Saturday, April 30, 2016


Catalhoyuk map and volcano wall
mural, from the Internet.

As readers of RockArtBlog know, I sometimes expand the subject of my writings to ancient wall murals and/or carvings. While perhaps not strictly rock art per se, as an art historian these subjects are so closely related to the field as to render them eligible of inclusion. I cannot see enough difference between a painting on a natural rock wall (a cliff) and a painting on a constructed rock wall to not include them all. Having written recently about a possible record of a volcanic eruption in Chauvet/Pont d'Ard cave in France (Feb. 27, 2016), and also about the question of possible maps found in rock art (March 12, 2016), I now have the great pleasure of writing about a map that apparently records a volcanic eruption preserved in a wall mural at Çatalhöyük, in western Anatolia, Turkey. 

An artist's rendering of
Catalhoyuk, Wikipedia.

"Çatalhöyük (Turkish pronunciation: [tʃaˈtaɫhøjyc]; also Çatal Höyük and Çatal Hüyük; from Turkish çatal "fork" + höyük "mound") was a very large Neolithic and Chalcolithic proto-city settlement in southern Anatolia, which existed from approximately 7500 BC to 5700 BC, and flourished around 7000 BC. It is the largest and best-preserved Neolithic site found to date. In July 2012, it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site." (Wikipedia)
"Çatalhöyük is located overlooking the Konya Plain, southeast of the present-day city of Konya (ancient Iconium) in Turkey, approximately 140 km (87 mi) from the twin-coned volcano of Mount Hasan. The eastern settlement forms a mound which would have risen about 20 m (66 ft) above the plain at the time of the latest Neolithic occupation. There is also a smaller settlement mound to the west and a Byzantine settlement a few hundred meters to the east. The prehistoric mound settlements were abandoned before the Bronze Age. A channel of the Çarşamba river once flowed between the two mounds, and the settlement was built on alluvial clay which may have been favorable for early agriculture." (Wikipedia)

Mount Hasan, Anatolia, 
Turkey. Wikipedia.
So 9,500 years ago this agricultural settlement was situated on a plain with the two cones of the volcano visible on the horizon.
"Mount Hasan (Turkish: Hasan Dağı) is an inactive stratovolcano in Aksaray province,
Turkey. With an elevation of 3,268 m (10,722 ft), it ranks as the second highest mountain of central Anatolia. A caldera 4-5 kilometres wide formed near the current summit around 7500 BC, in an eruption recorded in Neolithic paintings." (Wikipedia)

Catalhoyuk wall mural as discovered.

The Çatalhöyük Mural as preserved
in the Museum of Anatolian
Civilizations. From the Internet.

"The eruption is portrayed in a mural painted on the wall of one of the rooms excavated at Catalhoyuk. “The lower register of the mural contains about 80 square-shaped patterns tightly arranged like cells in a honeycomb, and its upper register depicts an object that its discoverers initially identified either as a rendering of a mountain with two peaks with the cell-like patterns representing a plan view of a village with a general layout of the houses similar to that of Çatalhöyük and other nearby Neolithic settlements, or a leopard skin with its extremities cut off,” a team of scientists led by Dr Axel Schmitt from the University of California Los Angeles wrote in the PLoS ONE paper." ( 2014)

An artist's rendering of the
Catalhoyuk mural, Wikipedia.

“In the ‘map’ interpretation, the volcano and its violent eruption are posited to have been significant for the inhabitants of Çatalhöyük because they procured obsidian in the vicinity of Mount Hasan.”" ( 2014) As far as I am concerned they did not even need the obsidian to be concerned. Having a major volcanic eruption within view of your village would be a hugely impressive event that might be subject to recording pictorially on a wall. Proponents of the leopard skin interpretation need to explain the apparent spray coming from the top peak, as well as what the leopard skin is lying on. What is that surface made up of black squares? While this is another one that will never be known for sure, it is certainly fascinating, and I am going with the volcano interpretation for now.

2014    Catalhoyuk 'Map' Mural May Depict Volcanic Eruption 8,900 Years Ago,, Jan. 13, 2014.

Schmitt, Alex, et al.
2014    Identifying the Volcanic Eruption Depicted in a Neolithic Painting at Catalhoyuk, Central Anatolia, Turkey, PLOS, January 8, 2014, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084711.


Saturday, April 23, 2016


Cover, Ancient Ruins and Rock Art of
the Southwest: An Archaeological
Guide, 4th Edition. David Grant Noble.

NOTE: This book review was previously published in Southwestern Lore: Journal of Colorado Archaeology, official publication of the Colorado Archaeological Society. Vol. 81, No. 4, Winter 2015, p. 25.

David Grant Noble.

I recently ran into an old friend again after about 35 years in the fourth edition of David Grant Noble's book Ancient Ruins an Rock Art of the Southwest. I call it an old friend because the first edition was published in 1980, which was shortly after the time when I became interested in rock art, and when there were not that many books available with information about rock art sites. Noble's first edition was a breath of fresh air and a valuable go-to guide, and his fourth edition is even better. 

This is most certainly not a text book, yet it has a wealth of good information about not only specific sites, but also about the cultures to which they are attributed. Organized by cultures and cultural regions in the American Southwest, each entry also concludes with a "suggested reading" entry pointing the reader to sources of more and deeper detail.  In this sense it makes an excellent introduction to the cultures of the American Southwest and their study.

Navajo, Crow Canyon,
Dinetah, p. 250.

It is a sort of a guide book, but it is much, much more. Some of my favorite facts are that the tiny settlement of Thompson, Utah, on the way to the great Sego Canyon rock art site has an old, closed diner that served as a location in the popular 1991 movie Thelma and Louise (p. 17), and that squabbles over whether or not a road was going to be built that would impact the Mule Canyon archaeological ruins in Utah served as the inspiration for Edward Abbey's novel The Monkey Wrench Gang (p. 110).

Noble moved  to New Mexico in 1971, where he was the photographer on the School for Advanced Research's (SAR) archaeological excavations at Arroyo Hondo Pueblo, a 14th-century site near Santa Fe. He remained on the SAR staff until 1989. He has long studied the Southwest's deep history and archaeology and traveled widely to photograph ruins, rock art, and landscape.

Navajo pueblito, Largo-
Gobernador region, p. 251.

As an accomplished photographer he has provided most of the beautiful photos that illustrate this volume, and he has successfully conveyed his love of the subject in both the pictures and the text.

Five stars, a wonderful read.

With detailed information about over 100 sites, and with a 15 page index, this volume is certainly reader friendly. Beginners will find it a great introduction to the ruins and rock art of the American Southwest. Even professional archaeologists will find it enjoyable reading for its comprehensive background and for the human level in which it expresses this subject. The rest of us will enjoy it as a entertaining read. It is always a pleasure to run in to an old friend again, and an even more pleasant surprise to discover how much they have improved with age. Such is the case with Ancient Ruins and Rock Art of the Southwest, by David Grant Williams, and I look forward to seeing more from him in the future.

Ancient Ruins and Rock Art of the Southwest: An Archaeological Guide, Fourth Edition. David Grant Noble. Taylor Trade Publishing an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2015. xxi + 296 pp., figures, references, index. ISBN 978-1-58979-937-0 $19.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-58979-7 $9.99 (eBook).

Saturday, April 16, 2016


Post-classic Vernal Abstract figures, Cub
Creek, Dinosaur National Monument, Utah.
Photograph Peter Faris, June 1984. 

In the collection of Cub Creek anthropomorphic figures from the Uintah Fremont people of Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, there is a sequence of figures undergoing varying stages of successive abstraction from Representative Realism to a highly abstracted stage. Included in these figures are a few with a visual treatment that I have wondered at since I first saw them about 30-some years ago. While most of the abstracted figures at Cub Creek use basic line or dot patterns to indicate the details of jewelry and torso/clothing, these figures use other symbols for that purpose.

Cub Creek figure, Dinosaur National
Monument, Utah. (Faris 1987:34)
As a starting point, this illustration shows the basic method of indicating a simplified figure at this site. Dots are used as facial details and jewelry (necklaces, ear bobs) and large pectoral pendants are portrayed. Body details are either composed of linear markings or lines of dots, and once the viewer is aware of the pattern it is easy to find a large number of these figures at Cub Creek which fall into the pattern although they all have individual differences.

Cub Creek, Dinosaur National Monument,
Utah. Photograph Peter Faris, 1984.

There are a few, however, which have details that differ noticeably from the expected pattern. A couple of them are illustrated here where one figure has torso details indicated with a couple of rows of connected triangles with the points up. There are four triangles across the upper part of the torso or chest area, and a pair of triangles in approximately the location of the waist.

Cub Creek figures, Dinosaur National
Monument, Utah. (Faris 1987:36)

Next to that figure is another one with the design located in the torso of two simple interlocked spirals, sort of a variation on the Na'kwach (brotherhood) symbol illustrated by Frank Waters in his Book Of The Hopi (1963:63). Waters claimed that it represents priests clasping hands in that manner during the dances of the Wuwuchim ceremony.

Cub Creek, Dinosaur National Monument,
Utah. Photograph Peter Faris, 1984.

To me, however, the one that is most interesting is a figure, also from Cub Creek, which has a torso and shoulders consisting of pretty much what I would expect a drawing of a Greek column and capitol of the Ionic order would be. 

Ionic column capitol, Wikipedia.

Note also that the line above the facial area is painted with a dark red ochre, and there seem to be visible traces of paint in other spots as well.

Cub Creek figure, Dinosaur National
Monument, Utah. (Faris 1987:35)

Now were these done in a joyful exploration into the possibilities of depicting the visual image in original and creative ways (i.e. artistic variation), or were they done with a sense of humor, illustrating the human image with a whimsical purpose and style, or are they accurate records of details of clothing and adornment that were themselves unique and creative? I do not know, but whichever is the case I very much like the implications for the mindset of the prehistoric Fremont artist(s) who created these images. It allows me to see them with an increased sense of common humanity, and I very much like what I see.


Faris, Peter
1987    Post-Classic Vernal Abstraction: The Evolution of a Unique Style in Late Fremont Rock Art in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah, pages 28-40, Southwestern Lore, Vol. 53, No. 1, Colorado Archaeological Society. 

Waters, Frank
1963    Book of the Hopi, Ballantine Books, New York.


Saturday, April 9, 2016


FIGURE 3, 3-Princesses, Cub Creek, 
Dinosaur Nat. Mon., Uintah County, UT.
Photograph Peter Faris, September 1989.

In my first column on this site, (March 26, 2015) I suggested that the next stage in this process could be seen in the 3-Princesses, a group of figures from near the Cub Creek site (FIGURES 3, 3A, 3B, FIGURE 4, and FIGURE 5). They have been simplified another step by losing their extremities although they still possess their decorative adornment. The first princess even wears facial markings that may represent face paint.

Figure 6A, Cub Creek, Dinosaur National 
Monument, Utah. Photograph Peter Faris,
June 1984.

Figure 6B, Cub Creek, Dinosaur National
Monument, Utah. Peter Faris, 1984,
page 32.

From this point on even the torso of the figure has disappeared, and we see figures that are represented by their jewelry and costume with a few facial features thrown in. FIGURE 6A is still roughly on par with the first princess for amount of detail. FIGURE 6A shows a hairdo or headdress, facial features, wears a pectoral and possible earbobs, and a kilt is seen where the bottom of the torso should fall. This figure also wears a belt line which will be seen as well as subsequent figures (an ink drawing of this figure is seen as FIGURE 6B).

Figure 7, Cub Creek, Dinosaur National
Monument, Peter Faris, 1987, page 34.

Figure 7 lacks the body outline, but the torso is composed of dots, it still has the pectoral, facial features, and ear bobs, as well as a necklace and headdress.
Figure 8, Cub Creek, Dinosaur National
Monument, Peter Faris, 1987, page 33.

Figure 8 also lacks the body outline. The torso is composed of six rows of dots, it still has the pectoral, facial features, and ear bobs, as well as a necklace, headdress, and belt. The emphasis on these figures is less the details of the human body being portrayed than it is on the items of decorative adornment. In a culture in which all of these items are handmade, and thus unique, such a focus on details of adornment seem to me to betray a concern for the identity of who wore these particular items, in other words it functions as a portrait.

Figure 9, Cub Creek, Dinosaur National
Monument, Utah. Photograph
John Faris, 1989.

Figure 10, Cub Creek, Dinosaur National
Monument, Peter Faris, 1987, page 38.

Figures 9 and 10 show another step in simplification with the presence of the torso almost ignored, its existence is implied by the positions of the pectoral, shirt or vest front seam, and the belt line. Facial details and ear bobs are also still found, but this figure, with such a degree  of simplification, is hard to label as realism.

Figure 11, Cub Creek, Dinosaur National Monument,
Utah. Photograph Peter Faris, 1984.

Figure 12, Cub Creek, Dinosaur National
Monument, Peter Faris, 1987, page 39.

These steps in the sequence have further eliminated details until at the end of the whole sequence we have the trio of figures in FIGURES 11 and 12 which would never be recognizable as portrayals of humans if we had not had the rest of the sequence to follow step by step. At this point in the whole history I tend to see that last Fremont artist at Cub Creek put down his hammer stone and step back, then turn and walk away (hopelessly romantic, I admit it).

Perhaps the figures were originally more complete than now, with elements and detailed added by paint, and, given that the great figure from the 3-Kings panel, with which I started my sequence, was both painted and pecked, this is a definite possibility. During my visits there however, I could see no trace of paint remaining on any of the Cub Creek anthropomorphs. Even had they been painted, the changes that we see in the remaining petroglyph elements indicate that the style of humanoid representation was changing, so the possibility of paint does not invalidate my conclusions. However we assume it played out, it is still the visual record of a remarkable cultural transition, from Classic Vernal Style, through Post-Classic Vernal Abstraction, to whatever came next, which before long, were the Ute/Shoshone peoples of the same area.

In 1987, I concluded my study of these images with the following paragraph:
"At this location, sometime around ca. A.D. 1200, the last inheritor of the artistic tradition of creative abstraction left the trio of figures carved into the cliff at Cub Creek. We probably can never know whether his or her people migrated out of the area or stayed in the area maintaining the hunter/gatherer lifestyle but having reached a point of deculturation that the continued  creation of these abstracted figures was no longer relevant to their way of life and their beliefs. Whichever the case, it was the end of a unique art form, a style based on simplification and abstraction but, most of all, on creative variation in anthropomorphic figure portrayal." (Faris 1987:40)


Faris, Peter
1987    Post-Classic Vernal Abstraction: The Evolution of a Unique Style in Late Fremont Rock Art in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah, pages 28-40, Southwestern Lore, Vol. 53, No. 1, Colorado Archaeological Society.

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

Friday, April 1, 2016


La Cieneguilla, Southwest of airport,
Santa Fe, NM. Photograph Patricia
Price, December 1991.

La Cieneguilla, Southwest of airport,
Santa Fe, NM. Photograph Patricia
Price, December 1991.

The series of Tremors movies was memorable for a number of reasons; fun and frightening, with parodies of so many types of people that we all know. I was, however, quite surprised to find that the creatures upon which the movie were based are apparently real rare, but real. I am referring, of course, to the Graboids, the ravening, monstrous, carnivorous worms, and their other incarnations, the Shriekers, and the Ass Blasters.

Shrieker from the Internet,
by teratophoneus-d7rlcz5,

Now I am not suggesting that I know where we can run off to and observe the real thing. There is, however, a petroglyph panel at La Cieneguilla, south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, that convincingly portrays Shriekers. The movie Tremors, was supposedly filmed in California, and was fictional from beginning to end. These petroglyphs add an interesting possibility. Conspiracy theorists should be able to see how the selling of this movie as fiction is a very clever government plot to convince people that the real creatures actually do exist (or do not exist, it depends upon your conspiracy).  The Ancestral Puebloan people of the area obviously knew of them, and knew them well enough to leave pictures on the rocks. This brings up the obvious question then; is it possible that we can hope someday to find evidence of the Graboids as well? Well, quite possibly on next April Fool's Day.