Saturday, October 27, 2018



Silcrete fragment with red ocher
marks, Blombos Cave, South
Public domain.

The ever fruitful Blombos Cave in South Africa has produced another candidate for the earliest drawing ever.

"Archaeologists who excavated a seaside cave in South Africa have discovered what they say is the world's oldest drawing. It is an abstract pattern, a crosshatch of red lines, like a hashtag, on a rock flake. The scientists who found it determined that the pattern is about 73,000 years old. This mark is about 30,000 years older than Paleolithic animal figures and hand stencils scrawled on cavern walls in Europe and Indonesia." (Guarino 2018)

"Blombos Cave is an archaeological site located in Blomboschfontein Nature Reserve, about 300 km east of Cape Town on the Southern Cape coastline, South Africa. The cave contains Middle Stone Age (MSA) deposits currently dated between c. 100,000 and 70,000 years Before Present (BP), and a late Stone Age sequesce dated at between 2000 and 300 years BP. The cave site was first excavated in 1991 and field work has been conducted there on a regular basis since 1997, and is ongoing." (Wikipedia/Blombos)

Previous art-related discoveries at Blombos have included the ocher crayons, and seashells with traces of ocher in them, apparently used as containers for mixing liquid paint. (See - Oldest Petroglyphs So Far?, August 25, 2018, and A PaleolithicArtist's Tool Kit in Blombos Cave, South Africa, February 10, 2012)

"University of the Witwatersrand archaeologist Luca Pollarolo, was cleaning fragments of rock from Blombos Cave when he found perpendicular lines scrawled on a flake of silcrete rock. The study authors determined that he medium was ocher, and iron-rich rock that can be as soft as lipstick." (Guarino 2018)

The fact that the inhabitants of Blombos Cave were working with silcrete as a tool rock 73,000 years ago, suggests two types of technology had been developed. They not only had the technology to flake stone tools, but they also had learned to heat treat the stone to make it easier to work.
"Silcrete is an indurated soil duricrust formed when surface sand and gravel are cemented by dissolved silica. Tools made out of silcrete which has not been heat treated are difficult to make with flintknapping techniques. In South Africa at Pinnacle Point researchers have determined that two types of silcrete tools were developed between 60,000 and 80,000 years ago and used the heat treatment technique." (Wikipedia/Silcrete)

"After Pollarolo identified the hashtag, the authors of the new study attempted to re-create this pattern. They used stone flakes and pieces of ocher from Blombos to draw on rock. "There was absolutely no doube that these were drawn with an ocher pencil or an ocher crayon," Henshilwood said. "We could even tell the direction that the ocher pencil was drawn across the surface." The crayon made stroke marks, the way a paintbrush does across a wall. The hashtag piece is a fragment of a larger drawing, the authors determined."  (Guarino 2018)

"The scientists "used a battery of impressive techniques to demonstrate crayon stroke direction, the method of ocher application" as well as the ocher's chemical composition, said archaeologist Lyn Wadley, from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, who was not involved with this research. It is "perfectly feasible," she added, that the Blombos inhabitants could make pattern drawings. This would indeed be the oldest set of such lines that is made with an ocher 'crayon' rather than a sharp instrument, and constitute the oldest evidence of drawing with a crayon," George Washington University paleoanthropologist Alison Brooks said." (Guarino 2018)

The existence of this marked flake of rock not only indicates that the people knew two types of technology; flintknapping, and heat treating, but they had also achieved symbolic thought illustrated by the use of ocher in making marks on the rocks. While it is not possible to determine a purpose for the marks, we can say with confidence that there was a purpose to them. The fact of their existence illustrates that someone purposely created them.

NOTE: The image in this posting was retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If this image was not intended to be public domain, I apologize for its misuse. For further information on these reports you should read the originals at the sites listed below.


Guarino, Ben
2018 Archaeologists Just Found the Oldest Drawing. It's a 70,000-Year-Old Hashtag, 13 September 2018, Baltimore Sun.

Saturday, October 20, 2018


Red paintings in El Castillo
Cave, Spain - Public Domain.

I continue my exploration of (supposed) Paleolithic Star Charts with what has been called a diagram of the Northern Crown constellation in El Castillo Cave, in Spain. El Castillo is the current holder of the title for the oldest art in Europe with recent dates for red painted elements; Red circle: 40,800 BP, Red Hand: 37,300 BP (David 2017:146) I wrote about these dates, the oldest currently known for Europe, on September 20, 2014, in a column titled Uranium Isotope Dating Reveals Perhaps The Oldest Cave Art In Europe, on RockArtBlog. (Faris 2014)

Diagram of the "frieze of hands"
with the arc of dots on the right
side. Public domain.

A semicircle of dots on the right side of the Panel de las Manos has been identified by Dr. Michael Rappenglueck as another Paleolithic Star Chart, this one the Corona Borealis, or Northern Crown. One of those who had taken him seriously; Kathleen Flanagan Rollins, wrote in her blog Misfits and Heroes; "After visiting El Castillo and looking at the panel in question, I have to admit I was wrong. It's not a clear semi-circle of start but more like a full circle. I suppose that's the danger of working from a diagram rather than the real thing." (Rollins 2015) This does not seem to me to be an effective argument against the idea of this painting as Corona Borealis as there are plenty of other stars around the constellation that one can decide could be included in the constellation to make it a rough, but full, circle. I will give this one to Rappenglueck; arc, or circle - I don't see that it matters.

Close-up drawing of the arc of
dots identified as Corona borealis.
Public domain.

My objections to this theory are the same as my objections to Rappenglueck's other identified Paleolithic Star Charts. We cannot know whether Paleolithic peoples of Europe even recognized constellations or had the concept of arrangements of stars representing shapes in the sky. Even if they did they certainly would not have identified this grouping as a crown, the concept of a crown was doubtless millennia in mankind's future. Also, I still am not convinced that the people would have gone deep underground to paint star charts when all they had to do to see them was look up at night. I get the "secret knowledge" argument, I just don't agree with it. I am not saying that this theory is not possible, I am just saying that I do not see anywhere near enough evidence to make such leaps to conclusions. I see too many possible arguments against, and too few arguments in favor.

Modern star diagram of Corona borealis.
Wikimedia. Public domain.

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the originals at the sites listed below.


David, Bruno
2017 Cave Art, Thames & Hudson, London.

Faris, Peter,
2014 Uranium Isotope Dating Reveals Perhaps The Oldest Cave Art In Europe,

Rollins, Kathleen Flanagan,
2015 El Castillo: Wonders and Questions, 12 September 2015,

Saturday, October 13, 2018


Dare Stone, front side,
Brenau University., Public domain.

This is another story about a questionable historical inscription on a piece of rock, discovered under questionable circumstances and never rigorously tested for authenticity, which some people desperately want to be authentic, and others are convinced of its status as a hoax.

"The Dare Stones are a series of inscribed messages supposedly written by English colonists, members of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island off North Carolina. The colonists were last seen in 1587, when John White, the colony's governor, returned to England for supplies. White's return was delayed until 1590, when he found that all the settlers had gone. A single-word message indicated that they had moved to another place, but poor weather meant that White had to abandon the search. No subsequent trace of the settlers was ever found.

The stones purport to give accounts of what happened to the colonists. They are mainly supposed to have been written by Eleanor White Dare, who was the daughter of John White and the mother of Virginia Dare, the first child of English descent to be born in North America." (Wikipedia)

Dare Stone, back side,
Brenau University., Public domain.

The first stone was supposedly found by one L. E. Hammond, a California tourist, in 1937. He took it to Emory University, Atlanta, where he gave it to History Professor Haywood Jefferson Pearce to examine. Pearce did not declare the stone to be authentic, but did argue that the content was not incompatible with known historical facts, and that the spelling content was not "conformed to expectations of"  Elizabethan usage. (Wikipedia)

One side of the first stone said:
"Ananias Dare &
Virginia Went Hence
Unto Heaven 1591
Anye Englishman Shew
John White Govr Via"

And the second side had a much longer inscription about the deaths of the colony:
"On the other side it explained that all but seven of the colonists had been killed by savages, and it was signed 'EWD'." (Wikipedia) The second side also mentioned a burial of the victims on a hill marked by another inscribed stone.

Pearce was eager to find the second stone mentioned on stone #1 and put an ad in a local paper offering a reward for further stones."By 1940, forty-seven more stones allegedly had been found by a local farmer, William Eberhardt. They told a complicated tale of the fate of the Lost Colony. The stones were addressed to John White and called for revenge against the "savages" or told Eleanor's father the direction taken by the survivors." (Wikipedia)

All of the subsequently discovered stones were quickly suspected as forgeries, manufactured by Eberhardt, and in 1941 an investigative reporter from the Saturday Evening Post took up the question. It was quickly proven that these subsequent stones had been manufactured with the assistance of a hand drill not available to a lost colonist in the 1500s. Additionally, the fact that they were all discovered hundreds of miles from where the colonists would reasonably have been expected to be aroused suspicion.

"The stones were exposed as forgeries by journalist Boyden Sparkes in the Saturday Evening Post in 1941. He raised a number of questions without definitively indicating any individual as having responsibility, questions about the information given by the stones themselves, and also about the characters and background of those who purported to have found them. He also questioned the circumstances of stones having traveled so far from where they were supposedly left by Eleanor Dare to the spot where they were found. Sparkes put it to Pearce that "it must have been and exceedingly friendly naked savage who had carried a twenty-one-pound stone message across hundreds of miles of South and North Carolina." " (Wikipedia)

Sparkes noted that Emory University had washed their hands of the whole business when Hammond  had proposed charging people to see the stone, at which point Pearce took the stone himself to Brenau College (now Brenau University).  Sparkes was unable to retrace Hammond, having only a post-office box for an address, and the Pinkerton Detective Agency was also unable to locate the original discoverer. (Wikipedia)

Although I, like every American school kid, was introduced to the subject of the "Lost Colony" in grade school, my first introduction to the subject of the Eleanor Dare Stone came in the form of an episode of the television series America Unearthed, hosted by "forensic geologist" and scam artist Scott Wolter, so I assumed from the beginning that the whole thing was a hoax. And, to be honest, there are many questions and doubts about the authenticity of the first stone as well, although some people still believe it might be authentic. A 2015 documentary on the History Channel Return to Roanoke, Search For The Seven reached this conclusion, that the first stone might be a real inscription by Eleanor Dare and that further tests were called for. The History Channel documentary was certainly done better than America Unearthed and is worth watching as a reasonably conducted investigation and interesting piece of documentary, no matter what your position is on the authenticity of the Eleanor Dare Stone(s). To me the fascination of this story, and I do find it fascinating, is that people will still fall for these hoaxes.

NOTE: The images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on this report you should read the original at the site listed below.


Saturday, October 6, 2018


All 22 San Luis Valley
lithophones set up for a
playing demonstration.

This might seem like a stretch for RockArtBlog, but music is certainly an art form. Indeed, in the form of vocalizing, singing and humming, it was probably mankind's first art form. And in this case the music comes from rock. I am talking about lithophones, instruments where the notes are made by striking pieces of rock with some form of striker or mallet - think a xylophone made of stone. I have written elsewhere about instances in the painted caves of Europe where stalactites and flowstone sheets have been found with impact scars showing that they were utilized to produce musical sounds. (Faris 2010)

San Luis Valley lithophones
being played with 
xylophone mallet.

Now archaeologist Marilyn Martorano has proposed that a number of ground stone pieces from Colorado's San Luis Valley comprise one or more lithophones. (Martorano 2017) According to reports the stones were originally collected from a number of locations with the assumption that they might have been manos or some other tool but Martorano, having read of lithophones elsewhere, did some testing and found that some of the stones gave a clear ring when struck by a hard tool.

San Luis Valley lithophones.

She has since assembled a broad selection of examples and, with the help of a musician named Jason Reid, assembled them into a full lithophone which Martorano says has a range of 6 octaves. Most of the stones play two different notes depending upon where they are struck. All in all Martorano found 22 ground stone artifacts that had acoustic properties from the San Luis Valley. The fact that these lithophones were from different locations (and probably times) means they would have not been used as they have since been displayed in a single large assembly.

Ethiopian monastery lithophones
hanging in their frame.

It does, however, seem unlikely that the original inhabitants of the area, were unaware of the musical properties of their pieces of ground stone. Indeed, so-called "kiva bells" have been recovered in next door New Mexico from archaeological contexts. "So-called kiva bells were large suspended stones that resonated when struck." ( "Go find a chunk of stone, hang it from a tree or viga and strike it with another stone. Will it ring like a bell? It is perhaps hard to imagine, but stone bells used by Pueblo peoples in their underground kiva chambers 600 years ago were amazingly resonant." (Weideman 2013)

San Luis Valley lithophones.

This would seemingly make it likely that the pieces tested by Martorano could have been used in such a manner in their ones or two's, like chimes or gongs as part of a ceremony. Some kiva bells, though, have been found in caches, for example a cache of 23 were found at Cuyamungue, New Mexico and reported in an article in the newspaper The New Mexican (Wednesday, August 6, 1952;, access 4/3/2018).

So what is our conclusion? They are definitely real, they exist, and they can be played - they make musical tones. The interpretation might not be quite right, but the lithophones are real, and found right here in our magical San Luis Valley.

Marilyn is interested in continuing this study. If you know of any artifacts from the San Luis Valley or surrounding areas that could qualify as lithophones, please contact Marilyn Martorano,, or Fred Bunch at (Martorano 2017)

NOTE: The photographs of the lithophones are used with the permission of Marilyn Martorano.

This is a link to a KUSA, channel 9 news, Denver, story about the San Luis Valley lithophones (if the link does not work cut and paste this address into your browser) -

And this is a link to a NPR story about them (if the link does not work cut and paste this address into your browser)  -


Faris, Peter
2010 Music At Rock Art Sites (Continued), April 26, 2010,

Martorano, Marilyn
2017 Ancient Tones: The Lithophone,

Weideman, Paul
2013 Sounds & amp; Shadows: Ancient Instruments of the Southwest, May 10, 2013,, access 4/3/2018

Monday, October 1, 2018


On September 24, 2018, I had the opportunity to make a long postponed, but highly anticipated, visit to Canyon's of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. Previous to driving down that way I had sent a couple of e-mails to the park's manager, to ask for advice on rock art sites that I could visit for RockArtBlog. The e-mails were sent roughly three and two weeks ahead of the scheduled visit which I assumed would allow adequate time for her to check out RockArtBlog and respond to me. I pointed out that a number of years ago I had been on the schedule for a rock art field trip to Canyon of the Ancients that was arranged through the monument staff, but I had to miss it when something came up that required my return to Denver. I just wanted to make up for that missed opportunity. Unfortunately, I received no response to either inquiry. This led to a phone call one week before the visit (which was not answered in person) where I left a message on her receiver with my phone number asking her to call me back.

The next day I sent an e-mail to the BLM press office and they forwarded it to the monument to be answered. I then received an e-mail which essentially claimed that there was little rock art to see, anyway, and all of the sites were closed except one called Painted Hand Pueblo which has some painted hand prints. Now I have, in the past, seen rock art sites in Mancos Canyon, and also in Hovenweep which is immediately adjacent to Canyons of the Ancients, but I was asked to believe that this large area in the most heavily petroglyph and pictograph decorated part of the state has virtually no rock art.

On Sunday, September 24, we went to the Anasazi Heritage Center outside of Mancos, Colorado, which serves as the visitor center for Canyons of the Ancients. I inquired with a very nice young lady behind the desk who confirmed that they have thousands of rock art sites, and yes, they are all closed, with no reason given. I asked about Painted Hand Pueblo which I was told I could visit and she said that it is now closed too. She gave me a map to Newspaper Rock near Monticello, Utah.

Now, I don't claim to be some famous and important and powerful political figure, I am certainly not a wealthy political donor, but I do claim, at some modest level, to have academic credentials in the field of rock art studies, based upon 40 years of serious studies and analysis of the subject, a number of published papers and many presentations, and nearly 500 columns written on RockArtBlog. All I asked for was a modicum of professional courtesy - I got none (by the way I also asked my congressman to help me - he never responded).

Unfortunately, this brings up many questions about the power of public servants and officials who do not wish to go to the trouble to serve the public. If Canyons of the Ancients is sworn to protect these ancient markings from academic inquiry, what in the world are they keeping them for? Now we hear that oil and gas drilling is being contemplated on National Monuments, but apparently not academic studies. My only conclusion can be that I had the bad luck to run across a so-called "public servant" who is way too self-important to actually serve the public, so I will be sharing no rock art with you from Canyons of the Ancients.