Saturday, May 31, 2014


Sun sign with possible multiple parhelia. Three Rivers,
New Mexico. Photograph: 1988, Jack and Esther Faris.

On October 21, 2009, I posted a column which I entitled The Sun Paints His Cheeks – Sun Dogs. In that posting I wrote that “Parhelia would be expected to be portrayed in rock art as a sun sign with two or more spots added outside the perimeter of the sun sign. This example, which can be found at the Three Rivers petroglyph site in New Mexico, consists of the normal southwestern concentric circle sun symbol surrounded by a ring of 16 dots which may represent multiple parhelia (with a little exaggeration thrown in). In his book Rare Halos, Mirages, and Anomalous Rainbows and Related Electromagnetic Phenomena, William Corliss presents examples of multiple sun dogs with examples of up to eight cited. I would expect that a rock artist who had observed such an example of multiple parhelia could be motivated to reproduce it as a sun symbol surrounded by many dots, as in this example.” (Faris 2009) These optical effects are caused by light from the sun refracting through ice crystals in the atmosphere, and depending upon the conditions, the display can be quite complicated.

A combination of atmospheric optical phenomena in
the antarctic. Robert Greenler, 1980, Rainbows, Halos,
and GloriesCambridge University Press, London.

Robert Greenler has published photographs of many splendid displays of atmospheric optics in his wonderful book Rainbows, Halos, and Glories, (1980), and also included diagrams of drawings of these phenomena done in pre-photographic days, and also created in computer simulations. One example Greenler has published is Hevelius’s Seven Suns drawing of 1662, recording a drawing of a spectacular display he saw over Gdansk, Poland on February 20, 1661 (also known as Danzig under periods of German rule). In Hevelius’s drawing of this display: “the sun appears to be about 26 degrees above the horizon, and many of the elements of the drawing are familiar to us: the 22- and 46 degree halos, 22-degree parhelia, upper tangent arc to the 22-degree halo, circumzenithal arc, and parhelic circle. Hevelius shows as one of his suns the anthelion, which is surprising, but most unusual are the arcs crossing the parhelic circle about 90 degrees from the sun. These arcs are generally assumed to be part of a 90-degree halo that, from this report, is sometimes called Hevel’s halo.” (Greenler 1980:107)

Hevelius’s Seven Suns drawing,Gdansk, Poland, February 20,
1661. Robert Greenler, 1980, Rainbows, Halos, and Glories,
Cambridge University Press, London

In the copy of Hevelius’s drawing included in this posting I have added red circles to mark each of Hevelius’s so-called “Seven Suns” (including the real sun in the lower center) illustrating that a sun sign can indeed be surrounded by multiple dots in reality. Indeed, in such a complicated display, and with the multiple arcs, halos, and other effects intersecting each other, each area of intersection would show up as a larger bright spot leading to the possibility of many more “suns” visible at one time. 

W. E. Parry drawing, 1821. Robert Greenler, 1980, Rainbows,
Halos, and Glories, Cambridge University Press, London.

In a drawing by W. E. Parry from his 1821 Journal of a Voyage for the Discovery of a Northwest Passage, Murray, London, we see another amazingly complicated optical display. If we again assume that where each arc and halo intersect it can appear with the brightness enlarged and reinforced this display might have looked like the sun with as many as nine other suns around it. This can be seen in the Greenler photograph above which shows a complicated display in the antarctic.

Given this proof of interest in recording this phenomenon by 17th and 18th century western scientists I also have to assume that a Native American who viewed such a display might be just as eager to record his interpretation of what he had seen. The only question is how he would have interpreted it. This is one possibility of such, giving us, I submit, an excellent natural model for the sun signs surrounded by a ring of dots seen in rock art.

NOTE: If you are interested in generating atmospheric optical simulations to attempt to match rock art examples of your own check this web site to see HaloSim 3 downloadable software:


Corliss, William R.
1984    Rare Halos, Mirages, Anomalous Rainbows and Related Electromagnetic Phenomena: A Catalog of Geophysical Anomalies, Sourcebook.

Faris, Peter
2009    The Sun Paints His Cheeks – Sun Dogs,, Oct. 21, 2009.

Greenler, Robert
1980    Rainbows, Halos, and Glories, Cambridge University Press, London.

Parry, W. E.
1821    Journal of a Voyage for the Discovery of a Northwest Passage, Murray, London.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


The (male?) pterosaur as imagined by evolution deniers.
Black Dragon Canyon, UT. Courtesy Phil Senter, 2012,

To me one of the strangest sub-studies of the field of rock art consists of attempts of creationists and evolution deniers to find dinosaurs in rock art. Apparently this is to prove that humans and dinosaurs lived concurrently because that is the only way primitive people would have their examples to portray. As best I can tell this is the work of a group of creationists who ascribe to the theory that the bible says the earth is only 6,000 years old based upon 17th century Bishop Usher’s calculation that “the first day of creation began at nightfall preceding Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC” (Wikipedia), so dinosaurs and humans have to have coexisted.

Whatever their motivation, there are a few tired examples that get trotted out over and over to supposedly prove that there are indeed portrayals of dinosaurs in rock art. Of these, perhaps the most ubiquitous example is the supposed pterosaur pictograph in Utah’s Black Dragon Canyon. In 2012 Phil Senter stated An alleged pterosaur painting in Black Dragon Canyon, Utah, is actually not a single painting. Its "head" and "neck" are a painting of a person with outstretched arms. Its torso and limbs are those of a painting of a second person with outstretched arms, whose body continues into the "pterosaur's" "wing." The other "wing" is a painting of a horned serpent. The three paintings only appear connected because someone outlined the group with chalk.”

The original figures on the panel. Black Dragon Canyon, UT.
Courtesy Phil Senter, 2012,

Senter traces the origin of the supposed pterosaur to a poorly done case of chalking the images and notes that it may have originally even been done as a practical joke. “It is also the origin of the Black Dragon “pterosaur”. Decades ago, someone chalked an outline that joined several separate images on the wall of Black Dragon Canyon in Emery County, Utah. Together within the chalk outline they bear a vague resemblance to an animal, although to call the composite image a pterosaur one has to consider the “wings” very badly deformed and very unlike each other.
The illusion of a single animal within the chalk outline inspired this unfortunate quote in a popular 1979 book on southwestern archaeology: "In the San Rafael Swell, there is a pictograph that looks very much like a pterosaur, a Cretaceous flying reptile" (Barnes and Pendleton, 1979, p. 201).” (Senter 2012:3)

A black and white comparison. From Warner and Warner, 1995.

I really want to compliment Phil Senter on having the courage to take this subject on. First off, not many scholars want to touch anything this controversial and it can actually hurt a career to get identified with a subject like this. Second, the evolution deniers are not going to be convinced by Senter’s logic, and telling them the factual truth. If anything they will attack him personally. Phil, we need more people with your courage!

NOTE: The photographs are courtesy of Phil Senter, Department of Biological Sciences, Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville, North Carolina. The black and white drawing of the panel was borrowed from the Warner and Warner (1995) paper cited below.


Barnes, F. A., and M. Pendleton
1979    Canyon Country Prehistoric Indians, Their Cultures, Ruins, Artifacts, and Rock Art, Wasatch, Salt Lake City.

Senter, Phil
2012    Rock Art “Dinosaurs”, More “Dinosaur” and “Pterosaur” Rock Art That Isn’t, Palaeontolical Association, July 2012. (

Warner, J. S., and J. E. Warner

1995    Some Unique Horizontal Sunrise and Sunset Markers in Black Dragon Canyon, Utah Rock Art, 4:92 - 101

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Chauvet lions, from Dawn of Art, by Jean-Marie Chauvet,
Eliette Brunel Deschamps, and Christian Hillaire.

Picture yourself standing in front of a painted panel of lions, or a bear, in a Paleolithic painted cave in Europe. The flickering light of your flame provides the only illumination and the moving shadows almost lend an illusion of movement to the fearsome predator pictured. Then, all of a sudden, you hear a roaring, growling sound. Would that not impress you? Remembering the tin-can telephone from my childhood, what could a Paleolithic shaman do with it to introduce sound to the cave paintings in a dark cave in Europe? Concealed some distance away from a panel of painted animals he could mimic their sounds adding growling and moaning to the expressive imagery. This would provide a very impressive addition to a ceremony.

An article in Smithsonian Magazine, December 2013 issue, written by Neil Baldwin, explained an amazing example of technology attributed to the Chimu culture of the Rio Moche Valley in northern Peru that would have been able to do just that.

One of the earliest examples of ingenuity in the Western
Hemisphere is composed of gourds and twine, Smithsonian
Collections, Neil Baldwin, Smithsonian Magazine
December, 2013.

“Nestled in an acid-free corrugated container was the earliest known example of telephone technology in the Western Hemisphere, evoking a lost civilization – and the anonymous ancient techie who dreamed it up.
The gourd-and-twine device, created 1,200 to 1,400 years ago remains tantalizingly functional – and too fragile to test out. “This is unique,” NMAI (National Museum of American Indians) curator Ramiro Matos, an anthropologist and archaeologist who specializes in the study of the central Andes, tells me.
“Only one was ever discovered. It comes from the consciousness of an indigenous society with no written language.”
We’ll never know the trial and error that went into its creation. The marvel of acoustic engineering – cunningly constructed out of two resin-coated gourd receivers, each three – and-one-half inches long; stretched-hide membranes stitched around the bases of the receivers; and cotton-twine cord extending 75 feet when pulled taut.” (Baldwin 2013)

Please note that I am not suggesting any connection between Paleolithic painted caves and the Chimu culture, I know there was none. I am only explaining that my first reaction to seeing Baldwin’s article was to think of adding sound to rock art. In the Chimu case, perhaps adding sound to paintings or carvings in a dim temple interior.

And while on this flight of fancy I can recall another piece of childhood technology that would have been even more effective. What was often called “the growler” (technically it is a string drum) was simply an empty tin can with a hole punched in the center of the bottom and a piece of twine affixed in it. When the twine was rosined and then pulled on while allowing the twine to slip slowly through the fingers, the resulting vibration of the can bottom made a growling/roaring sound like a lion or bear. A variation was made with a round oatmeal box and waxed string, but the metal can was much stronger and could thus be made much louder. 

Now ask yourself, could a paleolithic artist or shaman have had gourds? Or could they perhaps have formed a container out of rawhide to serve the purpose? Could they have made a drum? Did the Paleolithic people ever do this? I have absolutely no indication that they ever did (although I cannot imagine that they did not), but in my imagination I can take a flight of fancy to those dark and so impressive Paleolithic painted caves of Europe. We know that cave interiors have marvelous acoustics anyway, with echoes, whisper channels, and other effects. Now add the roaring, growling sound booming through the cave passages and chambers. How impressive is that?

In any case check out the article in the December 2013 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, and keep an eye on that excellent publication for other fascinating material as well.

NOTE: This posting is a wild flight of fantasy based upon my reaction to a remarkable Chimu artifact that was published in the December 2013 article by Neil Baldwin in Smithsonian magazine. Only the basic facts of the Chimu artifact should be attributed to Smithsonian magazine. All of the other surmise and speculation is from me personally, and should not be attributed to the Smithsonian Society, its magazine, or any of its employees or writers.


Baldwin, Neil
2013   Smithsonian Collections, One of the earliest examples of ingenuity in the Western Hemisphere is composed of gourds and twine, Smithsonian Magazine, December.

Friday, May 9, 2014


Castle Gardens, Fremont County, WY.
Photograph Peter Faris, Sept. 1992.

On September 14, 2013, I posted a column entitled Where Barry Fell – Castle Gardens, Wyoming, that discussed Fell’s discovery and documentation of the First Iberian Bank of Moneta, Wyoming, based upon petroglyphs that he deciphered. For Fell the presence of ancient Celts was confirmed by the presence of the petroglyphs illustrated below. The first illustration is found at Castle Gardens and the second comes from near Writing-On-Stone, Alberta, Canada.

"Lug, the Celtic God of Light", Fig. 7-1, 
Barry Fell, Bronze Age America, p. 155.

“Chief of the Celtic gods was Lug, god of the sky and of light, and creator of the universe. His emblems are his spear and his sling-shot. With the latter he once destroyed a one-eyed monster named Balar, who, with his sorcerer attendants the Fir-bolg, had gained the mastery of Ireland. Balar is depicted in an unlettered inscription on the Milk River, near Writing-on-stone, Alberta. He is shown as having one leg and one arm, held aloft over his gigantic eye, which could kill hundreds merely by its glance. In this pictograph, Figure 7-2, Lug has just loosed the thong of his slingshot and the monster is about to bite the dust. Another and evidently much later depiction of Lug is that in Figure 7-1, where his name is given in Norse runes, one of many examples we now have of Norse influence on the western Celts in North America. Presumably the Norsemen came down from Hudson Bay to enter the prairie lands. In this petroglyph Lug is shown holding his magic spear, by means of which he defeats the forces of darkness each year, to usher in the returning spring. The last mentioned petroglyph occurs on cliffs at Castle Gardens in Wyoming, and at the same site another Celtic god is identified by his name written in Norse runes. This is Mabona (or Mabo), the Celtic Apollo, god of music and of sports and the presiding divinity in charge of male fertility. In this context his symbol is the phallus, shown in the petroglyph on the rock above him.” (Fell 1982:154)

“Figure 7-1. Lug, the Celtic god of light, is here identified in Norse runes of the period A.C. 750-1050. The name is in the possessive case: Lug’s (site or his image). This remarkable petroglyph occurs at Castle Gardens near Moneta, in Wyoming, and the drawing is traced from a photograph taken by Ted C. Sowers of the Wyoming Archaeological Survey (1941). Although this is the work of an artist of relatively modern times, the theme harks back to the Bronze Age, as does the formalistic style, like that of the earliest Bronze Age.” (Fell 1982:155)

Close-up, Castle Gardens, Fremont County, WY.
Photograph Peter Faris, Sept. 1992.

As can be clearly seen below the figure in the photograph there are a large number of linear markings of various ages (including a historic addition in English) superimposed, and it would not seem to be much trouble to find any rune or letter you wished by careful selection of the right lines. Indeed, in his figure 7-1, Fell’s last two letters can be seen in the close-up to consist of the disassembled neck and torso of a “V-Necked Anthropomorph” figure from a prehistoric petroglyph. The proper question here is not what was found by careful selection (and a lot of imagination) on the rock, but instead what was overlooked because it did not fit with preconceptions intent on finding that message.

"Lug, God of Light", Fig. 7-2, Barry Fell, 
Bronze Age America, 1982, p.158.

“Figure 7-2. Lug, god of light (right), prepares to fire his slingshot at the giant (closed) eye of the one-legged monster, Balar, who is attended by one of the Fir-bolg. Alberta Provincial Park.” (Fell 1982:158)

I don't even know how to address the nonsense of Fell's figure 7-2. He sees a Celtic god armed with a sling where I see a Native American warrior armed with a bow and arrow. Then he sees on the left the giant closed eye of a one-legged monster named "Balar, who is attended by one of the Fir-Bolg." (Fell 1982:158) Here I see another Native American warrior who is holding a shield to defend himself from the arrows of the first warrior.

If we rationalize hard enough we can imagine almost anything - but that does not make it true. As I have said before, falsification and prevarication are never acceptable.


Fell, Barry
1982    Bronze Age America, Little, Brown and Company, Boston.

Saturday, May 3, 2014


No matter how certain you or I are of the identity of a particular rock art element it is inevitable that on some occasions we will disagree on it. Thus, in many instances people recording rock art rely on lists that define and identify the shapes and images in an attempt to standardize the results and promote such agreements - trait lists or element lists.

Hicklin Springs , 5BN7, Bent County, Colorado.
Photograph Peter Faris, 1993.

Personally, I have never been in favor of using so-called trait or element lists to identify images in rock art recording just because of the disagreements in their identity. My favorite example is usually a variant of the "is it a man or a lizard" based upon the length of the middle lower appendage.

Back in the early 1990s I organized and led a multi-year project to record the rock art at Hicklin Springs (5BN7) in Bent County, Colorado. One of the panels that we dealt with in 1993 is illustrated here. According to published descriptions of rock art styles in that area the team agreed that this was a panel of abstract figures, and it was recorded as such. Not what are often called “geometric abstract” based upon simple geometric shapes, but certainly not readily identifiable as to a specific subject matter. While I found the fact of this group of similar figures existing in this one panel to be unusual and even remarkable, I acquiesced with the group vote on their identification and labeling at that time.

Centipede, Vogel Canyon, Otero County, Colorado.
Photograph Peter Faris, 1993.

Later that same year I was in Vogel Canyon south of La Junta and saw the remarkably large centipede (illustrated) in the trail. I immediately thought of the panel from Hicklin Springs and its enigmatic figures.

Tarantula, Picketwire Canyonlands, Otero County,
Colorado. Photograph Peter Faris, 1994.

Then, the next year, and also down in the Picketwire Canyonlands south of La Junta, I came across the large tarantula (illustrated) again in the trail. Compare its size to the footprints in the dust. In both these cases it occurred to me that an insect that notable might be a candidate for recording in petroglyph form.

I am now more than ever convinced that you really cannot trust the so-called trait or element lists in rock art recording. I recognize the desire for standardizing descriptions to make any data base more user friendly, but you just cannot discern the intentions of the creators of different images and panels in that way. So, the question remains – Abstract or Insect?