Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Long-time friend, and Colorado Rock Art Association Board member, Carol Patterson has some possible rock art recording projects in Western Colorado for which she is seeking volunteers. If you think that you might be interested and might be in a position to help with any of these contact her. Who knows, your help might be just the added boost that gets these projects off the ground? And, if you do get involved, send me the material for consideration for posting on http://rockartblog.blogspot.com.

1. Paradox Valley with the BLM. This project needs help finishing the site forms and drawings for at least 5 sites with large panels. March to May. Camping or motels in Naturita which is not far away.

Ute warrior panel, Blue Creek. Photo: Carol Patterson.

Detail of Ute warrior panel, Blue Creek.
Photo: Carol Patterson.

2. Blue Creek, Ute warrior scratched glyphs on BLM land. Possibly mid-May. Lodging is probably camping at an abandoned ranch near the site.

3. Shavano needs more rock art panels recorded within the boundaries of the new acquisition by the Archaeology Conservancy. It is only 5 miles from town or camping on-site might be arranged. April -May should be good weather. This might be organized as a field school with possible lodging at Carol's home in Montrose.

Call Carol if you are interested in working with, and learning from, a highly experienced professional and a real rock art enthusiast.

Carol Patterson, PhD., RPA
Urraca Archaeological Services
P. O. Box 1721

Montrose, CO 81402
Cell: 970-252-8679 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

THE 2013 C.R.A.P. AWARD:

Petroglyph identified as a picture of the Ark of the
Covenant by Scott Wolter on America Unearthed.
Near Puerco Ruin, Petrified Forest Nat. Park,
AZ. Photograph: Peter Faris, June 1993.

Announcing the initiation of an annual award for the greatest nonsense in rock art for the year. The CERTIFIABLE ROCK ART PREVARICATION (CRAP) award will be given to the most outstanding example of twisting and distorting rock art to match the recipient's agenda that I can find. Nominations are always welcome.

This year the selection was easy, thanks to the History2 television channel series America Unearthed. They have broadcast enough silliness to appeal to fringies of every stripe, and some of it was based upon rock inscriptions and rock art. Given the broad ranging nonsense that the host, Scott Wolter, has broadcast on this series you would think I might have trouble deciding which episode was the dumbest, and I might have if I hadn’t seen the first episode of season 2, the “Ark of the Covenant.”

I knew I was in for a good show when Wolter compared himself with “Indiana Jones.” I don’t want you to think that I totally reject everything Wolter says on America Unearthed. I can be fair and I couldn’t agree with him more about this comparison. Both he and Indiana Jones are pretense, running around through fictional situations in made-up sequences that pretend to be based upon archaeology. I think that they are very comparable.

The Stone of Destiny, Edinburgh Castle, Scotland. Wikipedia.

In the Ark of the Covenant, November 30, 2013, episode we learned that when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 597 BC, and the temple of Solomon was destroyed, the Ark of the Covenant was spirited out of Jerusalem by the prophet Jeremiah and an Egyptian princess. They brought it to Tara Hill in Ireland for safe-keeping. Apparently they also brought the “Stone of Destiny,” the block of rock upon which Jacob rested his head when he saw the vision of the stairway to heaven. These were both later sent to North America by Jonathan Swift, the Anglo-Irish satirist, pamphleteer, and dean of St. Patricks Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland. (Wikipedia) (Yes, that Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, the book about people’s amazing gullibility, ironic isn't it).

The Stone of Destiny ended up on a farm in Virginia where Wolter visited it. This has to be a big surprise to the people of Scotland who believe that they have the Stone of Destiny in Edinburgh Castle (Wikipedia) but they will just have to get over their disappointment. Wolter, then believing that it was one of the world’s greatest and most sacred ancient religious artifacts, committed vandalism by cutting a piece of it off to take home and analyze in his laboratory.

Later Wolter visited the Petrified Forest in Arizona to view the petroglyph of the Ark of the Covenant illustrated at the top of this column. If some of these connections seem tenuous blame me, I just wasn’t up to following the sophisticated trail of evidence presented. A stirring adventure to say the least, and one which certainly qualifies for the 2013 C.R.A.P. Award (http://www.history.com/shows/america-unearthed/episodes).


Friday, December 20, 2013


Yuletide Canyon, Santa Claus, New Mexico.
Photograph Gary Cascio, 2012.

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas, a happy New Year’s Eve, and all the best in 2014! Thank you for reading http://rockartblog.blogspot.com.

This illustration and information was provided by, and is used with the permission of Gary Cascio who took the photograph. Check out his beautiful photography at www.rockartsouthwest.com or contact him at: Gary Cascio, design@latenitegrafix.com. Thank you Gary.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


On November 30, 2013, I posted part one of this column on tipi portrayals in rock art. In that posting I talked about some examples found in southeastern Colorado rock art. In this second visit to the subject I am going to introduce one of the most complex rock art panels known that portrays a single subject, the Battle Scene panel at Writing-on-Stone. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park / Áísínai'pi National Historic Site. Set in the prairie grasslands of southern Alberta, Writing-on-Stone / Áísínai'pi is a sacred landscape in the Milk River valley and contains possibly the largest concentration of First Nation petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (rock paintings) on the great plains of North America.

Left side of Battle Scene panel, Writing-on-stone Provincial
Park, Keyser and Klassen, 2001, fig. 14.33, p. 254.

 “The name Áísínai’pi which is Niitsítapi (Blackfoot) meaning “it is pictured / written”. Writing-on-Stone Park contains the greatest concentration of rock art on the North American Great Plains. There are over 50 petroglyph sites and thousands of works. There is evidence that the Milk River Valley was inhabited by native people as long ago as 9000 years. Native tribes such as the Blackfoot probably created much of the rock carvings (petroglyphs) and paintings (pictographs). Other native groups such as the Shoshone also travelled through the valley and may have also created some of the art. Beginning about 1730, large numbers of horses, metal goods, and guns began to appear on the Western plains. This signified not only a change in the native lifestyle, but a change in the content of the rock art. Pictures of hunters on horseback, and warriors without body shields began to be created. (Wikipedia 2013)

Battle scene panel, faintly scratched, very hard-to-see. http://digipac.cablog/20130907/writing

This panel was described by James Keyser and Michael Klassen (2001).
“Biographic rock art reached its zenith with the Battle Scene panel at Writing-on-stone. It includes the greatest number of figures in the most complex composition of any Northwestern Plains rock art scene. Its detail and complexity clearly suggest that it depicts an actual historical event, possibly linked to a famous battle fought along the Milk River in 1866. The Battle Scene shows a large group of pedestrian warriors attacking a large camp circle of tipis (fig. 14.33). In the camp are several groups of humans, including three figures inside the largest, central tipi. At the camp perimeter a row of fourteen guns, two held by humans, represents warriors defending the camp. The attacking party consists of an advance guard of more than a dozen armed warriors, followed by more than three dozen pedestrian figures. Several rearguard figures carry bows or guns, and at least eight lead horses, six of which pull travois. A stream of bullets issues from the muzzle of nearly every gun in the scene.” (Keyser and Klassen 2001:254)

Same battle scene, Writing-on-stone Provincial Park, Canada.
Scene of center of the camp on the left side with 3
figures in tipi in upper center. Strongly side lighted.

“This scene may relate to a battle described in 1924 by a Piegan elder named Bird Rattle. In his story, he directly linked the rock art of Writing-on-stone to the “Retreat up the Hill” battle fought somewhere along the Milk River in 1866. In the fall of that year, the Piegan winter camps filled all the coulees between the Milk River and the Sweetgrass Hills.” (Keyser and Klassen 2001:255) Note that the village of tipis that is being attacked in the Battle Scene is pictured as a rough ring of triangular shapes with the tips pointing in.

Tipis, 39FA7, Sundstrom, Fig. 1.13, p.18.

Linea Sundstrom has identified portrayals of tipi or wickiup shaped structures from the Black Hills region. ”Two tipis are visible among the confused array of lines on this rock art panel from site 39FA7 in the southern Black Hills.” (Sundstrom 2004:18) Sundstrom has also identified a handful of sites in the north Cave Hills where she believes there are portrayals of tipi-shaped eagle trapping lodges. (Sundstrom 2004:119)

Tipi village in upper center.Taylor, Buckskin and
Buffalo, p.47. The circle of triangles in the upper
center represents a tipi village.

“A large tanned steer hide painted in the spring of 1892 by the Piegan artist Sharp. – The pictographs, in a style typical of the Blackfeet of this period, mainly document the military exploits of White Grass, a highly respected chief of the Buffalo Chip band of the Piegan, who was involved in many actions against such tribes as the Flathead and Pend D'Oreilles of the Plateau region to the west of Blackfeet territory. Here, White Grass is about to enter the Flathead circle of tipis to cut free the two picketed horses at the very heart of the encampment. He also captures the enemy chiefs bow, arrows, and quiver.” (Taylor 1998:47)

Tipi village by Piegan artist Sharp, 1892.Taylor, Buckskin and
Buffalo, p.47.

When we look carefully at a rock art portrayal we can often find much more information than we expected at first glance. Keep looking. 


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

Sundstrom, Linea
2004   Storied Stone: Indian Rock Art of the Black Hills, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Taylor, Colin
1998   Buckskin and Buffalo, the Artistry of the Plains Indians, Rizzoli, New York.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Field sketch by James Burton. York, Daley, and Arnett,
They Write Their Dreams on the Rocks Forever, p. 66.

When confronted with the claims of the epigraphy enthusiasts in rock art studies one of the accusations that us epigraphy non-believers hurl at them is that they try to make every abstract shape into an old world inscription. Since the heyday of Barry Fell abstract symbols have been proclaimed to be inscriptions by ancient Basque, Semitic, Celtic, even Chinese, visitors to Pre-Columbian North America. I was therefore quite pleased to find this published example of an authentic Chinese inscription in British Columbia, with the backstory that explains it.

“Rock Writing at EbRj62, Annie Zetco York.
In addition to the aboriginal rock writings, this site is noteworthy for the presence of Chinese calligraphy and drawings made with black ink. These Chinese writings and drawings, some of which have been executed on top of the aboriginal writings, are probably the work of Chinese placer miners, who came to the Lytton area in 1859, a year after the start of the Fraser River gold rush. The Chinese are known to have worked the gravel terraces above this site and at least one man, Ah Chung, homesteaded nearby.
Most of the Chinese drawings and calligraphy (including the drawing of a human figure and what looks like a serpent) are located to the right of the recessed alcove with its aboriginal writings at the downstream edge of the site. In August, 1988, I visited this site with my brother-in-law James Burton who, after having lived and worked near Beijing for several years, is fluent in the Chinese language. He found many of the inked characters too eroded to decipher, particularly where sections of calligraphy had disappeared due to the spalling off of certain areas. However, he was able to determine that the Chinese writing recorded the names of men, presumably the gold prospectors themselves, and the names of women – probably their mothers, fiancées or wives back in China. The best preserved character, isolated from the other short texts, is the Chinese character for “clear/clean water” or “spring.”
Another group of characters, superimposed on the rock writings of Fig. 46, is a date which reads” In the tenth year of the ruling emperor.” Unfortunately the emperor’s name is obliterated, but it is possible to identify the approximate date of the Chinese characters by reference to the imperial genealogy.
The first Chinese arrived in 1859 which was the beginning of the tenth year of reign of Shen Fung. He was succeeded in 1861 by Tung Chi, who reigned until 1875 when he in turn was succeeded by Guang Xu. Guang Xu reigned until 1908 and was succeeded by a child, the last emperor who was deposed three years later during the social revolution. The descriptive date written here refers either to the tenth year (of the) reign of Shen Fung, being 1859-60, the tenth year (of the) reign of Tung Chi, 1871-72, or the tenth year of the reign of Guang Xu, 1885-86. The Chinese writing thus dates between 1859 and 1886.” (York 1993:65-66)

I have to give the epigraphers this one, and it appeals to my sense of justice and fair play that I can write a posting about an inscription that actually is in readable and interpretable Chinese.  路 要 走 (way to go) epigraphers.

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.