Friday, January 27, 2012


Castle Gardens, Wyoming. Photo Peter Faris, 1992.
There is a modern theory about interpreting rock art known as the Neuropsychological Model. At this point I must confess that I do not care much for the Neuropsychological Model. It basically states that rock art is created by shaman to record the visions they saw after taking hallucinogenic drugs or otherwise inducing a trance. Now some rock, art in some places, might actually fit that description, but proponents of this theory try to apply it to all rock art, and that just doesn’t work.

It has been proposed, for example, that some of the flower blossom petroglyphs in the American Southwest portray the hallucinogenic datura blossom. If we have believable documentation about use of datura to induce trances or visions in the southwest then this might make sense. One example of a petroglyph that I know is intended to illustrate a hallucinogen is the example here which can be found on a cliff at Castle Gardens, Wyoming, among the shield petroglyphs that this locale is so famous for.
Readers who would like to learn more about the Neuropsychological Model should read any of David Lewis-Williams books of the last 3 or 4 years. Then, to read an eloquent refutation of it I will direct you to the book by Paul G. Bahn listed below.
Bahn, Paul G.
2010       Prehistoric Rock Art: Problems and Polemics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Newspaper Rock, Indian Creek, San Juan
County, UT. Photo Sherman Spear, 1966.
One marvelous rock art site known to many people in the Rocky Mountain West is Newspaper Rock in San Juan County, UT. Newspaper Rock has a petroglyph panel of mixed Fremont culture  and Ute rock art. It was one of my early sites in my first few years of interest in rock art.

Newspaper Rock close-up, Indian Creek, San Juan
County, UT. Photo Sherman Spear, 1966. Arrows
point to figures under discussion.

Newspaper Rock, Indian Creek, San Juan
County, UT. Photo Glen Weaver,
Sept. 1999. CRAA Archives.
In the upper left portion of the panel of petroglyphs are three enigmatic figures that have four outstretched limbs (arms and legs), fairly large tails, and what looks like nothing more than a fabric panel stretched out between the arms and legs. From the very first time I saw them they struck me as portrayals of flying squirrels but this seemed so improbable that I really did not take it seriously. From relative repatination these enigmatic figures appear to be early Ute in provenance rather than Fremont culture.

Flying Squirrel in flight. Image courtesty

Map of Northern Flying Squirrel range.
Public domain. Note the outliers in Utah
- especially in Southeastern Utah.
In a location like the Canyonlands of the desert southwest I would not have expected to find portrayals of a creature that I associate with the northern forests, but imagine my surprise when I looked into the range of the Northern Flying Squirrel and found that it did extend down into just about that area. Could these figures actually represent flying squirrels? Perhaps some of you with knowledge on Ute mythology could cast some light on this possibility.

Friday, January 13, 2012


There is a loose category of rock art images in the American southwest that are generically referred to as Tlalocs. They are certainly not kachinas, but they perhaps played a similar role in the society for a period as kachinas later did. These are figures with large eyes which are often outlined with squares, and also sometimes show fangs or pointed teeth.

Tlaloc, Three-Rivers, New Mexico.  Photo:
December 1988, Jack & Esther Faris.

According to Wikipedia “Tlaloc was an important deity in Aztec religion, a god of rain, fertility, and water. He was a beneficent god who gave life and sustenance, but he was also feared for his ability to send hail, thunder and lightning, and for being the lord of the powerful element of water. In Aztec iconography he is normally depicted with goggle eyes and fangs. He was associated with caves, springs and mountains. Archaeological evidence indicates Tlaloc was worshipped in Mesoamerica even before the Aztecs settled there in 13th century AD. He was a prominent god in Teotihuacan at least 800 years before the Aztecs. This has led to Mesoamerican goggle-eyed raingods being referred to generically as "Tlaloc" although in some cases it is unknown what they were called in these cultures, and in other cases we know that he was called by a different name (e.g. the Mayan version was known as Chaac”).

Tlaloc, Three-Rivers, New Mexico. Photo:
December 1988, Jack & Esther Faris.

My illustrations, coming from the amazing Three Rivers petroglyph site, show both of these described traits. One shows the eyes as dots in large rectangular sockets, and the others show the large goggle-eyes with sharp fang teeth. The Three Rivers petroglyphs are the product of the Jornada Mogollon people between about 900 and 1400 AD. Their society possessed a number of imports from the cultures of Mexico pointing to trade with the south. 

Tlaloc, Three-Rivers, New Mexico. Photo:
December 1988, Jack & Esther Faris.

Tlaloc, as a god of rain, fertility, and water, may have come to the American southwest along with traders from the south who supplied exotic trade goods such as macaws, copper bells, and other influences such as ball courts. For a culture that depended upon agriculture for survival a cult figure that might influence rain and fertility would have considerable appeal. The presence of these Tlaloc figures illustrates the result of that appeal and helps give us insight into beliefs of the early peoples of the southwest.