Saturday, December 28, 2019


Hohokam rock art.
Internet, Public domain.

It is time again for the RockArtBlog coveted annual C. R. A. P. (Certifiable Rock Art Prevarication) award, and boy, do I have a really deserving recipient this year?

Hohokam rock art.
Internet, Public domain.

One of the great rock art traditions of the American southwest was created by the Hohokam people, and to properly try to evaluate, understand, or just admire, their rock art we have to have a fair, accurate, and unbiased picture of their culture.

Hohokam rock art.
Tucson, Arizona.
Internet, Public domain.

Now the Gnostic Warrior website and Cult of Demons podcasts have written articles about how the Hohokam of the American desert southwest and northern Mexico were really Hebrew Phoenicians and members of the Masonic order.

Hohokam carved shell birds.
Internet, Public domain.

These articles declare first that the Hohokam were actually Jewish Phoenicians. "Many people are not aware that the name of the red rock spiritual place in the Southwest of the United States that we know as Sedona, Arizona, was founded by a biblical people we know as the Sidonians from the island of Crete. The Greeks had called them Phoenicians, the Egyptians knew them as the Sea Peoples, and they are also known in the Scripture(s) as the Hebrew people." (Gnosticwarrior 2)

Hohokam carved shell birds.
Internet, Public domain.

So, based on the name of Sedona, Arizona, the conclusion has been drawn that the people who lived there prehistorically were actually Sidonians from the island of Crete. Predictably this is wrong as well. "The Sidonians were the inhabitants of ancient Sidon, a seaport on the Mediterranean Sea in modern Lebanon. Those familiar with the Biblical text will recall that Sidon was an influential, wealthy Phoenician city." (  Sidon was in Lebanon, not on the island of Crete.

Hohokam carved shell
bird pendant and drawing.
Internet, Public domain.

Now that their actual ethnic affiliation with the peoples of the Middle East has been established, Gnosticwarrior goes on to prove their membership in the Order of Freemasons based upon a resemblance he sees between a Hohokam bird pendant carved from shell and found at Casas Grandes and the Masonic symbol of the square and dividers.

"This Indian Masonic compass and square is made of sea shells and dated to over 1,800 years ago. The manufacture of the square and compass using sea shells would indicate they were a people of the sea, just like the Phoenicians whom the Egyptians knew as the Sea Peoples. It is well known that the Freemasons trace their craft back to the chief mason working on Solomon's Temple as Phoenician King, Hiram Abiff, son of a Tyrian widow. Hence, the Widow's son. He was chief architect sent to Solomon by the Phoenician King of Tyre." (Gnosticwarrior1) (Yes, it is truly this confusing. In two sentences back to back Hiram Abiff is the Phoenician King and he is also the architect sent by the Phoenician King - perhaps he sent himself)

In other words, he found a carved shell image that he identified as the Masonic square and dividers and that proves his case. See how simple that was?

The problem lies in the fact that the carved shell pendant in question does not represent the Masonic square and dividers at all - it is a bird. The Hohokam left large numbers of carved shell figures, bracelets, pendants, etc. Among the popular subjects were birds. This image is found attached and within a curved base. Given the prevalence of carved shell bracelets left by the Hohokam this may either be a broken piece of a bracelet carved from shell, or a pendant which was originally surrounded by a circle of shell. I find the latter more likely although I cannot see enough detail in the photos to determine whether or not there are broken surfaces.
Hohokam carved shell
bird pendant, base removed
by computer manipulation.

Masonic square and
dividers symbol.
Internet, public domain.

Its identity as a bird is easily determined by using a simple computer program to remove the arced base leaving the center isolated. The head is obviously a bird, and the other elements can be identified as downward sloping wings, a body, and either spread legs or a spreading tail.

So, when Gnosticwarrior spews his nonsense about Masonic Hebrew Phoenicians he not only contributes to misinformation and ignorance, he insults one of the great early cultures of the American southwest, and for this all, Gnosticwarrior has earned the 2019 Certifiable Rock Art Prevarication award. Perhaps he should change that name to Agnosticwarrior.

We will be doing this again next year - send me your candidates.

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.


2017 Biblical Sidon - Jezebel's Hometown, Who Were the Sidonians?, Staff writer,June 19, 2017,

1. Undated The American Indians and Phoenician Hebrews: Masonic Square and Compass,
2. Undated The Phoenician Sidonian Hebrews of Sedona, Arizona,

Saturday, December 21, 2019






CHRISTMAS 2019    

FROM RockArtBlog   

Hooking up the team!

 Have a very Merry Christmas, 

A Happy New Year's Eve, 

and all the best in 2020.

Spirit Mountain, Grapevine Canyon, NV. - after

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

2018 C.R.A.P. AWARD - SPACE ALIENS IN ROCK ART: This was last year's award, watch for the 2019 C.R.A.P. award coming soon.

Petroglyphs, Swelter Shelter,
Dinosaur National Monument,
Utah, Photograph Peter Faris,

I am going to break with my usual practice this year, and instead of giving the 2018 C.R.A.P. (Certifiable Rock Art Prevarication) Award to an individual or organization for egregious falsehood in the field of rock art, I am awarding it this year to a whole sub-category of fringe rock art research - SPACE ALIENS IN ROCK ART. Many years ago I naively assumed that something as silly as that just could not be taken seriously. After a 1984 field trip to Dinosaur National Monument I found out differently when I showed a co-worker the picture  above taken at Swelter Shelter. His instant reaction was "see, that proves that aliens have visited us." He was totally serious and I was smart enough to immediately drop the subject.

Supposed UFO pictograph,
Charama, Chhattisgarh, India., Public Domain.

The amount of material devoted to so-called evidence of alien visitation nonsense is truly vast, and also half-vast (say that latter quickly). I assume that most serious rock art researchers really have not looked at the quantity of books and web sites devoted to this, and don't. If you are any sort of real scholar or serious researcher what you find will only depress you. The other examples I am illustrating come from a 2014 discovery in Chhattisgarh, India.
Supposed space alien
pictograph, Charama,
Chhattisgarh, India.,
Public Domain.

This was taken seriously enough that a conference was convened to examine the so-called evidence. "A couple of years ago, several influential scientists from across the globe, including Prime Minister Narenda Modi, attended a presentation at the Indian Science Congress where ancient flying "spaceships" in the Solar System were discussed. It was a historical event as nothing of the sort has ever occurred in the history of the Congress ever before. And every year, this subject receives more and more recognition and debate." (Stephani 2017)

Supposed space aliens
pictograph, Charama,
Chhattisgarh, India.,
Public Domain.

This subject is a pictograph site at Charama, Chhattisgarh, India. "Chhattisgarh state department of archaeology and culture plans to seek help from NASA and ISRO for research on 10,000-year-old rock paintings depicting aliens and UFOs in Charama region in Kanker district in tribal Bastar region. According to archaeologist JR Bhagat, these paintings have depicted aliens like those shown in Hollywood and Bollywood flicks. Located about 130km from Raipur, the caves come under village Chandeli and Gotitola." (Drolial 2014)

Unfortunately, this is only one example out of very many. So this year the prestigious 2018 C.R.A.P. Award is given to any and all of the hundreds of books and websites devoted to convincing people that there is proof of outer space alien visitation to be found in rock art - especially "Ancient Aliens". This is for all of you. Keep it up people and you will convince the aliens that there really is no intelligent life on this planet.

HONORABLE MENTION: This year I am also awarding my first Honorable Mention in the C.R.A.P. Awards to Marietta Eaton, Monument Manager of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, for her lying e-mail to me on September 19, 2018, claiming that here really was not much rock art to see in Canyons of the Ancients (See my editorial response from October 1, 2018). Marietta, your own staff confirmed to me that there are thousands of examples of rock art in your monument so I am awarding you the very first Honorable Mention C.R.A.P. Award. Congatulations!

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.


Drolial, Rashmi
2014 10,000-Year-Old Rock Paintings Depicting Aliens and UFOs Found in Chhhattisgarh, July 15, 2014, The Times of India,

2017 Incredible10,000-Year-Old Rock Paintings Depict Extraterrestrial Visitors, February 13, 2017,

Saturday, December 14, 2019


A horse raid,
Comanche rock art, La Vista
Verde site, New Mexico. Photo
used with permission of
Severin Fowles.

One final aspect of the subject of motion in rock art involves the motions that created the imagery in the first place. Severin Fowles, the chair of the American Studies Department and an Associate Professor in the Anthropology Department of Barnard College, Columbia University has investigated exactly that in Comanche petroglyphs in the Rio Grande river canyon in northern New Mexico.

Drawing of the panel, 
Comanche rock art, La Vista
Verde site, New Mexico. Photo
used with permission of
Severin Fowles.

In an area with a large quantity of pecked rock art the imagery identified as Comanche is composed of faint scratches. "The Comanches scratched rather than pecked their images, however, presumably because the performed gesture was as, or even more, important than the icon produced. The pecked horse may look like a horse in the end, but the process of pecking - of repeated staccato impacts - does not have any quality of the horse about it. The Comanche horse icon, on the other hand, was composed of arcing lines that move in a very horse-like way across the rock surface. This is nicely depicted in Figure 3a, which documents a horse raid in progress. One could call the horses scratched on this panel stylized, or even abstract, but only when referring to the icon left behind. During the process of creation - during the image's performance - the artist would have been representing the horse and its characteristic galloping motions quite faithfully, very much as a Chinese calligrapher might seek to mimic the flight of geese in the movement of his wrist as he painted lines on parchment. Figure 3b offers another example of a horse raid in progress. The original, like so many others, is barely visible in the field. However, in the sea of arcing lines, one senses again that it was the repetitive hand motions that would have most palpably signified the movement of the horses and the impressive size of the herd. A successful Comanche raid in which many horses had been captured was being recollected and reenacted through iconographic performance. From a Comanche perspective, these performances need to be understood as an extension of the Plains Sign Language (PSL) tradition, in which the Comanches were renowned participants." (Fowles 2013: 74-5)

Lines of motion from the panel,
Comanche rock art, La Vista
Verde site, New Mexico. Photo
used with permission of
Severin Fowles.

In other words, the viewer, recognizing the imagery, mentally associates with it the motions that go along with its creation. We can picture a Comanche warrior telling the story of the horse raid described by Fowles (above) making a wavy motion with his hand and arm to illustrate how the herd of horses ran, and that the curved lines of the backs of the horses illustrated in the rock art panel also convey this motion.

In the vernacular of modern art this would be called "performance art", the image is only a remaining vestigial record of the gestures/performance that were the point in the first place. The modern beginnings of performance art were influenced by Jackson Pollock whose "drip" paintings could be seen as a record of all of the motions he made to produce them. "Bolstered by photographs of Jackson Pollock in his studio, moving dance-like around a canvas on the floor, artists began to see the artist's creative act as equally important, if not more so, to the artwork produced. In this light, Pollock's distinctive drips, spills, and splatters appeared as a mere remnant, a visible trace left over from the moment of creation." (Spivey 2019)

Eventually, of course, "performance art" evolved to the stage where it was only action or situation or action with no physical remaining vestige, but that development goes beyond the scope of my discussion here. What I believe Fowles is saying, and certainly what my point is here, would relate to the early stages where there is a physical remnant of the performance, in this case the Comanche rock art panel of a horse raid. Had the imagery been the only important goal, then why would they not have made the lines deeper, more permanent and visible. Of course, such light scratching is more visible when freshly produced, but soon weathers to the state we now find it in. It does not appear to have been consciously produced primarily to be a perpetual record. In Fowles words: "the rock art's illegibility becomes, paradoxically, its greatest virtue. Simply put, it would be very difficult to argue that these images were created in order to be viewed, after the fact, by and audience (archaeological or otherwise)." (Fowles 2013:72)

Comanche rock art, La Vista
Verde site, New Mexico. Photo
used with permission of
Severin Fowles.

So, here we seem to have a probable case of gesture recorded in rock art. Does this apply everywhere, to all rock art? Most certainly not, indeed, most petroglyphs were created with lines of varying depth to be a long-lasting record or image. But Fowles has illustrated that, at least in this case, it may just be, as he put it "indeed the primary 'image', we propose, was not the scratched icon left behind, but instead the gestural hand and body movements of the rock art as a performative event." (Fowles 2013:67)

NOTE: I wish to thank Severin Fowles, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Barnard College, Columbia University, for providing me with the illustrations, his paper, and the permission to use them. 


Fowles, Severin, and Jimmy Arterberry
2013 Gesture and performance in Comanche Rock Art, pages 67-82, in World Art 2013, Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, UK.

Spivey, Virginia B., Dr.
2019 When Art Intersects With Life,

Saturday, December 7, 2019


Chauvet lions, Internet 
image, Public Domain.
Overlapping images and 
attention to precise detail.

A relatively new thread of discussion about the creation of the magnificent cave art of Europe (and early art everywhere) is the question of whether the creators of the art might represent autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This is based on test results that indicate that persons on that spectrum, especially people who have Asperger's Syndrome, have natural abilities that seem to be represented in that art. Since the original discoveries of that great cave art one question is how could it seemingly appear from out of nowhere representing such a high level of realism and creativity? Savants on the Asperger's Syndrome portion of the autism spectrum could be one answer.

Lascaux painted horses, France.
Internet image, Public Domain.
Attention to precise detail.

It has been proposed that "similarities are observed between images portrayed in Upper Palaeolithic parietal art and those produced by some autistic individuals with splinter skills because autistic individuals were responsible for creating these Ice Age works of art. Autistic savants may be talented artists, skilled in the execution of real-life objects." (Pickard et al. 2011:358)

"Going back thousands of years, people who displayed autistic traits would not only have been accepted by their societies, but could have been highly respected. Many people with autism have exceptional memory skills, heightened perception in realms of vision, taste and smell, and in some contexts, an enhanced understanding of natural systems such as animal behaviour. And the incorporation of some of these skills into a community would have played a vital role in the development of specialists. It is very likely these specialists would then have become vitally important for the survival of the group." (Spikins 2017)

Embedded figures, Les Trois
Freres cave, France.
Internet image, Public Domain.

Modern embedded figures block test,
Internet image, Public Domain.

"Some Upper Palaeolithic art does clearly show traits comparable with art made by individuals with autism, such as a focus on parts rather than wholes, overlapping forms (also known as embedded figures), a notable realism and attention to precise detail. The right hand panel of engravings (nearly 3m in length) at Les Trois Freres, for example, is a good illustration of the kind of complex overlapping forms that we often see in the art produced by individuals with autism." (Spikins and Wright 2016 - the underlining is mine)

This is the result of a cognitive condition known as "local processing bias" which, in a layman's terms, is the inclination to focus one's full attention on details instead of the overall (or global) picture.

Lascaux Horse, Lascaux Cave,
France. Wikipedia, Public Domain.
Attention to precise detail.

"There is little question that amongst the corpus of European Upper Palaeolithic art there are many depictions such as the frieze of lions at Chauvet Cave, for example, which are the work of exceptionally talented artists. Rather than influenced by drug use, the similarities between such art and that of talented artists with autism are shown here to be a product of a cognitive condition - local processing bias - which brings with it exceptional abilities to observe and cognitively associated with an autism spectrum condition or not, and is a potentially significant area for future research.
'Autistic traits' in Upper Palaeolithic art do not necessarily signify the work of an individual with autism. However, since local processing bias is common in autism and yet so rare in neurotypical populations, it is inevitable that artists - who we might today characterize as having an autism spectrum condition - played some role in the creation of some of the exceptional art of the period. Nonetheless modern culturally constructed definitions of health or disorder may not be particularly helpful in understanding the creation of Upper Palaeolithic art. What is significant is that behind the most powerful and evocative images of the Upper Palaeolithic lay a level of tolerance and understanding which allowed talents to be encouraged and notable cognitive differences to be integrated and valued." (Spikins 2017:274-5)

Cat, purchased at CHARG art
exhibit many years ago.
Faris family collection.

I found this subject to hit closer to home than I might have anticipated. Among the works of art we possess, one of my favorites is a wonderfully colorful and creative cat which my wife purchased many years ago at an art exhibit sponsored by CHARG (Capitol Hill Action and Recreation Group) in Denver. This cat is, unfortunately, unsigned and we do not know the artist's name, but it shows unmistakable signs and clues of exactly conditions and symptoms explained by the authors above. (The mission of CHARG Resource Center is to advance a model of genuine partnership among individuals who live with mental illness, mental health professionals, and the larger community.)

1. My own family has had first-hand experience with this as a niece, Laura, had Asperger's Syndrome, but was musically highly talented. While she did not display great talent in the visual arts, she often needed to hear a piece of music once to then be able to reproduce it on violin.

2. In my attempts to distill down a number of complex papers into this introduction to the concept of prehistoric artists with Asperger's syndrome or ASD I may have missed some nuances of the author's emphasis, I may have even gotten parts of it wrong. I do, however, hope that I have managed to broach the subject in a way that will interest my readers and encourage further thought.

3. 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.


Pickard, Catriona, Benjamin S. Pickard and Clive Bonsall
2011 Autistic Spectrum Disorder in Prehistory, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, Sept. 2011, Vol. 21, (3), pp. 357-364

Spikins, Penny
2017 How Our Autistic Ancestors Played an Important Role in Human Evolution, March 27, 2017,

Spikins, Penny, and Barry Wright
2016 Prehistory of Autism, Rounded Globe (online),

Spikins, Penny, Callum Scott and Barry Wright
2017 How Do We Explain 'Autistic Traits' in European Upper Palaeolithic Art?, Open Archaeology. 4 10.1515/opar-2018-0016

Saturday, November 30, 2019


Stone slab with three mountains,
Plate XLVI, 22nd Annual Report of
the Bureau of American Ethnology
to the Secretary of the Smithsonian
Institution. J. W. Fewkes, 1904.

I have previously posted two columns in RockArtBlog on the Three Mountain theme in Mesa Verde (see references below). Here I am bringing another example from elsewhere into the picture as well. In 1900 and 1901 Jesse Walter Fewkes was excavating for the Bureau of American Ethnography and found this artifact in a burial at Chevelon Ruin, one of the Homolovi Cluster of ruins near Winslow, AZ.

Fewkes discovered a burial which had been covered by a rock slab with painted designs. He described this in his report which was included in the 22nd Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1900-1901, Part One.

Fewkes' description and analysis of the artifact:
"This object, which is much larger than any of those which have been mentioned, is painted on both sides with highly suggestive designs of a symbolic nature. The decoration on one side is almost wholly obliterated, but on one corner we detect clearly the modern symbols of the dragon-fly. The pigments with which this stone is painted were easily washed off, and this accounts for the loss of the decoration on the surface which was uppermost as it lay in the grave over the body. The design on the other face, however, is more distinct. It consists of three triangular figures enclosed in a border, recalling a san mosaic such as is used in modern presentation of the Hopi ritual. Two colors, black and white, are readily detected in the border - the black outside the white. The field enclosed by this border is yellow, and the three triangular figures are black, with enclosed rectangles, which are white. At the apex of each triangle there is a rude figure of a bird painted red, in which the head, body, and two tail feathers are well differentiated.

Three Mountain Kiva painting, Eagle's Nest,
Ute Mountain Ute Reservation,
Colorado. Photo Peter Faris, 1981. 

Three mountain theme painted
on a wall, Spruce Tree House,
Mesa Verde, Colorado.
Photo Peter Faris, 2002.

The whole character of the design on this stone calls to mind the decorations on the walls of a kiva of a cliff dwelling of the Mesa Verde, described by Nordenskjold, and figured in his beautiful memoir. In the designs on the kiva wall of 'ruin 9' we find groups of three triangles arranged around the whole estufa at intervals on the upper margin of a dado, and each of these triangles is surrounded by a row of dots. The field on which they are painted is yellow, and the triangles and dots are red or reddish brown. On a wall of Spruce Tree house Nordenskjold found a similar dado with triangular designs, and it is interesting to note that in the figure of this ornamentation which he gives rude drawings of birds appear in close proximity to the triangles.

Three mountain theme painted
on a wall, Cliff Palace,
Mesa Verde, Colorado.
Photo Internet, Public Domain.

Fewkes had analyzed this composition and proposed that the three triangles were rain clouds. (Fewkes 1904:105) Irrespective of Fewkes analysis the three triangles do not match any cloud portrayals I know of, I think it is much more likely that they represent mountains, making this another example of the three-mountain theme common to the four-corners area.

San Francisco Peaks, Arizona.
Photo Internet, Public Domain.

Since this rock slab had been used to cover a burial this suggests that the interred body was being sent to the home of the kachinas, the San Francisco Peaks. Whereas, in my previous columns I had posited that the three-mountain theme might refer to the three peaks of Huerfano Butte because of its central location in the fire-beacon communication system (see references below) I now need to add the possibility that they refer to the three main peaks of the San Francisco Peaks, the home of the kachinas. Especially since many of the painted examples of the Three Mountain theme are in kivas, and kivas are dedicated to kachinas, which come from the San Francisco Peaks. An additional factor is that the San Francisco Peaks are only 70 miles or so to the Northwest of Winslow so propinquity would seem to be on the side of this argument. In either case, we know that the Three Mountain theme was important to ancestral Pueblo peoples, and over a larger area than I was aware of before.

It might even be the case that both Huerfano Butte and the San Franciso Peaks are correct. Perhaps the ancestral pueblo peoples who found significance in the Three Mountain theme applied it to nearby features that they were familiar with, so at Mesa Verde the Huerfano Butte had this significance to them, and at Chevelon pueblo it might well have been the San Francisco Peaks. 

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.


Faris, Peter
2016 Huerfano Butte, New Mexico, as the Model for Painted Mountains at Mesa Verde, Nov. 26, 2016,

2017 Another Example of the Three Mountain Theme at Mesa Verde, Jan. 21, 2017,

Fewkes, Jesse Walter
1904 Two Summers Work In Pueblo Ruins, in 22nd Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1900-1901, Part One, by J. W. Powell, Director, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D. C.

Friday, November 22, 2019


I have long maintained that archaeologists are wrong in arguing that they alone should study rock art. After I had been involved in the field of rock art studies for about 20 years a recently graduated archaeologist argued to me that "you have to understand, I am a professional, you aren't." I am an art historian and I have long experience in working backwards from objects and images to try to tease out conclusions about the culture and individual that created it. This is essentially what an Art Historian does - sound familiar? When I began this the dominant position in the archaeological community was that rock art should be recorded but that it was folly to try to understand it in any way. Thank goodness those days are pretty much over.

In 2013, Severin Fowles of the Department of Anthropology, Barnard College, Columbia University, New York, summed it up much better than I ever have: "Boundary maintenance between anthropological archaeology and art history was more complicated. Of course, there has always been a kind of implicit accusation that the art historical gaze indirectly, and sometimes directly, encourages the growth of the antiquities trade and, in turn, the further looting of sites. However, the more fundamental accusation had to do with the archaeologist's (generally unwarranted) assumption that art historians succumb to the fetishistic power of the artifact itself, losing sight of the broader network of social forces out of which the artifact is but a momentary crystallization. Explanatory truths, for the archaeologist, do not reside in the artifact itself, it was said, but in "the Indian behind the artifact" or, more properly, in the system behind the Indian behind the artifact as Flannery (1967) suggested during the heyday of archaeology's scientific revolution. Such worries over the dangers of becoming fixated on artifactual things sound almost theological in retrospect. Artifacts, very much like religious icons, were said to be mere tools for reaching deeper truths and hidden organizations.
Perhaps this partly explains why late twentieth century archaeologists focused so much of their energy on the analysis of large assemblages of humble object fragments drawn from middens, fragments that do not easily enchant and that only became meaningful once they had been typologized, quantified, and transformed into percentages. Commentary on singular aesthetic objects - the mainstay of art historical writing - tended to be deemphasized precisely because material singularity interrupted the development of increasingly abstract models. This was especially true in North America where it continues to be the case that the extraordinary "museum-quality" pieces recovered from archaeological sites are often surprisingly little discussed in comparison with fragments of utilitarian pottery and other mundane remains. Somehow it came to be assumed that bits of charcoal and chipped stone debitage are inherently more scientific than murals or masks." (Fowles and Arterberry 2013: 67-8)

What Fowles is so eloquently saying is essentially that we both were wrong. Art historians focused too much on objects of "beauty" or impressive value, overlooking possible clues from less impressive items, while archaeologists tried to ignore those and skewed the record to the minute and mundane that they could "scientifically" quantify. In this way neither discipline actually could see a whole culture in all of its complexities. I have to admit that, while I know all the marks on the rock are data, I do gravitate to Fowle's objects of "beauty." Some rock art just appeals to me more than other rock art - guilty as charged.

In the end it comes down to the fact that each discipline has valuable contributions to make to the study of rock art. The real question should be who should not study rock art? That is easier to answer; UFO believers, spiritualists who psychically commune with rock art, and anyone who comes to it with a preconceived bone to pick (and I have met examples of them all at rock art conferences).


Fowles, Severin, and Jimmy Arterberry
2013 Gesture and performance in Comanche Rock Art, pages 67-82, in World Art 2013, Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, UK.

Saturday, November 9, 2019


Figure playing a Dong Son Drum,
Kisar, Indonesia.
Photograph from Live Science.

I have written previously about the topic of music as it relates to rock art. Of course, both music and visual art share many of the same characteristics; creativity, discipline, and philosophy. But most of my previous references have been aimed at the idea of music being played in rock art sites as part of a ritual. As far as rock art portraying musical instruments I have written about a possible musical bow (or mouth bow) at the cave of Les Trois Freres in March 28, 2010, "Music At Rock Art Sites?" and a horn rasp or morache at the cave of Laussel in April 26, 2010, "Music At Rock Art Sites (Continued)". I also presented an example of flute-playing from Mesa Prieta in New Mexico in May 28, 2011, "The Flute-Playing Armadillo". There have also, of course, been numerous references to flute-players among columns on Ancestral Puebloan rock art (see cloud index below).

Dong Son Drum, Indonesia.
Note the sunburst in 
the center of the head.
Photo: Public Domain.

Dong Son Drum, Indonesia.
Note the sunburst in 
the center of the head.
Photo: Live Science

Now, an article in by Natasha Frost presents us with a large number of painted images of Dong Son drums in Indonesia. "A Dong Son drum - - - is a bronze drum fabricated by the Dong Son culture in the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam. The drums were produced from about 600 BCE or earlier until the third century CE - - -. The drums, cast in bronze using the lost-wax canting method are up to a meter in height and weigh up to 100 kilograms (220 lb). Dong Son drums were apparently both musical instruments and cult objects. They are decorated with geometric patterns, scenes of daily life and war, animals and birds, and boats. More than 200 have been found, across an area from eastern Indonesia to Vietnam and parts of Southern China." (Wikipedia) These have been prized possessions and preserved carefully, and were regarded highly enough to become a common subject of rock art, probably by someone leaving a record of his wealth and importance.

                  Dong Son Drum        
               pictographs, Indonesia.
                Note the sunbursts.
            Photograph from Live Science.

These pictographs were discovered in caves on the small Indonesian island of Kisar, off the coast of Timor. "Home to just a few thousand people, it had never been the site of a full archaeological exploration before a recent expedition by researchers from the Australian National University in Canberra, despite being a key site in the historical international spice trade. The island is almost entirely surrounded by ancient coralline limestone terraces, which run parallel to the coastline. Over the centuries, the sea has worn shelters and caves into the terraces. Within these nooks and crannies, archaeologists found 28 galleries replete with amazingly well-preserved rock paintings, done by people dead for millennia." (Frost 2017)

Dog pictographs, Kisar, Indonesia.
Internet Photo, Public Domain

"The paintings themselves are tiny, barely four inches in height, and show dynamic scenes including boats, dogs, horses, and people often holding what look like shields, said Sue O'Connor, the lead archaeologist on the project. 'Other scenes show people playing drums,' she said in a statement, 'perhaps performing ceremonies.' These figures, painted in shades of ocher, burnt umber and russet-red, remain in extraordinary condition, despite being as much as 2,500 years old." (Frost 2017)

Lene Cece Rock Shelter, Photo
from O'Connor et al., Fig. 13, p. 14.

"Dong Son drums have been found on many of the islands of eastern Indonesia including Flores, Roti, Leti and Kei. Interestingly, in the last few years two Dong Son drums have been discovered in the Lautem District, not far from the rock-art sites in Timor-Leste discussed here (Oliveira 2015). Spriggs and Miller (1988) suggested that Dong Son drums may have been carried on exploratory maritime expeditions by elite traders wishing to establish client-patron exchange relationships in the islands, and given to cement alliance." (O'Connor 2017:14) In other words quid-pro-quo - I give you a gift that will enhance your standing and reputation in your community and you give me favorable trading preferences. These islands were an important link in the maritime spice trade so a good trading relationship was definitely the road to prosperity. This is apparently pictured in a boat painting in Lene Cece rock shelter in Timor-Leste. "Although most of the Kisar boat paintings are highly schematized, features of the large boat in Lene Cece shelter in Timor-Leste (Fig. 13) resemble those on the boats on the Dong Son bronze drums in having 'high prows which are vertical or raked back' (Akerman & Dwyer 2000:87). The prow appears to be carved to resemble a cockerel with long tail feathers. The Dong Son boats also feature warriors wearing feather headdresses and carrying weapons or ritual paraphernalia (Kempers 1988). The Lene Cece boat shows small human figures in X-ray within the boat, and up on deck warriors wearing elaborate headdresses. - - - The sun-ray motif - directly above the Lene Cece boat also closely resembles the sun-ray motifs which decorate the tympanums of Dong Son drums." (O'Connor 2017:11)

Although these Dong Son drums are being reported as items of ritual significance, they are also apparently tokens of wealth and importance, the family or individual that owns one would have enhanced status and public position. This suggests that the pictographs represent a record of someone's wealth and importance, public bragging rights - and, they could be played too.

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
2010 Music At Rock Art Sites?, March 28, 2010,

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

2011 The Flute-Playing Armadillo, May 28, 2011,

Frost, Natasha
2017 In Indonesian Caves, a Treasure Trove of Forgotten Ancient Paintings, December 15, 2017,

O'Connor, Sue et. al.
2017 Ideology, Ritual Performance and Its Manifestations in the Rock Art of Timor-Leste and Kisar Island, Island Southeast Asia, December 2017, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, Cambridge.