Saturday, October 1, 2016


One aspect of the broader field of rock art is the geoglyph. "A geoglyph is a large design or motif (generally longer than 4 meters) produced on the ground." (Wikipedia) In this posting I am going to present the idea of the modern hillside initial as a geoglyph, and discuss a few examples.

Hummingbird geoglyph, Nazca, Peru.
Image from National Geographic,
Volume 217(3), p.62.

The first images that come to mind when discussing geoglyphs are the Nazca Lines, formed by removing patinated rocks from the ground to create lines and patterns with the lighter material beneath.

Uffington White Horse, Great
Britain. From Wikipedia.

Cerne-abbas giant, Great
Britain. From Wikipedia.

England has its great chalk hillside figures although their ages and provenance are really unknown.

Here, in the United States, a modern manifestation of geoglyphs are the hillside initials overlooking so many towns. According to Wikipedia "hillside letters or mountain monograms are a form of geoglyph (more specifically hill figures) common in the American West, consisting of large single letters, abbreviations, or messages emblazoned on hillsides, typically created and maintained by schools or towns. There are approximately 500 of these geoglyphs, ranging in size from a few feet to hundreds of feet tall. They form an important part of the western cultural landscape, where they function as symbols of school pride and civic identity, similar to water towers and town slogans on highway "welcome to" signs in other regions." (Wikipedia)

Today, the "A" in fall, Fort Collins, Colorado.
From alumni_relations@Mailing.

Painting the "A", 1923, From  alumni_relations@Mailing.

My undergraduate Alma Mater, Colorado State University, is represented by a large "A" on the foothills of the mountains west of Fort Collins, Colorado. Before 1957, Colorado State University was Colorado Agricultural and Mechanical College (Colorado A & M), nicknamed the "Aggies", thus the "A". The large "A" was created with rocks and  whitewash on the hill in 1924, and is renewed annually as a rite.

Butte, Montana. Photograph
Peter Faris, June 27, 2016.

School of Mines, Golden, Colorado.

I recently photographed this large "M" for Montana on the hills over Butte, Montana, and another "M" is emblazoned on the side of Lookout Mountain, at Golden, Colorado, for the Colorado School of Mines.

Most discussions of the Nazca Lines, as well as the British Chalk Figures, and indeed  of any prehistoric to antique geoglyphs, make the a priori assumption that they represent a religious or spiritual sentiment of their makers, in other words, the motive for their creation is assumed to be cult related.

I also assume that the motive for the creation of a hillside initial to represent a school is usually tied up with sports enthusiasm for the school's teams, and we all know that a collection of sports fans is pretty much a cult in and of itself. In light of this perhaps we need to reevaluate our opinion of the prehistoric/antique figures, or of the new ones. Do people really ever change?



National Geographic Magazine, Volume 217(3), p.62.


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