Friday, July 1, 2022


Figure connected to a Sun disc, Ancestral Puebloan, Petroglyph Park, Albuquerque, MN. Photograph Peter Faris,  September 1988.

There are a number of variations of solar figure found in rock art of the American Southwest. One is an anthropomorph connected to a solar disc by a line, or otherwise in proximity to it. The second is an anthropomorphic figure with a sun disc for a head (or variations of it). Finally, we find shield figures where the shield seems to be a sun disc. (I am not including stand-alone solar images in this column. That is a subject for another time)

Figure with solar disc for its head, Mesa Prieta, Lyden, Rio Arriba county, New Mexico. Photograph Peter Faris,  14 May 1997.

In the American southwest the ancestral Puebloan tribes seem to have believed in the sun as creator of the universe. “The sun, moon, and shields are conceptually united entities in Puebloan thought. As previously described, sun symbolism is prevalent on Pueblo IV shields in the form of serrations, eagle feathers, red feathers, and horns on the outer rim, and there are implications that the sun disk/shield served as the sun’s ‘mask’. The creation of the sun and moon in some Pueblo myths involves the making of a round shield.” (Schaafsma 2000:114)

Twin War Gods with solar shields, Comanche Gap, Galisteo, Santa Fe County, New Mexico. Photograph Peter Faris, September 1988.

“The Sun, father of the War Twins and, in some tales, provider o  their lethal weapons, is the supreme patron of war and a valued source of impowerment for those engaging in combat. A pair of sun-shield bearers from Comanche Gap may stand for the War Twins or their impersonators, although they lack the characteristic headgear. The bear-paw symbolism on one of (their) shields is a contributing factor to this interpretation, since the bear is not only a was patron, but is specifically associated with a war god in the Awatovi murals. Within the context of these considerations, the conflation of sun and shield and the sun shield of prehistory is an affirmation and symbol of the ultimate war power.” (Schaafsma 2000:116)

For the Hopi the Winter Solstice was the time for their Soyaluna ceremony. At this time they believed that the Sun had traveled its farthest from the earth and they performed the Soyaluna ceremony to persuade it to return at the time when the days are the shortest. “The Soyal Chief now takes down from the north wall of the kiva, where it has been hanging, the symbol of the sun. It is a buckskin shield about a foot in diameter. The lower half is painted blue, the upper right quadrant is red, and the upper left quadrant is yellow. As it represents the face of the Sun, eyes ae marked in black and the mouth is a triangle painted black. A black strip outlined in white runs down from the middle of the forehead, another crosses nose and cheeks, and there are tiny white dots in the background. The whole face is edged with long human hair stained red to symbolize the rays of the sun, and eagle feathers radiate from the outer circumference of the shield like the aura of power from the Creator. For while the sun is himself a deity, the chief of our solar system, his is but the face through which looks the omnipotent Creator, Taiowa, who stands behind.” (Waters 1963:197)

Ernie Moore, Tawakatsina, Sun Katsina, Hopi. Internet photograph

“The Sun katcina has a disk-shaped mask, which is divided by a horizontal black band into two regions, the upper being subdivided into two smaller portions by a median vertical line. The left lateral upper division is red, the right yellow, the former being surrounded by a yellow and black border, the latter by a red and black. In the lower half of the face, which is green, appear lines representing eyes and a double triangle of hourglass shape representing the mouth.

Around the lower border of the mask is represented a plaited corn husk in which radiating eagle feathers are inserted. A string with attached red horsehair is tied around the rim or margin of the disk. In his left hand tawa carries the flute which is associated with him in certain Hopi solar myths.

It will be found that this type of sun symbolism is to be easily detected in various katcinas of different names which have been mentioned, and it is more than probable that many of these, possessing the same, or nearly the same, symbolic markings, are sun gods under different names. This multitude of sun gods is readily explained by the composite nature of the present Hopi people, for each clan formerly had its own sun god, which, when the clan joined Walpi, was added to the existing mythological system. The type of symbolism has persisted, thus revealing their identity.” (Fewkes 1985:100-101)

Figure with solar shield and turkey, Mesa Prieta, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. Photograph Peter Faris, 14 May 1997.

The Zuni believed in a creative power known as Awonawilona who, in a parallel to the big bang of modern astronomy, thought himself into existence  as the Sun. “Eventually Awonawilona chose to embody the sun and created the deity the Sun-Father, which led to the formation of several other gods such as Awitelin Tsita (The Four-Fold Containing Earth Mother), and Apoyan Tachu (All Covering Father-sky) from green scum formed over the waters. As the myth unfolds, the deities created by Awonawilona lead to the creation of humans and all living creatures.” (Wikipedia)

According to Tyler the Zuni origin and creation stories begin with Awonowilona who created himself in the form of the Sun. “In the beginning of the new-made, Awonowilona conceived within himself and though outward in space, whereby mists of increase, steams potent of growth, were evolved and uplifted. Thus by means of his innate knowledge, the All-container made himself in person and form of the Sun whom we hold to be our father and who thus came to exist and appear.” (Tyler 1964:86-7)

“In the mind of the Zuni, in the repetition of his ‘always’, which is our eternity, the Sun is the farthest point of reference, the initial glowing spot in the universe. Historically the Sun has remained strong in the Pueblo pantheon.” (Tyler 1964:137)

Solar Shield Figure, Mesa Prieta, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. Photograph Peter Faris, September  4, 2011.

There is something particularly compelling about rock art figures that incorporate the sun in their structure. Given the understanding that the sun is perhaps the most important phenomenon in the natural world, any image created by the people who live closest to that nature that incorporates the sun disc must have been of great import to them. And, a great deal of that import comes through to us when we view those images.

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.


Fewkes, Jesse Walter, 1985, Hopi Katcinas, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, Dover reprint of a 1903 paper from the Twenty-First Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1899-1900.

Schaasfsma, Polly, 2000, Warrior, Shield, and Star, Imagery and Ideology of Pueblo Warfare, Western Edge Press, Santa Fe.

Tyler, Hamilton A., 1964, Pueblo Gods and Myths, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Waters, Frank, 1963, Book of the Hopi, Ballantine Books, New York.

Wikipedia, Awonawilona,, accessed on 11 November 2021.

Friday, June 24, 2022


La Lindosa rock art panel, Columbia. Internet photograph, public domain.

On 2 January 2021, I reported on the reporting of extensive pictograph panels at a site in Colombia known as La Lindosa (Morcote-Ríos et al. 2020). These early reports claimed that many of the pictographs at this site were of Pleistocene megafauna and I expressed skepticism about a large percentage of these. However, it is a magnificent site, perhaps one of the most extensive rock art sites known, and certainly worth study and reporting. Now, a new report has addressed the dating of La Lindosa’s occupation.

La Lindosa rock art panel, Columbia. Internet photograph, public domain.

“The eight-mile Cerro Azul rock art mural at Serrania de la Lindosa in Colombia’s Guaviare region, on the banks of the Guayabero River, has been the subject of recent expeditions led by Jose Iriarte, and archaeologist at the University of Exeter. Now the ocher paintings have become the subject of debate, as experts attempt to definitively date them and identify the animals.” (Contributor 2022)

Radiocarbon dating was performed on charcoal and charred seeds excavated from the rock shelters at the site, and provided a range of occupation dates. It was then assumed that the painting was conducted at the same time that the rock shelters were occupied, and by the same people who did the painting.

“During three archaeological field seasons (2015, 2017 and 2018), we carried out excavations in three rock shelters (Cerro Azul, Cerro Montoya and Limoncillos), where lithic artifacts, charred seeds, animal remains, ochre fragments and charcoal were recovered in the stratigraphic deposits of these sites. These three rock shelters exhibit large concentrations of rock art paintings, though at varying degrees of preservation. The dating of these sites allowed us to establish the chronological framework for the rock art of La Lindosa, with dates ranging from the late Pleistocene approximately 12.6 ka to the European arrival approximately 1478-1642 AD.” (Iriatre et al. 2022) This gives a very broad range for the production of imagery at this location, essentially from the Holocene to Historic periods. Dating of the rock art has so far been indirect, based on dates from carbon recovered from the same strata as fragments of ochre found in excavations in rock shelters below the paintings with researchers assuming that this represents the same ochre that was used to do the paintings.

La Lindosa rock art panel, Columbia. Internet photograph, public domain.

“At Cerro Azul, two charcoal samples yielded LGM dates ~20,500 – 19,200 BP. Both dates were obtained from charcoal recovered in Stratus II, which is composed of natural sediments mixed with some chert flakes, charred seeds and charcoal. Until future excavations can provide a more securely defined context for the looser strata of the site, clearly identifying the cultural origins of the LGM dated charcoal, rather than charcoal fragments produced by natural fires, we presently only accept the Terminal Pleistocene dates of the site as firm evidence of human activity. Two radiocarbon assays made on charred palm seeds from secure cultural contexts provide Terminal Pleistocene dates between ~12,100 and ~11,800 BP. These dates mark the start of stable, repeated human activity in the region. Three dates from charred palm seeds through the Early to Middle Holocene (~9,090 - ~7,004 cal. BP) demonstrate continued activity in the region. A late Holocene date of ~3,002 – 2,849 cal BP marks the last preceramic strata. Ceramics are present by 2,929 – 2,779 cal BP, 15-20 cm b.s.”(Morcote-Ríos, Gaspar, et al. 2020:6)  So, the two oldest dates (~20,500 – 19,200 BP) are not used because it is not considered probable that this charcoal is the result of human activity without more evidence. At this time those dates are being classified as possibly the result of natural forest fires adjacent to La Lindosa.

“At Cerro Azul fragments of ochre were recovered from the lower levels, suggesting that paintings were produced from the oldest occupations as an early strategy of creating and defining the cultural landscape.” (Morcote-Ríos, Gaspar, et al. 2020:13) These lowest levels of the excavation were directly dated by radiocarbon dating. So the oldest dates prove that people were there by 20,500 to 19,200 BP, but not conclusively that they actually did the paintings. The researchers had to assume that the traces of ochre that they found in the same strata as the dated carbon had fallen or spilled during the act of creating the rock art - a reasonable assumption.

La Lindosa rock art panel, Columbia. Internet photograph, public domain.

In my previous column on the rock art at Serrania de la Lindosa I wrote “It is always exciting to find a record that illustrates extinct animals, and this discovery, because of its large scale, provides a wealth of new possibilities for research. While some of the illustrations of extinct creatures are easy to identify, others take a little more imagination. All in all though, this is a world class, major discovery.” (Faris 2021) With the addition of dates, even if they are not yet 100% certain, I find the rock art at Serrania de la Lindosa even more potentially valuable and exciting.

NOTE: 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.


Contributor, 2022, Giant Sloths, Ancient Elephants, and Ungulates: Prehistoric Rock Art in the Amazon May Depict Extinct Ice Age Animals, a New Study Says, 9 March 2022,

Faris, Peter, 2021, Colombian Rock Art Claimed to Depict Extinct Megafauna, 2 January 2021,

Iriarte, Jose et al., 2022, Ice Age megafauna rock art in the Colombian Amazon?, 7 March 2022, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Vol. 377, issue,1849,, accessed 12 March 2022.

Morcote-Ríos, Gaspar, et al., 2020, Colonisation and early peopling of the Colombian Amazon during the Late Pleistocene and the Early Holocene - New evidence from La Serranía La Lindosa, Quaternary International,

Saturday, June 18, 2022


Horses, aurochs, and rhinoceroses, Chauvet Cave, France. Photograph

As an Art Historian, the subject of Art Appreciation is always there, part of the consideration for any creative construct. Of course, in order to appreciate art we have to have art and a great deal of nonsense is presented about how rock art is not really art. I have addressed that question numerous times and will not rehash my previous arguments. Instead, I will quote from the great anthropologist Ashley Montagu, whose 1957 book “Man: His First Million Years” addressed the question beautifully. “Those pursuits in which the imagination is chiefly engaged, in giving form and meaning to materials with which one works, are known as arts. In this sense arts are probably very old. There is no known people that is without them – drawing, painting, carving, sculpture, music, poetry, storytelling, and the dance.” (Montagu 1957: 215)

Close-up of horses, aurochs, and rhinoceroses, Chauvet Cave, France. Internet photograph, public domain.

As for the motives behind the creation of the images, Montagu agreed with the prevailing theories of the day, that hunting magic of some sort would have been the primary reason the imagery was produced. “Why did these people of Aurignacian culture make the wall paintings in uninhabitable caves, and in the darkest and most inaccessible recesses of these? The most likely answer is that they made them for magical purposes and not in order to decorate the caves. The animals shown on the roofs and walls of these caves are often represented as pierced by spears and arrows. One makes as naturalistic a model as one can of the animal one hopes to kill, and then kills it in effigy; as one does to the drawing of the animal – accompanied by the proper incantations – so one will do in fact to the real animal. One has but to wish in the ritually acceptable manner and one will succeed. Hunting scenes abound in these cave drawings and paintings, and there can be very little doubt that this art, at any rate, was devoted principally to the practical purpose of securing success in the hunt. This does not mean that the artist did not obtain some esthetic pleasure from his achievement, but it does mean that love of beauty was not the principal purpose.” (Montagu 1957:217)

Ceiling of the bulls, Altamira Cave, Spain. Internet photograph, public domain.

“That the artist took pride in his accomplishment and was encouraged to do so is indicated by several facts. In the first place, the skill exhibited by these artists takes a certain amount of training. That such training was available from different centers is testified to by the fact that preliminary sketches on stone of certain animals have been found several hundred miles away from the caves in which the finished polychromes occur. In 1926 an engraving on limestone was found in the half-cave at Geniere in France. This was immediately recognized to be the sketch for the very individually painted polychrome of an old bison on the wall of the cave at Font-de-Gaume, in the Dordogne, some two hundred miles away.” (Montagu 1957: 217-219)

Although Montagu does not mention it, this practicing quite possibly implies instruction in the art form. One does not start with a Masterpiece, there is a learning process, usually through previous practice, or possibly a period of training such as apprenticeship. I have argued in the past that evidence for apprenticeship can be found in rock art images found in high locations that display perspective anamorphosis (elongation to make the image look correct when viewed from an angle – see “anamorphosis” in the RockArtBlog index at the bottom of the column). I do not believe that one goes to these lengths of practice and training to not seek the approval, indeed appreciation, of their results from their reference group, tribe or clan. This anamorphosis may be either the result of someone (the apprentice) up on a scaffold taking directions from someone (the master) down below who is looking up at some extreme angle, or a purposeful design feature meant to make the proportions look correct from the viewpoint of an audience down below and looking up (I do admit the possibility that the proportion of the image could be done that way purposefully without anamorphosis being the aim). But the key concept here is that there was an audience – appreciating the art.

Megaloceros giganteus, Lascaux Cave. France. Internet photograph, public domain.

“Obviously artists who could paint as well as Aurignacian and Magdalenian cave artists must have taken great esthetic pleasure in accomplishing their work, whether inside or outside a cave. It is therefore unnecessary, as some have done, to argue that the first drawings and paintings were made only for magical purposes, only for a practical purpose, and not from the sheer pleasure derived from doing something for its own sake – and doing it as well as possible.” (Montagu 1957:219-220) Indeed, the personal satisfaction of creating something is very compelling, but as I said above, I believe that the creators were also seeking the approval of their peers. This is, by definition, Art Appreciation. Now I certainly do not believe that the images were produced as “art for art’s sake,” just to entertain others. But I do believe that appreciating the images was a part of the experience that accompanied the primary motive for their creation whether “hunting magic” or something else.

Boar, Altamira Cave, Spain. Internet photograph, public domain.

Coincidentally, while I was writing this my May/June 2022 issue of Current World Archaeology magazine arrived with an op/ed by Neil Faulkner (who I am sorry to say is deceased) on “Interpreting Art.” In this, Faulkner, was expressing concern with the use of terms from Art History or Art Appreciation in describing objects instead of using phraseology that he seemingly believes have “real” meaning (archaeological terminology no doubt).

“Art can be hugely important in offering insight into the thought worlds of past people. So we have to take interpretation seriously. And that requires us to try to situate the art in the context of contemporary belief and ritual. So this – an example taken at random – will not do: ‘Cave painting is considered one of the first expressions of the human animal’s appreciation of beauty and a representation of a mystic or sacred side to life.’ I have no idea what is meant by an ‘appreciation of beauty.’ It is one of those trite phrases you find repeated a million times in art books. As for a ‘representation of a mystic or sacred side to life,’ does this not beg the question: what is this side of life, and why bother to represent it at all? Cave art can attract nonsense – nonsense which dissolves as soon as one thinks about it critically. One example is the claim that paintings of animals were teaching aids for apprentice hunters. The best way to learn practical skills – as we all know – is to practice on the real thing. You learn how to hunt – probably from a very early age – by joining older family members on a real hunt. It used to be said that when archaeologists cannot explain something, they claim ‘ritual use.’ So perhaps it has become too tame and unimaginative to say that a prehistoric painting of a bison, or a Greek sculpture of a goddess, or a medieval religious fresco were for ritual use. But they were.” (Faulkner 2022:65)

Bison, Chauvet Cave, France. Internet photograph, public domain.

And again:“Archaeologists should beware of lazy and pretentious interpretations of art derived from modern and highly misleading concept of ‘fine art.’” (Faulkner 2022:65) For the record I have never said that rock art represented “fine art” in Faulkner’s use of the term.

If I correctly interpret the intent of Faulkner’s editorial, it is to express the feeling that art historians sometimes try to hide a lack of real knowledge with the use of grand phraseology. On February 22, 2020, I wrote an editorial on RockArtBlog titled “A Case of Hypervocabulitis – Using Big Words to Sound Impressive.” In this I described the recent experience of reading a book by an archaeologist which was crammed full of exactly this type of terminology, and I coined the phrase hypervocabulitis to describe it. The examples I gave from that volume off of a handful of pages included “Androcentrism, Commodification, Decontextualization, Emic/Etic, Hegemonic masculinity, Indeterminancy, Intersectionality, Polysemy and Semiotic.” Now, admittedly, these words do have meanings, but there are much easier and clearer ways to phrase those meanings, and I, as an Art Historian, pointed that out in the context of a book written by an Archaeologist. So back at you Faulkner!

In the words of the great Mark Twain referring to commentators on research into the civilizations of Pre-Columbian America, “The researches of many commentators have already thrown much darkness on this subject, and it is probable that, if they continue, we shall soon know nothing at all about it.” ( I believe we know exactly what he was talking about.

So to sum up, yes there was Art Appreciation in the history of rock art, from Cave Painting right on down to historic times. I have admired certain rock art panels, you have too. Whenever someone said, or even thought, that the creator of an image did a good job on it, that was by definition Art Appreciation. And I will bet that they managed to do it without the hypervocabulitis that too many modern commentators, including archaeologists, employ to impress their audiences. Montagu did not, my favorite writers do not, and I don’t either.

NOTE: 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.


Faris, Peter, 2020, A Case of Hypervocabulitis – Using Big Words to Sound Impressive, 22 February 2020,

Faulkner, Neil, 2022, Culture Thinking Aloud: On Interpreting Art, Current World Archaeology, Issue 112, April/May 2022, Vol. 10, No. 4, p. 65

Jim’s Favorite Famous Quote, Quip, Axiom and Maxim Repository,, accessioned 20 February 2020.

Montagu, Ashley, 1957, Man: His First Million Years, The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York.

Saturday, June 11, 2022



Complaint tablet, cuneiform, Ur, Mesopotamia. Photograph British Museum.

For as long as people have been exchanging things there have been instances of customer dissatisfaction. The first-known record of a customer complaint is found in cuneiform writing on a clay tablet in the collection of the British Museum in London. Once again I am straying a little from the subject of rock art to an inscribed clay tablet, but I cannot help it, it is just so fascinating.

Side-view of the complaint tablet, cuneiform, Ur, Mesopotamia. Photograph British Museum.

When deciphered, the tablet was found to contain “a complaint from a man named Nanni to a businessman named Ea-nasir that’s written in the Akkadian language in cuneiform script, one of the oldest forms of writing. Nanni complained to Ea-Nasir the wrong grade of copper ore had been delivered to him, and about misdirection and delay of a separate shipment.” (Deron 2019) This tablet, and thus the complaint, are dated to 3,800 years ago and come from the Mesopotamian city of Ur, now known as Tell el-Muqayyar in modern Iraq (Martin 2022).

It sounds just like a situation that would be familiar to everyone today, a shopper disappointed upon receipt of something that had been ordered. “Ea-nasir was a member of the Alik Tilmun, a guild of merchants based in Dilmun. Archaeologists discovered that he was a prominent copper trader. As it turns out, Ea-nasir was a pretty bad businessman and received multiple complaints from angry customers.” (Deron 2019)

Pillow-shaped copper ingot in a shipwreck off the coast of Turkey, ca. 3,600 years of age. Photograph Hakan Oniz.

The tablet from Nanni was translated by A. Leo Oppenheim, an Assyrologist at the British Museum, as follows:

“Tell Ea-nasir: Nanni sends the following message: When you came you said to me as follows: ‘I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.’ You left then but you did not do what you promised me. Youu put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: ‘If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!’

What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alond treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper, and umi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Samas.

How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full.

Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper ingots from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shell exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt." (Oppenheim 1967:82-3)

Illustration of the interior of an old Babylonian house found in the ruins of Ur, which may have been the residence of Ea-nasir, from Wikipedia.

“The product he received was unlike the product he was shown and promised. In other words his expectations were not met. Ea-nasir oversold his copper. Nanni sought resolution to his problem several times. Had Ea-nasir Fine Copper Inc. set things right the first time the British Museum wouldn’t have this interesting artifact to display. The relationship between this buyer and seller would have been quickly restored. ” (Hyken 2015)

“The letter ends with Nanni saying that from this point forward he would carefully inspect every copper ingot he received and ship back any that didn’t meet his approval. It is clear that their relationship has been poisoned. Trust and confidence have deteriorated to the point that Nanni will certainly have his eyes open for a new supplier.” (Hyken 2015) You know, I think I have written that letter a few times in my life as well.

Iraq, Ur, view from the top of the zuggurat, 1932. Library of Congress photograph. 

And not only Nanni: “a man named Arbituram sent a note to Ea-nasir complaining about why he hadn’t received the copper that he paid for. ‘Why have you not given me the copper? If you do not give it, I will recall your pledges. Good copper, give again and again. Send me a man,’ reads a rough translation of the tabled.” (Deron 2019) It sounds like Ea-nasir was rapidly muddying the customer pool.

Ziggurat of Ur, partially reconstructed. Wikipedia.

Everyone who has ever ordered something advertised in a magazine, or online, and been somewhat disappointed with the final result should understand and sympathize. One example I can give is an ad common in popular magazines showing a necklace with a gold pendant about 3” across in the illustration, set with an emerald, which turns out to be about 5/8” when received (no, it was not my purchase – it happened to an disappointed friend), or like when we were kids and rapidly tore open the cereal box to find the prize inside which turned out to be a cheesy piece of plastic something-or-other.

It is stories just like this that make the study of history so fascinating, and fun. Next week – back to rock art.

NOTE 1: Adolph Leo Oppenheim’s 1967 book Letters From Mesopotamia: Official, Business, and Private Letters on Clay Tablets from Two Millennia is now out of print.

NOTE 2: 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 articles listed below.


Deron, Bernadette, 2019, This 3,800-Year-Old Tablet Contains The World’s First Customer Service Complaint, 10 September 2018, updated 6 March 2019,, accessioned 18 May 2022.

Hyken, Shep, 2015, Oldest Customer Service Complaint Discovered: A Lesson from Ancient Babylon, 23 April, 2015, Forbes,

Martin, Andrew, 2022, The First Known Customer Compaint In History Came From Ancient Mesopotamia, 16 May 2022,, accessioned 22 May 2022.

Oppenheim, A. Leo, 1967, Letters from Mesopotamia: Official, Business, and Private Letters on Clay Tablets from Two Millennia, Translated and with an Introduction by A. Leo Oppenheim, University of Chicago Press.


Saturday, June 4, 2022


Vitlyke Rock Art Panel, near Tanum, Sweden. The kneeling figure is in the lower right. Illustration from

The Scandinavian countries have a great deal of rock art and, as we would expect in cultures historically focused on seafaring, much of it includes ships and other maritime themes. “The west coast of Sweden - has the largest concentration of Bronze Age rock carvings in Scandinavia; and Scandinavia has the largest number of Bronze Age rock carvings in Europe. The west coast of Sweden is home to around 1,500 recorded rock engraving sites, with more being discovered every year. – By far, the most dominant theme is human figures and ships, especially ships – 10,000 of which have (been) recorded. Rock carvings in the late Bronze Age, and even the early Iron Age, often depict conflict, power, and mobility.” (Wikipedia)

“The Nordic Bronze Age (also Northern Bronze Age, or Scandinavian Bronze Age) is a period of Scandinavian prehistory from c. 1750-500 BC.” (Wikipedia)

Another view of the Vitlyke Rock Art Panel, near Tanum, Sweden. The kneeling figure is just right of center. Illustration from Wikipedia.

One interesting scene can be found at the Vitlycke Rock Art Site located at Tanum, Sweden. What appears to be the figure of a kneeling woman by the head of an elongated prone man with one leg intersecting the hull of a ship. We interpret the kneeling figure as a woman because of what appears to be long hair behind and the lack of a phallus in a panel where many male figures are portrayed and always with a prominent phallus.

Enlargement from the Vitlyke Rock Art Panel, near Tanum, Sweden. The kneeling figure is in the lower right. Illustration from

In 2021, Salmivuori wrote “We see a woman kneeling at the head of a lying man. Perhaps he is dead, and she is mourning him, or he is wounded, and she is tending to him. That is a straightforward interpretation, but there are disturbing circumstances. Why has he no arms and an empty sheath? If she were mourning her warrior husband, these attributes would have been there. If she is tending to a wounded man, why is she above his head where he cannot see her? Her arms and tense bodyline indicate that she is doing something. And what are the two objects at her hips?” (Salmivuore 2021:1-2) This last question is very problematical as many of the online photographs of the scene do not show two objects at her hip. Instead they show it as a single inverted “U-shaped” object.

“We cannot exclude females participating in trade or war ventures, either as active agents or in more supporting roles. That may very well have been the case, but rock art gives us no indication in that direction. If we stick to rock art, we can see that women had essential roles in one sector, that of rituals. We have pictures of women seen as overseers of rites, actors, dancers, bringers of offerings, and the like. In later periods, women had these essential roles as seeresses overseeing magic rituals, so it is safe to assume that something similar is happening here. In a warrior society, where violence is never far away, there might be a need for magical powers and rituals as a release. That may very well have been a sector in which women played vital roles. It is not hard to imagine a nightly scene down on the shore by a rock panel with a seeress leading a ritual, with a torch in her hand, making the figures on the rock dance, and telling the young and nervous warriors-to-be stories of the past and what life has in store for them.” (Salmivuore 2021:2-3) I think this is taking it a little far. Not that everything he states here could not be true, it very well is. I just do not think that this applies to the figures we are discussing here. If a rite or ritual is involved in this composition I believe it would be a healing or grieving rite.

“Women may or may not have participated in violent actions abroad themselves, but there is a distinct possibility that they had such ritual tasks at home. There is a possible third interpretation: The lying man could be a prisoner from the defeated ship, indicated by the lack of arms and weapons, and the woman is torturing him, possibly crushing his head with the stones she has at her hips. Similar behavior is not unknown from other warriors societies. The purpose of the act and its record on the rock art panel could be to teach the young warriors a lesson, never surrender or give up, or this would be the fate that awaited them.” (Salmivuore 2021:3) Salmivuore here interprets the two objects that he sees at her hip as stones which I would imaging would have been portrayed as round or oblong objects. As we have seen most online photos show a single inverted “U-shaped” object by her hip so I think we can disregard this interpretation.

Guernica, 1937 painting by Pablo Picasso. Photograph from Wikipedia.

This leaves us with three more possible interpretations; the enactment of some ritual or rite, tending a wounded man (and the ritual or rite may have been seen as essential to the tending this wounded man), or grieving a dying or dead man. The way the kneeling figures arms are outstretched is disturbingly reminiscent of Picasso’s Guernica and we should be careful not to let that affect our analysis.

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.


Salmivuori, Seppo, 2021, Female agency in Bronze Age Scandinavia as represented in rock art – rethinking the mourning woman in Vitlycke, Tanum, Academia Letters, Article 1161,

Wikipedia, Nordic Bronze Age,, accessioned on 17 May 2022.

Saturday, May 28, 2022


Neandertal scalariform and associated pictographs, La Pasiega Cave, France. Illustration from

In a 2019 paper Mark-Olivieri Rondu provided a very detailed theory explanating the scalariform symbol group in the cave of La Pasiega in France. He based this interpretation on agricultural symbolism which is just impossible given the dating of the symbol. “In 2018 uranium-thorium dating revealed a scalariform (ladder-shaped)symbol to be older than 64,000 years and therefore made by Neanderthals.” (Wikipedia) (see RockArtBlog for 5 February 2022, “DATED NEANDERTAL CAVE ART PROVIDES A NEW CANDIDATE FOR OLDEST ROCK ART”).

Breuil's map of La Pasiega Cave, France. Illustration

In 1913 Abbe Henri Breuil published his study of La Pasiega, designating the vertical arrangement of three rectangles with partial zoomorphs indicated in the top and bottom rectangle “la Trampa,” the trap. “On the panel 78, gallery C, a composition called by Breuil et al. ‘la Trampa’ (The Trap) is composed of a rectangular shape made of red lines called a scalariform pattern which shelters two uncomplete (sp) representations of animals considered here to be a pregnant sow in the rectangle on top and below, the first half of a reindeer female. Both animals are separated by an empty space. On the upper left angle, close to the sow’s back, two groups of semi-circular dotted lines caps the scalariform shape.” (Rondu 2019)

Neandertal painting, La Pasiega Cave, France. Illustration

“Semi-circular dotted lines compose a single representation of a time continuum in accordance with the angle made by the sow and the induced position of the sun at the horizon. The first ‘unfinished’ group of semi-circular dotted line is made of 46 dots associated to the timing in hours of the sow rut (usually lasting between 48 and 72 hours) during the last phase of equinox of autumn. The equinox is represented by the angle made by the unfinished semi-circular group, the animal and the horizon. The second semi-circular dotted line is longer and almost perfectly semi-circular. It is composed of 103 dots coinciding with the sow’s gestation period during winter. The angle made by the sow and the semi-circular dotted line marks effectively the angle of the sun during the winter solstice. The perpendicular position of the semi-circular dotted lines in comparison to the scalariform pattern gives the cardinal directions, making the ladder shape and east-west perspective where animal are turned to North (sow) and south (reindeer). The convergence of semi-circular dotted lines representing the equinox and solstice is highly probably marking the West.” (Rondu 2019)Although he may be correct on the sow’s rut cycle lasting two to three days, the statement that a sow’s gestation period is 103 days may not be correct. Sources that I consulted all agree that swine gestation lasts for 114 days ± 2 days. It is, of course, possible that wild boars 64,000 years ago had a different gestation period but, were that the case, Rondu cannot know this any more than I can.

Right side of Neandertal painting, La Pasiega Cave, France. Illustration
Rondu’s most extreme interpretation is his identification of the shape to the right of the scalariform pattern as a bow ard, a type of primitive agricultural plow, and the yellow surrounding it as a field of wheat.

Drawing of same right side element, La Pasiega Cave, France. Illustration

“On the right of the scalariform shape, surrounded by yellow color, is the first representation of an archaic bow ard. It is extremity made of a short and vertical share blade turns toward the ladder shape. The share blade is linked to the bean(sp) by a strong body and augmented by two horizontal handles probably used to push. The lower horizontal part in contact with the soil stabilizes the push by sliding. The grips shape tends to illustrate an attempt of perspective in order to associate the bow ard to the work grid and probably to the reindeer that is still considered as an efficient draft animal in Scandinavian and Inuit societies. Consequently, the surrounding yellow color echoes the wheat and opens a radically different interpretation of the ‘Inscription’ gallery B.” (Rondu 2019) The word “bean” in this paragraph is a typo, the bow ard consists of a beam to which the point (or plowshare) and handle(s) are attached. The earliest evidence of ard plow use in the Near East is the 6th millennium BC, while in Europe the earliest known wooden ard dates from 2300 – 2000 BC, although the earliest evidence of plow cultivation in Europe (scratch marks in fields) dates from 3500 to 3000 BC. (Ard Plough History)

I am highly skeptical that the Neandertals of 64,000 years ago in France were using plows pulled by reindeer to cultivate fields of wheat. Indeed, I will go so far as to say that is impossible. But what if the picture of the plow was added later, you say? Simple, then he does not get to call this part of the 64,000 year old composition – end of story. In summation, I believe that Marc-Olivier Rondu has misinterpreted this composition based upon some erroneous facts as well as a healthy imagination. What is so lively about the study of rock art is the range of interpretations that people bring to it, but, to paraphrase Bernard Baruch “He is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts”.

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.


Ard (Plough) History,, accessed 18 April 2022.

Rondu, Marc-Olivier, 2019, The Most Ancient Astronomical Representation of the Earth-Moon System Was Still Anchored in the Cantabrian Magdalenian Stylistic, Paris,

Swine Gestation Table,, accessed on 15 April 2022.

Wikipedia,, accessed on 15 April 2022.

Saturday, May 21, 2022


Neandertal "hashtag" in Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar. Internet photograph, public domain.

On September 17, 2014, I posted a column here on RockArtBlog titled “Rock Art in Gibraltar Cave Attributed to Neandertal Occupation” about an engraved design in Gorham’s Cave at Gibraltar. It is a pattern of crossed lines that is like today’s “hashtag” (which dates to 2007 – look it up) but has been attributed to Neandertal inhabitants of southern Iberia some 39,000 years ago, so somebody got there first. Back in 2014 I found this to be very exciting (I still do) but now people are beginning to extend the proposed meaning of the symbol, some to a point that I feel goes just a little too far.

Diagram of the Neandertal "hashtag" in Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar. Illustration from Fowler, 2021.

A 2021 paper by Tom Fowler of Ball State University makes some fairly extraordinary claims about the Neandertal engraving. According to Fowler it represents a Neandertal attempt to “map the north/south axis features of the terrain at Gibraltar during the Middle Paleolithic.” (Fowler 2021:4)

“Could these be the boundaries of a clan’s ancient territory? Or directions to and from shelters? Or both? Ultimately all we can do is compare the rock engravings to what we know about the Middle Paleolithic landscape at Gibraltar and let the similarities speak for themselves. Before we do, we need to make sure the etching is correctly aligned with the landscape. Inside the cave, the individual sat with their back to the fire, facing south, putting east over their left shoulder. If our assumptions are thus far correct, the starting point for line 1 was meant to be a representation of ‘here’ and the eastern paths leading to the pinnacles, while line 2 was intended to be ‘here’ and the route to the lone pinnacle to the north. If that’s the case, the illustration needs to be flipped horizontally before being compared to the landscape.” (Fowler 2021:4)

Map of Gibraltar peninsula and surrounding seabed. Illustration from The Gibraltar Museum, 2015, "Gibraltar Neanderthal Caves and Environments, World Heritage Site Nomination," Fig. 2.16, p. 32.

“When the etching is flipped and compared to the undersea terrain map, the previously noted similarity between the north/south axis landscape features and lines 3 through 8 can still be seen, while a rough correlation between line 2 and a path from the northern tip of the Rock of Gibraltar to the lone sandstone spire two kilometers to the east is apparent. A similar correlation can be seen between line 1 and a path from the southern end of Gibraltar/Gorham’s cave to the grouping of the three sandstone spires. The paths created by the trident shape at the end of line 1 diverge from a common, unknown point and trace routes to the location of each of the spires. Based on this, it seem at least plausible to assume the Neanderthal’s intent was to recreate both the environmental features found on the coastal plain with paths to and from major landmarks, becoming, perhaps, the world’s oldest topographic map.” (Fowler 2021:4-6)

I find this interpretation a little hard to accept. First of all, the Neandertals lived there, they did not need to create a permanent map of an area that they knew as well as the proverbial back of their hand. Second, we have to flip it to read it correctly, why did they just not orient it properly in the first place? While, as I said, I find this somewhat of a stretch, I can admit that it is barely possible. I do not find it likely, but it must be accepted as a possibility. But Fowler’s next analysis goes totally over the edge for me. The Gorham’s Cave hashtag engraving is also a picture of a bird, the hoopoe.

Eurasian Hoopoe in flight. Photograph Andres-Campillo Castejon.

From Fowler, 2021, The Neanderthal “Hashtag” Engraving in Gorham’s Cave: A Possible Map of Gibraltar’s Upper Paleolithic Coastal Plain, Academia Letters, Article 3771, Figure 19, page 9.

“While that could explain the engraving of the first eight lines, the final six lines have no correlation with any known physical features detectable on the submerged plain. The manner in which they were created – each with a single stroke, suggesting rapid succession – after taking as many as 300 strokes to create the eight lines in the main engraving seems to suggest these lines had a special significance. If such pains were taken to describe ‘here’ what could these eight quick strokes signify or symbolize? Sue Davies, Head of Cultural Heritage at the Gibraltar Museum, has been quoted as remarking the entire engraving resembled a ‘stylized hoopoe’ (Upupa epops). One of the reasons for this apparent similarity are single stroke lines 9, 10 and 11, which roughly resemble an abstract hoopoe head. Line 9 serves as the peak of the upper crest and distinctive beak, while lines 10 and 11 represent the middle and front of the crest. Lines 12 and 13 would appear to be tail feathers, while the 14th and final line would have symbolized the body. When lines 9 through 14 are placed over lines 1 through 8, the similarity to the hoopoe can be clearly seen. When line 2 is removed and only the ‘body’ (line 1, where all the single stokes were applied) remains, the resemblance to the bird is striking. If the Neanderthal engraving was intended to resemble a bird, it would come as no surprise. The relationship between Neanderthals and birds, particularly at Gibraltar, is well documented. Not only is there evidence from Gorham’s cave they utilized both rock doves (pigeons) and the red billed clough(sp) as major food sources, there is confirmation they sought out birds such as black raptors and corvids solely for the purpose of obtaining their feathers.” (Fowler 2021:6-7)

I just do not know what to say about this. It is, for me, a flight of fancy too far. So, the map – unlikely, but barely possible, the hoopoe – not likely, and I will leave it at that.

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.


Faris, Peter, 2014, Rock Art in Gibraltar Cave Attributed to Neandertal Occupation, 27 September 2014,

Fowler, T., 2021, The Neanderthal “Hashtag” Engraving in Gorham’s Cave: A Possible Map of Gibraltar’s Upper Paleolithic Coastal Plain, Academia Letters, Article 3771,

Rodriguez-Vidal, Joaquin et al., 2014, A rock engraving made by Neanderthals in Gibraltar,

The Gibraltar Museum, 2015, Gibraltar Neanderthal Caves and Environments, World Heritage Site Nomination, HM Government of Gibraltar.