Saturday, May 28, 2016



I want to introduce you to another wonderful book by Jim Keyser and George Poetschat, Seeking Bear: The Petroglyphs of Lucerne Valley, Wyoming, 236 pages. Published in 2015 by the Oregon Archaeological Society Press, Portland, with well over 100 illustrations and tables it is another in their series of in-depth studies of rock art of the northern Great Plains and Basin. The Lucerne Valley, Wyoming, is an area in southwest Wyoming that has not been studied extensively in the past, so this volume greatly expands knowledge of rock art of that part of Wyoming and the adjacent areas of Colorado and Utah.

Title page.

Among these contributions to rock art knowledge are documenting the presence of rock art styles in the Lucerne Valley which are known from other areas, expanding the knowledge (at least my personal knowledge) of them and enlarging the region that they are pertinent to.  The first of these is the Classic Vernal Style of Fremont rock art which is found so magnificently around Vernal, Utah, and the Dinosaur National Monument. I had not known of any examples of that style of petroglyph farther north than Brown's Park, Colorado (although it is close enough to be expected). Also images in the Lucerne Valley were documented that the authors attribute to the Uncompaghre Style of rock art, named for examples around the Uncompaghre Plateau, south of Grand Junction, Colorado.  Also the authors explain one image in terms of the meaning of elements of the Dinwoody Style of petroglyph found in the Wind River Valley farther north in Wyoming. These examples of relating images to styles from other locations illustrates that the people of the Lucerne Valley were tied in to the cultures of their larger world, whereas we have tended to overlook that area as an isolated border region between other populations (once again affirming that it is dangerous to use our modern assumptions in evaluating past cultures).

In analyzing the images illustrated in the rock art panels, Keyser once again illustrates his amazing ability to see fine detail and to recognize elements overlooked by other people. This book provides many succinct demonstrations of how much can be learned by really detailed examinations of rock art. One example is a listing of six animals at one site and noting the position of the tail of each animal. Elsewhere the shapes of antlers on cervids are also compared.

One of the high points to me in reading this book is the authors' ability to explain many of the concepts that we often feel strongly about but have not reasoned through. On page 148, a discussion of rock art symbols and their meanings provides a masterful summation of many of the various popular and New Age explanations of rock art that frustrate so many real students of the subject. Also, on page 186, their detailed presentation on the perennial idea that rock art represents "hunting magic" could be used in any college anthropology class on the subject. 
Five stars for excellence.

All-in-all, Seeking Bear, is a highly detailed, relentlessly educational presentation of the rock art from a little known area which ties it inexorably into the larger whole world around it. My only (and I emphasize only) criticism of this wonderful volume is its lack of an index. For someone like me, who enjoys pursuing a train of thought, idea, or insight, through a volume by referring to the index this was a frustrating absence. I actually had to read it through from beginning to end, and perhaps this was their intention all along. Watch out -you just might learn something. Once again, my gratitude to Jim Keyser and George Poetschat for this contribution to rock art studies and literature. Thank you.

Keyser, James D. and George Poetschat,
2015    Seeking Bear: The Petroglyphs of Lucerne Valley, Wyoming, Oregon Archaeological Society Press, Portland.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Disclaimer: Except for the direct quotes following, the content of this posting is completely my speculation, and neither Dietrich Stout or Scientific American can be held responsible for any mistakes or errors. 

We rock art enthusiasts have long believed that the beginnings of rock art indicated a certain level of intellectual development in our human ancestors. Now, a remarkable article in the April, 2016, Scientific American (Vol. 314, No.  4), by Dietrich Stout titled Cognitive Psychology/Tales of a Stone Age Neuroscientist, suggests that learning to make rock art may have been an important factor in that intellectual development.

Oldowan chopper, Wikimedia.
Public domain.

Acheulian hand axe, Spain.
Wikimedia. Public domain.

Stout reported that he and his collaborators learned to knap stone, to recreate Oldowan type stone tools (2.5 to 1.2 million years BP), and Achulean type stone tools (1.6 million to 200,000 years BP). This process of learning to knap stone, and then the production of the tools, proceeded with a series of brain scans to attempt to identify any neural changes.

            "We suspected that learning to knap would also require some degree of neural rewiring. If so, we wanted to know which circuits were affected. If our idea was correct we hoped to get a glimpse of whether toolmaking can actually cause, on a small scale, the same type of anatomical changes in an individual that occurred over the course of human evolution.
            The answer turned out to be a resounding yes: practice in knapping enhanced white matter tracts connecting the same frontal and parietal regions identified in our PET and MRI studies, including the right inferior frontal gyrus of the prefrontal cortex, a region critical for cognitive control. The extent of these changes could be predicted from the actual number of hours each subject spent practicing - the more someone practiced, the more their white matter changed." (Stout 2015:33-34)

Rhinos, Chauvet Cave.
 Wikimedia. Public domain

Lion Man, Hohlenstein-Stadel.
Public domain.

But, what excited me more upon reading this is that the creation of the two tool types left detectable differences in the brain changes. This leads me to what I believe to the reasonable conclusion that the creation of any two types of object would have different effects upon the development of the brain of the creator. In other words, cave painting and Paleolithic bone and ivory carving would have enhanced the development of the brains of their creators, and thus I think I can safely assume that this would also apply to the act of creating petroglyphs and pictographs. That the creation of this rock art not only signaled a certain level of cognitive development, it actually contributed to that development, and the different types of creations made different contributions to that development.

"The results of our own imaging studies on stone toolmaking led us recently to propose that neural circuits, including the inferior frontal gyrus, underwent changes to adapt to the demands of Paleolithic toolmaking and then were co-opted to support primitive forms of communication using gestures and, perhaps, vocalizations. This protolinguistic communication would then have been subjected to selection, ultimately producing the specific adaptations that support modern human language." (Stout 2016:35)

Westwater Creek, Bookcliffs,
Grand County, Utah.
Photograph: Peter Faris,
September, 1981.

Sproat Lake, Vancouver Island,
British Columbia, Canada.
Photograph: Peter Faris, 1995.

So, if all this is really true, by extension, I believe we can postulate that the creation of this art influenced the creation of culture, and the form or type of art created determined the type of that influence. In effect, this seems to imply that the act of painting pictographs would influence the development of the brain in a different way than the carving of a petroglyph. This suggests that we may someday be able to analyze the art to predict the type of culture that produced it, and vice versa; that we may be able to analyze a culture and predict the kind of art it produced. In any case I will be eagerly waiting for further elaboration of this truly exciting investigation, and I hope that it will lead to proof that rock art influenced the development of intelligence, language, and culture. 


Stout, Dietrich
2016    Cognitive Psychology: Tales of a Stone Age Neuroscientist, pages 28-35, Scientific American, Volume 314, Number 4, April, 2016.


Saturday, May 14, 2016


Hammerstone below petroglyph
panel, Wild Horse Draw, Canyon
Pintado, CO. Photograph 
Peter Faris.

On January 17, 2010, I posted a column on, Petroglyphs - Direct Vs. Indirect Percussion? In this I argued that most, if not all, petroglyphs had to be created by direct percussion and gave the reasons for this belief. I was recently informed by James D. Keyser of a paper that he and co-author Greer Rabiega published in the Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, 1999, Vol.21, No. 1, pages 124 - 136, entitled Petroglyph Manufacture by Indirect Percussion: The Potential Occurrence of Tools and Debitage in Datable Context. Keyser's comments concerning examples of indirect percussion are well reasoned and quite convincing, and are based on experiments reproducing fine or narrow lines on stone by striking a "chisel stone" with a hammer stone.

Rock art on boulder,
Airport Hill, St. George, UT.
Photograph Peter Faris, 2002.

Hammerstone on boulder,
Airport Hill, St. George, UT.
Photograph Peter Faris, 2002.

In his e-mail to me Keyser stated :

"I just look for the evidence, and where one finds very precise dints repeatedly aligned with one another to form all or part of a design the chances are that that design (or the very precise part of it) was produced by indirect percussion. Very finely made antlers (and other extremities) on small images of deer in Valcamonica rock art are a good example, but there are many others. Most often the examples of this sort of work that I can think of off-hand are small parts of  larger figures (but the entire figure itself is still not very large—say a deer that can be covered with a playing card)." (Keyser 2016)

"When a small part of a glyph occurs routinely (like the aforementioned Valcamonica antlers) without even one misplaced dint it begins to defy statistical probability that these were done freehand—when such a simple solution (indirect pecking) was available and can provide a guarantee that no dint will be miss-hit. If such finely produced antlers were relatively rare—so that there were a few of many that had no miss-hit dints, then one could argue that the very precise ones were simply normal variation, but when one sees dozens of examples of such deer at site after site—all of whom have antlers, legs, hooves, and open mouths—with nary a miss-hit dint in the bunch—a student must begin to look for a way that this was done that essentially “guarantees” accuracy EVERY TIME THE STONE IS STRUCK. Indirect percussion is the only means by which this can be accomplished (with such a guarantee) that I can come up with....I’d be glad to know." (Keyser 2016)

Hammer stone used with chisel
stone in experiments showing
evidence of impact with the chisel
stone on its side. (Keyser , James
D., and Greer Rabiega, 1999).

I am actually more convinced by what he did not find than by what he did. Keyser reports large numbers of fine lines in petroglyphs with no evidence of the mis-strikes that one would expect to find if only direct percussion had been used to produce them. Now this is a telling argument and I take it very seriously as I have to agree with Jim that the lack of missteps is suggestive of an accuracy very difficult (I am sure he would say impossible) to achieve with only direct percussion.
I do feel compelled to note, however, that this paper and communication are both about an experiment, and that he has not yet reported finding such chisel stones. Admittedly, there has probably been little awareness of their possibility so no one has looked for them. Also, Keyser also commented that as they are smaller and lighter than the hammer stones they may have regularly been carried away as useful tools, not dropped in the ground when the petroglyph is done as so many hammer stones were, " that’s the beauty of a chisel stone—you can carry two or three dozen of them with the same weight as a single good-sized hammer stone." (Keyser 2016)

Bird Rattle carving petroglyph,1924,
Writing-on-Stone, Alberta, Canada.

I am enclosing this picture of Bird Rattle producing a petroglyph at Writing-on-Stone, Alberta, Canada, in 1924, as it is the only illustration I could find of petroglyph production in an authentic context. It really does not apply to the question here, however, as this petroglyph was produced by incising, not by pecking, so the techniques under discussion were not used by Bird Rattle.

Bird Rattle carving petroglyph,1924,
Writing-on-Stone, Alberta, Canada.

Note: until such a chisel stone is reported in context at a petroglyph site this is all conjecture based only upon logic and his reported experiments, but then my original statement was also. Remember, the absence of proof is not proof of absence. So, thank you to Jim Keyser for his information and help. I appreciate that you took the time to help me clarify this question. Correction noted Jim, and thank you. I will temper my opinion accordingly. 
And I also must confess that I have never examined the fine lines in a petroglyph for this phenomena, superimposition yes, mis-strikes no. So in the future I will have another line of evidence to look into. 
Those who would like to dig a little deeper into this example are referred to the 1999 paper by Keyser and Rabiega, cited below.


Keyser, James D., personal communication, May 7, 2016.

Keyser , James D. and Greer Rabiega,
1999,  Petroglyph Manufacture by Indirect Percussion: The Potential Occurrence of Tools and Debitage in Datable Context, Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, Vol.21, No. 1, pages 124 - 136.

Saturday, May 7, 2016


 Petroglyph Point panel, Mesa
Verde, CO. Photograph Peter
Faris, 29 May 1988.

As a return visit to the subject of volcanoes in rock art, I bring you another one of the fanciful creations by William Eaton (1999). This is his interpretation of the petroglyph panel at Petroglyph Point in Mesa Verde as a record of migration by early Puebloan peoples caused by a volcanic eruption near Grants, New Mexico. 

 Close up of subject at Petroglyph
Point, Mesa Verde, CO. Photograph
Peter Faris, 29 May 1988.

Eaton's version of the
Petroglyph Point panel,
Fig. 12.5.1, p. 171.

The subject petroglyph included a subpanel of five volcanic cones with one in the process of eruption." (Eaton 1999:170) This statement mystifies me as a simple viewing of a photograph of the petroglyph panel shows a very different reality. To begin with Eaton has just omitted many features of the actual panel. The upper points of the zigzag line that Eaton identifies as five volcanic cones in actuality show seven points. There are missing images from the left side, from above the area recorded in his drawing, and almost the one fourth of the panel on the right side is omitted. Additionally, in the area of the panel he has illustrated there were many details omitted as well. For instance, there are only three hand prints in Eaton's diagramming of the panel while I count six in my photos of the real panel. Also, Eaton's drawing of the jet of molten lava supposedly spraying out of this volcano has been somewhat altered from the real petroglyph, and, indeed, the eruption he cited was not one of an explosive volcano blasting upward. McCartys eruption consisted predominately of a flow of pahoehoe lava from an 8 meter high cone. Pahoehoe lave is thin and flows easily, often for long distances. It is not generally produced by an explosive eruption, but by the liquid running out of a crack in the side of the volcano. 

Mesa Verde was occupied by Ancestral Pueblo peoples from ca. AD 600 to 1300, approximately seven centuries. Eaton identifies the volcanic feature that drove his imaginary migration to Mesa Verde as the McCarty's sheet flow in the Zuni-Bandera Volcanic field. This lava flow occurred 2,500 - 3,900 years ago (1,900 - 500 BC) ( In other words, the lava flow actually occurred between  3,100 to 4,500 years earlier than the period of full occupation of Mesa Verde.

Eaton's version of the
volcano, Fig. 12.5.1, p. 171.

"A petroglyph panel, some thirty feet in length, is located in an isolated canyon two miles south of Spruce Tree House in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. This panel, Figure 12.5.1, is unusual because it offers possible documentary evidence in the form of metaphors of how (and why) these early Pueblo Indians, migrated to Mesa Verde from their previous homeland adjacent to the very active volcanic area of El Malpais National Monument near Grants, New Mexico, circa A. D. 900." (Eaton 1999:179)

 "Five volcanic cones in the Malpais area near Grants, New Mexico, are shown in Figure 12.5.2. Item s represents Cerro Negro (cone), Valley of the Volcanoes in El Malpais National Monument. The second cone from the right - item u, McCartys Cone - which erupted circa A.D. 900. It produced lava flows 25 miles long." (Eaton 1999:173)
Lava Fissure in McCartys flow,

Early estimates of the age of the eruption of McCartys Cone were based upon Native American tales and were wildly inaccurate. This appears to be the date that Eaton has appropriated for his analysis. "Since then, accelerator mass spectrometer radiocarbon dates of 2970±60 and 3010±70 years B.P. were obtained on samples of burnt roots." ( These corrected dates for the lava flow were obtained in 1994.  These results show Eaton's conclusions to be completely impossible. Note, the correct dating had been published a number of years before Eaton wrote his fictional account, so either the potential migrants were so scared by the eruption that they waited paralyzed for 1,600 to 3,000 year before running away, or once again Eaton is making up his own facts to support his bizarre theories. I am afraid I know which one I believe.


Eaton, William M.
1999    Odyssey of the Pueblo Indians, Turner Publishing Co., Paducah, KY.