Saturday, June 18, 2016


Pictograph at Abri Faravel,
southern France, 7,000' in elevation.

An article published online at Live Science, by Stephanie Pappas, Live Science contributor, and titled Highest-Altitude Prehistoric Rock Art Revealed, claims that pictographs found at a rock shelter in the southern French Alps named Abri Faravel, are the highest-altitude examples of rock art ever recorded. "In 2010, researchers found paintings decorating the ceiling of the rock shelter, consisting of parallel lines as well as what look like two animals facing each other. Excavations reveal signs of human activity starting in the Mesolithic (the period between about 10,000 B.C. and 5,000 B.C.) and extending all the way to the Middle Ages." (Pappas 2016) Abri Faravel is located at 2,133 meters (approximately 7,000 feet) elevation.

Pictographs at Abri Faravel,

Now I have read a number of Stephanie's articles in the past and am generally a big admirer of her writing. The blatant inaccuracy of this one, however, just cannot be passed up. I reread it for accuracy and found the statement that they are the "highest-elevation prehistoric rock paintings ever discovered." (Pappas 2016) As I looked at it again I knew that this just could not be right so I got out my topo maps and checked some sites from around Colorado that I was pretty sure would come in at over 7,000 feet above sea level in elevation.

Promontory on a ranch outside of 
Clarke, Colorado. 7,500' - 7,800' elevation.Photograph
Peter Faris, July, 1986.

Carrot man pictograph on a ranch
outside of Clarke, Colorado.
Photograph Peter Faris, July, 1986.

Cactus man pictograph on a ranch
outside of Clarke, Colorado.
Photograph Peter Faris,
July, 1986.

I found a couple of good examples from right here in Colorado. My first example is from a rock shelter north of Steamboat Springs, outside of Clarke Colorado, on a private ranch. This is a small shelter on a high promontory in the neighborhood of 7,500 to 7,800* feet in elevation from my topo maps. In this unlikely location we found a couple of red-painted figures and some undecipherable marks, which seemed to be Fremont in style (although what Fremont were doing up there is a mystery to me).

La Garita painted panel, San Luis
Valley, Colorado. 7,700' - 7,800'
elevation. Photograph Peter Faris,
May, 2006.

My second example is the painted pictograph site from La Garita in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado. This wonderful site is assumed to be Ute in provenance. It is somewhere around 7,700 to 7,800* feet in elevation as best I can work out from the topo maps. 

So what about this claim that Abri Faravel contains the highest-altitude rock art ever recorded. Did the original authors provide Stephanie with inaccurate information, or was it just a misinterpretation. I will certainly give her the benefit of doubt. I suspect it was a misinterpretation of a statement sort of like "it is the highest site discovered in (southern France, or Europe, or wherever)" that just got misunderstood. But it brings up a great question. What would the highest elevation rock art site be? If you have some candidates please let me know. Where is your highest elevation rock art site?


* * I did not get my elevations from USGS topo maps, but with the Colorado Atlas and Gazetteer from DeLorme, so I can only claim that the elevations I cite above are my best estimates.


Pappas, Stephanie,

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