Saturday, June 2, 2018


It wasn't done by the butler in the library . . . . . it was done in the Missouri Breaks, by the Blackfoot and the Crow.

Cover: Horse Raiders in the Missouri
Breaks,  Keyser and Minick, 2018,
Oregon Archaeological Society,

Back in the dim past (1970s and 80s) when I was only a few years into my studies of rock art, I was lucky enough to meet Jim Keyser, the only archaeologist I know who had the courage at that time to state that we could, in fact, interpret rock art and learn a lot about it and the people who made it, not just record it. Since then, Jim's publications with a number of collaborators, provide an education in how to approach the subject of meaning in rock art. Now I have the distinct pleasure of presenting to you a 2018 book by James D. Keyser, and David L. Minick, Horse Raiders in the Missouri Breaks: Eagle Creek Canyon Petroglyphs, Montana, another volume in the series published by the Oregon Archaeological Society in Portland (

Eagle Creek Canyon Petroglyphs
site, 24CH757, Montana.

Stylistic comparisons,
Fig. 12, p. 22.

Most rock art books are large regional surveys or site reports, but this is an in-depth analysis of the rock art of a single locale, but (as with all of Keyser's work) with a very broad range of comparative material explaining and establishing it in time and place. It includes very detailed descriptions of the rock art, and comparisons to ledger-book art as well. Including over 100 pages on just six panels at a single site (just five panels if you discount panel three which is a modern autograph - vandalism), its detailed chronologic and stylistic classification will inform studies over a much broader region, and its approach to the study of rock art sets an example that we can all benefit from. For example: it includes eight pages (31 - 38) of analysis of saddles in rock art. I also count forty pages devoted to interpretation of the rock art at the site.

Jim Keyser with a recording crew, 
Eagle Creek Canyon project.

From his beginnings in rock art studies Keyser has  propounded the theory that Native American winter counts and ledger book art provide a lexicon that we can use to inform our analysis of rock art imagery. Over his productive career Keyser has also accumulated comparative files of other rock art sites which join the winter counts and ledger book art in his lexicon of examples. This analysis, based on Keyser's huge comparative files, also places it in the broader context of regional rock art, and Native American art which could be applied to other art forms and media.

Plate 5, Horse, Carved and 
abraded on Panel 5.

David Minick is a long-time member of Oregon Archaeological Society and member of Keyser's rock art research team. His profession was Photo-journalist and Photographer and for the last 5 -6 years he has done much of their camera work specializing in DStretch analysis, along with lab work. He has also co-published some site reports with Keyser from Oregon, Washington, and Utah, especially recovering imagery with DStretch.

Plate 2, Horse and rider
from Panel 2.

This partnership has combined their talents to illustrate an example for the way rock art sites should be approached. As a result of their extensive analysis the authors have developed an explanation of the presence of the rock art being studied as an ancient form of tagging, or calling cards. Back on March 13, 2011, I posted a column titled Tagging and Territorial Marking in Rock Art, looking at the question as to whether some rock art was the equivalent of the modern form of vandalism - tagging. The idea is that it is a mark left by someone for someone else to find, not quite in the sense of "Kilroy was here," but more in a challenging sense, like "I was here and there was nothing you could do about it." Keyser and Minick have, of course, provided a much more thorough explanation of rock art as a "calling card."

In their analysis the examples of Blackfoot and Crow rock art in the same location are successive messages from one group to the other, taunting them. In their theory the basic motive was the Plains Indian phenomenon of horse raiding, stealing horses from an enemy group. This site, Eagle Creek Canyon in Montana, they present as being located in the area bordering between both tribes and on a natural route for horse raiding. If my group was successful I might leave a horse image on the cliff to taunt you, and after a reciprocal raid your group might leave a horse image there to trump mine.
Five Star Book.

This volume provides a lesson as to how rock art analysis should be conducted. It can be ordered from the Oregon Archaeological Society at


Keyser, James D., and David L. Minick,
2018 Horse Raiders in the Missouri Breaks: Eagle Creek Canyon Petroglyphs, Montana, Oregon Archaeological Society, Portland.

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