Friday, August 30, 2013


On August 3, 2013, I began a series of postings questioning the conclusions of Barry Fell and his fellow epigraphers back in the 1970s and 1980s. My first example was located in Picture Canyon, in Baca County, Colorado. I showed then that the casting of the petroglyph that Fell had done his translation from had been altered from the original. This example is also located in Picture Canyon, Baca County, Colorado.

Picture Canyon, Baca County, Colorado. 
Photograph: Peter Faris.

Fell’s description of his version of this image is:
“A finely executed cliff petroglyph of a horse, discovered by Gloria Farley in the Cimarron region, is unusual in having a Libyan brandmark shown H-N, “Fleet-of-foot.” In ancient Libya states were erected to successful racehorses, and perhaps this commemorates one such, though not an American cup winner. Replica, after photo by Gloria Farley.” (Fell 1980:286)   

From Barry Fell's Saga America, p.286.

Once again, by comparing the Fell’s illustration with a photograph of the actual image you can see a number of differences. One major difference is the depth of the groove. On the original there is a fine scratch as if made with the edge of a flake of hard stone or the tip of a knife blade. Indeed, without the added pigment the horse image would be difficult to trace. This really is more pictograph than petroglyph, and while on that subject notice that Fell's version omits what appear to be the faded remains of an image of a rider with the horse. Then we have the changes to the image itself. The head of the horse is very different from the actual pictograph, and the line of the left  hip of the horse is also changed. Fell has omitted the tail of the horse as well. Even the inscription which is the whole point to Fell has been changed. On the original this so-called Libyan brandmark is roughly circular or oval in outline and in Fell’s altered version it is squared off, presumably to make the interpretation more convincing.

Falsified data does not convince me. 


Fell, Barry

1980    Saga America, Times Books, New York

Saturday, August 17, 2013


I have often argued in the past, perhaps a little too strenuously for some of my friends, that I do not believe that most rock art identified as maps can possibly be actual maps in the way we understand the term. Indeed my very first posting on RockArtBlog, ARE THERE MAPS IN ROCK ART?,18 April 2009, addressed this question and I detailed the reasons for my skepticism concerning maps in rock art at that time. Part of the disagreement concerns the semantics of the meaning of the term map. My definition of a proper map is a pictorial or symbolic representation that conveys information on the geography, features, and distances of a place, area, or region. This could range from the diagram of a campsite to something on the scale of a seasonal migration throughout a region, and larger. Just making a picture of a place is not making a map of it, but making a picture that encodes information about distances, scales, and features of that place would be making a map.

Inca carved stone map.
One category or variation of maps was carved into stone by the Incas. This is an amazing little landscape carved onto a boulder, with stairways and buildings shown as can be seen in the example. Some of these small scale Inca stone carvings seem to be intended to be used with running water channeled through the carving such as a carved miniature city with water poured from a pitcher to run down the water channels in it. It would be easy to imagine all sorts of wonderful ritual connections, although they would be just that, imagination. The truth is, I do not think that we know what this three dimensional cityscape was actually intended for but we do know of Incan water features carved into stone for ritual purposes so this is at least a possibility.

Machu Picchu. Photo from:
Another Inca phenomenon that many people link with the concept of maps is represented by stones that seem to have been shaped to reflect the shape of mountain peaks seen in the background. Although these do not match my definition of what a map actually is they certainly seem to have been purposefully created to copy the shape of the horizon. One of the most commonly seen examples is found at Machu Picchu. The jagged top of this boulder roughly mirrors the contour of the mountains behind it in the background (although those are obscured by clouds in this photo).

So, what do you consider to be maps, are there maps in rock art, and what are some of your favorite examples?

Saturday, August 10, 2013


3-Kings panel detail, McConkey Ranch, Uinta
County, UT. Photo Peter Faris, Sept. 1994.

I now return to the subject of the epigraphy of Barry Fell, and my inability to place any credence in his conclusions when they are based upon obviously falsified material. Actually my first great problem with Mr. Fell was based upon his claims for the identity of the large figure from the so-called “3-Kings” panel at McConkie Ranch outside of Vernal, Utah.

Sea people prisoners, from Medinet Habu, Egypt. 

“According to the great stele of Rameses III, a major invasion of the Nile Delta was attempted around 1200 B.C. by migrant warriors arriving by ship from the northeast, presumably from Anatolia (modern Turkey and neighboring coasts) and Philistia (Lebanon and neighboring parts of Palestine). These seaborne warriors belonged to a half dozen different tribes, distinguished by their helmets and their shields. Among them were the Shardana (or Sherden) who carried round shields, broadswords, and who wore feathered war bonnets.” (Fell 1980:91-2)

“The principal evidence, however, of Libyan settlement in North America rests in the essentially North Africa word content of the spoken language of the Zuni people today. The matching pairs of words from New Mexico on the one hand and from North Africa on the other are so numerous, and the phonetic relationships so evident, that it is possible to set out the rules of phonetic mutation that govern the derivation of the Zuni language from its Libyan parent language. These phonetic rules are of the same kind as another series I demonstrated in 1973, linking the Libyan language with that of Polynesia. The Polynesian people, like the Libyans themselves, are descended from the Anatolian Sea Peoples who invaded the Mediterranean around 1400 B.C. and , after attacking Egypt and suffering a series of defeats as the Egyptians record, eventually settled Libya. (Fell 1976:176) Fell claims that these sea people/Libyans later became the population that manned ships of the Egyptian navy and that when Egyptian fleets reached North America the Libyan language and customs persisted in their colonies here.

In his 1980 book Saga America, Fell identified the large figure in the center of the 3-Kings Panel at McConkie Ranch outside of Vernal Utah as a warrior of the Sea People. I presume this was done on the basis of the distinctive headdress on the figure which does bear a resemblance to those worn by Sherden warriors in the friezes of Ramses III. 

Flicker feather headdress from Mantle Cave,
However, in 1939, a flicker feather headdress was discovered in excavations at Mantle Cave in Dinosaur National Monument quite near McConkie Ranch. 
One of the Museum's most beautiful objects is a flicker feather headdress, which was recovered during 1939-1940 excavations of Mantle's Cave in the center of Dinosaur National Monument in the far northwest corner of Colorado. This area was inhabited prehistorically by a hunter/gatherer/horticulturalist group that archaeologists call the Fremont, and in historic times by the Ute, a Numic-speaking tribe. 
The headdress is intricately constructed and was found in a buckskin pouch. It is made of flicker feathers, ermine, and buckskin. More than 370 feathers are in the headdress. Six feathers at the center of the crest are from the yellow-shafted flicker and the rest of the feathers are central tail feathers of the red-shafted flicker. Interestingly, the red flicker is native west of the Rockies, while the yellow flicker lives east of the Rockies. The feathers are carefully trimmed and the quills sewn together with sinew. They are placed between strips of ermine and laced into place. Rawhide thongs at either end of the ermine may have been used to hold the headdress in place when it was worn. Long wing feathers adorn the ends.
The original excavators of Mantle's Cave dubbed this object a headdress, although its use remains uncertain. It dates to A.D. 996-1190, which is the transitional time period between the Fremont people and Numic-speaking people in this area, so it could have belonged to either cultural group.” (

Barry Fell, Saga America, 1980,
Times Books, New York, p. 102.

So where Fell saw a Sherden warrior from the eastern Mediterranean, I see a Fremont warrior wearing a flicker feather headdress. Vernal, Utah, is a long way from any ocean Barry, especially from the eastern Mediterranean. Then we find that Fell based his analysis on another of those photographs taken from a reconstruction of the original rock art (why not just a photo of the rock art I wonder?) and when examining that childish copy of the great rock art panel we can see differences in the details of the portrayal again (as in the case from Picture Canyon). So once again we have Fell carrying out his interpretations on the basis of faulty data. Watch out Barry, it’s a long fall!


Fell, Barry
1976    America B.C., Demeter Press, New York.
1980    Saga America, Times Books, New York


Saturday, August 3, 2013


Picture Canyon, Baca County, Colorado. 
Photograph: Peter Faris, 21 Sept., 1986.

Back in the 1970s there was considerable public interest in the diffusionist theories of Barry Fell. Fell believed that many rock art inscriptions and images had been produced by pre-Columbian travelers from the Old World.

“Barry Fell (born Howard Barraclough Fell)( June 6, 1917 - April 21, 1994) was a professor of invertebrate zoology at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. While his primary professional research included starfish and sea urchins, Fell is also known for his controversial work in New World epigraphy, arguing that various inscriptions in the Americas are best explained by extensive pre-Columbian contact with Old World civilizations.” Wikipedia.

In my early years as a rock art researcher I felt I should read all sides of an argument in order to be able to fairly judge it for myself so I undertook the task of reading some of the writings of Barry Fell. As an aside here I should add that I do believe that there was pre-Columbian contact between the Old and New Worlds. We have physical proof of Viking presence at l’anse aux meadows in Newfoundland dating to around AD 1000. Additionally, I have posted about the hundreds of botanical and zoological indications outlined and explained in the book World Trade and Biological Exchanges Before 1492, by Carl L. Johannessen and John L. Sorenson, (2004). I have no trouble accepting limited contact, and even exchange, between peoples of the Old and New Worlds before Columbus. I just cannot accept the claims of diffusionists that so many of the cultural traits of New World peoples came from the dozens or hundreds of expeditions of Celts, Egyptians, Phoenicians, and everyone else they can think of roaming back and forth across North America leaving carved images and inscriptions.

Picture Canyon, Baca County, Colorado. 
Photograph: Peter Faris, 21 Sept., 1986.

As I said above I tried to read enough of Barry Fells’ writings to understand his premise and be able to give a fair evaluation to his claims. I read much of his writing and I have to confess that it would be really exciting to just open up to his conclusions. If I had just gone with it I could have been in on so many of the exciting discoveries that Barry Fell and his disciples claimed. Unfortunately, I found myself constrained by judgment and truth, and just could not adopt his conclusions. Part of the problem was the fact that I could visit some of the sites he translated and see for myself.

Cast by Gloria Farley, in America B.C.
Barry Fell, Demeter Press, 1976, p.182.

In 1986 I spent some time in Picture Canyon, in Baca County, southeastern Colorado. There I visited the petroglyph that Barry Fell had translated, and explained as follows, based upon a casting from a mold made by Gloria Farley: “Chief Ras left this bilingual autograph to record his exploration of the Cimarron River in Oklahoma, probably around 500 B.C. Gloria Farley obtained this latex impression under a rock overhand on the river cliffs. Above right the Egyptian hieratic letters T-P (Chief). The eye symbol itself is the Egyptian hieratic word R-S (“Watchful”). The two Libyan letters cut into the eye sign, also spell R-S. Bilingual Egypto-Libyan inscriptions in North America probably reflect the lasting influence of the Libyan pharaohs upon the Egyptian navy. In later centuries when the Greek Ptolemies ruled Egypt, their Libyan queens continued to promote the interest of the navy, still manned largely by Libyan mariners. Malcolm D. Pearson” (Fell 1976:182)

First, the image is not on the cliffs of the Cimarron River, this symbol is actually in Picture Canyon, in Baca County, Colorado, and it is found a number of miles from the Cimarron River cliffs in New Mexico. Second, the actual image is somewhat different than the supposed casting which one would expect to be an exact replica of the original. Notice that the right end of the image is flattened, not sharply pointed as in the “casting”, also, please note that the actual shapes of Fells’  “two Libyan letters cut into the eye sign”, which ”also spell R-S” are not the same in the photograph as on the “impression”. There are also a number of other markings on the panel, including a group of pits within the right side of the “eye” that do not appear to be on Gloria’s “impression” at all.

Additionally, the lines of the “eye” and the “Libyan letters” in the casting are much sharper edged than the lines of the original, all of which suggests to me that the so-called “impression” has been worked over with tools to achieve the end they desired. Finally, we can see that the background surface of the “impression” that was supposedly made with latex directly from the surface of the rock does not match the actual background surface of the rock face itself. In any scientific context that I know of that is called falsification of data and is considered to be a fraudulent practice at the very least. So, back in the beginning – this is where Barry Fell. I will continue this exploration in the future.

Note: I wish I could claim to be clever enough to have originated the title “Where Barry Fell” for myself, but I cannot. This title came from a slide program debunking some of Fells' claims that was assembled by Bill McGlone back in the early 1990s, in cooperation with Phil Leonard.


Fell, Barry
1976    America B.C., Demeter Press, New York.