Friday, June 24, 2016


Ute panel, Sego Canyon,
Utah. Photograph: Peter
Faris, August, 1993.

Left side of Ute panel, Sego
             Canyon, Utah. Photograph:
              Peter Faris, August, 1993.

We all have seen examples of rock art panels badly vandalized in many different ways, and we know of cases that have been reported from all over the world. I was recently looking at rock art photographs online and ran across a photo of the wonderful Ute Indian pictograph panel  from Sego Canyon, Utah, a site I have visited a number of times. I thought this photograph looked different than I remembered so I went into my files and found a photograph that I had taken of the same panel in August, 1993. I present both photographs here for your perusal, and to illustrate my premise of the importance of not only recording rock art, but of making those records available to other students of the field for comparison.

At this level I can see two alterations to the panel right off. The first is the addition of the name Jesus above the shield in the center. The second alteration is the apparent addition of a ring of white hand prints around the shield on the left.

In my 1993 photograph of this panel the large initials "F.B." can already be seen so that vandalism occurred prior to that year. Scanning photographs online of this panel I found one taken between 2003 and 2007 according to its labeling that has the name "Jesus" added but no hand prints around the shield on the left. So we can probably assume that the name "Jesus" was added between 1993 and the 2003-7 period. The hand prints appeared after the 2003-7 period. In this way we can begin to chart the progressing cumulative vandalism of this important panel. Indeed, a person could make quite a project out of accumulating a number of photographs of the same panel over a broad span of years and record the history of its desecration. If anyone out there has any further information on the apparent vandalism of this important rock art panel I would be happy to hear it. Let me know!

NOTE: I would be remiss in not mentioning the possibility that the hand prints could have been added to a photograph of the panel digitally (i.e. Photoshopped), but I am not skilled enough with computers to detect such alteration. If this were the case I hope someone will also let me know that.

NOTE: Digital copies of all my rock art photographs, with the pertinent information on time and place, are in the Colorado Rock Art Archives at the Pueblo Regional Library, Pueblo, Colorado.

The photo with added hand prints was found at the website .

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Pictograph at Abri Faravel,
southern France, 7,000' in elevation.

An article published online at Live Science, by Stephanie Pappas, Live Science contributor, and titled Highest-Altitude Prehistoric Rock Art Revealed, claims that pictographs found at a rock shelter in the southern French Alps named Abri Faravel, are the highest-altitude examples of rock art ever recorded. "In 2010, researchers found paintings decorating the ceiling of the rock shelter, consisting of parallel lines as well as what look like two animals facing each other. Excavations reveal signs of human activity starting in the Mesolithic (the period between about 10,000 B.C. and 5,000 B.C.) and extending all the way to the Middle Ages." (Pappas 2016) Abri Faravel is located at 2,133 meters (approximately 7,000 feet) elevation.

Pictographs at Abri Faravel,

Now I have read a number of Stephanie's articles in the past and am generally a big admirer of her writing. The blatant inaccuracy of this one, however, just cannot be passed up. I reread it for accuracy and found the statement that they are the "highest-elevation prehistoric rock paintings ever discovered." (Pappas 2016) As I looked at it again I knew that this just could not be right so I got out my topo maps and checked some sites from around Colorado that I was pretty sure would come in at over 7,000 feet above sea level in elevation.

Promontory on a ranch outside of 
Clarke, Colorado. 7,500' - 7,800' elevation.Photograph
Peter Faris, July, 1986.

Carrot man pictograph on a ranch
outside of Clarke, Colorado.
Photograph Peter Faris, July, 1986.

Cactus man pictograph on a ranch
outside of Clarke, Colorado.
Photograph Peter Faris,
July, 1986.

I found a couple of good examples from right here in Colorado. My first example is from a rock shelter north of Steamboat Springs, outside of Clarke Colorado, on a private ranch. This is a small shelter on a high promontory in the neighborhood of 7,500 to 7,800* feet in elevation from my topo maps. In this unlikely location we found a couple of red-painted figures and some undecipherable marks, which seemed to be Fremont in style (although what Fremont were doing up there is a mystery to me).

La Garita painted panel, San Luis
Valley, Colorado. 7,700' - 7,800'
elevation. Photograph Peter Faris,
May, 2006.

My second example is the painted pictograph site from La Garita in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado. This wonderful site is assumed to be Ute in provenance. It is somewhere around 7,700 to 7,800* feet in elevation as best I can work out from the topo maps. 

So what about this claim that Abri Faravel contains the highest-altitude rock art ever recorded. Did the original authors provide Stephanie with inaccurate information, or was it just a misinterpretation. I will certainly give her the benefit of doubt. I suspect it was a misinterpretation of a statement sort of like "it is the highest site discovered in (southern France, or Europe, or wherever)" that just got misunderstood. But it brings up a great question. What would the highest elevation rock art site be? If you have some candidates please let me know. Where is your highest elevation rock art site?


* * I did not get my elevations from USGS topo maps, but with the Colorado Atlas and Gazetteer from DeLorme, so I can only claim that the elevations I cite above are my best estimates.


Pappas, Stephanie,

Saturday, June 11, 2016


Site archaeologist Diego Garate
looking at cave paintings representing
horses in the Axturra cave.
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images.

A story by Ciaran Giles, writing for Associated Press in Madrid, Spain, on May 27, 2016, outlines the discovery of new cave art in northern Spain.

"Spanish archaeologists say they have discovered an exceptional set of Paleolithic-era cave drawings that could rank among the best in a country that already boasts some of the world's most important cave art." (Giles 2016)

Bison image from Axturra Cave.
(Diputacion Floral de Bizkaia.)

Outlined bison image from Axturra
Cave. (Diputacion Floral de Bizkaia.)

"Chief site archaeologist Diego Garate said Friday that an estimated 70 drawings were found on ledges 300 meters (1,000 feet) underground in the Axturra cave in the northern Basque region. The engravings and paintings feature horses, buffalo, goats and deer, dating back 12,500 - 14,500 years ago." (Giles 2016)

"The cave was discovered in 1929 and first explored in 1934-35, but it was not until 2014 that Garate and his team resumed their investigations that the drawings were discovered." (Giles 2016)

"'No one expected a discovery of this magnitude,' said Jose Yravedra, a prehistory professor at Madrid's Complutense University. 'There are a lot of cave with drawings but very few have this much art and this much variety and quality.'" (Giles 2016)

Bison image with what the chief site
archaeologist identified as 20 lance
wounds. (Diputation Floral de Bizkaia.)

Outlined bison image with what the chief
site archaeologist identified as 20 lance
wounds. (Diputation Floral de Bizkaia.)

"Garate highlighted one buffalo drawing, which he said must have the most hunting lances stuck in it of any such drawing in Europe. He said most hunting drawings have four or five lances but this had almost 20 and it's not clear why." (Giles 2016) For the record I count more than twenty.

I find it to be marvelous, and very exciting, that such discoveries are still being made with such frequency. The more we discover, the more remarkable our ancestor's deeds really were.


Giles, Ciaran,

The photographs that accompanied the article being reviewed were provided by Diputation Floral de Bizkaia.

Saturday, June 4, 2016


Bear paw prints, found in the 1st
canyon north of Dominguez
Canyon, Mesa County, Colordo.
Photograph Peter Faris, June 1980.

8-toed bear paw print,
Dominguez Canyon, Mesa
County, Colorado. Photograph
Peter Faris, 1980.

Back in the 1980s, James D. Keyser pointed out the value of sources of Plains Biographic Style art such as robe painting and ledger book art as a lexicon for understanding Plains Biographic Style imagery in rock art. Since then he has used these insights as the basis for his tremendous contributions in interpreting so much of the rock art of the northern Great Plains. Other possible sources of factual comparisons could be name glyphs, shield symbolism, and horse and tipi painting.

Sieber Canyon, Mesa County, Colorado.
Photograph Peter Faris, 1981.

Green River, Utah. Photograph
Paul and Joy Foster.

Fremont Indian State Park, Utah.
Photograph Peter Faris, 1992.

I have since suggested that Hopi Clan registers might serve the same role as a valuable lexicon for many Ancestral Pueblo rock art symbols from the southwest. A wonderful reference into many of these symbols is found in a 1894 document from Hopi clan chiefs to U.S. government officials in Washington D.C. urging them to cease the reallocation of Hopi lands into individual holdings, and also to designate official Hopi reservation boundaries. This document “was signed in clan symbols by 123 principals of kiva societies, clan chiefs, and village chiefs of Walpi, Tewa Village, Sichomovi, Mishongnovi, Shongopovi, Shipaulovi and Oraibi.” (Yava 1978:167) These identified symbols surely provide a useful lexicon for rock art imagery in the Southwest.  

Hopi Petition of 1894, Page 9.

Bear Clan Sign, Hopi Petition of
1894, Page 9, No. 70.

Bear Clan Sign, Hopi Petition of
1894, Page 11, No. 84.

Bear Clan Sign, Hopi Petition of
1894, Page 12, No. 95.

Bear Clan Sign, Hopi Petition of 
1894, Page 14, No. 122.

Bear paw prints are one common symbol in rock art from the Southwest, and indeed from the rest of North America as well. Of course, a Hopi clan register lexicon cannot be imagined to apply to examples from areas with different cultures, but within the greater Ancestral Pueblo cultural area we can assume that their beliefs influenced all peoples to some extent.

 The examples I have herein are from the area where the Fremont culture predominated prehistorically and that Numic peoples inhabited historically, in these examples Ute and Paiute peoples. It is assumed that some cultural influences and transference occurred between northern tier Ancestral Pueblo and southern Fremont peoples so perhaps a case might be made for a Bear clan among various groups of Fremont peoples. We know that the bear was of great importance to Ute peoples, their annual Bear Dance being one of their most important annual gatherings.

So I think it reasonable to suggest that a bear paw print petroglyph or pictograph found within the greater Ancestral Pueblo area of the southwest might be a clan identification symbol, while other areas would require knowledge of the mythological and cultural symbolism of the bear to make an educated guess as to its meaning. Last week I reviewed a book by James Keyser and George Poetschat, Seeking Bear: The Petroglyphs of Lucerne Valley, Wyoming, does an excellent job of addressing Bear symbolism in that area of Southwestern Wyoming. It could (it should) serve as a model for examining meaning in rock art of other areas.

Note: One other remarkable things about bear paw prints is that, unlike most animals, if they are well made you can differentiate the front print from the rear print. The rear print may be associated with locomotion/travel but the front print is the one associated with danger. That is the one the bear rips you with. This suggests that front and rear paw prints might have different meanings when reproduced on the rocks.


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

Yava, Albert
1978    Big Falling Snow: A Tewa-Hopi Indian’s Life and Times and the History and Traditions of His People, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.