Saturday, January 26, 2013


Any student of rock art would happily classify a design marked on a slab of rock that they discovered somewhere out in the wilderness as rock art. Most of us would even classify markings that we know had been created by a culture for utilitarian purpose as rock art. Examples of that include tool grooves and bedrock metates. But how would we classify markings on a piece of rock that was considered to be a household item for frequent use? In this posting we look at another game board carved in rock, this example reported from Hopi.

Aztec game of patolli. In Games People Play, Barbara Voorhies,
p. 51, Archaeology magazine, May-June 2012

In the article Games Ancient People Played, by Barbara Voorhies, in Archaeology Magazine, May/June 2012, p. 48-51, one illustration shows an Aztec game being played on a very distinctive game board. This gambling game, known as Patolli, shows the gamblers and the Aztec god Macuilxochitl, the god of games, to whom they pray for luck. His name can be translated as “Five Flowers” shown in the illustration by the flower in his hand as five circles at the top center.
Four-player tolosi game board, Fig. 195, p. 162, Stewart Culin, 1907,
Games Of The North American Indians, Twenty-fourth Annual
Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1902-1903,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

The other illustration is from Games Of The North American Indians, Twenty-fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1902-1903, Smithsonian Institution, 1907, by Stewart Culin. It illustrates a Hopi game board CARVED IN SANDSTONE which is essentially identical to the patolli board of the Aztecs, that Culin identified as having been used in a Hopi game called tolosi.  It is a board for four players as is the Aztec example. This game is played by throwing cane dice to control the player’s moves. This is very likely done much like the Aztec example described below.
Two-player tolosi game board, Fig. 194, p. 162, Stewart Culin, 1907,
Games Of The North American Indians, Twenty-fourth Annual
Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1902-1903,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

According to Wikipedia “Patolli is a race/war game with a heavy focus on gambling. Players would meet and inspect the items each other had available to gamble. They bet blankets, Maguey plants, precious stones, gold adornments, food or just about anything. In extreme cases, they would bet their homes and sometimes their family and freedom. Agreeing to play against someone was not done casually as the winner of the game would ultimately win all of the opponent's store of offerings. Each player must have the same number of items to bet at the beginning of the game. The ideal number of items to bet is six, although any number would be acceptable as long as each player agreed. The reason for having at least six bits of treasure is because there are six jade markers that will traverse the game board. As each marker successfully completes the circuit around the board, the opponent is required to hand over ownership of an item from his or her treasure. Once an agreement is made to play, the players prepare themselves by invoking the god of games, Macuilxochitl (as in the Aztec illustration), by offering incense, prayers and food. After psyching themselves up - the game begins.”
An interesting example of utilitarian rock art (made for use), as well as evidence of yet another link of the American Southwest to the civilizations of Central America.


Culin, Stewart
1907    Games Of The N.orth American Indians, Twenty-fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1902-1903, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

Voorhies, Barbara
2012    GAMES PEOPLE PLAY, Archaeology Magazine, May/June 2012, pages 48 – 51.


Friday, January 18, 2013


Willamette Meteorite, From Let's Investigate Meteorites, by Madelyn Carlisle.

A couple of months ago while driving home after dark I was lucky enough to observe the breakup and burning of a good sized fireball in the sky. Instead of being just the little streak of light of most meteors this one was large enough to have shape and to see burning pieces splitting off it and burning up. Any part of this that survived to reach the ground would be designated a meteorite.

Photograph of a Navajo star ceiling from the Internet.

With astronomical phenomenon known to have been of importance in Native American culture, are there any indications of representations of meteorites in rock art? On May 6, 2009 I published a post titled “When the Stars Fell” about the November 12-13, 1833, Leonid meteor storm. I suggested that the multitude of star representations in later (post-1833) Navajo star ceilings might have been influenced by this meteor storm. That was about a phenomenon that was essentially worldwide. Here I am speculating about any rock art records of a local meteorite fall, something that would have greatly impressed the local people.

The largest meteorite found in the United States is named the Willamette, because it was found in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The Willamette is an iron-nickel meteorite and weighs 28,000 pounds, the sixth largest in the world. The local tribe of Native Americans, the Clackamas Indians called it “Tomanowos” (Visitor from the Moon) and believed it has spiritual powers. “Before going into battle, the warriors dipped their arrows and washed their faces in the rainwater that collected in hollows in the huge stone from the sky”. (Carlisle 1992:13)

"Since there was no impact crater at the discovery site; geologists believe the meteorite landed in what is now Canada or Montana, and was transported as a glacial erratic to the Willamette Valley during the Missoula Floods at the end of the last Ice Age (~13,000 years ago). The meteorite is currently on display at the American Museum of Natural History, which acquired the meteorite in 1906." (Wikipedia 2010)

"The meteorite was apparently venerated by the Native American tribe inhabiting the area where it was found. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, a confederation of Native American  tribes, used the meteorite in ceremonies and have demanded that it be returned. They filed a NAGPRA action (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) against the American Museum of Natural History in 1999 to this end. In response, the Museum filed a federal lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment against the Grand Ronde in 2000. An agreement with the Museum was reached later that year in which the meteorite would remain at the museum with tribal members being able to conduct a private ceremony around the meteorite once a year, and that ownership will be transferred to Grand Ronde should the museum cease to have the meteorite on display." (Wikipedia)

A name like “Visitor from the Moon” suggests to me that the fall of the meteorite was witnessed and that its track had seemed to originate near the moon in the sky. At least that seems to be the most logical reason for an association with the moon, of course it is possible that the Clackamas people generally associate anything that seems out of place or different from the norm with an origin from the moon, but that seems unrealistically imprecise. So here is the problem, if it fell in Montana or Canada, and not in the Willamette Valley why would it have been given a name that associated it with the moon?

An inquiry with D. Russell Micnhimer of elicited the fact that there are no known examples of rock art in the Willamette valley that would seem to portray a meteorite fall, so where did the designation of “Visitor from the Moon” come from? 

Another example of a meteorite that was associated with ancient peoples in North America is known as the Mesa Verde meteorite which was found in the Sun Shrine ruin at Mesa Verde in Colorado (Matthews 2000:30). Found in 1922, it weighs 3.52 kilograms and is classified as octahedrite in composition. The location in the Sun Temple ruin suggests that it had been placed there by Ancestral Puebloan people who lived at Mesa Verde.

Paquime meteorite in the Smithsonian Institution.

Another meteorite was found carefully preserved in the ruins of Paquime. “Paquime is famous among astronomers for its 1,500-kilogram meteorite, discovered by looters in a “temple” at the ruin, in the 1860s. The extraterrestrial omen is now in the Smithsonian. Does the Spanish retelling of obscure Native tales describe some aspect of the founding of Paquime and of the migrations of the Chichimec tribes out of the north?” (Lekson 2008:214) “Many Hopis think that Paquime was their Red City, Palatkwapi. The Red City was overthrown by earthquake and flood (according to Courlander), or by strife among the clans, ending in siege, destruction, and escape (according to Waters) – or by other means, not known to these two often discredited chroniclers of Hopi History. But it seems that the Red City died hard, with calamity and violence.” (Lekson 2008:214)

“When Onate’s conquistadors marched to New Mexico through Chihuahua in 1598, they recorded stories of Native peoples – tribes unknown today and languages perhaps gone. One of those stories told of two large groups of people – warriors, women, children – marching boldly out of the north from the Pueblo region, led by two brothers. On their journey to the south, they encountered an immense “mass of solid ore . . . so smooth and polished and free from rust as though it were the finest Capella silver.” A terrible hag carried this huge rock, which she “hurled . . . through the air with the speed of a lightning bolt.” After that she vanished. “No sooner had this missile struck the ground than the whole earth trembled.” One brother took this portent as a sign to found a city (or, in another version, to turn around and head back north!), which the Spaniards later saw on their march north as “the ruins of a great capital.” The second brother led his group southward into central Mexico, and they were lost from memory.” (Lekson 2008:214)

I would like to suggest that rock art enthusiasts might wish to look over their body of rock art images with an eye toward anything that might imply connection with falling from the moon or sky, and let me know if you find anything.


Carlisle, Madelyn Wood
1992    Let’s Investigate Magical, Mysterious Meteorites, Barron’s Inc., Hauppauge, NY.

Lekson, Stephen H.
2008    A History of the Ancient Southwest, School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, NM.

Morgan, Matthew L.
2000    The Handbook of Colorado Meteorites, Colorado Geological Survey, Denver.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Konane game board. Papamu, Big Island, Hawaii.
Photograph: Douglas Beauchamp, 2009.

On Dec. 1, 2010, I had posted a column about a rock art site on the Hawaiian island of Oahu that has a grouping of pits in its upper surface that are considered to be a game board, not a piko stone. This site, named Pohaku Ka Luahine, is found in Moanalua valley and consists of a large round boulder. It is densly pecked with lines and figures as well as the game board. On Dec. 23, 2012, I mentioned it again in the context of game boards in rock art. I could not really distinguish the grid of pits of the konane game board on the top of the boulder due to lighting conditions and the somewhat eroded nature of the boulder so I included a somewhat problematical field sketch from Ancient Sites of Oahu, Revised by Van James (2010: p.50). Konane is described as a checkers-like game played with black and white pebbles by Hawaiians and examples have reportedly been found with one hundred or more pits pecked into boulders. 

Konane game board. Papamu, Big Island, Hawaii.
Photograph: Douglas Beauchamp, 2009

After that column was posted I received a communication from Douglas Beauchamp of Eugene, Oregon, who enclosed three photos of boulders with probable konane game boards from Hawaii, the Big Island, that he had taken in 2009. These photos are much more effective at illustrating what a carved stone konane game board looks like.

Konane game board. Papamu, Big Island, Hawaii.
Photograph: Douglas Beauchamp, 2009

Douglas is also participating in a photographic exhibit that sounds absolutely fascinating. The exhibit ARCHAIC PETROGLYPHS IN OREGON COUNTRY is scheduled to be held at the Jacobs Gallery of the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene, Oregon, from January 25 to March 16, 2013. There is also an accompanying symposium on rock art scheduled. For details go to . Douglas, thank you for the photos and the information.


Beauchamp, Douglas

James, Van
2010   Ancient Sites of Oahu, Revised, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


On January 4, 2013, I posted Mayan Rock Art In Georgia? which was a review of a new television series on History2 channel. 

This television series aired on 28 December, 2012, on History2 channel titled America Unearthed follows the adventures and logic(?) of Scott Wolter, a forensic geologist, as he tackles some of the tough, unanswered questions in American history – where have we heard this before? Episode 1, Season 1, was titled American Maya Secrets, and purports to prove that there was pre-Columbian Mayan presence in Georgia. In my January 4, 2013, posting I voiced my skepticism about the arguments in this program and cited some of Jason Colavito’s arguments against this as well. 

We now can see that this is not an isolated instance in this new series. Season 1 continued with Episode 2, the Medieval Desert Mystery, which examined markings outside of a rock art cave in Arizona. The cave itself contained a quantity of authentic prehistoric Native American rock art. However, just outside the entrance to this cave a boulder has markings on it that were identified in the program as a burial inscription in Anglo-Saxon runes proving that a visitor from England died there in the 1500s. Unfortunately they did not have permission to excavate an archaeological site so they could not dig and find the burial – convenient, isn’t it?

It now seems that we can see a trend here. This is epigraphy raising its ugly head again. Just as with the examples from Barry Fell and his disciples back in the 1970s and 1980s, we are presented with ridiculous claims by unqualified individuals. In this instance they an aura of scientific credibility by the supposed scientific credentials of the host. But note this carefully, he is a geologist, not a linguist, an archaeologist, or even a historian. The show has entertaining moments, just please don't believe it! 

Friday, January 4, 2013


Forsythe petroglyph boulder, Georgia. bing.netthid=H.4516085962048560&pid=15.1

Forsythe petroglyph boulder, Georgia. http://www.examiner

A brand new television series aired on 28 December, 2012, on History2 channel titled America Unearthed follows the adventures and logic(?) of Scott Wolter, a forensic geologist, as he tackles some of the tough, unanswered questions in American history – where have we heard this before? Episode 1, Season 1, was titled American Maya Secrets, and purports to prove that there was pre-Columbian Mayan presence in Georgia.

One piece of evidence was the Forsythe Petroglyph boulder which he declared was “so Mayan in appearance.” As you can see just about the only thing similar between the Forsythe Petroglyph boulder and Mayan petroglyphs is that they are both petroglyphs, carved into rock. Wolter interviewed a “rock art expert” who asserted that the markings on the Forsythe boulder were astronomical and fit the patterns of constellations. Apparently, the row of pits along the top spine of the boulder were some kind of counting system, this indicating a recurring astronomical phenomenon. Since we all know that the Mayans were consummate astronomers this proves the connection, doesn’t it?

Another piece of evidence he cited was that Mayan blue pigment was made with the special ingredient of palygorskite clay, which he claimed is rare in the Yucatan but common in Georgia.

According to Wikipedia “Palygorskite is known to have been a key constituent of the pigment called "Maya Blue", which was used notably by the pre-Columbian Maya civilization of Mesoamerica on ceramics, sculptures, murals and (most probably) Maya textiles. The clay mineral was also used by the Maya as a curative for certain illnesses, and there is evidence to show it was also added to pottery temper. A Maya region source for palygorskite was unknown until the 1960s, when one was found at a cenote on the Yucatan Peninsula near the modern township of Sacalum, Yucatan. A second possible site was more recently (2005) identified, near Ticul, Yucatan. The Maya Blue synthetic pigment was also manufactured in other Mesoamerican regions and used by other Mesoamerican cultures, such as the Aztecs of central Mexico. The blue coloration seen on Maya and Aztec codices, and early colonial-era manuscripts and maps, is largely produced by the organic-inorganic mixture of anil leaves and palygorskite, with smaller amounts of other mineral additives. Human sacrificial victims in Postclassic Mesoamerica were frequently daubed with this blue pigmentation.” (Wikipedia) This doesn’t sound that “rare” to me.
To examine this evidence Wolter submitted a sample of palygorskite from Georgia and what he claimed was a sample of the Mayan blue paint from an actual Mayan mural to laboratory analysis. The results of the analysis suggested that there was a common mineral balance between the two samples. To the best of my knowledge, however, he did not also have a control sample of Central American palygorskite tested. It may indicate the actual scientific ethics and standards of this program and its host that they were apparently willing to deface a Mayan mural to supposedly test their dubious claims.

A review of the show on discussed the so-called evidence provided by a mound site in Georgia. “Wolter, regular readers will remember, is (in)famous for his claims that the Kensington Rune Stone is real evidence of a Viking exploration of Minnesota and that the Bat Creek Stone was a real ancient Hebrew artifact discovered in the United States. Needless to say, his claims hold very little weight, as I discussed before.

The program discusses what it calls the “Track Rock site” in Georgia, a mound site which the program claims is evidence that the Maya came to Georgia. The program asserts that the U.S. federal government prohibits access to the site. At first the show implies through lighting and mood music that this is for conspiratorial reasons, and then Wolter just explicitly says so.

Despite what America Unearthed claims, the Track Rock Gap Archaeological site is open to the public
 (for free, no less!), and the government offers directions to help you get there and brochures to help you find your way around the site. The only thing prohibited is archaeological excavation without following the formal application process. Since Scott Wolter is no archaeologist and has no interest in conducting real research, this must be the actual reason the “government” blocked him from trampling through the site, if that is what they did at all.

The US Forest Service has a web page
(listed below) debunking the claim that the Maya built the mounds and stone walls found at what is properly called the “Track Rock Gap Archaeological Site.” The mounds were constructed by the Creek and Cherokee around 1000 CE, after the Classic Maya had collapsed.”  (, 12/23/2012)

America Unearthed misses the mark of serious science or history by building a construct of untested assumptions and then using that to prove the point it was trying to make all along. No alternate evidence or meanings of the evidence were considered or tested.   That said, this is the type of programming that conspiracy theorists as well as urban legend aficionados will enjoy. After all, don’t we all enjoy a little fiction?
While I certainly cannot say that there was no pre-Columbian contact between Georgia and the Yucatan peninsula of the Mayans, I can state that there was no proof of it in this program.