Saturday, September 28, 2013


Meteorological symbols. Figure 80, York, They Write 
Their Dreams on the Rocks Forever, p. 115.

The 'Nlaka'pamux people of the Stein River Valley, in British Columbia, Canada, have a heritage of rock art in their territory to which they still refer, and which their elders interpret. Some of this is recorded in the 1993 book They Write Their Dreams on the Rocks Forever, Rock Writings in the Stein River Valley of British Columbia, by Annie York, Richard Daly, and Chris Arnett. In this book Annie York, an elder of the 'Nlaka'pamux people, interpreted one panel as referring to meteorological conditions.

“- - there’s that oval with the slits and the line up and down. That’s really a weather-teller. The weather symbol. When you see that sort of shape in the sky, when the moon or the sun has a black mark here in it, you can tell that there’s going to be bad weather. It’s really a cloud and the up and down line is how the light and shadow comes through it. You often see that. One kind is the sun-dog. Every day it’s been there – that’s why we got this wet weather now. (p. 116-7)

Crepuscular rays at sunset, Aurora, Colorado.
Photograph Peter Faris, Oct. 4, 2010.

22˚ Halo with Sun Dog, Denver. Photograph Peter Faris, 1995.

Annie's reference to the sun coming through the cloud is best illustrated at sunrise or sunset when the background sky is a little darker than during the bright of the day. If a low sun is projecting light rays upward through the contours of a cloud this is known as crepuscular rays. The alternative would be a slightly higher sun shining downward through the contours of a cloud (not illustrated) creating the sunset rays that we all are familiar with. 

On October 21, 2009, I posted a column titled The Sun Paints His Cheeks wherein I speculated that a petroglyph of a circular sun symbol surrounded by a ring of dots might be an illustration of multiple sun dogs (parhelia). In this pictographic example we have an interpretation from the descendants of the creators of the imagery that one symbol refers to the light that passes through a cloud, and also refers to sun dogs (parhelia). Whether or not the original creator of the image had that in mind when it was painted it certainly carries that meaning now. This is yet another indication of the importance environmental conditions carried for people of the First Nations, and now also for their descendants.


York, Annie, Richard Daley, and Chris Arnett,
1993    They Write Their Dreams on the Rocks Forever, Rock Writings in the Stein River Valley of British Columbia, Talonbooks, Vancouver, B.C.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Stein River owl, from York, "They Write Their Dreams 
on the Rocks Forever", p.221.

Fig. 156. Stein Valley Owl, York, "They Write Their 
Dreams on the Rocks Forever", p.236.

A variation of the owl figure in rock art that I find to be very compelling is from the Stein River Valley in British Columbia, Canada. The Stein River Valley owl has large eyes and a graceful curve to its wings that make it very attractive designwise, and it symbolizes deeply spiritual themes to the people there. It has complicated meanings including not only owls and their attributes, but also it is identified with the two-headed spirit snake Sisiutl. This owl is very often illustrated with its outstretched wings embracing or encompassing game animals. This leads to interpretation as representing spiritual power over game animals and thus, the Stein River owl is part of a hunter’s magic.

A variation of the Stein River Owl pictograph
with its wings encompassing game animals.

That association is explained by Annie York below: 
“A more intellectually complex visualization is found in Fig 156, - it has been adopted by common usage as the Stein Valley “owl” logo.

Fig. 100, York, "They Write Their Dreams
 on the Rocks Forever," p.149.

This is the dream form of the hunter’s spirit helper. Annie explained this image as the dream form taken by men who have a well-developed hunting power. Their specific power may emanate from a natural creature such as the rubber boa ( Sisiutl, appearing above the owl in the illustration above, see my column of May 1, 2010 – Sisiutl – The Two-Headed Serpent ), the eagle or the owl, and then, in the dream, it can transform itself into the directed will of the hunter, portrayed in its dream form as a semi-human, semi-bird encompassing the game.
The dominant shape of this figure is a strong vertical body and two arched and encompassing arms.

Fig. 145, York, They Write Their Dreams
on the Rocks Forever, p. 212.

 It is strikingly similar to the forceful image of the joined eyebrows and nose in many petroglyphs such as Fig. 145, and in the famous Tsagaglalal petroglyph portrayal of a face at Long Narrows, Columbia River.” (York 1993:236)

So, on the one level we have meaning found in its identity as an owl and all of the qualities attributed to that bird. On the second level we have meanings that arise from its association with Sisiutl. And then on a third level we have the association with other rock art of the Northwest based upon the similarity of the shape of the wings of the Stein River owl with the eyebrows of petroglyph faces supposed to represent spirit or ancestor figures, and it is also seen to be similar to the Spedis Owl (August 2, 2010, Birds in Rock Art – The Spedis Owl).
This is a pretty large role to play for such a small character.


York, Annie, Richard Daley, and Chris Arnett,
1993    They Write Their Dreams on the Rocks Forever, Rock Writings in the Stein River Valley of British Columbia, Talonbooks, Vancouver, B.C.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Castle Gardens, Wyoming.

Continuing to kick poor old Barry Fell around, we now come to what I feel may be the most egregious example of falsification and fabrication in his whole repertoire. In central Wyoming a concentration of petroglyphs is found at Castle Gardens near the small town of Moneta. The Plains Indian petroglyphs here show a major concentration of shield images.

Castle Gardens, Wyoming.

Fell however, cannot let these marvelous images of Native American heraldry just be what they are. He has to warp them into a fantastic story of Celtic/Roman/Iberian travelers and traders who voyaged to Wyoming to open a branch of the First Iberian Bank of Moneta. I will be presenting this story mostly in his own words with comments thrown in as seems appropriate. Notice that the petroglyph panel showing the grouping of shields has a lot of plaster stuck on it from attempts to make molds of the images. I would not personally be surprised to find out that this was the result of Fell’s operations since we have already seen in so many examples that he works mostly from reproductions made from molds cast from the original rock art.

“Petroglyphs representing ancient coins extend the range to the ancient equivalent of the Oregon Trail, extending across the prairies to Moneta in Wyoming. The latter town appears to mark the site of the annual fur market in Roman times, lying near the North Pass in the Great Divide, and thus as convenient for ancient trappers as the nineteenth-century Wyoming markets were for trappers and buyers of the Astor company. The route also gave access to Nevada and California silver.“ (Fell 1980:35)

There is one more site: the great pictograph and petroglyph location called Castle Gardens, near the town of Moneta, in central Wyoming. Dr. Don Rickey, chief historian of the Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior, was one of my first visitors a few days after America B.C. was published at the end of 1976. He had been struck by many features of the book that appeared to throw possible light on problems of American epigraphy and early history.  -  He began by referring to me various reports in the files of the Bureau of Land Management dealing with unexplained petroglyphs. One of the reports dealt with the Wyoming site mentioned above – the finest petroglyph location in Wyoming, remarkable for the almost universal circular form of all the designs depicted on a series of rock faces that dominate the site.
            Some of the designs I recognized at sight as well-known Celtic patterns, used on disc-shaped bronze harness trappings of Celtic kings in Europe, and also occurring in the Spiro Mound in Oklahoma, together with other evidences of Celtic designs. But the great majority of circular patterns cut into the cliffs at Castle Gardens were not familiar to me when I first saw them. They seemed so dissimilar to Indian shield patterns that it was hard to relate them to these either.” (Fell 1980:134-5) 

The final solution to the Castle Gardens mystery came like this:
            After the match between the Byzantine bronze-coin series and the supposed “Indian shield” series of Colorado petroglyphs was discovered, I remembered the mysterious suite of circular “shield” patterns from the Wyoming site, and once more got out Dr. Rickey’s report -. This time I did indeed begin to recognize, one by one, designs that resembled ancient coins I had once seen.”(Fell 1980:140)

"Italian chariot wheel coin design and supposed imitation
at Castle Gardens. Barry Fell, Saga America, p.152.

“Bewilderment was the Wyoming artist’s reaction to certain themes featured on the Romano-Iberian coinage. In B, the crab of the Roman model A, unknown in mid-continent is rendered as an obese person executing a handstand. In D, a half-chariot becomes a mysterious sun god; for where no horses exist, there can be no wheeled vehicles. In F, the Old World cock of an Italian bronze piece becomes a turkey, experiencing great difficulty in fitting its ample proportions into the confines of a circular flan. In H an Italian chariot wheel becomes a cross-pattee. All designs on the right side are petroglyphs from the Moneta site of the Wyoming Iberian bank. Those on the left side are drawn from Roman Republican and Campanian coins; Iberian examples are commonly bisected to yield lesser denominations, or “bits,” as shown at C.” (Fell 1980:152)

I believe that the image of the supposed imitation "Italian chariot wheel coin" corresponds to the shield figure found in the illustrations below. According to James Keyser this image is not even from Castle Gardens, Wyoming. He identified it as being found near Sheriden, Wyoming. Although a little hard to make out in the actual photo you can identify the form of the shield easily in the drawing that I made from an illustration in James Keyser and Keyser and Michael A. Klassen's 2001 book, Plains Indian Rock Art.

Shield figures, Wyoming. The shield of
the figure on the right corresponds to Fell's "H" above.

Comparing Fell’s coin with a cross-pattee to the original rock art photo exposes just how egregious the falsehood and deception is. The original is a shield figure (on the right of the grouping above) and Fell omitted the legs, head, spear, and many details of the shield itself including the fringe of feathers around it (not to mention the whole of the rest of the group of figures), to make it fit his strange idea of it representing a coin from the First Iberian Bank of Moneta, Wyoming.
Shield figure panel, drawn by 
Peter Faris after Keyser and Klassen, p. 197.

But Fell goes further, he not only has identified all the circular shields at Castle Gardens (and throughout the rest of western North America) as coins, he has also discovered the sign of the bank that handled those coins, a supposed inscription in Iberian-Greek. 

Castle Gardens translation, Barry Fell,
Saga America, 1980, p. 149.

“The business sign or tile engraved at the Wyoming site near Moneta. On the left the Iberic letters spell the old Gaelic word for moneychanger, or, in modern parlance bank. On the right, the word intended apparently is Old Gaelic for no interest – or perhaps, rather, no usury (i.e., not more than 12-1/2%). In the center Greek letters phi, alpha, theta, and eta form a rebus in which a moneybag discharges coins onto a dish. The word spelled means “[it was] the first to come here,” resembling the modern use of the word “First” in bank names.” (Fell 1980:149) In other words Fell is stating that this is the sign that identifies the First Iberian Bank of Moneta (the underline is mine).

Maybe Barry Fell for this, but we don’t have to.


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

Keyser, James D. and Michael A. Klassen
2001    Plains Indian Rock Art, University of Washington Press, Seattle.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


On June 29, 2013, I put up a posting titled “The Most Northern Kokopelli” in which I discussed some examples of the hump-backed flute player that appeared farther north than usual. At that time I inquired if any of my readers knew of other examples, perhaps even farther north. I hit the jackpoint with that when Peter Jessen responded directing me to a reference to an example in James Keyser and Michael Klassen’s marvelous book Plains Indian Rock Art which refers to an example in Alberta, Canada.

Grotto Canyon Kokopelli, Alberta, Canada. After 
Keyser and Klassen, 2001, p. 105, Fig. 7.13.

This is what Keyser and Klassen had to say about this interesting figure:

“One of the most intriguing Northwestern Plains rock art sites is Grotto Canyon, situated in the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Although some pictographs here show similarities to other eastern Columbia Plateau sites, others bear an uncanny resemblance to rock art of the American Southwest, making them among the most mysterious and enigmatic of any in the region.” (p.105)

“Most intriguing, however, is a small hunched human figure (fig. 7.13), with legs bent at the knees and thin “antennae” sprouting from its head. With both hands it holds a long, thin object to its mouth. Although this image is unique in both Northwestern Plains and Columbia Plateau rock art, anywhere in the Southwest it would be instantly recognized as Kokopelli, the flute player. In Hopi tradition this hunch-backed trickster has special powers and acts as both a fertility symbol and a rain priest. He can call the rain by playing his sacred flute, and he carries seeds, blankets and special gifts with which he seduces young women." (p. 105-6)

Grotto Canyon Kokopelli at lower left.

Yup, that sounds and looks like our boy all right, the Kokopelli we all know and love. Thank you Peter for the reference, and keep looking at the rocks.

NOTE: Not having an actual photo of the Grotto Canyon Kokopelli, I have used a reproduction of the black and white illustration from the Keyser and Klassen book (top) and then scanned a color reproduction printed out from an illustration found online (below).

Keyser, James D., and Michael A. Klassen
2001   Plains Indian Rock Art, University of Washington Press, Seattle.