Saturday, July 27, 2019


The former EDITORIALS page on RockArtBlog is changing to COMMENTS AND EDITORIALS. It is my intention to use it for responses to comments that I receive anonymously but are worth replying to - either pro or con. As before, I will continue to respond by e-mail to comments that include an e-mail address. I will also periodically post editorials there.


Kneeling Kokopelli, Kelley Place,
Mancos Canyon, Montezuma County, CO.
Photograph Peter Faris, May 1983.

Kokopelli, near Talus House,
Bandelier National Monument,
Los Alamos County, New Mexico.
Photograph Peter Faris, Sept. 1985.

A particular favorite rock art image of everyone in the American southwest is the flute player commonly known as Kokopelli (the hump-backed flute player). I will save the whole question of who he really is for another time, and in this column will deal with what he represents visually, because, while he is called a flute-player there are actually other possibilities.

Consider the range of items that might be held up to the mouth. More common than flutes were bone whistles, usually made of the wing bone of a large bird. Also, a straight pipe would be held to the mouth to smoke it. And, finally, the present fad for identifying Shamanism in rock art would require us to consider the sucking tube used in healing ceremonies by a Shaman.

Grotto Canyon Kokopelli, Alberta,
Canada. After Keyser and Klassen,
2001, p. 105, Fig. 7.13.

In general, flute-player images shown holding a long, straight object may well be flute-players because the other possibilities (whistle, straight pipe, and sucking tube) are shorter. But many of the images are holding items that are suspiciously short like the example above.

Blackfoot eagle bone whistle.

Fremont flute, Range Creek,

Pueblo Bonito flute from Chaco
Canyon, New Mexico.

So, since whistles were more common that flutes among Native American tribes, a figure holding a short straight object might indeed be playing a whistle instead of a flute. "The eagle bone whistle is a religious object used by some members of Native American spiritual societies in sacred ceremonies - in the Southwest and Plains cultures. The whistle is used in some Peyote ceremonies of some sects of the Native American Church. The eagle bone whistle is also used by the Lakota people in certain ceremonies, such as Sun Dances." (Wikipedia)

Basketmaker cloud-blower,
New Mexico. Internet.

Another possible subject would be the form of a straight pipe known as a cloud-blower. "In North America, the primary purpose of the tobacco smoke is to serve as an offering to the spirits. Across the Americas, tobacco, offered directly or as smoke, allowed for communication with spirits. Among the Pueblos, Parsons describes smoke being blown onto altars in kivas to give luck for ceremonies. At Santa Clara pueblo, pipes smoke was blown to ask for rain and in hunting ceremonies. More specifically, pipes were used in healing ceremonies among the Navajo and other groups." (Davis 2017:38-9)

Chumash cloud-blower.
Steatite, 5¼".

In the West and Southwest smoke is generally considered to represent the clouds and can carry a prayer to the sky during ceremonial use. Additionally, in the southwest, the most common form of pipe used prehistorically was a straight tube, actually known as a cloud blower for this association of smoke to clouds. Given the importance of the sacred nature of this connection is it not possible that the figures we know as flute-players are actually holding a tubular smoking pipe, or cloud blower?

Shaman's "Sucking Tube" from
San Diego County, California.
O'Neal, 1983, picture from Internet.

The final possibility, although my least favorite, is that the figure holding a short object to his lips is a shaman with the tube that he or she uses to suck illness from a patient. As I have said many times previously, I think that the concept of Shamanism is really badly overdone as an explanation in analysis of rock art. So, what do I think is the explanation? I would usually have to go with the flute-player, however, we should be aware that there are always other possibilities.

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.


Davis, Kaitlyn Elizabeth
2017 The Ambassador's Herb: Tobacco Pipes as Evidence for Plains-Pueblo Interaction, Interethic Negotiation, and Ceremonial Exchange in the Northern Rio Grande, Graduate Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado, Boulder.

Keyser, James D., and Michael A. Klassen
2001   Plains Indian Rock Art, University of  Washington Press, Seattle. Fig. 7.13, p. 105.

O'Neil, Dennis H.
1983  A Shaman's "Sucking Tube" from San Diego County, California, Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropoloty, No. 5, issue 2.

Friday, July 26, 2019


vdinets has left a new comment on my post "A RIDICULOUS CLAIM - THE EGYPTIAN PYRAMIDS ARE ORIENTED TO THE STARS IN ORION’S BELT: November 10, 2018.

Now this is a great comment, whoever you are, and one that I can reply to.
“It's an old claim (dating back at least to the 1960s if I remember correctly). Supposedly you have to use the map of the Orion's Belt the way it looked at the time the pyramids were built (star positions have changed a bit). I never checked it, but I don't find the theory to be so obviously bonkers. The plan of the Giza Pyramids does look at least superficially similar to the Belt, and doing this doesn't require any particularly advanced knowledge, certainly not compared to what was required to build the pyramids themselves. You can build the first two pyramids anywhere you want, and then just calculate the angle and the distance to the third one to make a "scale model" of the Belt.” – vdinets

Thank you for your reasonable and well-written response to my original column. I must confess that I may have too quickly and easily assumed the theory is bogus because of the sources promoting it. In Matthew 7:16 Jesus said “by their fruits you will recognize them” and some of these sources are definitely fruitcakes. Many others are serious believers who get misled by these false prophets. In order to test my conclusion I went to and ran Orion from about 30,000 BC to 30,000 AD with the point of view set to Egypt. While some of the peripheral stars moved the stars in his belt did not shift an iota - if I did it right. I think I will stick with my original conclusions with this caveat added. I have no way of knowing if Orion inspired the placement of the three pyramids of Giza. You have no way of knowing it either, no-one does. I should perhaps been a little tighter in stating my premise. The fringies are claiming that it is a perfect replica and alignment and I have proved to my satisfaction that it is not that. I have no idea what inspired the placement of the three major pyramids at Giza, and until an inscription or papyrus is found concerning it nobody can know. It is only an interesting speculation that the simulation does not back up.


Saturday, July 20, 2019


Lithophones, Organ and Chimes,
Caverns of Luray, VA,
1906 postcard.

Last week I reported on Iegor Reznikoff's researches into the subject of acoustics of rock art sites. This week I am adding conclusions of a couple of other authors and other evidence.

In the acoustics of a cliff, cave, or rock shelter, there are essentially two types of sound that are considered: naturally occurring sounds such as water, wind, and animal noises, etc., and human-caused sounds (whether vocal or mechanical). Vocal human sounds would include speaking, singing, whistling, or imitating animal calls, etc. Mechanical human caused sounds include drums, flutes, whistles, bull-roarers, etc. - and lithophones. Lithophones are a human-caused sound as well but are often considered separately as a special type of musical instrument. A lithophone is a percussion instrument consisting of certain dense rocks that ring with musical notes when struck. Stalactites and stalagmite formations in many caves will do this as well as separate stones and boulders.

Concerning human-caused sounds Fazenda ( writes that "It is likely that both speech and music were part of the cultures that used the caves, given that speech evolved earlier and examples of musical instruments in the human cultures under study here have been reported in archaeological studies." (p. 1337)

While it is undeniable that some echoes or resonance effects will be produced in virtually any cave or rock shelter, or even open cliff rock art site it has to be remembered that although geologic time seems unchanging there are continuous changes and modifications to the shapes and surfaces of these sites.

"At the same time it must be recognized that the internal morphology and structure of the caves has undergone processes of modification (both human and natural) that inevitably affect their acoustics. Some areas of these caves may hence exhibit acoustic responses that have changed since prehistory. The most significant naturally occurring change to the architecture of the caves came about through the closing or sealing of their original entrances by rock-falls or by sediment accumulation." (Fazenda et al. 2017:1334-5)

This means that the acoustic effects being detected today may be different than any effects intended when the rock art was created, and basing scientific assumptions on conditions that may have changed seems to make little sense. Also, rock art sites can have wildly different acoustic properties; from amplified resonance, to diminished or muddled resonance.

Painted Canyon, Val Verde County, TX,
photograph Peter Faris, March 2004.

I have even been at a rock art site that acted as a whisper channel wherein a sound made at one point cannot be heard just a few feet away, but is legible again farther down the rock face. This was a cliff face with a slight overhang in a narrow canyon in Texas. The cliff face was pretty much evenly covered with small, delicate red-painted figures, just as many occurring in the null area where the sound was not heard as in the areas of sound receptivity. If acoustic properties governed the placement of rock art I would expect the null area to have many fewer red-painted figures than the areas of intensity. This site, at least, seems to go against the rock art/echoes assumptions.

In their rigorous and excellent 2017 study of acoustics in rock art sites Fazenda and his ten co-authors concluded: "Blesser and Salter (2009:74) observe that, "cave wall images are tangible, enduring manifestations of early humans," and that in contrast sound "has no enduring manifestation, nor of course could it have for any pre-technical peoples," meaning that as a result, "available data are too sparse to draw strong conclusions." In our work a statistical association has been established between acoustic response and the positions of Palaeolithic visual motifs found in these caves. Our primary conclusion is that there is statistical, although weak, evidence, for an association between acoustic responses measured within these caves and the placement of motifs. We found a statistical association between the position of motifs, particularly dots and lines, and places with low frequency resonances and moderate reverberation. Importantly, we must reiterate that the statistically significant association does not necessarily indicate a causal relationship between motif placement and acoustic response. In other words, our evidence does not suggest that the positioning of motifs can be explained simply through relationships with acoustics, and we are not suggesting that motif positioning was based solely on an appreciation of sound properties. Indeed, we also found that motifs are statistically less likely to be found further into the caves, away from its original entrance, and this result further illustrates the complex relationship between early human behavior and features of these caves." (Fazenda:1347)

Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon,
Canyonlands, Wayne County, UT,
photograph Don I. Campbell,
May 1984.

As an example of the above, probably the most remarkable correspondence of echo and rock art I have personally experienced is the Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands, Utah. The cliff wall there seems ideal for rock art and it has inspired a considerable amount of great art there on it. It also casts what I remember as  a strong echo, but even while standing there in front of it and experiencing it I got no sense that the art and the echo had to be somehow connected by other than coincidence.

I know that I do not have the last word on a subject, and I feel that I always have to leave room for error in my assumptions, so I will say here that it is possible that all the claims made for sites that produce strong echoes were chosen for rock art as well because of those echoes. But I know of no way of proving that and, until we do, many of the current claims are unsupported and overblown. The same rock face that is desirable for rock art purposes, probably also is desirable for echoes or other acoustic effects, but that does not mean that the art and the sounds are interrelated in any way.

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.


Blesser, B., and Salter L.
2009 Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?:Experiencing Aural Architecture, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Fazenda, Bruno, et al.
2017 Cave Acoustics in Prehistory: Exploring the Association of Paleolithic Visual Motifs and Acoustic Response, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 142, (1332-49),

Saturday, July 13, 2019


Two Mammoths, Rouffignac,
France. Marking a spot of increased
resonance according to
Reznikoff  (2002:48).

There is a great deal of interest currently in archaeoacoustics, the study and analysis of how sound interacted with rock art and other ritual practices of ancient populations. Indeed, a rock art conference nowadays can hardly be held without at least one paper on Archaeoacoustics being presented. A PBS documentary series, How We Got To Now, hosted by Steven Johnson, devoted its sixth episode to Sound. At the beginnings of the episode Iegor Reznikoff was introduced inside one of the European painted caves - Arcy Sur Cure, in northern France. Reznikoff, who is a professor at the Philosophy Department of the University of Paris at Nanterre, eloquently rhapsodized about the role of sound and echoes in cave art and ritual.

Three rhinoceroses, a site
of naturally high resonance
(Reznikoff 2002:48).
Rouffignac cave, France.

"In a prehistoric cave, one of the most impressive experiences is to discover the cave, walking in complete or almost complete darkness, and all while making sounds (preferably vocal ones) and to listen to the answer of the cave. In order to figure out where the sounds come from - from far away or from nearby - and whether there is somewhere a strong resonance or not: all this in order to ascertain the direction in which one may proceed further on. Because out vision is limited by darkness, resonance is the only way to know how long or deep the space ahead is. This represents one use of the voice and of the hearing as a sonar device, and there is no doubt that Palaeolithic tribes who visited and decorated the caves proceeded in this way; indeed, in irregular shaped galleries or tunnels, neither oil lamps nor even torches light further than a few meters. This sonar method works: in many cases, proceeding into the direction of the strongest answer of the cave will lead to the locations of paintings. This way of moving around in darkness demonstrates the main importance of sound in discovering space and in proceeding through it; to be sure, it reminds one of the first perception of space the child has in the world of the mother's womb." (Reznikoff 2005:Section 2.5)

Salmon, an area of increased
resonance. Salle des Vagues,
Arcy-sur-Cure cave, Burgundy,
France. Photo: M. Girard.

This is one of his conclusions, that sound (echoes) was used in navigating caves. He talks about the human body as a sonar device, emitting and receiving sound and analyzing the information contained in the returning signal. He also goes into sound as an integral part of ritual; music, vocalization, imitating animal calls, etc. His analysis is not rigorously scientific. The sound production in his studies is vocal and his instrument for receiving the sound is aural, his ear. This is, of course, the way it would have been with our ancestors too.

The ‘Diamond incrusted’ mammoth
in the most resonant location of the
main cave (Reznikoff 2002).
Arcy-sur-Cure (Burgundy, France).
Photograph M. Girard).

"The method consists in studying, or rather listening to, the resonance of sounds in terms of its intensity and duration at different points along the cave walls. In this way, the places with the greatest resonance can be located, or, more generally, the places where the quality of the resonance changes significantly. A map of resonance in the cave galleries can thus be drawn up. In acoustical terms, the changes correspond to the alternation along the cave wall of nodes and antinodes for those frequencies that are characteristic of particular parts of the cave. The matter can, however, be rather complex, because the pitches that make different parts of the cave resound must be identified at the same time. In different parts of the cave, different and, possibly, many pitches (even if only the basic sound is taken into account) can be peculiar to its resonance since its form can be very complex; we are thus faced with two variables: location and pitch." (1995:503)

          Engraved bison in the Niaux Cave,
Ariege, France, here the resonance
lasts for 5 seconds (Reznikoff 2001:49).
Photograph: Internet, public domain.

Reznikoff comes to three main conclusions - what he calls Principles.
1. The density of paintings in a location is proportional to the intensity of the resonance in this location. He qualifies this by admitting that "it is unreasonable to expect all the locations with good resonance to be painted, there are in general too many and some are unsuitable or inaccessible." (Also some painted sites have poor acoustic properties. What does that say about his theory?)
2. Most ideal resonant locations are adorned with paintings or signs. (I am really skeptical here, I know of all sorts of good echo sites with no rock art.)
3. Certain signs are accounted for only in relation to sound. (Possibly true, but since he does not identify those signs we really cannot judge)  (Reznikoff 2008:4140)

So, is Reznikoff right? Well, I can see some logic in his argument that sound would be helpful in navigating caves. But would his results be replicable by another researcher using a different voice and ears, or would personal differences lead to differing results? In other words can his experimental results be replicated by another experimenter (the primary test for scientific validity)? I think not.

I must admit I enjoy reading his papers, they are not dry scientific discourses. He is eloquent, even poetic, in describing his beliefs - but is he correct in his assumptions? I will even agree with him to a certain extent. I do have this caveat, however. I have written previously about my belief that the question of acoustics is overdone in current rock art studies. The fact that rock art sites often produce impressive echoes is assumed to be causative, that the rock art is there because of the echo. As I have written elsewhere, desirable rock panels for rock art and for causing echoes are coincident, but we have no proof that they are related. So, Reznikoff's method of vocalizing and then listing his impressions of what he hears is certainly not scientific, his results must be predominately subjective, but that does not invalidate his efforts, and he surely must be having a lot of fun. Part 2 of this essay will be posted next week.

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 listed below.


Reznikoff, Iegor
1995 On the Sound Dimension of Prehistoric Painted Caves and Rocks, p. 541-57, from Musical Signification: Essays in the Semiotic Theory and Analysis of Music, edited by Eero Tarasti, De Gruyter Mouton, Berlin and New York.

2002  Prehistoric Painting, Sound and Rocks, from Studien zur Musikarchaologie III, The Archaeology of Sound: Origin and Organization, Deutsches Archaologisches Institut, Istanbul, Verlag Marie Leidorf GmbH, Rahden, Westf.

2005 On Primitive Elements of Musical Meaning, Journal of Music and Meaning, vol. 3, Fall 2004/Winter2005, Section 2,

2008 Sound Resonance in Prehistoric Times: A Study of Palaeolithic Painted Caves and Rocks, p. 4137-4141,

Monday, July 1, 2019


Meteor exploding, Shropshire,
England. Photo Nick Jackson.

I am an avid sky-watcher. I have had a life-long fascination with clouds, weather, and the phenomena of the night sky such as meteors and comets. I have to believe that the creators of rock art would have also reacted with fascination to sky phenomena and recorded them, especially meteors. Meteors, however, come in a whole spectrum of sights, from the occasional spectacular fireball (bolide) to the quick little streak that you just aren't quite sure you actually saw.
So, in my mind there are essentially two categories: the "wow, look at that" spectacular meteor, and the "I think I saw a meteor." The first cannot be mistaken, when you see it you know it.

Fouriesbourg, South Africa.
Coimbra, 2009, p. 637,
The Sky On The Rocks.

Fouriesbourg, South Africa.
Coimbra, 2009, p. 637,
The Sky On The Rocks.

Fernando Coimba has written on meteors and comets in rock art, and presents examples of my first category painted by the San people in the Fouriesbourg District of South Africa. These are very convincingly depictions of meteors or comets, it is hard to imagine them being anything else.  

Chumash, Pictographs at the
Burro Flats Painted Cave, California.
Wikipedia, Public Domain.

"Meteors or Comets from Burro Flats, California (USA). This example regards two paintings by the Chumash Indians, consisting one of them on a circle with a tail with four lines and the other on a circle with internal and external rays and also a tail. The astronomer F. Whipple (1985) considers that these engravings depict comets. But according to E. C. Krupp these images have a dynamic appearance suggesting rapid movement and change, being this way more related with meteors than comets." (Coimbra 2009:638)

Barrier Canyon Style rock art,
Head of Sinbad, Emery County,
Utah. Photo Aug. 1993, Peter Faris.

Another possible depiction of meteors is found in a Barrier Canyon style panel at Head of Sinbad, in Emery County, Utah. There four circles can be seen at the right of the panel, approaching the anthropomorphs. These circles have tails behind them seemingly implying motion, or the streak of light behind the meteor.

In his 2009 paper Coimba presents examples that argue that flashes of light seen at night might not represent a meteor. In discussing the San examples he writes "Thackeray (1988) argues that this people associated comets and meteors with flashes of light seen during states of trance. This author based his theory on examples provided by linguistics, but in the same article recognizes that "these questions are difficult to address directly." - I think that although it may exist some connection between astronomical events and trance, I agree more with Fraser when he writes that "Bushmen lived close to nature and would have been acutely aware of any extraordinary happenings in their surroundings . Astronomical events such as comets, supernovae, meteors and bolides probably made a huge impression on these folk."" (Coimba 2009:637)

How many times have you stepped out back late at night to try to catch a meteor shower that has been advertised and experienced the frustration of not knowing for sure whether you really saw that quick flash of a meteor, or just imagined it? Well, perhaps you really saw the flash of light, but it might not have been a meteor. Perhaps you saw a phosphene. The subject of phosphenes as inspiration for rock art has been extensively discussed elsewhere but, in short, phosphenes are shapes or flashes of light seen in the eye in the dark when stimulated by something like pressure on the eyeball. "Phosphenes can be directly induced by mechanical, electrical, or magnetic stimulation of the retina or visual cortex as well as by random firing of cells in the visual system." (Wikipedia) I do not find this explanation very convincing. I know a phosphene when I see it, and I assume others do also, but it is a possibility.

 Or even more interesting, perhaps you saw a cosmic ray.

Some people report seeing flashes in the dark that seem to originate within the eye. These light flashes are a phenomenon that is not totally understood but are apparently stimulated by cosmic rays. This is believed to happen in one of two ways. Either the ray stimulates the retina in the eye or the visual cortex in the brain to signal a flash of light, or the cosmic ray passing through the medium within the eye creates a flash of Cherenkov radiation. "Cherenkov radiation is an electromagnetic radiation emitted when a charged particle (such as an electron) passes through a dialectric medium - -. The characteristic blue glow of an underwater nuclear reactor is due to Cherenkov radiation." (Wikipedia)

As I said at the beginning, I am an avid sky-watcher. I have been lucky enough to have seen a few spectacular meteors in my life, the fireball or bolide that presents a large ball of light that sometimes even breaks apart as if flies. Something like this is impossible to mistake. I tend to credit the astronomical explanation - comets or meteors - as the inspiration for these examples of rock art, but, we should be aware of the other possibilities.

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.


Coimba, Fernando
2009 The Sky On The Rocks: Cometary Images In Rock Art, Quaternary and Prehistory Group, Centre of Geosciences, Congresso International da IFRAQ, 635-646