Saturday, November 25, 2023


Partial solar eclipse, 14 October 2023. Internet photograph, public domain.

I am writing this a little over a month after viewing the solar eclipse of 14 October 2023. Where I live the moon had covered 75-80 percent of the sun. During that viewing I tried to see if I could make out the partially obscured sun with my naked eyes – the answer is no. Even with  that much of the sun obscured the remainder is so bright that it is all that you see - no shape, just bright light. This brought me to the question are there partial eclipses in rock art? My first reaction to this question would be no. The creators of the rock art would not have had the special glasses that are required to look at an eclipse without damaging your eyes.

I have, however, come up with one situation which I believe might let one see a partial eclipse without any accessories. A cloud cover of just the right density should block enough of the light allowing a viewer to see the partial eclipsing of the sun. So, perhaps there are some images of partial eclipses after all.

And even if there were pictographs and petroglyphs of a partial eclipse how would we know it? If it existed it would be a crescent image and crescents have always been identified as lunar symbols in rock art studies.

We know that indigenous cultures knew of eclipses and had their explanations for what they were, and what they portended.

In North America, the Nootkans of Vancouver Island had their own explanation for eclipses. "The Nootkans saw evidence of spirits everywhere. They often prayed for power to the Four Chiefs of Above, Horizon, Land, and undersea. In a pleasant sky country was ka-u-c, the supreme controller of primary resources communicated with by chiefs only. Moon and Sun, husband and wife, were the highest powers for most, prayed to for food and luck, especially Moon. Swallowing of either by a great Sky Codfish caused eclipses. The Thunderbird's flapping wings made thunder, and lightning flashes were feathered serpents, his dogs." (Arima and Dewhirst 1990:404) They refer to “swallowing of either by a great Sky Codfish.” Presumably, a partial eclipse would be seen as the great Sky Codfish taking bites out of the Sun or Moon.

Mayan Eclipse Glyph. Image from Bruce Love, 2017.

In 2017, Love produced a paper on the Mayan “eclipse glyph” in which he gave examples from various codices, arguing that the so-called “eclipse glyph” only represents a real eclipse in the Dresden Codex and illustrated six examples of these. He did not, however, refer to any of them as partial eclipses. I have not seen any examples of these carved or painted on rock, but they might exist.

Aztec eclipse symbol, 
Suarez and Garcia-Acosta,
2021, Fig. 7, p. 5.

Aztec eclipse symbol, 
Suarez and Garcia-Acosta,
2021, Fig. 5, p. 4.

In 2021, Suarez and Garcia-Acosta wrote about earthquake records in the Aztec codex Telleriano-Remensis which also included a couple of illustrations of symbols that they identified as eclipse symbols. “The Codex Telleriano-Remensis, produced in sixteenth century Mexico on European paper, is one of the finest surviving examples of Aztec manuscript painting. It holds the earliest written evidence of earthquakes in the Americas. Its Latinized name comes from Charles-Maurice Le Tellier, archbishop of Reims, who had possession of the manuscript in the late 17th century. The Codex is held at the Bibliotheaaue national de France in Paris. The Codex Telleriano-Remensis is divided into three sections. The first section, spanning the first seven pages, describes the 365-day solar calendar, called the xiuhpohualli. The second section, spanning pages 8 to 24, is a tonalamatl, describing the 260-day tonalpohualli calendar. The third section is a history, itself divided into two sections which differ stylistically. Pages 25 to 28 are an account of migrations during the 12th and 13th centuries, while the remaining pages of the codex record historical events, such as the ascensions and deaths or rulers, battles, earthquakes, and eclipses, from the 14th century to the 16th century, including events of early Colonial Mexico.” (Wikipedia) This is another one to look for on the rocks.

So, obviously my original assumption is wrong. If the Aztecs could record partial eclipses in their Codeci, there may well be many other records going unrecognized.  While the Codex Telleriano-Remensis is drawn on paper, not stone, it proves that indigenous populations of the New World knew of partial solar eclipses, so yes, it is possible that some of them are recorded on stone in rock art. This may mean that some of the so-called lunar crescents on the rocks are actually meant to record a partial solar eclipse.

Fern Cave, Lava Beds National Monument. Photograph from Armitage et al., 1997.

One well known example comes from Fern Cave in Lava Beds National Monument in northeastern California. This panel has the dubious distinction of having been branded a record of the A.D. 1054 Supernova which gave us the Crab Nebula. This explanation has proliferated to the point that virtually any rock art that includes a crescent and another spot, circle, or anything that can be believed to represent a star has by now been so branded.


Penasco Blanco trail, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Photograph from Wikimedia.

The most famous example of this is the panel from the Penasco Blanco trail in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. But is this a supernova, the moon, or a partial eclipsed?


Buffalo Rock State Park, southern Illinois. Photograph
 by Mark J. Wagner.

Buffalo Rock State Park, southern Illinois. Photograph
 by Mark J. Wagner.

A couple from Buffalo Rock State Park in southern Illinois.

Fountain Bluff site, southern Illinois. Photograph
 by Mark J. Wagner.

And one from the Fountain Bluff site, also in southern Illinois.

Roche a Cri State Park, Wisconsin. Internet image, public domain.

I have included a few examples of crescents in rock art. There are countless others, you probably know of many as well. Are these the crescent moon or are a few of them partial eclipses? I cannot say, but alternative possibilities should be kept in mind.

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the original reports at the sites listed below.


Arima, Eugene, and John Dewhirst, 1990, Nootkans of Vancouver Island, 391-411, Sturtevant, William C. (general editor) and Suttles, Wayne (volume editor)1990  Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7, Northwest Coast, 391-411, Smithsonian Institution, Washington.

Armitage, R.A., M. Hyman, J. Southon, C. Barat and M. W. Rowe, 1997, Rock-art image in Fern Cave, Lava Beds National Monument, California: not the AD 1054 (Crab Nebula) supernova, Antiquity 71, 715-719. Accessed 15 October 2023.

Love, Bruce, 2017, The “Eclipse Glyph” in Maya Text and Iconography: A Century of Misinterpretation, Ancient Mesoamerica, Cambridge University Press, pages 1-26. Accessed online 15 October 2023.

NASA, Eclipses: History, Accessed online 14 October 2023.

Suarez, Gerardo, and Virginia Garcia-Acosta, 2021, The First Written Accounts of Pre-Hispanic Earthquakes in the Americas, November 2021, Seismological Research Letters, Vol. 92, No. 6.

Wikipedia, Codex Telleriano-Remensis, Accessed online 14 October 2023.

Saturday, November 18, 2023


Melun Diptych, Jean Fouquet, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, by Jean Fouquet. Photo Credits Francesco Bini.

The painting is the Melun Diptych, “painted by French court painter Jean Fouquet(1420–1481) created around 1452. The name of this diptych came from its original home in the Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame in Melun. The left panel depicts Etienne Chevalier with his patron saint St. Stephen and the right panel depicts the Virgin and Christ child surrounded by cherubim. Each wooden panel measures about 93 by 85 centimeters and the two would have been hinged together at the center.” (Wikipedia) As an Art History student way back when, I of course studied this painting. At that time the rock held by Saint Stephen on his bible (for consecration) was merely identified as a rock, the instrument of martyrdom for Saint Stephen who was stoned to death. Now, a detailed analysis by a team, and published online by Cambridge University Press, has examined the image in-depth and has concluded that the particular stone held by St. Stephen is an Acheulian hand-axe.

Jean Fouquet, Madonna and Child Surrounded by Angels, right wing of the diptych, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp. Internet image public domain.

“The two pieces, originally a diptych, are now separated. The left panel is in the Staatliche Museen in Berlin and the right panel is at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Belgium. A self-portrait medallion is also associated with the two panels. Measuring 6 centimeters in diameter, it would have adorned the frame, and consists of copper, enamel, and gold. The medallion is now in the Louvre in Paris, France.” (Wikipedia) I must say that this painting was never a favorite of mine. The two sides are so mismatched with Etienne Chevalier and St. Stephen looking quite naturalistic and portrayed against a realistic background, while the right panel with Mary and the Christ Child painted as if they were a marble statue with the background of bright red Cherubim. It has always been my judgment that they were painted separately at different times. I think that the right panel came first and Fouquet later (maybe many years later given the stylistic differences) turned it into the diptych when Chevalier commissioned one by painting and adding the left panel.

Jean Fouquet, St. Stephen and Etienne Chevalier, left wing of the diptych, Staatliche Museen, Berlin. Internet image public domain.

But what is of most interest to us here is the stone St. Stephen holds on his bible – an Acheulean hand-axe. “Acheulean, from the French acheuleen after the type site of Saint-Acheul, is an archaeological industry of stone tool manufacture characterized by the distinctive oval and pear-shaped ‘hand axeds’ associated with Homo erectus and derived species such a Homo heidelbergensis. Acheulean tools were produced during the Lower Paleolithic ere across Africa and much of West Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Europe, and are typically found with Homo erectus remains. It is thought that Acheulean technologies first developed about  2 million years ago, derived from the more primitive Oldowan technology associated with Homo habilis. The Acheulean includes at least the early part of the Middle PLaleolithic. Its end is not well defined, depending on whether the Sangoan (also known as ‘Epi-Acheulean’) is included, it may be taken to last as late as 130,000 years ago. In Europe and Western Asia, early Neanderthals adopted Acheulean technology, transitioning to Mousterian by about 160,000 years ago.” (Wikipedia)

Acheulean hand-axe. Photograph from

Historically people have always been interested in these prehistoric tools. Even when they were not recognized as human-made they were prized as unique items.

“Here, we are concerned with the pre-seventeenth-century social history of handaxes. For such information we often rely on the early oral histories of European populations. From these texts, it is widely stated that prior to the Enlightenment handaxes were often considered to be of natural origin and were thought to have been ‘shot from the clouds’ when lightning struck the ground. Sixteenth-century natural historians across Europe noted the presence of ‘ceraunia’ or ‘thunderstones’ which were ‘curiously shaped stone objects … treated as a naturall occurring geological phenomenon’ formed through lightning strikes. Pliny the Elder (Natural History 37.51) described red ‘elongated’ ceraunia ‘resembling axe-heads’, which were considered by the Magi to be found ‘only in a place that has been struck by a thunderbolt’. Ceraunia were a broad category of objects that not only included handaxes, but also included other prehistoric implements of both flaked and ground origin, and fossilized sea urchins. Descriptions of some ceraunia are, however, undeniable in their resemblance to handaxes and other later bifacial tools, being ‘a heterogeneous category of stones of varying color that are shaped like pyramids, wedges, hammers, spheres, or are sometimes triangular. Prior to 1717, handaxe-like stone ceraunia forms had already been discussed. For these early accounts, and others, it was still often the case that ceraunia – handaxes or not – originated in the sky and were deposited where lightning struck. Earlier oral accounts of ‘thunderbolts’ or ‘thunderstones’ can occasionally be traced to the eleventh to thirteenth century in northern Europe.” (Key 2023) So, when French court painter Jean Fouquet created the Melun Diptych around 1452 he had St. Stephen holding one of these miraculous “Thunder Stones”  that was prized as rare natural phenomena.

St. Stephen's stone from the left panel of the Melun Diptych. Internet image public domain.

In their analysis of the object in the painting Key et al (2023) based their analysis primarily on three factors.

"First the stone object appears to have been painted square-on to the observer, to that if it was a handaxe then the 2D outline of the tool is visible within the painting. That is, the shape profile of the potential handaxe, and therefore the shape information potentially imposed by an Acheulean hominin, has been retained. In turn, it is possible to compare the shape of this stone object to handaxe artifacts from known Acheulean assemblages. If the object is found to be within the shape space of confirmed Acheulean assemblages, particularly those from northern France, then it strengthens the inference that an Acheulean handaxe is depicted in the painting, and the social history of these artifacts can be pushed back to the fifteenth century." (Key et al. 2023)

"Second, the stone object's colouration is notable for its similarity to numerous flint handaxes recovered from Quaternary gravel and sand deposits in northwest France and eastern Britain. If the colors in the painting match those on artifacts from deposits found in northern France, where Fouquet lived and worked, then the inference that a handaxe is depicted will again be strengthened." (Key et al. 2023)

"Third, while the object is not depicted using the black ink line illustrations traditionally used in Palaeolithic studies, it nonetheless appears that flake scars have been depicted. Some appear unusually abrupt and irregular-and somewhat akin to frost-fractures found in some flint nodules or flaked flint cores-but others, particularly on the right edge, have the characteristic shallow concavity left behind by flake platforms, and the majority of ridges lead invasively toward the centre of the object. If the number of 'flake scars' visible on the painting is similar to those from northern European Acheulean examplars, then again the inference that a handaxe artifact is depicted will be strengthened." (Key et al. 2023) These larger and cruder flaking scars may signify greater age as later examples are usually much more finely shaped and flaked.

Applying their chosen criteria, Key et al. (2023) find that the stone object held by St. Stephen falls within their self-defined ranges, and is thus likely to be an Acheulean hand-axe. 

“We cannot state with absolute certainty that an Acheulean handaxe was painted by Jean Fouquet c. 1455. What we have done is demonstrate, as far as it is possible, that the stone object in the image is likely to be one. This finding pushes the evidenced social history of handaxes back to the mid fifteenth century, a century before probable instances of ‘handaxe-ceraunia’ are described and two centuries before we have secure written and illustrated evidence of handaxes.” (Key et al. 2023) To my eye the stone being held by St. Stephen is too thick to have been an effective hand-axe. It is certainly flaked like one however. Perhaps Fouquet was inspired by the appearance of a finely flaked hand-axe and made the surface appearance of St. Stephen's instrument of martyrdom resemble it.

Given this assumption, Key et al. (2023) do admit the possibility that the hand-axe does not come from the Acheulean period, but from the Middle Paleolithic period with its prepared-core technology, but they find that in either case it is very likely a hand-axe. “While we cannot rule out that a Middle Paleolithic handaxe could be represented instead, the painted object's coloration—if corresponding to flint—does suggest a heavy patination more often associated with early northern European Acheulean assemblages. This interpretation is supported by our shape and flake scar analyses, which demonstrate the object to be typical for European Acheulean assemblages. Arguably, the painting's origin in northern France, which is known for its Acheulean assemblages, is another point favoring a mid-Pleistocene age for the depicted object.” (Key et al. 2023) Although it appears to me as if the flaking is much cruder than the later and more finely-flaked Middle Paleolithic examples.

Either way, Acheulean or Middle Paleolithic, I find it to be extremely interesting that a painting from the fifteenth century includes a man-made object that could approach two million years in age, and is almost certainly hundreds of thousands of years old.

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the original reports at the sites listed below.


Key, Alastair, et al., 2023, Acheulian Handaxes in Medieval France: An Earlier ‘Modern’ Social History for Palaeolithic Bifaces, 11 July 2023, Accessed online 18 October 2023.

Wikipedia, Melun Diptych, Accessed online 18 October 2023.

Wikipedia, Acheulean, Accessed online 29 October 2023.



Saturday, November 11, 2023


Now here is something new - art created by the rocks.

Photograph by Jeff Downey, Apache Junction, Arizona.

There is no question of the importance of shadows in rock art. Some faint petroglyphs can only be seen when extreme side lighting produces shadows. Archeoastronomy sites often use shadows markers as pointers to mark their phenomena. We included these examples in our studies of rock art. This shadow figure is produced by the shape of the rocks casting it. Thus, rock art?

Twice a year the setting sun at Apache Junction, Arizona, casts a huge shadow of a cougar in the Superstition Mountains. In this case the shadow does not enhance the rock art, the shadow is the art. This phenomenon is visible twice a year in Apache Junction, Arizona. “If you want to see this phenomenon in person, head to the vicinity of 13th Ave & Goldfield Road in Apache Junction for a relatively unobstructed view. Timing is critical. The cougar only appears during the third week (14-21) of March and September. The last 30 minutes before official sunset is prime time for viewing.” (March 2017)

There are a couple of main differences between this phenomenon and our more traditional study of rock art. The first and most obvious is scale, this thing is huge. The second main difference is that, as far as we know, there was no involvement of people in its creation. It appears to be an accident of nature. Does that disqualify it from inclusion in our field of interest? If you think so then consider this to be merely an interesting aside, but I find it so fascinating that I could not overlook it. Perhaps not art, but certainly possessing rock involvement in its creation.

NOTE: I found many short articles online about this phenomenon, all seem to be copies of each other, and I could not tell which one would have been first. I selected the following as my Reference because it seemed somewhat more complete than the others.


March, Paul, 2017, Superstition Mountains Cougar Shadow Appears Only a Few Days a Year, Accessed online 27 September 2023.

Saturday, November 4, 2023


Salmon jumping a waterfall. Internet image, public domain.

Improved analytical techniques have made it possible to trace hominin use of fish for food back a considerable distance in the historical record. In 2011 Hardy and Moncel wrote about fish remains associated with Neanderthal occupation 125 – 250,000 years ago.

“Fishing and fowling are often used as markers of modern human behavior, despite their remains having been reported from numerous early hominin (as far back as 1.95 Ma) and Neanderthal sites. In fact, fishing is difficult to detect in the archaeological record for several reasons: 1) many coastal sites are lost due to rise in sea level; 2) fish bones are fragile and may be lost due to taphonomic processes; 3) many fish bones are small and may require specialized recovery techniques; and 4) the widespread assumption that fishing is a modern human behavior may lead investigators not to look for evidence in the first place. The argument that Neanderthals did not fish has recently been bolstered by stable isotope research that suggests that Neanderthal dC13 values do not match those of fish. This evidence must be treated with caution, however, as dC13 for fish can vary greatly, particularly from freshwater fish.

Sites with possible evidence of Neanderthal consumption of fish include Milan, Almada and Abreda Caves, Spain, Grotte XVI, France, Devil’s Tower and Vanguard Cave, Gibraltar, Raj Cave, Poland, Grotta Maggiore, Italy, UstKanskaya Cave, Siberia, and Figueira Brava Cave, Portugal. Evidence at these sites includes the recovery of osteological remains, fish bones in association with hearths, and cut-marks on fish bones. At Payre, residues and use-wear indicative of fish are found in the absence of osteological remains. Fish may have been processed off-site (at local streams or rivers), and the tools returned to the site or fish may have been processed on site but the bones did not preserve. In Level Fa, all of the artifacts with fish residues are located in one square meter near the wall, a possible indicator of a specialized intrasite activity area. These results highlight the difficulty in recognizing fish consumption archaeologically and suggest that fish consumption by Neanderthals may be underrepresented. The growing list of sites with fish remains as well as the detection of fish processing in the absence of fish bones at a site further suggests that fish consumption should not be seen as exclusively in the domain of modern humans.” (Hardy and Moncel 2011:7-8) I know of no rock art of fish attributable to Hominin (including Neanderthal) sources but we now know they procured them somehow and ate them.

Hardy et al. (2013:30) again reported on fish remains at Abri du Maras. Remains found there include bones and scales of chub and perch. “Estimated body weights range between 550 and 850 g. Few predators are able to catch and carry fish of this size. Hence, the possibility of Neanderthals as predators cannot be discarded, and the presence of these fish remains in layer 4 may be considered the result of anthropic activity. Once again, the combination of residue and zooarchaeological analyses provides corroborating evidence and strengthens the case of Neanderthal fishing.” (Hardy et al. 2013:30) So Neanderthals caught and ate fish, probably including salmon, but as far as we know they did not leave any images of fish in rock art.

Salmon carving in Abri Poisson Cave, France. Internet image, public domain.

Salmon carving in Abri Poisson Cave, France. Showing attempted removal of the carving from the cave ceiling. Photograph Heinrich Wendel.

Then we reach the Paleolithic Period and the high point of cave art. Abri du Poisson (Fish Shelter) is known for a beautiful relief carving of a salmon. A series of holes were drilled around the fish and chiseling had begun to undercut that section when the vandals were discovered and saved. The damage can be seen in these photographs of the panel in situ. The shelter is discovered by Paul Girod in 1892 which recognizes an Aurignacian level . It was not until 1912 that Jean Marsan identified the superb fish that made the site famous. Represented life-size (1.05  m ), it is engraved and carved in low relief on the ceiling of the vault, highlighted with red color. It is a becquart salmon, with its jaw turned up; the attitude is characteristic of the male exhausted by spawning. The theme is rare since only a dozen fish have been identified in Paleolithic cave art. Other parietal works have since been identified by Christian Archambeau and Alain Roussot, including a black negative hand and incomplete animal engraved figures.The attribution of these works to the Gravettian (- 25 000 years) is likely; it makes engraved salmon one of the oldest representations of fish known in the world, possible testimony of prehistoric fishing activities. (Wikipedia)

Carved reindeer antler. Lortet, Hautes Pyrenees, France. Internet image, public domain.

Somewhat later, during the Magdalenian Period (18,000 to 15,000 BC), an artist produced a carving on reindeer antler of wading or swimming reindeer with salmon swimming around their legs which was recovered from the Grotte de Lortet in France.

Broken carved bone salmon. Grotte de Lortet, France. Internet image, public domain.

Maz, D'Azil, France. Image from

Other carvings of salmon include a broken fragment of bone with the head of a salmon at one end, and a broken spear thrower with a salmon carved into it. One might almost be tempted to assume it was intended for spear fishing.

There are also representations of other fish in European Cave Art, indeed elsewhere in the world as well, but I am focusing on salmon in this column.

Closer to home, the culture of the Pacific Northwest Coast tribes of North American relied to a great extent on the availability of salmon.

“Salmon are an essential component of the ecosystem in Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s traditional, ancestral, and contemporary unceded territory, centred on present-day Burrard Inlet, BC, Canada, where Tsleil-Waututh people have been harvesting salmon, along with a wide variety of other fishes, for millennia. Tsleil-Waututh Nation is a Coast Salish community that has called the Inlet home since time immemorial. This research assesses the continuity and sustainability of the salmon fishery at təmtəmíxʷtən, an ancestral Tsleil-Waututh settlement in the Inlet, over thousands of years before European contact (1792 CE). We apply Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS) analysis to 245 archaeological salmon vertebrae to identify the species that were harvested by the ancestral Tsleil-Waututh community that lived at təmtəmíxʷtən. The results demonstrate that Tsleil-Waututh communities consistently and preferentially fished for chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) over the period of almost 3,000 years. The consistent abundance indicates a sustainable chum salmon fishery over that time, and a strong salmon-to-people relationship through perhaps 100 generations. This research supports Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s stewardship obligations under their ancestral legal principles to maintain conditions that uphold the Nation’s way of life.” (Efford et al. 2023) Burrard Inlet, British Columbia, is on the east side of the Strait of Georgia, where the modern city of Vancouver is located. Approximately 40 miles west across the open water is Nainamo on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. These are both in the Coastal Salish culture group.

“Tsleil-Waututh is a distinct, Indigenous Coast Salish nation whose ancestral and contemporary territory is centred on səlilwət, part of the inlet ecosystem that is now also known as Burrard Inlet, British Columbia, Canada. Since European contact in 1792 CE, colonial development and resource extraction have driven dramatic change and development in Tsleil-Waututh territory to the extent that today it includes Canada’s busiest port and metropolitan Vancouver, a city of 2.5 million people. Consequent damage to and loss of vulnerable ecosystems, habitats, and animal and plant populations have impacted Tsleil-Waututh ways of life and greatly reduced their ability to harvest important traditional foods. Despite these impacts, the area is rich with archaeological evidence of Tsleil-Waututh’s relationship to the lands and waters throughout their territory and confirms Tsleil-Waututh oral histories and traditional knowledge of continuous connections to land, waters, plants, and animals.” (Efford et al. 2023)

“Both oral histories and the archaeological evidence identify chum as being particularly important for Tsleil-Waututh communities over the millennia. The consistency of the comparative abundance of salmon species across time suggests that Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s chum salmon fishery was a stable and sustainable salmon fishery, maintained over the course of almost 3,000 years. We would expect to see a drop off in the abundance of chum salmon over time, or a switch to another species as the most abundantly harvested, if the fishery had been unsustainable, or if there had been a major ecological impact. Instead, through this work as others, we see consistent use of salmon, particularly chum salmon, as well as herring, anchovy, and eulachon over millennia.” (Efford et al. 2023)

In their 2018 article on rock art of the Tsleil-Waututh people Arnett and Morin purposely avoided ascribing any particular identities or meanings to the imagery, focusing instead on their cultural significance of marking important locations to the Tsleil-Waututh people.

Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, To Welcome the Salmon Back From the Sea, removed from Jack Point, Vancouver Island. Photograph J&E Faris, 1992.

“In this article we have described the specific historical and cultural context of rock art production in the territory of one Coast Salish group. The rock paintings are best understood in terms of marking culturally significant places in the Tsleil-Waututh landscape so that future generations might know their significance.” (Arnett and Morin 2018) Their paper included no illustrations that could be identified as images of salmon. As I stated above, however, as a branch of the Coastal Salish culture they were culturally related to the people who produce other rock art of the area. One particularly important concentration of Salish is found at Nainamo on Vancouver Island, and, at Nainamo, there are images of salmon. These are on a boulder that was recovered from Jack Point in Vancouver Island, which is just a few miles to the east of Nainamo. This petroglyph panel on this boulder shows a group of salmon, supposedly to welcome the return of the salmon to begin their spawning run.

So, we find that across the Northern Hemisphere, and through a period of tens of millennia, salmon were considered a valuable food source and were of great spiritual and ceremonial significance.

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the original reports at the sites listed below.


Choi, Charles Q., 2011, World’s Oldest Fish Hooks Show Early Humans Fished Deep Sea, 24 November 2011, Accessed online 30 August 2023.

Efford, Meaghan et al., 2023, Archaeology demonstrates sustainable ancestral Coast Salish salmon stewardship over thousands of years, 25 August 2023, Accessed online 31 August 2023.

Hardy, Bruce and Marie-Helene Moncel, 2011, Neanderthal Use of Fish, Mammals, Birds, Starchy Plants and Wood 125 – 250,000 years ago, August 2011, Plos ONE 6(8), DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0023768. Accessed online 13 September 2023.

B.L. Hardy et al., 2013, Impossible Neanderthals? Making String, Throwing Projectiles and Catching Small Game during Marine Isotope Stage 4 (Abri du Maras, France), Quaternary Science Reviews 82 (2013) 23-40. Accessed online 13 September 2023.

Arnett, Chris and Jesse Morin, 2018, The Rock Painting/Xela:Is of the Tsleil-Waututh: A Historicized Coast Salish Practice, Ethnohistory 65:1, American Society for Ethnohistory. Accessed online 16 September 2023.

Walls, Alex, 2023, Salmon bones confirm sustainable chum fishery for 2,500 years under Tsleil-Waututh Nation, 20 August 2023, Accessed online 30 August 2023.

Wikipedia, Fish Shelter, Accessed online 30 August 2023.



Saturday, October 28, 2023


Machu Picchu, Peru. Internet photograph, public domain.

Pretty much everybody, at least everybody interested in archaeology, has heard of the famous site of Machu Picchu, Peru, discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911. Actually, discovered is incorrect as it was never lost, locals who lived in that area knew of it all along, Bingham had been taken there by a native guide. Recently rock art has been discovered near Machu Picchu. Again, referred to as being discovered by an outside visitor, although a native guide apparently had known about it and taken the "discoverer" to it.

Petroglyph near Machu Picchu, Peru. Image Fernando Astete, National Geographic.

"More than 600 years ago the ancient Incas built a village in the Andes on the rocky outcrop that links the mountains Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, at an altitude of 2,490 meters (8169.29 ft.). It is a town whose original name would have been Llaqtapata, which is known today as Machu Picchu." (Marilo 2016) The ruined city of Machu Picchu is so overwhelming that, archaeologically speaking, it sort of sucks all the oxygen out of the area. So many of us thought of it as the big attraction and would never have thought to look for other archeology in the area. Recent discoveries, however, have brought to light a number of faded pictographs which have been brought to life through DStretch.

Camelids, Machu Picchu, Peru. Photograph Fernando Astete  Dirección Desconcentrada de Cultura de Cusco.

Archeologist Francisco Huarcaya, however, was aware of the probability of other significant discoveries to be made in the area around Machu Picchu. “Human remains and rock art have been discovered on the banks of the Vilcanota River along the railway leading to the Archaeological Park of Machu Picchu by archaeologists from the Decentralized Culture Directorate in Cusco. Archaeologist Francisco Huarcaya said the images, including camelids, the sun, and geometric shapes were painted on different parts of a huge rock. He thinks they could be associated with guardian deities in the form of mountains, and may have a funerary context. ‘There are other images that cannot be identified due to geological problems and rock wear cased by long exposure to the sun, wind, rain, and water filtration,’ Huarcaya said.” (Saraceni 2022)

Machu Picchu, Peru. Photograph Fernando Astete  Dirección Desconcentrada de Cultura de Cusco.

“Archaeologists from the Decentralized Culture Directorate in Cusco (DDC Cusco) have discovered samples of cave art in a sector of the Qhapaq Nan or Great Inca Trail that crosses the Archaeological Park of Machu Picchu in Peru. This information was provided by Francisco Huarcaya, the person responsible for the sector of the Inca Trail that crosses the aforementioned park.” (Andina 2022)

"New samples of rock art are found both painted and engraved on the surface of the rock and are mainly concentrated in two sectors of the magnificent Inca city, areas known as Paraguachayoq and Inkaterra. In the Pachamama sector, where there is a natural cave, the archeologists have registered more than six graphic groups, including pictographs and graffiti 'with various motifs formed by black figures and geimetric curvilinear designs.'" (Marilo 2016)

Machu Picchu, Peru. Photograph Fernando Astete  Dirección Desconcentrada de Cultura de Cusco.

"The archaeologist explained that this cave art was associated with a funerary context and the cult of the apus (Guardian deities in the form of mountains), such as the Huacayhuilca and Casamentuyoc mountains, as well as the Huilcamayo River - considered sacred and located near the area." (Andina 2022)

Closeup of previous design, Machu Picchu, Peru. Photograph Fernando Astete  Dirección Desconcentrada de Cultura de Cusco.

"In addition to said evidence of cave art, archaeologists found human bones of a skull and a femur, which were exposed to the surface and partially covered by brush." (Andina 2022) This may have been the weathered remains of an Inca mummy bundle but, as of now, I have seen nothing that really ties the pictographs and burial to Machu Picchu itself, except the location.

Machu Picchu, Peru. Photograph Fernando Astete  Dirección Desconcentrada de Cultura de Cusco.

It stands to reason that these other archeological discoveries would have been made around a location as special and highly prized to the Incas as this, the area around Machu Picchu. Indeed, I would expect other discoveries to be announced in the future. I would imagine that ever since the construction of Machu Picchu, the locals would have special feelings, even reverence, for it and the area around it. It makes sense that burials would be made there for some time after it was abandoned, to place them in the sacred presence.

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the original reports at the sites listed below.


Andina (Agencia Peruana de Noticias), 2022, Peru: Cave art found on Inca Trail crossing Archaeological Park of Machu Picchu, 15 September 2022, Accessed online 16 September 2022.

Marilo, T. A., 2016, New Rock Paintings Discovered in Machu Picchu, 5 August 2016, Accessed online 17 September 2022.

Saraceni, Jessica E., 2022, Rock Art Discovered Near Machu Picchu, 19 September 2022, Accessed online 16 September 2022.


Saturday, October 21, 2023


Presenting hands to the Pharoah, Temple of Ramesses III, Medinet-Habu, Thebes, Egypt. Internet image, public domain.

We have known for quite some time about the practice in Ancient Egypt where a soldier would, after a battle, present to the Pharoah severed hands from enemy he had killed for a reward. Now deposits of the hands have been actually uncovered at Tell el-Daba, Avaris in ancient Egypt.

"Excavations conducted in a Hyksos palace at Tell el-Daba (ancient Avaris) in Egypt have for the first time provided archaeological evidence for a gruesome practice previously known only from texts and temple reliefs. Archaeological investigations led by Manfred Bietak and Irene Forstner-Muller in the northern part of the palace, which in its late phase has been attributed to King Khayan of the 15th Dynasty (c. 1600 B.C.), have uncovered pits containing altogether 16 severed right hands. A narrative found in the tomb of Ahmose, son of Ibana, at Eklab describes how after each battle against the Hyksos at Avaris and Sharuhen, the soldier presented an enemy hand as a trophy and was given as a reward the 'gold of valor'. Among additional evidence from the New Kingdom are representations depicting severed right hands being counted and put into a heap." (Ngo 2014) The hands presumably had to be from an adult male, and from the right side so the presenter could not use both hands from a deceased enemy to get paid twice.

Another image of hands being presented as trophies. Internet image, public domain.

“As narrative battle scenes show, the right hands had to be presented after the battle, as proof of slain enemies, in a ceremony in front of the king or the commander in chief. There must have been, however, also a symbolic connotation in the act of severing the hand. The Amada and Elephantine stelae of Amenhotep II mention the hanging of the corpses of six princes of Tahshy, slain by the pharaoh himself, in front of the walls of Thebes and their hands likewise, meaning that the hands were separately exposed on the outside of the walls. It would not make sense for counting but it could have been that severing the right hand deprived the miserable princes once and forever of their power.” (Bietak 2011) Possibly the displaying of the bodies and hands was to remind the population of the greatness of their Pharoah.

Until now no archaeological evidence of this gruesome custom has been found as no battleground of ancient Egypt has been identified with precision and investigated.” (Bietak 2011) In this instance the discovery of the hands was not at a battlefield, but at a temple, possibly presented as a sacrifice.

Photograph Axel Krause, Austrian Archaeological Institute in Cairo and the Inst. for Egyptology.

Photograph Axel Krause, Austrian Archaeological Institute in Cairo and the Inst. for Egyptology.

"A dozen severed hands found in tombs around a 3,500-year-old temple were likely tokens presented to a king of ancient Egypt to prove the valor of his soldiers in battle, a new study found. An new analysis of the site shows the hands, first uncovered in 2011, belonged to at leastd 12 people aged between 14 to 21. The hands were carefully removed from the bodies, likely soon after an enemy's death, before being placed in tombs around the throne room of King Khayan, a Hyksos ruler of Egypt's 15th dynasty." (Guenot 2023)

“Now, by mere chance, evidence of the presentation of right hands has come to light in the most recent excavation at Tell el-Daba, ancient Avaris, in autumn 2011. Investigations were resumed in the northern part of a Hyksos palace which can be attributed in its late phase to King Khayan of the Fifteenth Dynasty (see: EA 38, pp.38-41). The north-eastern palace façade with a monumental gate was uncovered and outside the palace, in front of what seems to be the severely destroyed throne room, were found two pits, containing one right hand each. In the later palace phase, these pits were covered by a building added to the outside of the palace façade serving as an annex to a four columned ‘broad-room’ – a building north-east of the palace which may have had a cultic function. Beyond this building, on top of a former extra-mural silo courtyard of the early palace phase, two more pits were found containing altogether 14 severed right hands. Some of them were of extraordinary size and robustness.” (Bietak 2011) These were undoubtedly buried as some sort of sacrifice, or offering to the gods.

The preponderance of pictorial proof of this practice is found at the Ramesseum, the mortuary temple of Ramesses III in the Necropolis at Thebes in Upper Egypt across from the city of Luxor. “Scenes of the great pharaoh and his army triumphing over the Hittite forces fleeing before Kadesh are represented on the pylon. Remains of the second court include part of the internal facade of the pylon and a portion of the Osiride portico on the right. Scenes of war and the alleged rout of the Hittites at Kadesh are repeated on the walls. In the upper registers, feast and honor of the phallic deity Min,God of fertility.” (Wikipedia)

Counting tongues, mortuary temple of Ramesses III, Medinet Habu, Thebes, Egypt. Internet image, public domain.

Counting phalluses, mortuary temple of Ramesses III, Medinet Habu, Thebes, Egypt. Internet image, public domain.

“Ramses III preserves several representations of counting body parts on the walls of his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu (ca. 1180 BC). At least four representations appear in which the Egyptians are counting hands. Some of the examples depict the counting event with apparently someone to record the tally behind the one making the pile. Another representation shows someone counting tongues. Yet another depiction from Medinet Habu is of the Egyptians counting phalluses.” (Manor 2021)  So now we have physical proof of the practice illustrated so graphically in the temple murals at Medinet Habu.

“The location, treatment, and possibly the positioning of the severed hands argues against the hypothesis of law-enforcing punishment as the motivation for these acts. When contextualised in a transdisciplinary approach to the archaeological and historic sources, the bioarchaeological evidence presented here suggests that the severed hands were offered as trophies as part of a public event that took place in the palace. They belonged to at least eleven males and possibly one female, which may indicate that women and warfare were not worlds apart. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, the results put forward in this paper provide the first direct bioarchaeological evidence for the ‘gold of honour’ ceremony performed in front of the king’s palace and contribute significantly to the debate over the reconstruction of this ceremony.” (Gresky 2023) This ceremony would have been for the Pharoah to publicly acknowledge the heroism of his troops, and reward them for defeating the enemy. And while this all sounds barbaric to us, let us remember that in North American history during the French and Indian War both sides paid bounties for scalps, a practice that lasted in North America for quite some time.

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the original reports at the sites listed below.


Bietak, Manfred, 2011, The Archaeology of the Gold of Valour, EES Free University, Berlin.

Gresky, Julia et al., 2023, First osteological evidence of severed hands in Ancient Egypt, 31 March 2023, Accessed online 16 May 2023.

Guenot, Marianne, 2023, Tombs filled with severed hands suggest warriors in ancient Egypt mutilated their enemies to get war trophies, 16 May 2023, Yahoo News, Accessed online 16 May 2023.

Manor, Dale Dr., 2021, Parts is Parts, 15 January 2021, Accessed online 16 May 2023.

Ngo, Robin, 2014, Severed Hands: Trophies of War in New Kingdom Egypt, 28 February 2014, Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2014.

Wikipedia, Ramesses II, Accessed online 22 June 2023.