Saturday, September 27, 2014


Gorham Cave, Gibraltar.

A September 1, 2014, posting in by Alan Neuhauser, reported the attribution of an engraved crosshatching on the wall of Gorham Cave in Gibraltar to the period of Neandertal occupation.

Crosshatch markings from Gorham

“An international team of researchers announced the discovery this week of one of the oldest pieces of cave art ever found: a 39,000-year-old, roughly 10’ by 10’ crosshatch engraving into the bedrock of a seaside cave in Gibraltar.  Researchers believe it took 188 to 317 strokes with a sharp object to create.”

“ - - the engraving is both the first ever to be found in a cave also used for habitation by Neanderthals, and also “demonstrates the capacity of the Neanderthals for abstract thought and expression,” according to a paper on the findings, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
We not only have the original markings to go on, the researchers additionally used experimental archaeology to reconstruct the markings in order to study the process of creating it.  The lines, found at the back of the cave, are believed to have been made by repeatedly drawing a sharp object across the rock over and over again. Researchers used blocks of limestone and 3-D modeling to reconstruct the process, finding that it likely took 188 to 317 strokes to complete the art piece.

I have previously stated on RockArtBlog my confidence in the existence of Neandertal rock art, and have illustrated some examples that I consider to back up that confidence. In this instance, however, we have confirmation from the National Academy of Sciences.


Saturday, September 20, 2014


El Castillo cave, Photograph by Pedro Saura,

On Saturday April 21, 2012, in a posting entitled "Neanderthal Use of Red Ochre Pigment", I speculated that I thought that Neanderthal rock art would be identified eventually. I just had no idea that it might happen so soon. A column at dated June 14, 2012, written by Stephanie Pappas, announced the identification of a number of red ochre images on the walls of the Spanish cave El Castillo as dating to the period of possible Neanderthal occupation.

Recent dates in the cave of El Castillo, in Northern Spain have pushed back the dates of the creation of the art to at least 40,800 years BP according to research published June 14 in Science. A research team led by the University of Bristol and including Dr. Paul Pettitt, a specialist in cave art, from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield, found that the creation of the first cave art in Europe dates back to up to 10,000 years earlier than previously believed suggesting that the first paintings were created either by the first anatomically modern humans to reach Europe, or possibly by Neanderthals. “A total of 50 paintings in 11 caves in Northern Spain, including the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Altamira, El Castillo and Tito Bustillo, were dated by a team of UK, Spanish and Portuguese researchers led by Dr. Alistair Pike of the University of Bristol, UK.”

“As traditional methods such as radiocarbon dating do not work where there is no organic pigment, the team dated the formation of tiny stalactites on top of the paintings using the radioactive decay of uranium. This gave a minimum age for the art. Where larger stalagmites had been painted, maximum ages were also obtained.”

Hand Stencils in El Castillo cave. 
Photograph from the Internet.

“Hand stencils and disks made by blowing paint onto the wall in El Castillo cave were found to date back to at least 40,800 years, making them the oldest known cave art in Europe, 5 – 10,000 years older than previous examples from France.”

“A large club-shaped symbol in the famous polychrome chamber at Altamira was found to be at least 35,600 years old, indicating that painting started there 10,000 years earlier than previously thought, and that the cave was revisited and painted a number of times over a period spanning more than 20,000 years.”

“Dr. Pike said: “Evidence for modern humans in Northern Spain dates back to 41,500 years ago, and before them were Neanderthals. Our results show that either modern humans arrived with painting already part of their cultural activity or it developed very shortly after, perhaps in response to competition with Neanderthals – or perhaps the art is Neanderthal art. The creation of art by humans is considered an important marker for the evolution of modern cognition and symbolic behavior, and may be associated with the development of language.”


University of Bristol. “Uranium-series dating reveals Iberian paintings are Europe’s oldest cave art.”  ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 14 June 2012.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Painted Rifles, Farrington Springs, at the canal, Bent
County, CO. Photo Peter Faris, October 1990.

One type of coup that conferred high honor on a Plains Indian warrior was earned by capturing his enemy’s weapons, rendering him helpless. This is sometimes depicted in rock art as one or more vertical weapons in a composition. In many instances rows of vertical weapons represent a number of coups counted in this manner by a warrior, or perhaps a group of warriors. At the amazing rock art site of Farrington Springs in southeast Colorado a faded row of eight painted rifles can be seen as an example of this. This might be the record of a warrior who counted eight of these coups in his career, or illustrate the weapons captured as the result of a battle by a whole group of warriors. 

“No gathering or ceremony took place without a series of coup counts, or public listing in individual’s famous deeds. These coup counts served to honor dedicated and industrious members of society, to inspire children to emulate the leaders, and to present a strong and unified appearance to enemies. – Some rock art in the black hills country – like much historic Plains Indian art – records the accomplishments of individual warriors.” (Sundstrom 2004:99)

“In this biographical art tradition, as it has sometimes been termed, every element included in a drawing conveys meaning. Hairstyle is often a clue to the subject’s tribal identity. Personal attire may indicate his social status or warrior society membership. Shield designs or a distinctive article of clothing might indicate the personal identity of the individual pictured. A bow or a gun indicates weapons captured or used to touch the enemy.” (Sundstrom 2004:100)

Linnea Sundstrom, Storied Stone: Indian Rock Art in
the Black Hills Country, 2004, Fig. 9.17, p. 111.
Rifles circled by me.

On December 27, 2009, I posted a column entitled ROCK ART OF THE LITTLE BIGHORN about a rock art panel in the Black Hills which Linea Sundstrom suggests might represent coup counts after the battle of the Little Bighorn. Sundstrom described it as follows: “At the bottom of the panel are four long rows of sketchy human figures. Their position indicates that they were “taken,” that is, killed. Because part of the panel is missing, it is impossible to make an exact count, but more than 200 must have been in the drawing before weathering erased some figures.” Rows of guns are included in the composition suggesting a large number of captured weapons as part of the same event. “At the left end of the top row of corpses is an eagle like that seen on U.S. Army insignia. Because no single Indian ever killed that many U.S. soldiers, this count must represent a collective event of killing – probably the battle of the Little Bighorn.” (Sundstrom 2004:110) In this panel 26 captured rifles are illustrated.

Rifles, Pictograph Cave, Billings, Montana.
Photograph 1982, Jack and Esther Faris.

Rifles, Pictograph Cave, Billings Montana.
Photograph August 24, 2008, Peter Faris.
Retouched image from signage at the site.

At the site of Pictograph Cave, south of Billings, Montana, there is another tally count of rifles much like the other examples. Seven rifles in a row are displayed above a row of 23 short lines like tally marks. The rifles and the short tally lines seem to be painted with the same pigment which may mean they are indeed related. Possibly the 23 tally marks are shorthand for 23 more rifles giving us a total of thirty weapons captured in coups or recovered from the battlefield. If we assume that this is indeed another coup count it is tempting to try to also connect it to the Battle of the Little Bighorn because of the close geographic proximity of this site to the battlefield. As can be seen in the illustration of the detailed reconstruction of the panel all seven rifles are firing which suggests a battle context. The rifles are pictured in a style which suggests older flintlock muzzle loading weapons but in this case that could just be a stylistic decision, indeed some of the guns used by the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors were reportedly still muzzle loading and this design was so recent in history that all of them would recognize the meaning of the portrayals.


Faris, Peter
2009    Rock Art of the Little Bighorn, in, Dec. 29.

Sundstrom, Linea

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

Saturday, September 6, 2014


Cheyenne River Coup Count, Linnea Sundstrom.

A recent paper, Rock Art Tallies: Mathematics on Stone in Western North America, in the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics (Vol. 3, No. 2, July 2013, pages 76 - 88) by James V. Rauff of Milliken University discussed a number of rock art examples that he identified from Western North America. I have a couple of minor problems with Mr. Rauff in his designation of some of these markings as tallies. First, let me state that some undoubtedly are tallies, although we may not be able to determine what they are tallies of. He presented the example of the very impressive Cheyenne River coup count from Linnea Sundstrom. A coup count is, of course, a tally of the coups counted.

Jeffers Petroglyph Site, Station 16. Lothson, p.16.

Close-up, Jeffers Petroglyph Site, Station 16. Lothson, p.16.

Rauff also presented a panel from the Jeffers Petroglyph Site in Minnesota which shows an anthropomorph with a line of eleven dots behind him as a tally. Any student of Plains Indian art recognizes the row of dots as footprints denoting that the figure is traveling and Rauff correctly explained that they could represent a tally of distance, or time traveled. I had not before thought of this sort of portrayal as a tally per se, but I can give him this one as well.

Table 1, Rauff.

Basketmaker II or III, Hidden Valley, CO. Schaafsma, 1980, p. 129.

My only real problem with some of Rauff’s designated tallies comes from the fact that he seems to consider any and all cases of a repeated symbol as a tally of something. This can be best illustrated by referring to his table 1 of figures he identified as representing tallies from various locations in the West. In this table he includes an example of Basketmaker Culture masks from Colorado (I am sure they represent something, but I am not sure that they constitute a bona fide tally). I would be as likely to consider this a portrait gallery as a tally per se. Another example is his designation of astronomical symbols of a crescent moon and a star in his table of tallies. I would suggest that multiple star symbols are much more likely to represent a portrayal of an asterism or constellation than a tally.

Stylized anthropomorphs, upper left and right
(with possible brands). Signal Mountain, MT,
Sundstrom, 1990, p.295-C.

Rancher's brands, Atherton Canyon, Mont.
Sundstrom 1990, p.294-A.

Other of the symbols that he designates as part of a tally count appear to me to be a highly stylized anthropomorph (#5), and a possible rancher’s brand (#1). These images are taken from Linnea Sundstrom’s Rock Art of the Southern Black Hills (1990), as examples of Vertical Series rock art. According to Sundstrom this style occurs in the southern Black Hills, the Bighorn Mountains in north central Wyoming, and in south central Montana. She identifies this rock art with Lakota or other Siouan-speaking groups in the region (Sundstrom 1990:293-9).

Many of his examples strike me as a stereotypical case of finding what you are looking for. Overall, however, I do find the premise of Mr. Rauff highly laudable, and I could not agree more with these sentences from his conclusion, which I will also let be my conclusion to this posting. “Rock art tallies provide a nice source of data for speculation and creativity. They also provide a nice focus for cross-disciplinary study.” It is obviously a subject that needs a lot more consideration.


Lothson, Gordon Allan
1976    The Jeffers Petroglyphs Site: A Survey and Analysis of the Carvings, Minnesota Prehistoric Archaeology Series No. 12, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

Rauff, James V.
2013    Rock Art Tallies: Mathematics on Stone in Western North America, in the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics (Vol. 3, No. 2, July 2013, pages 76 - 88).

Schaafsma, Polly
1980    Indian Rock Art of the Southwest, School of American Research, Santa Fe, and University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Sundstrom, Linnea
1990    Rock Art of the Southern Black Hills: A Contextual Approach, Garland Publishing Co., New York.