Saturday, October 25, 2014


Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands, Wayne
County, UT, Photo: Peter Faris, 28 May 1992.

A recent article from the Salt Lake City Tribune, written by Brian Maffly, reopened the question of the famous Barrier Canyon Style rock art at the Great Gallery in Utah’s Canyonlands. This article, available at presented results from a new study by geologist Joel Pederson and anthropologist Steven Simms, of Utah State University, that has suggested that the dating of the rock art at the Great Gallery falls between 900 and 2,000 years in age. This study did not involve the imagery upon the Great Gallery wall itself. Instead, Pederson used optically stimulated luminescence dating of sediments beneath the panel to attempt to determine when the paintings could have been produced. The Great Gallery is located in Horseshoe Canyon in Canyonlands National Park (known locally as Barrier Canyon).

Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands, Wayne
County, UT, Photo: Peter Faris, 28 May 1992.

This analysis led to conclusions that are considered quite controversial by many rock art experts. Pederson’s results state that the paintings cannot possibly be older than about 6,000 years B.P. because that part of the wall was supposedly covered by sediment then. Additionally, he determined that the paintings must have been produced between two rock fall events. The second rock fall, which damaged part of the panel, occurred 900 years ago so the paintings predate that. The previous rock fall, which I assume provided the flat cliff face for painting upon, had occurred some 700 to 1,000 years earlier.  

Maffly then pointed out the interesting conclusion, that “these findings open the intriguing possibility that people who painted Barrier Canyon art shared the landscape with the Fremont. These ancient Indians occupied southern and eastern Utah from about A.D. 400 to 1300 and left a rich archaeological record that includes petroglyphs, images pecked into rock in a style much different then Barrier Canyon.”

Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands, Wayne
County, UT, Photo: Peter Faris, 28 May 1992.

Rock art expert David Sucec of Salt Lake City disagrees with these findings and argues for dating of the figures considerably earlier, at least several millennia. Supporting his position are figurines that were found in two caves in 1975 eight miles up the canyon from the Grand Gallery. Sucec points out that these figures stylistically resemble the Barrier Canyon Style figures and were found in strata that were dated at 7,000 years BP.

Sucec has a very strong argument based upon considerable knowledge and experience, however, a more recent date might explain why so much of the Barrier Canyon Style figurative art is in good condition. But, at this time I believe that I, and RockArtBlog, will have to reserve judgment on the conclusions of this study until more information is available.


Saturday, October 18, 2014


The Pregnant-buffalo petroglyph, Nine-Mile
Canyon, Carbon County, UT. From Ogden
Standard-Examiner, July 29, 2014.

A recent case of rock art vandalism has been settled with a fine, and (hopefully) a lesson learned. According to the Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner (July 29, 2014), the families of two juveniles responsible for defacing a rock art panel in Nine-Mile Canyon have agreed to pay $1,500 for the damage. 

"In May, Bureau of Land Management Utah Price Field Office law enforcement officers and archaeological staff investigated citizen-reported damage to the Nine Mile Canyon Pregnant Buffalo rock art panel in Carbon County." 

A local property owner had reportedly visited the site on May 25, 2014, and found the initials J.M.N. and the date scratched into the rock near the image, and saw two individuals hurrying from the site.

The vandalism found at the site. From the 
Ogden Standard-Examiner, July 29, 2014.

"One of the youths stated that he was sorry for his thoughtless actions and hoped that others would learn from his mistake. "I hope people try to think about the consequences and the effect their actions have on history," he said."

"Cultural resources like rock art are protected under various federal laws and regulations, including the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA). In ARPA, Congress affirmed that cultural and archaeological resources are an irreplaceable part of America's heritage and must be protected. As a result, ARPA prohibits the unauthorized damage to, or excavation and removal, of archaeological resources on federal lands. ARPA also prohibits the unlawful sale, purchase, or exchange of archaeological resources. ARPA violations may result in criminal prosecution or civil penalties based on the cost of restoration and repair."

RockArtBlog applauds the public and officers involved in solving the case of vandalism, and the Ogden Standard-Examiner for bringing it to the public's attention. If education truly is the answer perhaps this case has had some positive outcome. I think that they got off fairly lightly, but I am confident that they will remember the lesson. Hopefully others will also.


Saturday, October 11, 2014


Indonesian cave painting. Photograph from
-cave-paintings-as-old-as-europes-ancient-art, attributed
to Kinza Riza/ Courtesy of

“For decades, Indonesian researchers have known about rock art in limestone caves and rock shelters on an island called Sulawesi. The hand stencils and images of local animals, such as the "pig-deer,"  or babirusa were assumed to be less than 10,000 years old, because scientists thought that the humid tropical environment would have destroyed anything older.”

"The truth of it was, no one had really tried to date it," says Matt Tochiri of the Human Origins Program of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. "It's not easy to date rock art."

Painted babirusa (pig-deer) and hand print. 
Photograph by Kinza Riza, Reuters.

“Now, though, in the journal Nature, a group of researchers from Indonesia and Australia, led by Maxime Aubert and Adam Brumm, have analyzed mineral deposits that formed on top of these paintings in seven caves. Their analysis shows that one hand stencil is at least 39,900 years old and a painting of a babirusa is at least 35,400 years old.”

On September 20, 2014 I posted URANIUM ISOTOPE DATING REVEALS PERHAPS THE OLDEST CAVE ART IN EUROPE which shows red ochre negative hand prints, strikingly like the Indonesian example, which dated to 40,800 years PB. Now we have dates literally in the same ball park that come from virtually identical images from opposite sides of the world. To me this implies that not only might there be a common source, but that source must be considerably older to have allowed for the separation of populations to such geographic extremes at that early date.

What is still waiting to be found out there?


Saturday, October 4, 2014


Red Ant, Bluebird, Sun, Crow, Katsina, Corn, and Coyote clan
symbols. From Don D. Christensen, Jerry Dickey, and Steven
M. Freers, 2013, Rock Art of the Glen Canyon Region,
Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, p. 180A.

I have recently written some postings on the subject of tallies in rock art. Another example of rock art panels that needs to be discussed in this light are the Clan Symbol Rosters found in certain locations of the southwest. These are sections of cliffs or boulders where a grouping (often a line or row) of identical symbols has been engraved. In order to qualify as a Clan Symbol Roster obviously the image has to be identifiable as the emblem of a specific clan. These assemblages are predominately created by Hopi Indians on their annual pilgrimage to gather sacred salt for their ceremonies. One of the most extensive groupings of such images is the Clan Symbol Roster at Willowsprings, Arizona, where some 40 boulders display a recorded 2,178 symbols. (Michaelis 1981:3-5)

Michaelis (1981) identified Willowsprings as Tutuveni, a Hopi shrine on the Salt Pilgrimage Trail to the Grand Canyon and recorded imagery that designated approximately 40 clans from the Hopi villages.

This was described by Campbell Grant in his 1967 book Rock Art of the American Indian. “An American Indian clan is an intratribal group, related by blood and organized to promote its social and political welfare. The clan is named for the totem animal or object that is considered its guardian spirit. This is not to be confused with the personal guardian spirit obtained by the individual during puberty dreams and trances. The membership in a clan is usually inherited at birth and the individual is identified during his lifetime as a member of the Bear Clan or the Eagle Clan or the Oak Clan – the possibilities are almost endless. Each clan has one or more symbols to represent the clan.
Many of the often repeated designs found pecked in the rocks, particularly in the Southwest, are clan symbols. At Willow Springs near Tuba City, Arizona, there are sandstone boulders covered with drawings of many different elements. There are repeats of each element, usually neatly arranged in a row. Modern Hopi Indians are able to recognize all but a few of these as clan symbols. Each symbol records that a member of that particular clan passed by that way on a trip from the Hopi villages to collect salt at the springs near the junction of the Colorado and the Little Colorado. (Grant 1967:38)

Symbols of the Crow, Corn, Red Ant, and possibly Katsina clans.
From Don D. Christensen, Jerry Dickey, and Steven M. Freers,
2013, Rock Art of the Glen Canyon Region, Sunbelt
Publications, San Diego. p.179.

Christianson, Dickey, and Freers (2013) have pointed out that “we must be open to viewing them in such a literal context, and also recognize that they may be symbolic of other concepts and may have contained multiple meanings over time”. They also point out that “it is possible that some motifs might actually be clan symbols that cannot be identified by contemporary Native American consultants because those clans are now extinct or have relocated to the New Mexico pueblos. In any case Hopi elders have identified many of these images as being clan symbols, and traditional Hopi continue to exercise a number of ritual activities in the region.”

My question, as implied in the title of this posting – is a Clan Symbol Roster actually a tally, or not? I ask that because, as I have written previously, I am uncomfortable with calling every instance of multiple repeated images a tally as advocated by James Rauff (2013) (See my September 6, 2014, posting: Tallies in Rock Art Continued.) To a great extent the answer to this will depend upon the opinion of the viewer, and I suspect that my answer will never fully agree with James Rauff. I feel that whether or not a grouping of similar images is a tally depends upon whether or not what is important about the group is the number of images. A warrior counted 3 coups, or we captured 8 rifles in battle, or 11 horses – the purpose is found in the enumeration of something. To me that is not what a Clan Symbol Roster is about. Yes, of course it can be seen as a record of how many times members of my clan visited the site, but I suspect that they are making each image to inform the spirits of their presence this particular time. I see it more as an offering than a tally. What do you think?

NOTE: The beautiful color photographs accompanying this are from the 2013 book Rock Art of the Glen Canyon Region by Don D. Christensen, Jerry Dickey, and Steven M. Freers, an excellent summary of the complicated rock art styles and chronology of this important region. (See my listing under References).


Christensen, Don D., Jerry Dickey, and Steven M. Freers,
2013    Rock Art of the Glen Canyon Region, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego.

Grant, Campbell
1967    Rock Art of the American Indian, Promontory Press, New York.

Michaelis, Helen
1981    Willowsprings: A Hopi Petroglyph Site, Journal of New World Archaeology, 4(2), p. 2-23.

Rauff, James V.

2013    Rock Art Tallies: Mathematics on Stone in Western North America, Journal of        Humanistic Mathematics, 3(2), p.76-88.