Saturday, October 20, 2012


We rock art enthusiasts are generally very excited by an image that combines traits, and perhaps meanings. It illustrates the change of belief patterns wherein one or more separate ideas are melding into a new combined belief or idea.  On August 11, 2012, I posted a column about my belief that the origin of the Star Kachina (or Chasing Planet Kachina) was prompted by the appearance of Halley’s Comet and by the melding of the images of the eagle and a star.

Eagle/Star/Rattlesnake petroglyph, from West Mesa,
Albuquerque, N.M. Photo: Peter Faris, 1988.

This idea is taken further by one of my favorite petroglyphs from West Mesa at Albuquerque. This shows the eagle and star combined as before but in this example the combined image also serves as the head of a rattlesnake. While I have not found any references to this combined three-way image I would not be terribly surprised to hear of one in ancestral pueblo mythology. Indeed, the artist who produced this image must have had something in mind when it was being created, and what an interesting story it must be.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Grand Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon, UT.
Photo: Peter Faris, 28 May 1992.

In the November 2012 issue of Discover magazine (p. 28-29) there is an article that revisits the subject of echoes at rock art sites. Written by Douglas Starr it brings in examples of echoes in constructed environments as well as natural ones. He tells about temples at Chavin de Huantar in Peru, and El Castillo built by the Mayans in Mexico producing echoes that may have been intentional components of ceremonies. Starr also cites Igor Reznikoff, and archaeologist at the University of Paris who studies echoes in the painted caves of Europe, and who has found correlations. "He (Reznikoff) and a colleague have mapped several caves and found that areas with the greatest resonance coincided with the concentration of artworks." 

Starr also discusses studies by Steven J. Waller, a biochemist from California, who has studied echoes at rock art sites. 

"In 1994 he conducted an acoustical survey of Horseshoe Canyon, a three-mile-long chasm in southeastern Utah decorated with eerie pictographs. Waller hiked the canyon, pausing at 80 locations to snap a noisemaker fashioned from a rat trap and record the echoes. After processing the results with sound analysis software, he found that five spots displayed powerful echo effects. Four corresponded to the locations of paintings that Waller had encountered. When he asked experts about the fifth, they explained that it, too, bore artwork, though the pictographs were not visible from the path he followed. Since then, Waller has repeated the experiment at hundreds of rock art sites around the world, almost always finding a correlation between image and echo. He speculates that ancient artists "Purposely chose these places because of sound."

Now, I would be the last to say that this might not be true. However, I don't think that we should rush to any conclusion. Horseshoe Canyon certainly does produce echoes at pictograph sites. Echoes are produced magnificently by those flat canyon walls. They are also wonderful places to paint images. I just cannot see how this proves any connection between the two, echoes and images. The best echoes are surely produced by large, gently curving walls like those of the Grand Gallery. Indeed curvature in the walls may focus the returned sound to certain spots like a parabolic microphone. These very same walls provide the best surfaces for serious painting, and there is indeed serious painting at the Grand Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon (see above). Of course there is a correlation, but is there a connection? I really do not see how we can prove that, and until someone does come up with a way to prove it I feel that this must remain an interesting speculation.

Douglas Starr, Echoes from the Distant Past, pages 28-29, Discover, November, 2012.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Crosses, Freezeout Canyon, Baca County,
CO, Photo: Peter Faris, 1996.

The cross is a very common symbol in the rock art of the American Southwest. When it is just a simple set of crossed lines, one vertical and one horizontal, it is often assumed to represent the most commonly portrayed version of the Native American four-pointed star, as long as context does not contraindicate that.

FB Delgado signature, Signature Rock, Boise City,
OK. Photo: Peter Faris, June 12, 2006.

Crosses, Picketwire  Canyon, Las Animas 
County, CO. Photo: Dell Crandall.

Many other examples, however, embellish that basic crucifix with elaboration on the ends of the four arms. These are usually assumed to be variations of the Maltese cross and were probably created by Hispanic artists after the arrival of the conquistadores. The introduction of the Maltese cross to the American southwest by the Spanish entrada would have occurred after the 1540 expedition of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado into what is now New Mexico.
Maltese Cross, Wikipedia.

The Maltese cross, also known as the Amalfi cross, is identified as the symbol of an order of Christian warriors known as the Knights Hospitaller or Knights of Malta, and through them came to be identified with the Mediterranean island of Malta, of which it is a national symbol. . . The cross also forms the basic form for some Spanish orders such as the Order of Charles III or the Order of Isabella the Catholic. . . . The Royal and Distinguished Spanish Order of Charles III (Spanish: Real y Distinguida Orden Española de Carlos III) was established by the King of Spain Carlos III by means of the Royal Decree of 19 September 1771, with the motto Virtuti et mérito. Its objective is to reward people for their actions in benefit to Spain and the Crown. Since its creation, it has been the most distinguished civil award that can be granted in Spain, despite its categorization as a military order. (Wikipedia: 2012)

Thus, and not surprisingly, the form of a cross in rock art of the American Southwest can provide possible clues to not only the culture that created it, but also it possible date of creation. Not bad for two simple crossed lines.