities exist, of course, some suggest that they are early examples of katcina costuming. There are also examples of duck katcinas including Pawik and Cipikne of the Hopi and the various colored Salimopias of the Zuni (Fewkes 1985). Indeed, this also seems to be quite plausible.
Bird-headed figures, Alex
Patterson, p. 49.

I have also included again an illustration from Patterson (1992) which shows a number of examples of the theme of bird-headed figures. Some examples show an anthropomorph with a bird perched or standing on top of its head, and others have the head replaced by a bird. Neither of the examples I have posted are included in Patterson's compilation, but that is not surprising considering the popularity of this theme. He could not have covered all of the known examples.

Given all this, I would love to see someone do a book on these bird-headed figures. A fascinating subject to ponder. Thank you John and Daphne.


Fewkes, Jesse Walter,
1985   Hopi Katcinas, Dover Publications Inc., New York.

Olsen, Sandra L.
1998   Animals in American Indian Life: An Overview, pages 95-118, in Stars Above, Earth Below: American Indians and Nature, Marsha C. Bol, editor,  Roberts Rinehart Publishers, Niwot, CO.

Patterson, Alex

1992   A Field Guide to Rock Art Symbols of the Greater Southwest, Johnson Books, Boulder.

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