Sunday, January 24, 2010

THE BANDELIER STONE LION SHRINE – LIFE-SIZED 3-D STONE CARVINGS:

Perhaps the most remarkable example of rock art I know of is the Stone Lion Shrine of Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico. Carved from the volcanic tuff so prevalent in that region, there are two recumbent mountain lions, approximately life sized, lying side by side, surrounded by a circle of boulders. These are assumed to have been a hunting shrine for Puebloan peoples of the area, and are reportedly still visited by pueblo residents periodically as offerings can still be occasionally seen there.


Bandelier Stone Lion Shrine.

I have not personally made the hike to visit the Stone Lion Shrine, but there are photographs available that show it in two incarnations. In one version the stone lions, recumbent within their circle of boulders, are surrounded by a very neatly arranged ring of deer and/or elk antlers. The other version can be found at the web site of Stephen Lee where he presents his photographs of the same Stone Lion Shrine without the ring of antlers. If I had to guess I would say I have to believe that the ring of antlers was probably added by that earlier photographer to dress up the site.

Reproduction stone lions, Bandelier

National Monument, New Mexico.
Photo: Peter Faris, 1985.

During a personal visit to Bandelier about 25 – 30 years ago I was thrilled to find a pair of reproductions of the stone lions next to the visitor’s center. Obviously some early researcher had made molds from the original stone lions and later done castings of them which were used in that display. Although they lacked the ring of surrounding boulders they show the life-sized sculptures of the two stone lions in seemingly perfect detail. The original lions are carved from volcanic tuff which is relatively soft so they have eroded somewhat, and this was faithfully reproduced in the copies. You can see the features however of very leonine heads, bodies, and tails.

I have recently been informed that these reproductions were subsequently destroyed by park officials because of complaints from Pueblo peoples that having them where tourists could see them was sacriligous. Note, these were not the real images taken from the shrine, they were reproductions. How this destruction of the reproduction stone lions differs from the Afghanistan Taliban dynamiting of the world’s two largest statues of Buddha in March 2001 totally escapes me. This was also the destruction of works of art because of and religious intolerance.

Reproduction stone lions, Bandelier
National Monument, New Mexico.
Photo: Peter Faris, 1985.

The original lions are carved from volcanic tuff which is relatively soft so they have eroded somewhat, and this was faithfully reproduced in the copies. You can see the features however of very leonine heads and bodies.

These two stone lions are arguably the pinnacle of North American rock art as the best life-sized realistic stone sculptures I know of. Not the only ones in existence however. There is another stone lion shrine associated with Cochiti pueblo and reportedly significant to the inhabitants of Zuni as well. Originally also reported with two reclining stone lions, recent photos show it with only one lion now, and this has been damaged with the tail broken off. The carving on these two was much less realistic than the Bandelier lions; indeed some observers have thought they were lizards. Photos and some information on this site can be found at the blog of Travel Schlepp.

For those who think of Native American rock art as a few crude petroglyphs or pictographs the Stone Lions of Bandelier National Monument should be a real eye opener.

2 comments:

  1. The analogy to the destruction of the Buddha's in Afghanistan is way off. Native "artifacts" belong to native people and they are the ones who should determine how these religious objects are treated and displayed.

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  2. I totally agree with this comment, that WE, outsiders are even allowed into this place is a miracle. The hike is long, took us 12 hours roundtrip. The respect shown to the "place" is tangible. There is a presence there that makes for silence. The giant kiva had little groups of shards that people had collected and placed in piles without taking anything away. It is a most amazing experience to see the lions. I read once that they were actually removed from the site and taken to Albuquerque and brought back. I hope this isn't true.

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