Saturday, June 15, 2019


Cakallar volcano from SE Turkey.
Credit Erdal Gumus.

I have often expressed my conviction that some rock art would have been made to record remarkable events in the lives of the people, and one remarkable event would certainly be the eruption of a volcano. I have previously written columns about three claims of records of volcanic eruptions. The earliest, on February 27, 2016, titled A Claimed Volcanic Eruption Pictured In Rock Art, about claims that a cave painting in Chauvet Pont-d'Arc, France, recorded an eruption from 37,000 BP, and the second, on April 30, 2016, titled Ancient Map Preserved In A Mural Of Volcanic Eruptions At Catalhoyuk, speculating about an eruption in Turkey in ca. 7,500 BCE.

The third was my attempt to stick a pin in a bogus interpretation of the panel at Petroglyph Point in Mesa Verde National Park as including an illustration of a volcanic eruption. This was posted on May 7, 2016, titled Geology In Rock Art - A Volcanic Eruption At Petroglyph Point?, Mesa Verde - Not By A Long Shot, answering a claim in the 1999 book Odyssey of the Pueblos, by William M. Eaton.

Now a new report is claiming that an eruption of a volcano named Cakallar was recorded in a cave painting about a mile and a quarter from the volcano and has been dated to 4,700 years ago. Dating of the volcanic residue was accomplished with two different techniques. "The first of the dating techniques the researchers used measured uranium and thorium's decay into helium to calculate the age of small zircon crystals retrieved from the site. The second method, meanwhile, tracked radioactive chlorine levels that indicate how long the volcanic rocks had been situated near the Earth's surface. Together, this analysis places the Cakallar eruptions around 4,700 years ago." (Geggel 2019)

False color photo of one
of the footprints.

The area came to the attention of the science world in 1968 when workers at the site of a nearby dam noticed well-preserved tracks in the volcanic ash deposits. "Small prints at the site indicate that these ancient people used walking staffs and were accompanied by an unknown species of Canis, a genus that includes wolves, coyotes and dogs, the researchers added." (Geggel 2019)

Enhanced photograph of the panel,

The footprints and the rock painting are assumed to date from roughly the same time and are credited to the same culture. "According to both the study and Turkish archaeology news site Arkeolojik Haber, the artwork in question is known as the Kanlitas rock painting. Found just 1.24 miles away from the footprints, the ocher drawing depicts a cone-shaped structure topped by a crater-like elipsis. A thick line below the cone could show lava flow and falling rocks, while scattered lines surrounding the painting's focal point could represent volcanic vents." (Solly 2019)
Reconstruction of the painting.

Did you notice what happened here? In the report, the researchers used the phrases "could show" and "could represent", while in the headlines about it most of the articles are much more positive as in the "Rock Art and Footprints Reveal How Ancient Humans Responded to Volcanic Eruption" from To my way of thinking we see way too much of this sort of thing in rock art analysis and interpretation. This may mean, and that might mean, so together they definitely prove that - - - - - -. Possibilities are not proof. Using possibilities as evidence you can only achieve a possible conclusion.

While this is all certainly possible, I must say that I am not convinced. I see what they are saying but it is not very convincing. I just sort of think that the artist 4,700 years ago could have drawn a much more convincing mountain. I guess I will just have to keep looking for volcanoes in rock art.

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 original reports at the sites listed below.


Faris, Peter
2016 A Claimed Volcanic Eruption Pictured In Rock Art, February 27, 2016,

2016 Ancient Map Preserved In A Mural Of Volcanic Eruptions At Catalhoyuk, April 30, 2016,

2016 Geology In Rock Art - A Volcanic Eruption At Petroglyph Point, Mesa Verde? - Not By A Long Shot,

Geggel, Laura
2019 Ancient People Watched a Volcano Erupt. This May Be Their Illustration of It, May 31, 2019,

Solly, Meilan
2019 Rock Art and Footprints Reveal How Ancient Humans Responded to Volcanic Eruption, June 4, 2019,, https:/

Saturday, June 8, 2019


A section of the carved frieze,
Roc-aux-Sorciers, France.

Although we often think of the cave paintings in Europe as a collection of individual images, there are instances of larger overall compositions. At Angles sur l'Anglin, in Vienne, France, is the remarkable art of Le Roc-aux-Sorciers. "The history of discoveries at Roc-aux-Sorciers begins in 1927, when Lucien Rousseau discovered the Paleolithic habitation and identified it as mid-Magdalenian in its culture. He began excavations in the Cave Taillebourg and recovered an engraved stone in which Henri Breuil detected the representation of a mammoth. Some years later, Suzanne de Saint-Mathurin became aware of Rousseau's article and decided to explore further, hoping to find some incised plaquettes like those from the cave at Lussac-les-Chateaus, also in Vienne. Assisted by her friend Dorothy Garrod, she carried out a decade of intensive campaigns between 1947 and 1957, and followed more sporadically until 1964." (Wikipedia)

Roc-aux-Sorciers frieze presented
as a single, unified composition.

Discoveries of relief carvings and paintings ensued and has now presented us with truly spectacular decoration. Archaeologists and prehistorians now tend to interpret the carvings in the two portions of Roc-aux-Sorciers as a single frieze, combining the various panels as if they are one composition.

Overlapping figures of woman
and bison, Roc-aux-Sorciers.

Many of these figures are carved in deep relief with considerable overlapping.
"Starting from the left, the first panel has a pair of bison looking in the same direction, the female behind the male. The second panel consists of two horses going in opposite directions, the left one with its head gracefully turned toward the other, which is grazing. Above them is a bison, lying down.
The third panel has the most extraordinary theme: a close group of three life-size women, side by side, represented from the armpit level down to their ankles. They form a magnificent trio, like the Three Graces." (Desdemaines-Hugon 2010:141)

Horse, Roc-aux-Sorciers, France.
Internet, Public Domain.

"The Roc-aux-Sorciers Frieze:
During their early excavations Saint Mathurin and Garrod found numerous fragments of stone decorated with rock engravings or carvings of animals - several of them painted - that had fallen from the ceiling and walls of the Taillebourg chamber. The discovery of these petroglyphs was followed in 1950 by another find, this time in the second niche known as Abri Bourdoin. Here, they uncovered the bas-relief of a horse still on a wall at the rear of the chamber. Further examination led to the discovery of a huge 18-metre (60 feet) frieze of relief sculptures, featuring bison, horses, ibexes, felines, as well as several carved reliefs of female nudes, in the style of venus figurines such as the Venus of Laussel (c. 23,000 BCE)." (

Lion, Roc-aux-Sorciers, France,
Internet, Public Domain. 

"Combined with the fragments found at Cave Taillebourg, the discovery of the frieze led archeologists and prehistorians to see Cave Taillebourg and Abri Bourdoin as producing a single work of prehistoric art, divided into two sections. In total, they believe the frieze was about 30 metres in length: 18 metres (still almost intact) at Abri Bourdoin; about 12 metres (now collapsed and in fragments) in Cave Baillebourg. It contained a total of 34 figures, including: 7 horses, 8 ibexes, 6 bison, 1 reindeer, 4 felines, 1 unidentified animal, 4 anthropomorphic heads, and 5 stylized female figures." (

the "Three Graces."

Diagram of that panel, the
three female figures in red.

The most famous portion of the composition is a grouping of three female figures familiarly known as the Three Graces. "The first woman to have been produced was probably the one in the middle, since its silhouette was designed in close correlation with the morphology of the rock. The artist first conceived the figure mentally by integrating the nature of the volumes of the wall before beginning the work. This is particularly visible in the use of a natural cavity to represent the very marked opening of the pubis. The legs are missing (they were found in Magdalenian levels during the excavation by S. de Saint-Mathurin). Her belly is round, the navel open, and one breast was lightly engraved and shown to the side. Her arms and hands and her face were not depicted. The second woman is located just to the left of the first. Being juxtposed, the two figures were probably made to be seen together. Her belly, which was made round by the subtle use of volume and by adding a curved line between the pubis and navel (possibly the pigmentation line that marks the bellies of pregnant women), means that this woman is probably pregnant. The hops are wide and the line of the buttocks and thighs also resemble those of a pregnant woman. Her face is not shown, and nor are the arms, hands or feet. Her body was thus depicted from the ankles to the upper body, and hence it is not only the trunk of a woman, but an incomplete figure. The third woman is slightly off to the right were the rock was visibly flat. This shape of rock was most probably sought to represent a flat body without a round belly. The nature of the wall gives the female body a flat volume that contrasts with the body volume of the other two women. The proposed reading of this figure is that it is a woman at a different stage of pregnancy, perhaps a woman depicted after childbirth. Her belly is flat, and she is represented from the front. She has no arms and no face." (Fuentes 2016:8-9)

Three Graces, from Piraeus,
by Sokrates the Boetian
sculptor, 470 BCE,
These remarkable sculptures actually remind me of the Greek carvings that they were named after, as well as the carvings from the triangular pediments under the gable of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens, and nowadays known as the Elgin Marbles, a little in their style, and a great deal in the feeling they impart. The Elgin Marbles were installed on the Parthenon in 432 BCE (and carved over the few preceding years). Preceding the Elgin Marbles by a few years is the Three Graces by Sokrates the Boetian sculptor dated to ca. 470 BCE. Radiocarbon dating of sediments in Roc-aux-Sorciers has "narrowed the date to about 14,000 - 12,000 BCE." ( This gives the Roc-aux-Sorciers carvings considerable primacy in ranking of accomplishments in art.

Three Graces reproduction,
Imperial Roman, 1st - 4th cent.
Internet, Public domain.

I cannot quite agree with the interpretation that the Roc-aux-Sorciers carvings represent a single composition. With the number of overlapping images there is considerable carving of new lines through old images implying that this was done over a period of time. The amount of work suggested by its size and complexity suggests a considerable period of time - but it is wonderful whatever the truth behind it.

NOTE: An excellent web site with a lot of information and great illustrations from Roc-aux-Sorciers can be found at Don's Maps (see References below). 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 original reports at the sites listed below.


Desdemaines-Hugon, Christine,
2010 Stepping-Stones: A Journey Through the Ice Age Caves of the Dordogne, Yale University Press, New Haven.

Fuentes, Oscar
2016 The Social Dimension of Human Depiction in Magdalenian Rock Art (16,500 BP - 12,000 cal BP): The Case of the Roc-aux-Sorciers Rock Shelter, Quaternary International,

Saturday, June 1, 2019


Cherokee inscription,
Manitou Cave, Alabama.
Internet, Public Domain.

We now know that writing was invented numerous times in human history, but very seldom do we get to know exactly who invented a writing system and exactly what their original creation was.

"Back in the 18th century, when tribes such as the Cherokee were a subject of study by white settlers, the natives in turn were amused by the "talking leaves" they possessed. They could communicate and transmit messages, a skill that to the people unfamiliar with the concept of an alphabet, or reading and writing, seemed more like magic. There were many members of the Cherokee who were against their society's assimilation with the white people and tried to prevent it in many different ways, mostly by emphasizing the importance of their own cultural elements." (Radeska 2018)

Cherokee syllabary, Sequoya.
Wikipedia, Public Domain.

"Nobody did as much as the man known as Sequoyah. Observing and analyzing the newcomers and their "talking leaves," Sequoyah decided that creating a system that would allow his people to communicate and transmit their own stories and messages might help prevent the assimilation and the loss of Cherokee culture. Hence, he invented the Cherokee syllabary with which to write the Cherokee language. This was one of the two times in recorded history when a pre-literate person created and original and efficient writing system." (Radeska 2018)

"It took Sequoya 12 years to finish the work he started in 1809. At first, he had been ridiculed and insulted. Even his wife was said to have burned his initial work as she believed it was some form of witchcraft. But the man didn't give up." (Radeska 2018)

"Although he first experimented with logograms, his final product resulted in a system of 86 symbols, each representing a syllable. He studied the Greek, Latin, and Cyrillic alphabets and even borrowed a few symbols from them, but the sounds and representations of each in the Cherokee syllabary hs no similarity. When Sequoya finished his project, he had to find a way to present it to his people, who were very skeptical at first and couldn't see the importance of his work." (Radeska 2018)

"Sequoyah's first student of his new linguistic system was his six-year-old daughter, Ayokeh (in some places mentioned as the daughter of his brother-in-law). He taught her the system of reading, and then went to the Indian Reserves in the Arkansaw Territory, where he found local leaders, the first people he needed to convince. Sequoyah asked each one of them to tell him a word, which he wrote down. Then he called Ayokeh to read what he had written. His tactic turned out to be convincing, and he got permission to teach the syllabary to more people." (Radeska 2018)

Viewing Cherokee inscriptions,
Manitou Cave, Alabama., Public Domain.

Now a team has identified and deciphered inscriptions found in a cave in Alabama written in the Cherokee script. "Inside Manitou Cave in modern Alabama, nineteenth-century Cherokees carried out sacred ceremonies, recording their activity on the walls using (the) Cherokee syllabary, a system invented in nearby Willstown by Cherokee scholar Sequoyah. Through collaboration between modern Cherokee scholars and Euro-American archaeologists, the authors report and interpret - for the first time - the inscriptions in Manitou Cave. These reveal evidence for secluded ceremonial activities at a time of crisis for the Cherokee. Pressures from the surrounding white populations disrupted the Cherokee ancient lifeways, culminating in their forcible relocation in the 1830s along the Trail of Tears." (Carroll et al 2019:519)

Although there are extensive examples of partial words and symbols in the Cherokee script on the walls throughout the cave "we focus on two areas within the cave where Cherokee inscriptions are extensive and where their meanings can be translated. The first area is more than 1.5km into the cave's main passage, the second approximately 300m from the cave entrance. Each area contains multiple inscriptions, and one inscriptions in the deeper area includes a written date. Associated with these inscriptions are signatures, one of which is a name that appears twice in the cave and which significantly enhances the historic importance of the site. All of the inscriptions in the two areas concern ceremonial and/or spiritual matters; they were probably made in the seclusion of the cave and were not intended for general audiences." (Carroll et al 2019:524)

"One inscription on a wall deep inside the cave, translates as, "leaders of the stickball team on the 30th day in their month April 1828." (Bower 2019)

"Other inscriptions on a ceiling near the caves entrance may be religious messages to Cherokee ancestors or other supernatural beings. The script is written backward, likely because it was intended to be read by residents of what they Cherokee considered to be a spirit world reachable only via Manitou Cave, the researchers say." (Bower 2019)

I am certainly not a scholar of the Cherokee language or writing but I have a problem matching some of the symbols in inscriptions retrieved from the internet with characters in the Cherokee syllabary I found on Wikipedia. Perhaps I am just failing to recognize the backward characters, or perhaps some of the inscriptions contain ligatures. The paper by Carroll, Cressler, Belt, Reed, and Simek does not mention any ligatures in the inscriptions but I find myself wondering if any of the characters are indeed ligatures. "In hand writing, a ligature is made by joining two or more characters in atypical fashion by merging their parts, or by writing one above or inside the other." (Wikipedia) I will have to leave that determination to the experts.

In any case these discoveries provide a fascinating look at a painful period of history, and underscore the importance of some historic inscriptions to our understanding of past events.

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 original reports at the sites listed below.


Bower, Bruce
2019 Newly translated Cherokee cave writings reveal sacred messages, April 16, 2019,

Radeska, Tijana
2018 How Sequoyah, inspired by "talking leaves," invented the Cherokee writing system, Feb. 24, 2018, https:/

Carroll, Beau Duke, Alan Cressler, Tom Belt, Julie Reed, and Jan F. Simek
2019 Talking Stones: Cherokee Syllabary in Manitou Cave, Alabama, Antiquity, Vol. 93, Issue 368, p. 519 - 536.

Saturday, May 25, 2019


Christensen, Dickey, and Freers, 
Rock Art of the Grand Canyon Region,
2013, Sunbelt Publications. p.222.

There is a term that has been coined to describe the markings left on rock art sites by the morons who vandalize the cliff faces and boulders throughout North America - Bubba glyphs. This descriptive term uses the word Bubba in the most pejorative meaning of the word - an ignorant, unthinking, uncultured slob who would deface these examples of ancient art without a second thought. 

First chamber of Sandia Cave
with painted graffiti,
New Mexico. Internet photo.

I have, unfortunately, too many examples of Bubba glyphs in my photo collection as I am sure many of you do too. I am not sure why I prefer the term Bubba glyph to the term vandalism unless it is the colorful implications referring to the person doing the marking, as I said above, an ignorant, uncultured slob - a Bubba. Also, vandalism implies just doing damage to what is there, Bubba glyph implies the adding of new markings (glyphs) - by Bubba - it is tighter in meaning as well as more colorful.

De Beque Canyon, Mesa
County, CO., Aug. 1981,
Peter Faris.

Our definition of vandalism is changeable, it keeps moving. For instance, leaving one's name carved into the rock used to be acceptable, think of all the emigrant's signed rocks along the route of the Oregon Trail. They did not think twice about doing it, and it was a perfectly commendable way of attempting to correspond  in the middle of the 19th century, and indeed, now we value them as historical documents. But today we would call that vandalism and there are legal ramifications. One person's signature is another person's vandalism. But Bubba remains constant. An ignorant, uncultured slob then would be an ignorant, uncultured slob now. A definition you can count on.

I have included a few examples here to illustrate the phenomenon. What examples have you seen?

NOTE: One image in this posting was retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If this image is not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them.


Christensen, Don D., Jerry Dickey, and Steven M. Freers, 
2013      Rock Art of the Grand Canyon Region, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019


Cow, Garge, Kulkarni, Apte, and Risbud,
2018, Photo used by permission.

On 4 May, 2019, in a posting titled "ANCIENT ROCK ART OF INDIA - THE WORLD'S EARLIEST?" I wrote "very early human occupation of the Indian sub-continent has been known for some time, and the Harappan civilization of the Indus River drainage was one of the earliest centers of city life in the world, almost rivaling the early civilizations of the Fertile Crescent. While we should have known to expect India to have a large amount of rock art they have sort of been off the rock art radar for quite some time. This is now being made up for with extensive scholarly studies of rock art on the sub-continent." (Faris 2019) And now, as if in response to this, we have this recent report on world class rock art from the southwest coast region of India known as Konkan.

Rhinoceros, Garge, Kulkarni, Apte,
and Risbud, figure 3, 2018. 
Photo used by permission.

"The western coastline of India encompassing coastal districts of Maharashtra, Goa, and Kamataka collectively known as Konkan, extends 720 kilometres north-south. Lying between the Arabian Sea to the west and the mountain ranges of Western Ghats to the east in the state of Maharashtra, Konkan includes the regions of Thane, Greater Mumbai, Raigarh, and Ratnagiri. Geographically this region is traversed by seasonal rivers that drain the heavy monsoonal rainfall from the crest of the Sahyadri Hills." (Garge et al. 2018:39)

Deer, Garge, Kulkarni, Apte,
and Risbud,  figure 4, 2018. 
Photo used by permission.

"Evidence of human existence during the prehistoric period is very limited in this region; however, there is continuous evidence of human settlement(s) throughout the historical, medieval and modern period." (Garge et al. 2018:40)

Elephant and many other animals,
Garge, Kulkarni, Apte, and Risbud, 
figure 4, 2018. 
Photo used by permission.

Rock art in this region had been intermittently reported from about 1990, but the first large scale systematic surveys were conducted by hobbyists (locals) from 1980 onward. Sudhir Risbud, later joined by Dhananjay Marathe and Surendra Thakudesai, explored the region and in 2010 formed a group called Unexplored Konkan to discover and record this rock art. Efforts snowballed as other locals became interested, and in 2018 the State Archaeology Department got involved and set up a fund for the study. "As of January 2019 there have been 52 confirmed and explored sites, and over 1,000 petroglyphs discovered. A further 16 sites have been confirmed but (have) yet to be fully explored and recorded." (Standage 2019) 

Elephant, Garge, Kulkarni, Apte,
and Risbud,  figure 4, 2018. 
Photo used by permission.

"They are spread almost over 170 km in length and 25 km in width in a straight line along the coast. After documenting these, they are classified into six categories as under:
Animal figures - Herbivores such as elephants, rhinos, deer family animals, pig, rabbit, buffalo, wild boar, monkey, etc. and carnivores like tiger, etc.
Birds - Peacock and large unidentified bird species.
Aquatic animals - Shark, stingray, and many more unidentified species of fish.
Amphibious animals - such as tortoise, alligators, etc.
Anthropomorphs - Human figures including mother goddess like figures.
Abstract - Various geometrical patterns." (Garge et al. 2018:42)

You will notice that the larger than life elephant in the fourth illustration, as well as the smaller one by the end of his trunk, appear to have their ears raised above their heads. Raised, flapping ears in an elephant is supposedly a sign of anger and I wonder if this is an attempt to portray the emotion of the subject of the petroglyph, the elephant.

Garge, Kulkarni, Apte, and Risbud,
 figure 10, 2018. 
Photo used by permission.

Garge, Kulkarni, Apte, and Risbud,
 figure 11, 2018. 
Photo used by permission.

There are also complicated geometric patterns that reminded me immediately of Rangoli designs like those created for Diwali and other Hindu festivals.

Rangoli design, Wikipedia,
Public Domain.

"Rangoli is an art form, originating in the Indian subcontinent, in which patterns are created on the floor or the ground using materials such as colored rice, dry flour, colored sand or flower petals. Designs are passed from one generation to the next, keeping both the art form and the tradition alive." (Wikipedia) While the main purpose of Rangoli designs is decoration, they are also thought to bring good luck, and they are traditionally done by the women of the family. (Wikipedia)

It would appear that the petroglyphs reported so far are only the beginning, and that we can hope to see considerably more wonderful rock art from India in the future.

NOTE: I want to thank Rhutvij R. Apte and his co-authors for their work, and for providing their paper and photos, and cooperating with RockArtBlog on this report. Check it out at the address below. Also, the reference above to Rangoli designs is wholly mine, this is not from their report.


Faris, Peter
2019 Ancient Rock Art of India - The World's Earliest?,

Standage, Kevin
2019 The Konkan Petroglyphs - Introduction, March 14, 2019,

Tejas M. Garge, B.V.Kulkarni, Rhutvij R. Apte, and Sudhir Risbud
2018 Petroglyphs in Konkan: Historiography, Recent Discoveries, and Future Endeavours, Purakala 2018, Volume 27-28, pages 39-47.

Thursday, May 9, 2019


Four-armed outlined cross Venus
symbol. Redrocks, AZ.
Photo Paul and Joy Foster.

The 4-armed symbol representing the planet Venus seems to have been ubiquitous prehistorically among cultures in Mexico and much of Central America. This, to such an extent that when we find it in contiguous areas like the American Southwest we also tend to apply that meaning to it. But how did that symbol, the outlined 4-armed cross or star, get to be associated with the planet Venus. In order to approach that question I had to look into the background of the subject.

In 1996, John B. Carlson wrote a paper titled "Transformations of the Mesoamerican Turtle Carapace War Shield, A Study in Ethnoastronomy", that looked at war shields from Mesoamerica and the American Southwest. He found that a common subject for the decoration of these symbols of conflict was the crucifix representing the planet Venus.

"It is now well understood that, at least from Late Formative times in Mesoamerica (around the beginning of the Common Era and probably much earlier), the planet Venus was viewed as a powerful male god of warfare and sacrifice. The evidence for this cult of Venus-regulated warfare and sacrifice comes from various archaeological sources, including inscriptions and iconography, from Spanish chronicles and ethnohistorical sources, and from Pre-Columbian codices." (Carlson 1996:100) Additionally, Carlson noted a frequent portrayal among Mayan (and Aztec) stela and other carvings, of a turtle carapace used by a god or important person as a shield (below).

One of the attributes of the turtle in Native American belief, and I assume Mesoamerican as well, is protection, because the turtle is protected by his shell. The step from that observation to the use of a large tortoise carapace as a shield is an obvious one. And, if Carlson, and others, are right about the connection between Venus and warfare, then the connection of the turtle to Venus is implied as well. But where did that symbol of the outlined 4-armed cross come from?

Carved shell turtle pendant,
Mayan, Tikal, 700-900 C.E.
John B. Carlson.

Carlson opened his paper with an illustration of a "Late Classic Maya carved shell pendant with the image of the eighth Maya day-sign Lamat, the symbol for the Great Star or Venus, represented on the carapace of a turtle. It was excavated in a Late Classic Period (ca. 700-900 C.E.; Imix ceramic phase) burial PNT-009 in structure 5C-49 in the Mundo Perdido group of Tikal by Juan Pedro Laporte." (Carlson 1996:1) This sign generally consists of an outlined cross with a circle in each quadrant.

Mayan glyph of the day sign
for Lamat, the eighth day.
The symbol for Venus.

This certainly establishes that there is a relationship, but not why a turtle is associated with Venus and warfare. He does go on "In Mesoamerican (and most Native American) iconography, turtles appear in a diversity of ritual and ceremonial contexts." (Carlson 1996: 106)

Mayan merchant warrior "Four Dog",
from Templo Rojo, Cacaxtla.
Turtle shell shield in lower right of picture.

Carlson lists a number of these, among the the following statement: "Turtle shells, usually from large marine turtles but also from those of smaller freshwater species, were used as shields in Mesoamerica, as demonstrated in iconographic and archaeological record and in the codices. . . . A beautiful example of such a sea turtle carapace war shield is the one carried by a historical character, the armed merchant warrior named "Four Dog," shown in a portrait as an impersonator of the Maya Merchant God L in the Templo Rojo of Cacaxtla. It is stowed on the lower back of the "cacaxtli" merchant's packframe which, in turn, is propped up by his lance. This Epiclassic mural likely dates from the 8th or perhaps 9th century C.E., placing it in the same general period as the Tikal shell." (Carlson 1996:107) He goes on to give many more examples of turtle/Venus/shield combinations but I think that this is satisfactory for our purposes.

Ecuadorian snapping turtle plastron.
Internet - Public Domain.

At this point I asked myself which turtle has such a symbol naturally on its upper shell (carapace), in other words what turtle is the actual model for the Venus symbol. That proved a little more difficult and a few hours of searching the internet failed to provide me with an actual model. At this point I realized that there are, in effect, two portions to a turtle's shell, the upper part known as the carapace, and the lower or under part, the plastron. Searching images of turtle plastrons fairly quickly provided the image I was looking for. The plastron of the snapping turtle has the basic shape of the Venus symbol with the four legs representing the circles in the four quadrants. Matching species of snapping turtles to the territory of the Maya the two likely candidates are the Common Snapping Turtle and the Ecuadorian Snapping Turtle, both of which have ranges that include some or all of the Mayan territory. And, it strikes me, if you want to use a turtle as a symbol of war, the turtle who can take off your finger or toe is certainly a good model to go by.

Personified star with eagle attributes,
Petroglyph Park, Albuquerque, NM.
Photo Peter Faris, 1988.

Carlson continues in his paper showing examples of the outlined cross, with or without the dots or circles in the four quadrants, as examples of Mesoamerican cultural influence on the Native peoples of North America. Some of that might indeed be true although I may not take it quite as far as he has. Where I part company with him, however, is his attribution of this Venus image to the personified star image of the Northern Rio Grande pueblo peoples. On August 11, 2012, I posted a column titled HALLEY'S COMET AND THE ORIGIN OF THE STAR KACHINA in which I suggested the possibility of Halley's Comet as the inspiration for that personified star symbol. I see the star with a tail as more probably a comet (a planet with a tail) than as the planet Venus. Ancillary subjects would also include turtle images in rock art. But,all in all the paper by John B. Carlson is an enjoyably impressive piece of scholarship, and I highly recommend it.

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 this report you should read the original report at the site listed below.


Carlson, John B.
1996 Transformations of the Mesoamerican Turtle Carapace War Shield, A Study in Ethnoastronomy, p. 99-122, Archaeoastronomy, Volumes XII-XIII, Songs From the Sky: Indigenous Astronomical and Cosmological Traditions of the World, Von Del Chamberlain, John B. Carlson, M. Jane Young, editors, Center for Archaeoastronomy, College Park, MD, USA.

Saturday, May 4, 2019


Cupule and groove, Bhimbetka, India.
Internet, Public Domain.

Very early human occupation of the Indian sub-continent has been known for some time, and the Harappan civilization of the Indus River drainage was one of the earliest centers of city life in the world, almost rivaling the civilizations of the Fertile Crescent. While we should have known to expect India to have a large amount of rock art they have sort of been off the rock art radar for quite some time. This is now being made up for with extensive scholarly studies of rock art on the sub-continent.

And these studies are proving fruitful indeed. Excavations in the Auditorium cave at Bhimbetka were conducted by V. S. Wakankar and others in the 1970s. They went down to Acheulian strata confirmed by quartzite hand axes as well as geomorphology. One of Wakankar's trenches also uncovered some petroglyphs.
"The Acheulian age of the two petroglyphs in Wakankar's trench II, six meters to the south, can be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. They were certainly completely covered by sediment at the end of the Acheulian deposition phase, so they could not have been visible since then." (Bednarik 1996:70)
In other words, these markings in the bedrock of Auditorium Cave were covered by deposits laid down during the Acheulian age so they certainly have to be at least that old.

What is being claimed as "the oldest known prehistoric art is the series of petrolglyphs discovered during the 1990s in two ancient quartzite caves in India; the Auditorium Cave at Bhimbetka and a rock shelter at Daraki-Chattan. This cave art consists of numerous cupules - non-utilitaria hemispherical cup-shaped depressions - hammered out of the rock surface. Geological investigations of the prehistoric sites by renowned archeologists Bednarik, Kumar and others, have established that this rock art pre-dates the Acheulean culture of the Lower Paleolithic era, and must therefore date from at least 290,000 BCE.
However, once more advanced dating methods become available, it is conceivable that these petroglyphs will turn out to be much older - perhaps originating as early as 700,000 BCE - although at present time this is mere speculation. Even so, the Bhimbetka cupules are four times older than the Blombos Cave art, which is the next oldest Stone Age Art." (anonymous,

There is a tendency currently to consider cupules to be among the earliest form of rock art, perhaps because of a cupule's simplicity. I am not fully convinced of the arguments, but in this instance the dating evidence seems solid, and, if the date estimates on these cupules are correct they are certainly candidates for the world's oldest rock art.

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, 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 original reports at the sites listed below.


Bednarik, Robert G.
1996    The Cupules on Chief's Rock, Auditorium Cave, Bhimbetka, The Artefact, Volume 19, pages 63-72.

Bhimbetka Petroglyphs (290,000-700,000 BCE), Cupules at Auditorium Cave & Daraki-Chattan Rock Shelter,, bhimbetka-petroglyphs.htm