Saturday, November 26, 2011


Death Valley petroglyph boulder, California.
Photo: Richard Colman, 2011.

This photograph was sent to me by Richard Colman, who found it “in a wash in Death Valley National Park, near the Mesquite Springs campground area”. He found the combination of elements to be interesting and odd for Great Basin rock art.

Richard is the moderator for the Yahoo American Rock Art Group. Richard is also an accomplished photographer and takes spectacular photos of rock art. Visit his site to see other examples of his wonderful photography.

Thank you for sharing Richard, this is one area that I have not yet been able to visit in person - and happy trails.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


On August 5, 2009, I posted a column on Hand prints in Rock Art in which I discussed the fact that a viewer can sometimes determine the gender of a rock art creator by measuring the relative length of the first and third fingers in a hand print. Statistically more males have a longer third finger while more females have a longer first finger.
I believe it is also possible to get a suggestion of the handedness of the creator of the rock art by examining a hand print. A human normally finds one side or the other dominant and capable of finer control and dexterity.
Hand-prints, Texas. Photo: Peter Faris, 2004.

According to Wikipedia right-handedness is most common. Right-handed people are more dexterous with their right hands when performing tasks. A variety of studies suggest that 70-90% of the world population is right-handed, rather than left-handed or any other form of handedness. Left-handedness is less common than right-handedness. Left-handed people are more dexterous with their left hands when performing tasks. A variety of studies suggest that 8–15% of the world population is left-handed.

Now how would we apply this knowledge to the analysis of a hand print in rock art? It seems to me that if the hand print is actually a print of a hand – a hand covered in paint and applied flat to the rock face – the creator of the image would probably use their dominant hand out of force of habit. Therefore if it is a print of a right hand it was probably a right-handed person and if it is a print of a left hand it was probably a left-handed person.

If, on the other hand (pun intended), it is a tracing of a hand, whether painted or pecked, it is probably the opposite because the creator would be using their dominant hand to do the tracing around the less useful hand that they were holding flat against the rock face. When the outline was made permanent, either with paint or by pecking, it was a recording of the person’s subordinate hand, not the dominant one.

Applying this reasoning to the same panel of hand prints in Texas that I photographed in 2004 and used to illustrate the August 5, 2009 posting about hand-prints we see that these hand-prints were made with a paint covered right hand applied flat to the rock face. We have already seen that these prints indicated that their creator was probably a male, now we can see that he was probably a right-handed male. Not bad for a group of anonymous hand-prints.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Push-me-pull-you (right center of photo), at the mouth
of Salt Arroyo,  Purgatoire Canyon, Bent County,
Colorado. Photo: Peter Faris, June 1998.

Of all the many portrayals of animals (zoomorphs) in rock art some of the most fascinating are the double ended animals known lightheartedly as “Push-Me-Pull-You’s”. On May 1, 2010, I published a posting entitled Sisiutl – The 2-Headed Serpent. Sisiutl, a snake with a head at each end, represents one form of the “Push-Me-Pull-You”.

Push-me-pull-you (lower left of photo), Carizzo Canyon,
Baca County, Colorado. Photo: Peter Faris, 1993.

The more common form that these creatures take however is that of a quadruped, a four legged animal with a head at each end. What these Push-Me-Pull-You’s actually represented to their creators I do not know. I can show a few examples to illustrate the general form of this creature, but except for Sisiutl (mentioned above) I have no idea as to what they were intended to mean.

Push-me-pull-you, Rochester Creek,
Utah. Photo: Peter Faris, 1993.

Alex Patterson (1992:202) suggested that the two-headed animals “zoomorphs with a head at both ends” is an animal birth scene representing the “invariable head-first appearance of many animals at birth.” Can this be the meaning of these enigmatic creature? Well, it is a very clever idea and may, in fact, actually be applicable in some instances. However, many of the Push-Me-Pull-You’s are shown with what appear to be horned heads on both ends, and no animal I know of is born with a set of adult horns in place. An example is the Push-Me-Pull-You from Rochester Creek in Utah which has a set of Bighorn Sheep horns on the head at each end. 


So, this brings me back to the question what do they represent? I really have no idea, but I would like to hear your suggestions.


Patterson, Alex
1992 A Field Guide To Rock Art Symbols Of The Greater Southwest, Johnson Books, Boulder.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Veteran readers of RockArtBlog may remember that I have published postings on the subject of mammoths in North American rock art in the past. On May 4, 2009, I posted A Possible Mastodon Petroglyph in Southeastern Colorado, and on April 16, 2011, I posted a column entitled The Earliest Art in North America, The Vero Beach Mammoth. Additionally, on November 25, 2009, I posted Elephantids in North American Rock Art – The Moab Mastodon, in which I explained my disbelief in the identification of what has been called the Moab Mastodon.

Petroglyph panel with images highlighted, San Juan
River, Utah,upstream from Sand Island. Photograph
used by permission of Ekkehart Malotki.

Behind all of this, however, I have always felt a strong conviction that there should be examples of mammoths and mastodons in North American rock art. We know people in North America coexisted with these Pleistocene giants, we know that they preyed on them, there should be examples of mammoths and mastodons in rock art, but, of all the candidates suggested so far only the Vero Beach mammoth has supposedly been scientifically authenticated (and I say supposedly because I do not believe that test results have been fully proven yet).
Mammoth petroglyph from the right side of the panel.
The mammoth image on the left side of the picture is
partially superimposed by a large bison. Photograph
used by permission of Ekkehart Malotki.

Mammoth 1 - close up of proposed mammoth petroglyph.
Photograph used by permission of Ekkehart Malotki.

Now from the great rock art site of Sand Island on the San Juan River, near Bluff, Utah, internationally known author and rock art researcher Ekkehart Malotki, and H. D. Wallace, have put forth a new candidate (I should say candidates) in the search for elephantids in rock art. Malotki is emeritus professor of modern languages at Northern Arizona University, while Wallace is an archaeologist from Tucson, Arizona. They have described a couple of petroglyphs from that site that they have identified as representations of mammoths dating to the Pleistocene/Holocene transitional period. Malotki was originally introduced to the possible mammoth by Joe Pachak, an artist from nearby Bluff, Utah. This identification is based upon details such as the bifurcated trunk tip of the mammoth which Malotki suggests a forger would not know about, and their height (approx. 5 meters) above the present day ground level and weathered condition.

Mammoth 2 - close up of proposed mammoth petroglyph
from the left side of the panel. Photograph used by
permission of Ekkehart Malotki.

As I have not yet seen the petroglyphs in person I will refrain from cluttering up the discussion with my own speculation other than to say that I truly hope that Malotki and Wallace are correct. I want there to be petroglyphs of mammoths and mastodons in North American – there should be petroglyphs of mammoths and mastodons in North America. People were here while the great beasts were still alive, and people make marks and pictures.

Ekkehart Malotki. Photograph used by
permission of Ekkehart Malotki.

I also want to congratulate Malotki and Wallace on having the courage and dedication to stand up and say what they believe they have, especially knowing that stating this opinion may invite considerable controversy, and sometimes personal attacks. I hope that this debate can stay civilized. In any case this will be fun to watch as it plays out in the arena of scientific opinion.

See the full paper at