Saturday, March 28, 2020


Rock Painting, Thompson
River indians, British Columbia,
James Teit's drawing, 1896.

I really appreciate examples of enthusiasm expressed about rock art, the problem is when enthusiasm for something is allowed to run rampant without critical oversight. In this case the example consists of two rock art panels that look totally different (one painted and the other pecked), from two totally different cultures, probably created centuries apart, and over 1,000 miles apart, yet being touted as identical sky charts. They were published in 2015 in, by Andis Kaulins, and while I appreciate Andis's enthusiasm I totally disagree with his conclusions and analysis.

Andis Kaulin's Sky Map
interpretation of James
Teit's drawing, 2015.

The first example was recorded by a James Teit, a pictograph panel from a boulder near Skaitok, near Spence's Bridge, British Columbia, in the territory of the Thompson River First Nation, in 1896. Teit's drawing of this panel has 28 numbered elements, each of which was explained for him by a tribal member named Waxtko, "an old woman at Spence's Bridge. In giving her explanations she stated that she had made paintings of the same character when undergoing the ceremonies of purification at the time when she reached maturity, and that she was perfectly familiar with the meanings of all the designs." (Teit 1896:227) Teit went on to get Waxtko to identify each element in the panel and published them (pages 228-30). In spite of this, Kaulins is able to overlook this first-hand account and propose his own analysis which completely contradicts Teit and Waxtko.

Anasazi Ridge panel,
near Ivins, Utah.
Internet photo, Public Domain.

Andis Kaulin's Sky Map
interpretation of Anasazi
Ridge panel, 2015.

The second example is from Southwestern Utah near Ivins. Listed as being in a location known as Anasazi Ridge, it appears to be a petroglyph panel done in a style resembling Great Basin Rock Art (Sucec 2020: personal communication). As you can see, there is absolutely no commonality between the two panels, yet Kaulins interprets them as identical sky maps (without giving any convincing motive I might add).

To me these panels represent confirmations of the old truism "to a hammer every problem looks like a nail." These might be seen as examples of the Availability Heuristic or perhaps the Representativeness Heuristic. Every interpretation being skewed toward your personal bias. If you truly believe that ancient peoples were busy littering the landscape with sky charts, then every rock art panel you see will seem to you to be interpretable as a sky chart. You will have to make your final decision for yourselves, but as for me, I see this whole thesis as bogus. We need to take every panel on its own, as an individual example influenced not only by the individual who created it, but the culture, and the age of its provenance. These so-called sky maps were shoehorned into identical interpretations by someone who wanted them to be exactly that, so that is what he saw. I do not.

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.


Kaulins, Andis
2015 From John J. Ensminger's Dog Law Reporter to the Skaitok Boulder, Spence's Bridge, British Columbia: Rock Art as a Sky Map of the Stars Similar to Pictographs of the Anasazi in Utah, August 27, 2015,

Sucec, David
2020 Personal Communication,

Teit, James Alexander
1896 A Rock Painting of the Thompson River Indians, British Columbia, edited from notes of the collector by Franz Boas, American Museum of Natural History, Vol. VIII, article XII, p. 227-229

Saturday, March 21, 2020


Aurochs, Lascaux Cave, France.
Internet photo, Public domain.

I have recently written about the question of identifying varieties of deer in cave paintings from their antler shapes, and also about cave artists learning to portray perspective in aurochs horns over time. Joseph Stromberg wrote a piece about cave pictures of animals in December 2012 with the title " Cavemen Were Much Better At Illustrating Animals Than Artists Today." His article was a synopsis of a much longer study by Horvath et. al. from Plosone, "Cavemen Were Better at Depicting Quadruped Walking than Modern Artists: Erroneous Walking Illustrations in the Fine Arts from Prehistory to Today," which focused on the portrayal of the gaits of the animals pictured on cave walls.

Diagram of gait of Lascaux aurochs,
From Horvath et. al. 
(I have no idea why they reversed it)

"The leg attitudes of walking quadrupeds, especially horses, are also frequently erroneously illustrated in the works of fine arts. These artistic representations of walking quadrupeds have not been systematically studied from a biomechanical point of view. To fill this gap, we have collected 1000 different fine art quadruped walking illustrations from the Internet and other sources. We analysed them to decide whether they are correct or not in respect to the relative limb positions with the assumption that the other aspects of statues, paintings, drawings and reliefs used to determine animal gait are depicted correctly. As a result we have determined the rate r of erroneous artistic quadruped walking depictions. We obtained the error rates of artistic quadruped walking illustrations for the prehistoric period, for the pre-Muybridge time (after prehistory but prior to 1887) and for the post-Muybridge period (after 1887). We have also calculated the error rate for three-dimensional (cavalry statues) and two-dimensional (paintings, graphic art, reliefs) artistic quadruped walking depictions." (Horvath et. al. 2012)

Photo study of horse gaits,
Edward Muybridge, public domain.

In this study the works of Paleolithic cave artists (particularly in Lascaux cave in France) were compared to animal portrayals by artists from the Renaissance until today. "The researchers evaluated the prehistoric artists on the basis of the landmark 1880s finding by British photographer Eadweard Maybridge that horses (and, it was later discovered, most four-legged animals) move their legs in a particular sequence as they walk. The "foot-fall formula," as it's called goes LH-LF-RH-RF, where H means 'hind,' F means 'fore,' and L and R mean 'left' and 'right,' respectively. At the time of Muybridge, this was thought to be an entirely novel discovery." (Stromberg 2012)

Horse drawings, Lascaux Cave, France.
Internet photos, Public domain.

But, as the researchers discovered, the Paleolithic artists apparently had learned it too. "Of the 39 ancient cave paintings depicting the motion of four-legged animals that were considered in the study, 21 nailed the sequence correctly, a success rate of 53.8%. Due to the number of combinations of how a four-legged animal's gait can be depicted, the researchers state that mere chance would lead to a 26.7% rate of getting it right. Cavemen artists knew what they were doing." (Stromberg 2012)

Cavallo della Sforza, designed by
Leonardo da Vinci. Statue by
Nina Akamu, 1999,
Internet photo, Public domain.

"When the researchers looked at 272 paintings and statues of four-legged animals made during modern times but before Muybridge's finding in the 1880s, such as a famous horse sketch by Leonardo da Vinci, it turned out that these more recent artists were much worse: They only got the sequence right 16.5% of the time. Remarkably, even the 686 paintings and statues studied that were made more recently than 1887, after scientists knew for sure how four-legged animals walked, still got it right just 42.1% of the time." (Stromberg 2012)

Design for Cavallo della Sforza,
Leonardo da Vinci, 1482.
Internet photo, Public domain.

Drawings of prancing horses,
Leonardo da Vinci, 1482.
Internet photo, Public domain.

Leonardo left many drawings of horses and designs for equestrian statues in his notebooks and if they were shown as walking they illustrated the horse's gait incorrectly. Since the cave paintings as well as Leonardo's sketches do not generally include a ground line, the researchers had to estimate that to complete their analysis, but, if more than one foot of the animal is raised there is no way to draw a ground line that contacts three feet. Cave artists - 53.8% to Post-Muybridge modern artists - 42.1%, and we call them "Primitive" artists.

Now it is important to again clarify that this only applies to walking gaits by these large quadrupeds. Other gaits; trot, gallop, run, leaping, etc., can have different characteristics including more than one foot off the ground at one time.

NOTE:  On August 25, 2019, I published "On Endless Motion - Depiction of Movement in Upper Coa Valley Rock Art" on RockArtBlog. This discussed a 2009 paper by L. Luis and A. P. B. Fernandes "On endless motion: depiction of movement in the Upper Palaeolithic Côa Valley rock art (Portugal)" in which they discussed animal portrayals in terms of implied animation. The walking gait that Horvath et. al. are examining was classified in this study as "Symmetrical animation."

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
2019 On Endless Motion - Depiction of Movement in Upper Côa Valley Rock Art, Portugal, August 25, 2019,

Horvath, Gabor, Etelka Farkas, Ildiko Boncz, Miklos Blaho, and Gyorgy Kriska,
2012 Cavemen Were Better at Depicting Quadruped Walking than Modern Artists: Erroneous Walking Illustrations in the Fine Arts from Prehistory to Today, December 5, 2012,

Luis, L., & Fernandes, A. P. B.
2009 On endless motion: depiction of movement in the Upper Palaeolithic Côa Valley rock art (Portugal), In Congresso International da IFRAO 2009, Piauỉ, Brasil, IFRAO, p. 1304-1318

Stromberg, Joseph
2012 Cavemen Were Much Better At Illustrating Animals Than Artists Today, December 5, 2012,

Sunday, March 15, 2020


Two of the figurines
before cleaning.
Photo - finstown.orkney

Over the past few years enigmatic shaped rocks have been recovered on the British island of Orkney. The team discovering them has dubbed them "human figurines."

Photo - finstown.orkney

Compared to Paleolithic carvings, or other bronze age stone carvings from elsewhere, these are laughable - loom weights or fishing weights perhaps? I just don't see human figures in these.

"Figurine" shown in situ
next to hearth.

Perhaps they served as "deadmen" buried in the floor to tie cords to for holding something upright. Indeed, this quote gives one such possibility. "Some of the objects look remarkably like stylized representations of the human form whilst others look more like stones set upright into the floor of a Bronze Age building excavated by EASE Archaeology at the links of Noltland, Westray. These may have been used to tie mooring ropes onto, to help hold the roof on." (Heritagedaily 2019)

Internet photo.

"Dating the necked stones firmly will require further work, since they have also been found on Iron Age sites in Orkney. On initial evidence, the ones from Finstown possibly date to around the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, roughly 2000 BC. Identifying the purpose of these stones, and if they are figurines, will also require further work, with a close study for abrasion, wear, and any other marks on these anthropomorphic objects." (Lisle 2019)

Note the smoothed neck
as if abraded by a
rope tied around it.
Internet photo.

I am tempted to think that these so-called "figurines" represent another example of pareidolia in rock art. On both March 2 and March 9, 2019, I wrote about the phenomena of pareidolia and mimetoliths in rock art. "This is manifested in pareidolia (recognizing ponies in the clouds, for instance), and also by fascination with mimetoliths (items that naturally look like something else - mimic them)." (Faris 2019)

"Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus, usually an image or a sound, by perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists. Common examples are perceived images of animals, faces, or objects in cloud formations, the Man in the Moon, the Moon rabbit, hidden messages in recorded music played in reverse or at high- or lower-than-normal speeds, and hearing indistinct voices in random noise such as that produced by air conditioners or fans." (Wikipedia)

Whatever these pieces of rock recovered in Orkney actually are, I certainly cannot see human figures in any of them, and so I have to classify them as mimetoliths, and examples of pareidolia manifested within the discoverers imaginations. Perhaps the "further work" mentioned above will provide enough information to better guess the purpose of these rocks.


2019 A Team From ORCA Archaeology Has Discovered An Amazing Series of Half-Metre Tall Stone-Carved Objects, Heritage Daily,

Faris, Peter
2019 Are These Ute Wooden Maps? - or Apophenia - Pareidolia - Mimetoliths - Manuports, March 9, 2019,

2019 Pareidolia, March 2, 2019,

Lisle, Sean
2019 Nine Possible Bronze Age Figurine Unearthed at Substation Excavation in Orkney?, University of the Highlands Archaeology Institute, nine-possible-bronze-age-figurines-unearthed-at-substation-excavation-in-orkney/


Saturday, March 7, 2020


Horses, Lascaux, France.
Internet photo, Public domain.

Students of rock art have learned to always be on the lookout for representations of rare or extinct animals as a guide to their actual appearance. This is a case of a cave painting of animals that were for some time thought to be imaginary or symbolic, and now have been proven to be real. On January 18, 2020, I revisited the question of the authenticity of the spotted horses of Pech-Merle Cave in France. Genetic analysis of ancient horse fossils has provided markers that can be used to identify the color of the animal when it was alive. Not only has the existence of spotted horses been proven by genetic analysis, but genetic studies have also given us information on the color and confirmation of other Paleolithic wild horses - Equus ferus ferus.

Horse, Lascaux, France.
Internet photo, Public domain.

"Prehistoric representations of animals have the potential to provide first-hand insights into the physical environment that humans encountered thousands of years ago and the phenotypic appearance of the animals depicted. However, the motivation behind, and therefore the degree of realism in, these depictions is hotly debated and it has yet to be shown to what extent they have been executed in a naturalistic manner.
Neuropsychological explanations include 'hyperimagery,' in which an internally generated image is perceived in external space, whereas others have argued for shamanistic significance or simply art for art's sake. Some paleontologists argue that cave paintings are a reflection of the natural environment of humans at the time, but not all researchers agree with this opinion." (Pruvost 2011:1)

Horses, Chauvet Cave, France.

In a nutshell, the argument has been whether the animal depictions represent the appearance of real animals, or whether they represent "spirit animals" of some sort. As "spirit animals" their overall appearance (shape, coat color, conformation, etc.) need not be considered as representative of a real horse.

Prewalski horses from
Chauvette Cave, France.

"Where animal species can be confidently identified, horses are depicted at the majority of these sites. With more than 1,250 documented depictions (~30% of all animal illustrations) ranging from the Early Aurignacien of Chauvet to the Late Magdalenian (several post-12-kyBP sites in France and Spain), and from the Iberian Peninsula to the Ural mountains, horses are the most frequent of the more than 30 mammal species depicted in European Upper Paleolithic cave art. Depictions are commonly in a caricature form that slightly exaggerates the most typical 'horsey' features.
Although taken as a whole, images of horses are often quite rudimentary in their execution, some detailed representations, from both Western Europe and the Ural mountains, are realistic enough to at least potentially represent the actual appearance of the animals when alive. In these cases, attributes of coat color may also have been depicted with deliberate naturalism, emphasizing colors and patterns that characterized contemporary horses. For example, the brown and black horses dominant at Lascaux and Chauvet, France, phenotypically match the extant coat colors bay and black. (Pruvost 2011:2-3)

Przewalskis horse, 

"In a 2009 analysis of DNA from the bones of nearly 90 ancient horses dated from about 12,000 to 1000 years ago, researchers found genetic evidence for bay and black horse colors." (Balter 2011)

Wild horse reconstructions.

"The researchers, led by geneticists Arne Ludwig of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and Michael Hofreiter of the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed DNA from an older sample of 31 prehistoric horses from Siberia as well as Eastern and Western Europe ranging from about 20,000 to 2200 years ago. They found that 18 of the horses were bay, seven were black, but six had a genetic variant - called LP - that corresponds to leopardlike spotting in modern horses. Moreover, out of 10 Western European horses estimated to be about 14,000 years old, four had the LP genetic marker, suggesting that spotted horses were not uncommon during the heyday of cave painting." (Balter 2011)

So, genetic confirmation of not only bay coloration, but black horses as well was found, as well as the final proof of spotted horses in the Paleolithic era, reinforcing the idea that cave art can indeed give us valuable insights into the extant animal life of prehistoric times.

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.


Balter, Michael,
2011 Was the Spotted Horse an Imaginary Creature?, November 7, 2011, Science Magazine,

Pruvost, Melanie, Rebecca Bellone, Norbert Benecke, Edson Sandoval-Castellanos, Michael Cieslak, Tatyana Kuznetsove, Arturo Morales-Muniz, Terry O'Connor, Monica Reissmann, Machael Hofreiter, and Arne Ludwig,
2011 Genotypes of Predomestic Horses Match Phenotypes Painted in Paleolithic Works of Cave Art, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, Nov. 15, 2011