Saturday, September 26, 2015


Abiquiu morada, Abiquiu, New 
Mexico. Photograph Peter Faris,
September 2011.

This posting is a review of an article from Archaeology magazine, May/June 2015 issue, volume 68, number3, pages 42-47, by Dean Blaine, entitled Mysteries of the Brotherhood. The article discusses a Penitente site at Pilar, New Mexico, being studied by archaeologist Severin Fowles. I have added some other material and some photographs were taken by myself.

May-June 2015.Crosses atop orbs.
Archaeologyillustration #2, p. 45.

The penitentes, los Hermanos de la Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, were a religious support group for many small and isolated Catholic communities in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. The Spanish conquerors of the southwest had strictly enforced Catholicism in their territories. Whether descendants of Spanish settlers, creolos, or genizaros (Native Americans and their descendants who had adopted the Spanish way of life, customs, and beliefs), the inhabitants knew that for important life occasions a religious rite was required. Baptism, marriage, confession, last rites, and many other events were accompanied by important religious ceremony that required a priest. The problem always was a definite shortage of priests which, at times, only amounted to a handful for the whole of the American southwest. People in many small communities did not have access to a real priest much of the time, hence the Penitentes, a home-grown religious support group to fill the need.

Crosses with Native American petroglyph.
Mesa Prieta, New Mexico. Photograph
Peter Faris, September 2011.

"Few groups are as ripe for misunderstanding as the Penitente Brotherhood, a lay association of Roman Catholic men long active in remote northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Historians and journalists have wondered about their origins for 200 years. Known formally as los Hermanos de la Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, the Penitentes materialized in the early nineteenth century as un unofficial surrogate of the Catholic Church, dedicated to the spiritual needs of far-flung communities with little or no access to clergy." (Blaine 2015:44)

"It's just simply not the case that all Catholics out here are colonizers who came in and kicked around native folks," Fowles says. Many Spaniards married Genizaros, Native American captives who were raised and worked in Spanish society. In fact, by the early nineteenth century, historians estimate that as many as a third of New Mexicans could be classified as Genizaros, people who were at once devoutly Christian but also had inherited knowledge of Native American practices. It's likely that some of the Penitentes were either of mixed heritage or were Genizaros themselves. "A lot of Catholics out here came from native traditions and were trying to figure out how to work within this very complicated ethnic landscape." (Blaine 2015:46)

A community that was served by a penitente group possessed their morada, the meeting house that stored their possessions and served as a chapel for many of their rites ceremonies. The morada almost always was accompanied by a calvario, the spiritual recreation of the hill of Calvary. The illustration shows the upper morada at Abiquiu, New Mexico, and the three crosses are the calvario representing the site of the crucifixion.

Penitente cross with Native American
snake petroglyph. Archaeology,
illustration #1, p. 46.

As the penitentes were almost ubiquitous in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, it is assumed that much of the religious themed rock art found in this region was of their making. Blaine shows examples from around the morada at Pilar, New Mexico, both of panels of Christian themes (crosses) and panels of mixed themes (crosses with Native American rock art). Fowles believes that the mixing of Christian and native rock art on many rock surfaces indicates that the Penitentes were consciously drawing on the spiritual traditions of all of the people who lived in that place. It is notable that the earlier native images were not defaced, they were added to. (Blaine 2015:46)

Cross above with Native American
snake petroglyph. Mesa Prieta,
New Mexico. Photograph Peter
Faris, September 2011.

"If the Penitentes were incorporating Native American traditions, Fowles says, this helps to explain how Lenten rituals such as the Procession of Blood materialized on the northern New Mexican landscape. It's quite possible that Penitente brothers at Pilar were engaged in an effort to reconcile traditional Native American religious conventions with the teaching of Roman Catholic dogma." (Blaine 2015:46-7)

Much Anglo coverage of Penitente rituals and practices has exaggerated what they saw as sensational aspects such as processions where men walked along whipping themselves bloody in the back with a yucca leaf whip. Anglo reports of this always emphasize how bloody the men's backs were. What they did not tell you is that one of the traditional roles in a Penitente chapter was reportedly that of the cutter, the man who was very experienced in making small incisions in the upper back of the men in the procession with a very sharp obsidian flake to provide controlled bleeding with virtually no pain at all.

Indeed, I have personally found the story of the Penitente brotherhoods to be one of inspiring faith and community responsibility. They were, and are, a living tradition that provides comfort and support among the inhabitants of the region. I have had the privilege of knowing a couple of participants in this, and have almost envied them their faith and sense of civic responsibility. Far from the bloody freak show that they have been painted as in the past, they were the best of their communities and the region was, and is, better off for them.

See how far we can get by beginning with curiosity about rock art!


Blaine, Dean
2015    Mysteries of the Brotherhood, Archaeology, May/June 2015, Vol. 68, No. 3, p. 42-7.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Supposed Cambodian stegosaur

Episode ten of season four on Ancient Aliens, on H2 channel, was named Aliens and Dinosaurs. This program proved the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs by various lines of evidence. One was the stone carving at Angkor that seems to portray a stegosaur. One was a dinosaur track site in Texas that includes what they identified as a human footprint along with the petrified dinosaur imprints. And finally, they dragged out the Ica Stones as proof.

First - the Cambodian temple stegosaur is a decorative carving of an animal in a rondelle on a temple at Angkor

"Young earth creationists Don Patton, Carl Baugh, and some of their associates and followers have argued that a stone carving on the wall of the Ta Prohm temple in Cambodia was based on a live Stegosaurus dinosaur seen by the artist. There are problems with this interpretation, even aside from extensive evidence that humans did not appear on earth until at least 60 million years after non-avian dinosaurs* went extinct. First, the image in question differs in several significant ways from actual stegosaurs. Second, the main evidence for the Stegosaurus interpretation consists of a row of lobes along the back of the carving animal. Although superficially resembling the bony back plates of stegosaurs, there are a number of alternate explanations, including the possibility that they merely represent background vegetation or decorative flourishes, similar to many others on and around other carvings on the temple. The lobes may also represent exaggerated dorsal spines of a chameleon or other lizard. When all features and factors are considered, the carving is at least as compatible with a rhinoceros or chameleon as a stegosaur. Moreover, even if it represents a stegosaur, the carving could have been based on fossil remains rather than the artist seeing a live stegosaur." (Kuban 2014)

"Ta Prohm is the modern name for a temple at Angkor, Cambodia. It was built in the late 1100's and early 1400's as a Buddhist monastery. Originally called Rajavihara, it was among many other Buddhist and Hindu temples produced by the Khmer civilization from the eighth through the fourteenth century A.D. The temple was commissioned by self-proclaimed "god-king" Jayavarman VII, one of the most renowned monarchs and builders of the empire. Statues depicting him in Buddha-like poses are found throughout the region. Ta Prohm was built in honor of his mother and dedicated in 1186. The temple's stele records that it was home to more than 12,500 people, including 18 high priests and 615 dancers, with 80,000 thousands more people in surrounding villages providing various services and supplies. Some question whether these figures may involve some exaggeration, but clearly the temple was an active and impressive complex." (Kuban 204)

The protagonists of the young earth Creation theory argue that most of the carvings in these panels are detailed enough to allow the viewer to identify exactly which animal is being portrayed, and yes, many of them are that exact. But many others are not. Indeed, it is the details that are argued on both sides because that is what there is to analyze. What we see in the rondelle is an apparently four-legged animal, with fairly thick legs, relatively large horns on top of the head, a pointed tail, and a high-curved-back above which are a row of decorative petals to fill the background of the rondelle. There are no spikes on the tail - stegosaurus had large spikes on his tail. Stegosaurus did not have horns on his head, and his head was relatively much smaller than in the carving. As to the identification of the plates across his back upon which the whole identification rests, many of the other decorative rondelles there (and dozens can be found online) fill the background space with a range of petals as if the creature is in front of a flower. I do not believe that these are meant to be connected with the animal at all.

Unidentified figure second down from the so-called stegosaur. Credit: Colin Burns, from Kuban, Fig. 11,

If we have to take seriously the Creationist's arguments about anatomical correctness, then I need to hear them give a logical explanation for the creature portrayed in the second rondelle down from the so-called stegosaur. It portrays an ugly little naked humanoid with a tail and legs like a goat.  If the one carving proves that humans and dinosaurs co-existed on 12th century Cambodia, then this other carving seemingly proves that the ancient Greek god Pan was there with both the humans and dinosaurs too. And do the Creationists really want to get into explaining the pros and cons of that?

Second - As to the dinosaur track site in Texas including a human footprint, that was bogus. It was easy to see that what they were identifying as a human footprint was just a portion of a larger dinosaur track, apparently a three-toed therapod track. I will refer you to Glenn Kuban's excellent online analysis debunking this one (see reference listing below).

And third - the Ica stones. One of the so-called experts that they had testifying to the importance of the Ica stones was so ignorant that he kept calling them Inca stones. On April 25, 2915 I posted a column titled DINOSAURS IN ROCK ART - PERU'S ICA STONES, in which I expressed my reasoning why I believe them to be modern forgeries instead of ancient artifacts. However, I should add that if they are not forgeries - if they actually prove that humans and dinosaurs coexisted, the fact that they are modern not ancient supposedly proves that humans and dinosaurs are still coexisting somewhere, but that gets us way too far into cryptozoology, and is not my field.

All in all, episode ten of season four of Ancient Aliens was laughable, but unfortunately some people actually seem to believe this stuff. Maybe we need the aliens after all, there still isn't enough intelligent life on this planet.


Kuban, Glenn
2014    Man Tracks? A Topical Summary of the Paluxy "Man Track" Controversy,
2014    Stegosaur Carving on a Cambodian Temple?,

Dinosaurs in Ancient Cambodian Temple,

Saturday, September 12, 2015


In this season of ramping up the hysteria toward the 2016 presidential election we are already hearing about the results of many polls per week proving that one candidate this, and another candidate that, trying to convince us that we should ignore common sense and rush with whatever herd they designate to wherever they want us to go. Why would I bring that up on a blog dedicated to rock art?

I recently read a very entertaining book on statistical correlation written by Tyler ViGen (Spurious Correlations, Hachette Books, New York, 2015). He printed a whole lot of impressive statistical correlations that cannot possibly be related, and yet, represent the kind of fringe analysis we see frequently being trumpeted as proof of this or that in rock art. A few of my favorite results from his studies are:

 Federal funding for science, space, and technology vs. Suicides by hanging, strangulation, and suffocation. - displayed a 99.2% correlation (ViGen 2015:48-9).

And even better was, amount of Alcohol sold in grocery stores vs. Total number of bridges in the United States. - displayed a 99.3% correlation. "Why else would you build a bridge, except so that you could go buy alcohol?" (ViGen 2015:98-99).

Symbol grouping, Chauvet cave,
photo-Jean Collins,  from New
Scientist magazine,
February, 2010.

I have long been a skeptic of the misuse of statistics in rock art analysis. "On July 12, 2010, I published a posting titled The Writing On The (Cave) Wall concerning a recent example of this sort of study which was related in a February 17, 2010, article by Kate Ravilious in New Scientist magazine entitled “The Writing On The Cave Wall” which made the ambitious claim that writing had been discovered on the walls of the painted European caves. According to this report a pair of scholars at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, graduate student Genevieve von Petzinger and her supervisor April Nowell undertook as a Master’s project a numerical analysis of all the signs found in 146 sites in France covering a date range from 37,000 to 12,000 B.P. The signs were compiled in a database for analysis. They found that 26 of these signs appeared frequently in numerous sites. The most common sign was a line that was found at 70 percent of the sites and across all time periods. The next most common symbols were what they called “open angles” and dots being found at 42 percent of the sites. Having found quantifiable examples of common occurrence of these symbols in conjunction with each other they made the amazing announcement that they represent a form of written communication, and astoundingly the scientific community, including anthropology and archaeology, seems to accept this statement. Why would scientists fall for this? Because, Petzinger and Nowell got their results from a statistical analysis of numbers in a database."

Symbol grouping, illustration from New 
Scientist magazine, February, 2010.

I personally know a very qualified and serious rock art researcher who got himself caught up in this kind of problem in his thesis project. I will not identify him because I do not wish him to read this and take it as a personal attack. He was a student at the time and it was his role to be highly ambitious and optimistic. In my opinion his thesis was motivated by very positive drives, it was the job of his advisers to exercise a little guidance and I believe he was led astray. His thesis examined rock art sites in West-Central Colorado to attempt to identify locations of ritual behavior by visual and acoustic indicators. These were then analyzed with seven statistical tools; Principal Components Factor Analysis, Cluster Analysis, Tukey’s tests, Jacquard Matrix, Chi Square Analysis, and Bayesian approach.

"This research project has identified at least three and in some cases four (and possibly more) attributes associated with the rock art of the study area that are suggestive of each of the seven characteristics of Ritual Behavior as identified by Rappaport. Some of the attributes can be utilized to demonstrate more than one characteristic of ritual and as such are key indicators of multiple ritual characteristics. All of the seven characteristics of ritual were associated with at least three attributes (out of a total of 145 dichotomized variables [for 22 panel locations totaling 3,190 values] that were ultimately tested in the study)." (citation withheld for anonymity).

Too much data was collected and analyzed. In an effort to be comprehensive and complete this research project identified 145 data attributes for 22 panel locations creating a dichotomized dataset consisting of 3, 190 values was then established (only two values were missing in two panel locations due to access issues [motif depth measurements]). In retrospect many of these values were peripherally related to the research question and probably should not have been recorded because they took time and attention away from the main project.” ((citation withheld for anonymity) - the above underlining is mine).

So back to my title - CORRELATION IS NOT CONFIRMATION. Do we really believe that cutting federal funding for Science, Space, and Technology will cut the number of suicides by strangulation? Do we really believe that there is a real relationship between the amount of money spent on alcohol in grocery stores in the United States and the number of bridges built? People, let's use our common sense! End of rant.


Faris, Peter
July 12, 2010, The Writing On The (Cave) Wall, .

ViGen, Tyler
2015    Spurious Correlations, Hachette Books, New York.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


Eldon Brown family at Martin Bowden's
home, Photograph by Eldon Brown,
from John and Daphne Rudolph.

Continuing the story of Martin Bowden, the hermit painter of the Purgatoire River. Bowden had a homesteader style house on the canyon rim made of laid blocks of rock where he lived with his little dog.

Pronghorn antelope with Eldon
Brown's daughters. Photograph by Eldon
Brown, from John and Daphne Rudolph.

"Charlie Beshoar, owner of the Model store where Bowden came to trade, swears the hermit could speak five languages, "maybe six if you count the way he talked to animals. 'What did the man look like?' I asked Charlie. "His eyes were black. Black and snappy. He had a mustache and beard, and they was always trimmed neat as a banker's fur. And he washed his overalls every week. We got a hell of a lot of old bachelors down here, but we never had many nice, clean old bachelors. For company he had a little bull terrier that went everywhere he did." (Leasure 1983: 24)

Bald eagle in flight. Photograph
by Eldon Brown, from John and
Daphne Rudolph.

Rattlesnake. Photograph by
Eldon Brown, from John and
Daphne Rudolph.

"Not only did early artists use rock walls of the region for their canvases, but so did recent residents. An excellent example is found along the upper reaches of the Purgatoire in a side canyon that is a modern day art gallery. An artist, Martin Bowden, lived there and painted the canyon walls with numerous images of animals and historic Americans. An eagle is painted high on a cliff face, and a larger-than-life rattlesnake is painted coiled on a rock beside the trail." (McGlone et al 1994:85)

Prongorn, mountain goat, deer, and
calf, with Eldon Brown's daughters.
Photograph by Eldon Brown, from John
and Daphne Rudolph.

"Modern art gallery in a side canyon of the Purgatoire River. 
Martin Bowden retired to a lonesome life in the canyon in 1911, and lived there until his self-inflicted death in 1958. Known as the "Hermit of the Purgatoire", or "Picasso of the Purgatoire," he painted about 40 life-sized figures of animals and people on the sandstone walls with brightly colored house paint." (McGlone et al 1994:92)

Rider. Photograph by Eldon Brown,
from John and Daphne Rudolph.

These lovely pictures are of considerable appeal, and, given their age, are now classifiable as antiques. These photographs will now be preserved in the Colorado Rock Art Archive at the Pueblo Regional Library in Pueblo, Colorado. Thank you Daphne and John.


Leasure, Bob
1983    Painted Beasts, pages 12-13 and 23 - 25, the Denver Post Magazine, June 26, 1983.

McGlone, Bill, Ted Barker, and Phil Leonard
1994    Petroglyphs of Southeast Colorado and the Oklahoma Panhandle, Mithras Inc., Kamas, UT.