Tuesday, September 28, 2010


On September 28, 2010, I posted a column on portrayals of coup counts in rock art of the northern Great Plains. In this I showed examples of lines of rifles that researchers assume represent weapons captured from some enemy group, and also mentioned examples which illustrate a row of bows or tomahawks that are assumed to represent the same thing. Another example that might be postulated is a row or column of arcs assumed to represent horse hoof prints and have been suggested to represent the coups of a group of horses stolen in a horse raid.

Field sketch, 5BN7, Hicklin Springs, Colorado,
by Peter Faris, 25 September 1993.

One example of this type of portrayal can be found at Hicklin Springs (5BN7) in southeastern Colorado. Toward the bottom of this panel twenty four curved arcs resembling horse hoof prints can be seen aligned in four vertical columns. This has been interpreted as representing a record of a successful horse raid in which the raiding party returned with two dozen captured horses and the bottom portion of this panel represents a record of this.

One problem with this interpretation is the style of pecking itself. These are fairly deeply pecked with no abrading and in this area that type of petroglyph usually predates the early historic period during which the horse became available to people on the southern Great Plains. Deeply pecked petroglyphs in this area are generally prehistoric; historical era imagery in this area is usually incised. This could mean that the panel of “U” shaped symbols does not represent horse hoof prints at all, but then if that is the case, what do they represent? The deep pecking could, of course, represent an anomalous technique that was created later, but in the earlier style.


James Keyser has convincingly written about similarities between much proto-Historic and Historic Plains Indian rock art and the imagery drawn and painted in ledger books, on war shirts, and buffalo robes by the same Plains Indian warriors. Indeed he has called the pictures in ledger books, and on war shirts and buffalo robes a “lexicon of symbols” that can be applied to the interpretation of much rock art of the northern Great Plains.
Line of red rifles, coup count from Pictograph Cave,
southeast of Billings, MT. Photo: Peter Faris, 2009.

A group of rifles in a line painted in red can be seen at Pictograph Cave southeast of Billings, Montana. A grouping such as this is generally interpreted as coups based upon comparisons with paintings of war shirts, buffalo robes, and ledger books painted by warriors of Plains Indian tribes to advertise their exploits in combat. The assumption is that these represent weapons that were captured in battle. Another such grouping drawn in black can be seen at Farrington Springs in southeastern Colorado.

Line of black rifles, coup count, Farrington Springs,
Colorado. Photo: Peter Faris, 2002.

In other instances and locations examples of rows of bows or tomahawks lined up in the same way can be seen which are also assumed to represent coup counts. If this is the case we can also assume that this represents an older example, predating the acquisition of enough firearms to picture in such groupings. The rifle groupings also provide hints to dating in that many of the known groupings portray flintlock rifles as seen in the examples from Montana and southeastern Colorado.

39FA79, from p.111, Linea Sundstrom, Storied Stone,
Indian Rock Art of the Black Hills Country, 2004.

In the Black Hills, Linea Sundstrom has recorded what is, if she is correct, the largest known panel representing counted coups. Containing almost 30 rifles, and 119 schematized human figures lined up in similar rows (in the same format as the coup counts) the top portion of panel 39FA79 also shows scenes of combat supposedly recording some of the brave deeds performed by the warrior who created the petroglyph panel. The figures supposedly represent the bodies of enemies killed in combat, and because of the large number of them in this example Sundstrom suggests that this panel might represent the members of the 7th Cavalry killed at the Battle of the Little Big Horn by members of the Cheyenne and Lakota tribes.

Many other examples of this theme exist in North American rock art. Indeed other symbols can sometimes be postulated as coup counts as well. More on this later.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


In southeastern Colorado, south of the town of Limon, a geoglyph composed of rocks placed to form am image has been located. This rock alignment is in the form of a man carrying a spear or long staff. I was given a photo of this image about 8 years ago by Ted Barker who I believe had taken it while standing on the hood of his pickup to get as high an angle as possible. I know of no true overhead picture of the image which would show it in clear outline. At the angle that we view this from the image is greatly distorted by perspective and it is somewhat difficult to recognize from this angle but all who have seen it seem to agree that it is the outline of a man carrying a spear or long staff made out of rocks.

Man with spear geoglyph, southeastern Colorado. Photo: Ted Barker.

As far as I know this has never been formally recorded and no tests have been conducted of the site. Thus we have no actual data as to its provenience. So who made it, and why? The fact that the figure is pedestrian, not mounted on a horse, suggests that it might be prehistoric or at least proto-historic. The rocks seem to be well seated in the ground, not sitting up on the surface, so that might suggest age. This is hard to say, however, since we do not have a geomorphologic study of the site we do not know what processes might have been at work. Are natural processes slowly sinking the rocks into the ground with the passing of time, or could wind erosion be removing surface particles of dirt to counter that process?

One can only hope that someone will complete a formal study and recording of the "man with a spear" geoglyph before a pickup truck drives across it or a bunch of the rocks are rolled away, and if you do please let me know.

Monday, September 13, 2010


On June 30, 2009, I posted a column entitled AN OBELISK IN PURGATOIRE CANYON, SOUTHEASTERN COLORADO. In this I presented a picture of a tall rock column with petroglyphs carved into the surface which had been erected vertically by someone in the past. In the text I mentioned that although my photo showed it with the top broken off, the broken portion of it was found at its base when I first visited the site.

Southeast Colorado obelisk. Photo: Jim Whitall.

I recently ran across an earlier photo of the obelisk that had been published by Bill McGlone, Phil Leonard, and Ted Barker in their 1999 book Archaeoastronomy of Southeast Colorado and the Oklahoma Panhandle. This earlier photo had been taken by Jim Whitall, and shows the obelisk with the petroglyphs enhanced on the surface of the stone. At that period McGlone and Leonard were in the practice of enhancing petroglyphs by painting the markings with a solution of powdered aluminum in distilled water, a practice that was thought to be harmless to the petroglyph. They abandoned that practice soon thereafter when the dating petroglyphs by analysis of their patina began to look possible.

In this early photo the largest broken portion of the obelisk had been placed back on top of it and the petroglyphs were enhanced with this aluminum powder mixture for increased visibility. A smaller fragment has also been replaced on the top but this fragment does not appear to have any portion of the petroglyphs on it. With the broken pieces back in place this early photo of the southeast Colorado obelisk does give a much better appreciation of the appearance of the original and the enhanced petroglyphs are more clearly visible This interesting phenomenon is essentially unique, at least I know of no other examples in this area.

Although, in this photo it looks as if it might be leaning against the rock behind it they are actually separated by a few feet and the column is truly free standing. I will be very interested to see any other examples of similar carved and erected stones from other locations. If you know of one please contact me. Thank you.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Rekhmire was “Governor of the Town” of Thebes, and the vizier of Egypt during the reigns of Tuthmose III and Amenhotep II (ca. 1479 to 1401 B.C.E.) during the XVIII dynasty (Wikipedia). This made him the most powerful official in the civil administration during that period of the Egyptian empire’s greatest extent and prosperity. As the most powerful official he rated a large and highly decorated tomb in the Theban necropolis. The illustrations include many illustrating Rekhmire’s duties for the Pharaoh and provide an invaluable record of his duties and daily life for the court.

Wall mural from the tomb of Rekhmire showing
tribute bearers. The giraffe is at upper right and
the miniature elephant following the bear is at
the lower left.

One wall of his tomb shows Rekhmire supervising the collection of tribute to the Pharaoh from foreign emissaries. Rows of figures bearing tribute are illustrated divided by nationality. The top row shows tribute from the land of Punt and includes myrrh, gold, precious stones and ivory, a baboon, monkeys and exotic animal skins. The next row down records the tribute from Mediterranean islands including Crete. These bearers are dressed in Mycenaean kilts. Next in order is a row of Kushite (Nubian) tribute bearers with representative animals including a giraffe, leopard, baboons, monkeys, cattle and dogs, as well as ostrich eggs and feathers. The next in vertical order represents the tribute from Syrians dressed in long white robes and pointed beards with wagons and horses, a bear, and an elephants, weapons and metal vessels, copper ingots and pottery.

Because of space constrictions on the tomb wall these portrayals are shown in a rough echelon of scale, the larger animals are shown as larger than smaller species, but not to full proportion. The tallest animal is the giraffe which stands a little taller than the Nubian leading him. Other animals shown are scaled roughly in proportion down from the giraffe based upon their relative sizes, with one notable exception, the elephant. The elephant is little larger than the bear which precedes it in procession. That makes the elephant the most interesting animal in the tomb and it also brings up a fascinating question. What kind of elephant is it anyway?

Wall mural from the tomb of Rekhmire showing
the miniature elephant following the bear.

There actually was, at this time, a resident population in the Syrian area of a native elephant, the Syrian elephant, Elephas maximus asurus. The most extreme western population of the Asiatic elephant, this became extinct in ancient times by around 100 BC. This was also the largest sub-species of the Asian elephant, standing up to 3.5 meters tall (11½ feet). This size provides a problem with the elephant in the tomb painting. It is portrayed as waist high on its handler, and given the relative sizes of the animals shown it should have been considerably larger in scale like the giraffe on the register above it, - perhaps it is a baby Asian elephant. It seems to portray some features that could belong to an Asian elephant, the domed head and small ears. It cannot however be intended as a baby elephant of any kind because it has a pair of impressively long tusks which would be huge if scaled up to full size. Such tusks could only be meant to represent a fully grown adult animal. There is one other puzzling feature about the elephant in Rekhmire’s tomb, it seems to be covered with hair (compare the portrayal of the elephant’s surface with the bear in front of it). What kind of elephant had small ears, a domed head, huge tusks, and a covering of hair?

The only elephantid with the domed head, small ears, huge tusks, and covered with hair that I can think of was the wooly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius). But, in ca. 1479 to 1401 B.C. how could they have seen a mammoth to portray in Rekhmire’s tomb.
According to Wikipedia, “during the last ice age, woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) lived on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean. It has been shown that mammoths survived on Wrangel Island until 1700 B.C.E., the most recent survival of any known mammoth population.” This time frame is close enough to the 1479 B.C.E. of the beginning of the reign of Tuthmose III to make me wonder. The latest date from dwarf mammoth remains on Wrangel Island (1700 B.C.E.) surely does not represent the last individual to perish, so many must have lived longer. That makes it conceivable to imagine an overlap in time between the existence of dwarf mammoths on Wrangel Island, and the creation of Rekhmire’s tomb. Could a representative captive sample of Wrangel Island dwarf mammoths actually been traded from far northeastern Siberia to Syria, to be presented to an Egyptian pharaoh as tribute? Stranger things have happened.