Saturday, November 24, 2012


#1 - Petroglyphs, North of Soccorro, Richard Colman, 2012

#2 - Mystery masks, North of Soccorro, Richard Colman, 2012.

One of the real fascinations of rock art in the American southwest is to try to match features of the faces or mask depictions in rock art to features of the kachinas of Pueblo religion. For instance, the face in the top center of photo #1 has the unique face painting found primarily in the Hopi Polik Mana (Butterfly maiden) (Colton 1959:48) and Salako Mana (Shalako maiden) (Colton 1959:47; and Fewkes 1985:Plate LVI).
Photo #2 shows a row of repeating faces (masks) identically portrayed with what looks like a floppy peaked hat on the head and a horizontal line painted across the middle of each face. While cursory examination of my reference books turned up a couple of kachinas with this sort of horizontal line across the middle of the face I could not find one with both that line and this distinctive headgear. Yet here it was important enough to the artist to repeat it identically three times. What did he have in mind?

These fascinating petroglyphs were photographed by Richard Colman at a site north of Soccorro, New Mexico. Richard has graciously given me permission to use these pictures (as well as others on occasion).
Richard is the source of the spectacular rock art photography in Check out his site and share the wonder.


Colton, Harold S., Hopi Kachina Dolls, 1959, Univ. of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque

Fewkes, Jesse Walter, Hopi Katcinas, 1985, Dover Pub., New York

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Piko stone, Pu'uloa petroglyphs, Volcanoes National
Park, Hawaii. Photograph Ellen Belef, March, 2007.

On January 26, 2011, I posted a column about a piko stone at the Kukaniloko Birthing Stones site, at Wahiawa, on the island of Oahu. This particular Piko stone is located in the Pu’uloa petroglyph field, in Volcanoes National Park, on the island of Hawai’I, on the lower slopes of Kiluaea volcano, and is another of the photographs given to me by Ellen Belef. 

In 1914 anthropologist Martha Beckwith recorded the following information in her field notes from informants about this location.

“Rode out to Puuloa on the line between Kealakomo and Apuki. Here is a large pahoehoe mound used as a depository for the umbilical cord at the birth of a child. A hole is made in the hard crust, the cord is put in and a stone is placed over it. In the morning the cord has disappeared; there is no trace of it. This insures long life for the child. Mrs. Kama, born in 1862, was a native of Kamoamoa. Her mother brought her cord there. She had 15 children and for each one at birth a visit was made to Puuloa. Another mound, on the southern border of Apuki, called Puumanawalea, was similarly used.”(Lee and Stasack 2000:87)

It should be stated that Beckwith cited other informants who essentially stated the opposite, that the cord had to stay in the hole overnight to insure long life and happiness for the child.

“Pu’uloa means long life, and that is why they chose Pu’uloa to deposit the piko of their children. “You make a puka (hole) by pounding with a stone, then in the puka you put the piko, then shove a stone in the place where the piko is placed. The reason for putting in that stone is to save the piko from the rats.” (Lee and Stasack 2000:87)

It is not that often that we can read direct, first person testimony about the reason for producing a rock art feature as in this case.


Lee, George, and Edward Stasack,
2000    Spirit of Place: Petroglyphs of Hawaii, Easter Island Foundation, Los Osos, CA.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


A family lineage? Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve,
Puako, Hawaii. Photo: Ellen Belef, September 2012.

A family lineage? Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve,
Puako, Hawaii. Photo: Ellen Belef, September 2012.

These photos are but two from a wealth of material generously shared with me by a friend, Ellen Belef, after her recent trip to Hawaii. They are from the Waikoloa Petroglyph Reserve, Puako, Hawaii. This is a petroglyph site where the images are carved on the surface of an ancient lava field, some dating back to the 16th century.

 “These petroglyphs, or stone inscriptions, were etched into the face of the mountain centuries ago. Featuring thousands of facsimiles of turtles, canoes, and other mysterious carvings, the Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve is one of the most fascinating ways to witness the unique culture of native Hawaii. The petroglyphs can be found along the Mamalahoa Trail, named for King Kamehameha's "Law of the Broken Paddle," a humanitarian law that has been enshrined into Hawaii's constitution.” (Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve,

In both these images we can see groups of stick figures, many of them connected. The touching of the figures may represent actual relationships between the people portrayed. Some years ago Carol Patterson suggested that these images can be interpreted as intergenerational representations of family lineages. In a culture that we know was conscious of family descent and lineage this suggestion makes considerable sense to me as a possibility that deserves further consideration. 

Friday, November 2, 2012


Warrior petroglyph, Plains Apachean, Picture Canyon,
Comanche Grasslands, Baca County, Colorado.
Photo: Peter Faris, 1986.

As the archaeologist for Comanche Grasslands in southeastern Colorado stated at a rock art meeting back in the 1990s, “you have to understand – I am the professional”. She made this statement to a group of rock art researchers from varying backgrounds who had been studying the rock art of southeastern Colorado for many years. She made this comment when some of us challenged her statements that doing rubbings from rock art panels would not harm the images. When it came to rock art she could not have found her elbow with a hammerstone, but she was so blinded by conceit and professional bias that to her an art historian and an engineer who had been studying rock art for decades could not possibly know as much about it as an archaeologist who had not studied rock art at all.

A totally opposite sensibility was displayed by Linea Sundstrom who wrote in Talking With The Past: the Ethnography of Rock Art (Keyser, et al.  2006: 136-7) “I think a lot of us are trained to think that the only way to study anything is through “science”. Most of us have our degrees in anthropology and yet very few of us were required to take a course in history, art history, or historical theory. I suggest that this is our bias. We think we’re scientific and therefore unbiased, but instead we’re scientific and biased in that particular way. There are other ways to study the world.”

Lawrence Loendorf expressed a similar recognition of the situation when he wrote in Discovering North American Rock Art (2005: 7) “When it comes to studying rock art traditional archaeologists, especially those trained in the United States, are a curious lot. Although they might take a photograph or two at a newly discovered site, they prefer to ignore the site’s research potential. The nature of a rock art site itself may be part or the reason. Archaeologists take pride in their ability to make meticulous and complete records of everything they uncover during an excavation. When remains such as hearths are encountered, they are carefully removed and taken back to the laboratory for additional analysis. In contrast, rock art sites are fixed in the landscape rather than portable and must be recorded in situ.”

Another example of this sort of approach can be found in the voluminous work of James Keyser who, although trained as an archaeologist, has primarily focused on rock art and has made monumental contributions to what we know about it.

What Linea Sundstrom, Lawrence Loendorf and Jim Keyser have in common that has led them to this sensitivity is that although they are professional archaeologists, they have specialized in rock art studies during significant careers. I believe that such a concentrated focus has opened their eyes to the limitations of a traditional archaeology degree toward so many questions in rock art.

I submit that there are indeed a number of other disciplines that can provide insights into rock art and the creative processes that manufacture it. An art training is invaluable in understanding the materials and techniques of artistic production, and might also provide some insight toward the motivation behind artistic production. An education in comparative religion should also be valuable in understanding the motivation behind the creation of some rock art, and also its place in the culture and its rites. Finally, historians are not only encouraged, but expected, to extrapolate from a limited number of facts to a large conclusion which is applied to the history of a culture, and Art Historians perform the same role in analysis of the art of that culture, and in the case of rock art interpretation we are often/usually exrapolating from a limited number of facts.

In order to reach a proper understanding and appreciation of rock art, I submit that we can use the input and understanding of researchers from many disciplines. Not that any one of us will always have the correct answer, but we will at least have been open to potential insights that traditional archaeology, and any other single discipline, may have overlooked. We are all in this together.


Keyser, James D. George Poetschat, and Michael W. Taylor, editors,
2006    Talking With The Past: The Ethnography of Rock Art, Oregon Archaeological Society, Portland.

Loendorf Lawrence L., Christopher Chippindale, and David S. Whitely, editors,
2005    Discovering North American Rock Art, University of Arizona Press, Tucson.