Saturday, June 9, 2018


5LA5598, Boulder Site, Pinyon
Canyon, Photo US Army, Fort Carson.

Petroglyphs on boulders at 5LA5598,
         Boulder Site, Pinyon Canyon, Photo
                from Larry Loendorf.

Back in the 1980s, Dr. Lawrence Loendorf organized and directed a ground-breaking rock art recording project on the Fort Carson Colorado training grounds known as the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site in Las Animas County, Colorado. This is a detached training ground in southeastern Colorado belonging to Fort Carson. Larry organized interdisciplinary teams to comprehensively record, not only the rock art and the surface it is on, but the surroundings, thus capturing a detailed picture of it in its actual environs. This picture would include the geography, geology, botany, and data on climate and resources, anything that could help understand the culture that produced the art.

Quadruped Petroglyphs on
boulders at 5LA5598, Boulder Site,
Pinyon Canyon, Photo from
Larry Loendorf.

I found this to be, at that time, eye-opening and revolutionary, and I am still impressed by his concentration and the depth of his detail. I recently contacted Loendorf to ask for a statement on his approach to recording rock art for RockArtBlog, and this is his reply.

"The rock art recording completed by Sacred Sites Research, Inc. (SSR) follows a process that developed over the past 50 years. The initial decision in rock art recording is whether the intent is to record the rock art site or the rock art at a site. Although this sounds like the same thing, the recording of a rock art site is quite different than simply recording the rock art.
The SSR approach is to record the whole site with emphasis on its setting as well as the rock art." (Loendorf 2018)

"Time and again by recording the whole site SSR makes discoveries that are important to understanding the rock art. The vegetation at a site, especially what is growing along the cliff wall or in the rockshelter, can include medicinal plants like Datura or tobacco. There are frequently small rock shrines or fasting beds near rock art sites. We find the tools used to make the petroglyphs or pictographs, often at the base of the panel. The most common find is a portion of a painting or petroglyph that has fallen out of its original place. These can serve as samples for dating or additional studies." (Loendorf 2018)

"Of course, SSR also records the rock art. The methods used for this work have changed through the years with new technology that significantly improves the process. DStretch software and DStretch enabled cameras (now cell phones) is the most important new technology although the use of drones to map large sites with multiple panels, is a close second. Other new techniques like the use of portable x-ray fluorescence instruments to study pigments, or small digital microscopes to examine areas of superimposition are important advances and there are others that artists use in completing their scale drawings. However, SSR rock art teams learn the most by recording the whole site." (Loendorf 2018)

He is describing an in-depth, detailed study of the rock art as well as its surroundings. He illustrated this point by describing a discovery on a recent recording project at a site near Carlsbad, New Mexico, Kee's Site.

Kee's Site, near Carlsbad,
New Mexico. Photo from
Larry Loendorf.

"Recently on a project near Carlsbad, New Mexico, we recorded Kee's Painted Shelter, a site that has long been known but never fully recorded. The Kee's stie has mainly abstract figures with a few representational ones covering its wells and ceiling. The site is a long oval-shaped rockshelter in the canyon wall. Across from Kee's, slightly upstream, in the opposite canyon wall is the Honest site. The Honest site was excavated by Susan Applegarth in the 1970s and found to contain a fairly thick layer of Archaic-age deposits circa. 3000 years of age. Applegarth mentioned the Kee's site but did not incorporate it into her research.
During our project, I was near the Honest site while the crew was completing drawings of the paintings at the Kee's site. Even though the two sites are some distance apart, I could clearly hear every word they were saying. Since sounds carry better at night when temperatures are cooler, it is apparent the Kee's site has an auditory component that we would have overlooked. It also serves as a link between the two sites in a way that would not have been discovered without recording the whole site and not just the rock art." (Loendorf 2018)

Although I opened this column with a description of my positive and enthusiastic response to Loendorf's work back in the 1980s, it applies doubly now because of the technological improvements (such as DStretch, and X-ray fluorescence) that have been made since then, and which he makes use of on his rock art recording projects. Larry produces arguably some of the most complete reports available today on his rock art recording projects, and his work should stand as an example for quite some time.

His business: Sacred Sites Research is a 501(c)3 non-profit, and is located at 6220 Mojave Street NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87120.

Illustrations and quotes from Larry Loendorf, and also from:

Loendorf, Lawrence L.
2008 Thunder and Herds, Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, CA.

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