Saturday, March 17, 2018


Orca geoglyph, Palpa, Peru.
public domain. 

A wonderful geoglyph of what what has been identified as an orca has been found and restored in the Palpa region of southern Peru, near the famous Nazca Lines.
"Archaeologists rediscovered a giant geoglyph of a killer whale, etched into a desert hillside in the remote Palpa region of southern Peru, after it had been lost to science for more than 50 years. The 230-foot-long (70 meters) figure of an orca - considered a powerful, semi-mythical creature in ancient Peruvian lore - may be more than 2,000 years old, according to the researchers. They said it may be one of the oldest geoglyphs in the Palpa region, and older than those in the nearby Nazca region, which is famous for its vast collection of ancient ground markings - the Nazca Lines - that include animal figures, straight lines and geometrical shapes." (Metcalfe 2017)

However, in a strange and ironic twist, its discoverer first located it in Bonn, Germany, and then later relocated it on the ground in Peru. "Archaeologist Johny Isla, the head of Peru's Ministry of Culture in Ica province, which includes the Palpa and Nazca valleys, explained that he saw a single photograph of the orca pattern for the first time about four years ago. He'd seen it while researching studies of geoglyphs at the German Archaeological Institute in Bonn." (Metcalfe 2017)

Nazca pottery orca stirrup
- public domain.

"The photograph appeared in an archaeological catalog of geoglyphs printed in the 1970s, which was based on research carried out in Palpa and Nazca by German archaeologists in the 1960s, Isla said. But the location and size of the orca geoglyph were not well-described in the catalog, Isla told Live Science in an email. As a result, he said, the glyph's whereabouts in the desert hills of the Palpa Valley, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) south of Lima, were by then unknown to local people or scientists." (Metcalfe 2017)

"After returning to Peru, Isla looked for the orca geoglyph on Google Earth and then on foot. "It was not easy to find it, because the [location and description] data were not correct, and I almost lost hope," he said. "However, I expanded the search area and finally found it a few months later," in January 2015." (Metcalfe 2017)

Nazca pottery orca stirrup
jar, Larco Museum, Lima,
Peru - public domain.

This orca is therianthropic, with a human arm under the lower jaw on the left side. This is a symbol that is common on Nazca pottery. It turns out that many Nazca representations of killer whales possess these humanoid arms, often clutching trophy heads. The number of its fins is also a discrepancy. An actual killer whale has one dorsal and two ventral fins, as well as a tail that ends in a horizontal triangular shape. The geoglyph has five fins showing, three dorsal and two ventral (and there should be a matching pair of ventral fins on the opposite side). Additionally, its tail is notched as if somewhat divided. What these differences might have represented mythologically to the people of that time we probably cannot know.

NOTE: 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.


Larco Museum, Lima, Peru.

Metcalfe, Tom
2017   2,000 Year Old Killer Whale Geoglyph Found in Peru Desert, November 28, 2017,

Saturday, March 10, 2018


Two camels, The Camel Site,
Saudi Arabia. Public domain,

In university art departments there is a common practice known as the artist-in-residence. This is usually a working artist brought in from outside the university for a term to provide the students a good example of a working artist as well as broaden their range of experience.

The Camel Site, Saudi 
Arabia. Public domain,

"In 2016, archaeologists discovered a site in what appears, at first glance, to be the middle of nowhere. There isn't much else around for miles: the surrounding desert is bleak and inhospitable. Which is why archaeologists were surprised to find at least 11 carved dromedary camels protruding from stones at what they call 'the camel site.' The international team of archaeologists has now published their analysis of the site in the Cambridge journal Antiquity." (Hugo 2018) At first glance, these relief carvings, apparently done by someone who came from somewhere else, reminded me of artists-in-residence.

Map of location,

"The archaeologists studying the weather-beaten "Camel Site in Al Jawf, a province in northwest Saudi Arabia near Jordan, suggest the sculptures are a facet of broader Arabian tradition that was probably influenced by the Parthians (ancient Iranians) and nomadic Nabateans from preceding centuries." (Schuster 2018) Because of the location most of the severe erosion of the images would have been caused by the abrasion of wind-blown sand. This style of relief carving was certainly common in parts of the Middle East at this time, but such reliefs were not common in Saudi Arabia, making the possibility that they originated with foreign travelers more likely.

The Camel Site, Saudi
Arabia. Public domain,

"The somewhat eroded statues are tentatively dated at around 2,000 old, give or take a century or more, according to a collaboration between the French National Center for Scientific Research and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage reported this week in the Cambridge journal of Antiquity." (Schuster 2018)

The Camel Site, Saudi
Arabia. Public domain,

Given the facts that the style of carving is uncommon in the Saudi Arabia of the time, that the location of the carvings is a likely rest stop along a caravan route, and that the subjects (beasts of burden) would be most common among caravans, the conclusion that they source of the carvings was caravaneers is inescapable. Two other animals that are portrayed may be horses or donkeys, other beasts of burden that may have accompanied caravans.

 The Camel Site, Saudi
Arabia. Public domain,

My artist-in-residence analogy above is not really applicable for there were probably no permanent residences, or art departments. Based upon what can be seen today the location was probably a temporary stop along a caravan route.  However, the fact that it would have taken considerable time and effort for some of the carvings suggests that something more was involved.
"Some of the sculptures were so high up the rock that they must have required ropes or scaffolding. They had journeyed for miles and carved deep lines in the rock to depict their traveling companions. However, as (the) rocky spot is along a caravan route, the camel site could have been a resting place where travelers created images and reliefs of their four-legged friends (which) carried them and their goods from place to place." (Hugo 2018)

Perhaps the caravans left a cache of water and/or other supplies at this spot for their return trip, and one or more attendants may have stayed behind to safeguard it. To pass the time they may have done the carving. In any case, the images now provide clues to aspects of life in this part of the world 2,000 years ago.

NOTE: 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.


Hugo, Kristin
2018 Ancient Rock Carvings Discovered in Saudi Arabia Hint at Artists From Faraway Lands, February 14, 2018,

Schuster, Ruth
2018 2,000 Year Old Life-Size Camel Art Found In Heart of Saudi Arabian Desert, Feb. 13, 2018,

Saturday, March 3, 2018


Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire,
Great Britain, home of
Sir Isaac Newton.
Recent investigations have found evidence that the famous 17th century scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, created rock art, drawings scratched into the interior surface of stone blocks his home was constricted from. "Using a photographic technique to survey interior surfaces of Sir Isaac Newton's childhood home, Woolsthorpe Manor, in Lincolnshire, England, conservator Chris Pickup has discovered a doodle of a windmill drawn by the scientist as a young man." (Brown 2018)

Woolsthorpe Manor is not only where Newton famously observed the apple falling from a tree which led him to theories on gravitation, but also where he conducted his experiments with a prism that gave him his understanding of light. "Newton was born in 1642 and grew up in the house, returning in 1665 when he left Cambridge during an outbreak of the plague." (Brown 2018)

Windmill, by Sir Isaac Newton,

"' Paper was expensive, and the walls of the house would have been repainted regularly, so using them as a sketchpad as he explored the world around him would have made sense," said Jim Grevatte, a program manager at Woolsthorpe Manor, in a press release." (Traverso 2017)

This practice was recorded in 1752 by Sir Isaac's friend and visitor William Stukeley. "After visiting Woolsthorpe Manor, William Stukeley, biographer of the great scientist remarked: 'The walls, & ceelings were full of drawings, which he had made with charcole. There were birds, beasts, men, ships, plants, mathematical figures, circles & triangles.'" (Collins 2018) In a wonderful coincidence, William Stukeley was one of our earliest archaeologists. "He pioneered the archaeological investigation of the prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury." (Wikipedia)

            Windmill in black, other lines
              in red, by Sir Isaac Newton,

Conservator Chris Pickup discovered the new drawing during a careful study of the interior surfaces. "Previous sketches had been found in the 1920s and 1930s by tenants moving into the home, which is now owned by the National Trust, the largest conservations organization in England. Pickup and his team are currently studying the building, which is where Newton undertook his prism experiment and allegedly observed the famous apple falling from a tree, in order to understand more about the scientist's early investigations." (Traverso 2017)

"The technology, called reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), creates a synthesis of multiple digital images, allowing researchers to identify features invisible to the naked eye. "Each RTI requires over 24 photographs, so each small section is time consuming," Pickup explains." (Brown 2018)

Now I totally regret scolding our granddaughter for scribbling on our wall, I might have nipped another great genius in the bud.

Memorial plaque with sundial
plate, cut with a penknife by
Sir Isaac Newton in 1651, in
St John the Baptist's church,
Colsterworth, Lincolnshire,
Great Britain. Wikipedia.

PS: Another stone carving by Sir Isaac Newton is this sundial that he reportedly carved with a penknife in 1651 at the age of 9, in St. John the Baptist's church, Colsterworth, Lincolnshire, Great Britain. The inscription reads ""Newton: aged 9 years cut with his penknife this dial: the stone was given by C. Turnor Esqre, and placed here at the cost of the Rt. Hon. Sir William Erle, a collateral descendent of Newton. 1877."


Brown, Marley
2018 Newtonian Whiteboard, Archaeology Magazine, March-April 2018, p. 21

Collins, Tim
2018 Hidden Drawing by Sir Isaac Newton is Found Carved Into a Well of His Childhood Home Using a Revolutionary Light Trick Inspired by the Scientist,

Traverso, Vittoria
2017 Found: A Hidden Drawing in Sir Isaac Newton's Childhood Home,, December 8, 2017.


Saturday, February 24, 2018


Nahualac with Tetzacualco,, public domain.

On the volcanic slopes below the Mexican volcano Iztaccihuatl, in a pond known as Nahualac, a geoglyph replicating the monster out of which the earth was created has been discovered. This geoglyph is believed to represent the earth monster Tetzacualco. "The "Tetzacualco" (a name that can mean "stone enclosure") has been known to explorers since the 16th century. Since that time, both amateur explorers and professional archaeologists have investigated the structure, putting forth a variety of ideas as to what the structure was used for and when it was built. Made of numerous stones, it's about 37.7 x 32.2 feet (11.5 x 9.8 meters)." (Jarus 2018)

Replica of the Aztec Cosmos,
(seen in drained Nahualac),
public domain.

It is possible that the construction was intended as a symbolic representation of Cipactli from the Aztec creation myth. "The site, known as "Nahualac", is at least 1,000 years old, judging from ceramic materials. Some of them have been identified as belonging to the Coyotlateko (750-900 AD), Mazapa (850-900 AD) and Tollan Complex (900-1150 AD) cultures. Archaeologists at the National Institute of Anthropology and History led by Iris del Rocio Hernandez Bautista believe that the site was designed to depict Meso-American myths about the creation of the universe. Namely, it's believed the earth monster Cipactli floated on primeval waters and then split itself, thus creating the heavens and earth. Archaeologists claim that the stone shrine, called a "tetzacualco", emulates this myth due to its positioning. According to them, the way it was placed made the stone shrine look like it was floating on the water surface, fitting with the myth. The Mesoamericans likely used a ritual control of water from nearby springs to irrigate the pond and create the visual effect." (Puiu 2018)
Skull and plants above Cipactli,
blue-green paint. Andrea Stone,
Images from the Underworld,
1995, p.55.

Cipactli was theriomorphic, sometimes appearing in human form, but often having features of a crocodilian, toad, or turtle, or combination of them. These are all water creatures and the Aztecs believed that the earth floated upon a great body of water. To the Aztecs Cipactli represented the plane of the earth, or great, gaping jaws entering into the earth. (Stone 1995:22) Indeed, the shape of this tetzacualco could be taken for great, gaping jaws opening into the earth. The water of the pond was controlled by drainage ditches which could be used to raise or lower the water level. I can imagine a ceremonial public gathering with the open gaping maw of cipactli emerging from the water surface at a significant moment. It must have been very impressive, indeed it would still be.

The creation of this structure is somewhat mysterious. "The artifacts that the archaeologists recovered indicate that the structure was created at least three centuries before the Aztecs by an even earlier Mesoamerican culture whose identity is not yet clear, according to the statement from the research team." (Jarus 2018)

Nahualac with Tetzacualco submerged on
left, Aerial-view.,
public domain.

"Nor is it clear how long Tetzacualco was used or what kind of ceremonies took place there. During the 16th century, Juan Bautista Pomar, a writer in Mexico who was of mixed Spanish and Native Mesoamerican descent, claimed that the Tetzacualco was in use up to that century and that children were sometimes sacrificed there." (Jarus 2018) There have not yet been any human remains found in excavations there so that latter statement is unproven, and may indeed have been Spanish propaganda. What we can be sure of is that subsequent peoples adapted their beliefs to it, and it to their beliefs, in the same way that we assume that the Aztecs saw Cipactli there.

NOTE: Images in this posting were retrieved from the internet after 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.


Jarus, Owen
2018 1,000-Year-Old Stone Structure in Mexico May Depict Creation of Earth, January 5, 2018, Live Science.

Puiu, Tibi
2018 Stone Shrine Discovered Inside Mexican Volcano Depicts Mythical Aztec Universe, January 4, 2018,

Stone, Andrea J.
1995 Images from the Underworld: Naj Tunich and the Tradition of Maya Cave Painting, University of Texas Press, Austin.

Saturday, February 17, 2018


Cross of Caravaca,
photo: Wikimedia,
public domain.

Widow skimmer dragonfly
close-up, http://www.public

When the Spanish colonized in the American southwest they were accompanied by priests. The original motives of these Spanish had been to find gold, new land, and souls to convert to Catholicism, but in the generally arid southwest the desire for gold and land generally faded away before too long, however, the need to convert heathens to the true faith always remained. Because of this, they were accompanied by missionaries whose job was to tend to the religious needs of Spanish settlers as well as convert Native Americans to the church. These missionaries were Franciscans or Jesuits (generally at different times) but both of these carried the double-barred Cross of Caravaca to the New World.

Shield, star, and dragonfly,
Galisteo dike, NM.
Photo: Peter Faris, 1988.

Dragonflies, La Cienegilla,
                Santa Fe, NM. Photo: Pat
                 Price, Dec. 1991.

It is not my purpose to rewrite the history of colonizing and the missionaries in New Mexico and the American southwest, there are plenty of good references for those stories. My purpose here is to explore the influence of symbolism in the success of that effort. The cross of Caravaca is a double-barred crucifix, like the better known cross of Lorraine, and whether by coincidence or by divine influence it very strongly resembles the Native American symbol of the dragonfly.

Cross of Caravaca created by
Native American craftsman with
influences of the dragonfly.
Public domain.

This was touched upon in Bahti (1970) when he wrote "the similarity between the Franciscan's double-barred cross of Caravaca and the dragon fly designs used on Pueblo pottery resulted in the ready acceptance among Southwestern tribes of this religious symbol for non-religious reasons." (Bahti 1970:3)

In my admittedly cursory research I found it much easier to locate references to Jesuits and the cross of Caravaca than Franciscans, but I will not dispute Bahti, I will, for this column, assume that he is correct and that both may have carried the cross of Caravaca, and that it had the same basic effect upon the natives.

Three Rivers, Otero County, NM.
Photo: J. & E. Faris, 1988.

Bahti's position, I believe, is basically that the Native peoples saw these strangers entering their land, but carrying a recognizable symbol that seemed to be one they shared, and so they afforded the strangers a less hostile reception.

"The Hopi and their ancestors have always venerated the dragonfly. They often asked the dragonfly to confer benefits on their people. Dragonflies are portrayed on altars, pottery, and petroglyphs because the Hopi believe that dragonflies have great supernatural powers and are shamanic. They are positive symbols of water, fertility and abundance. The Hopi people actually credit dragonflies with saving their tribe from starvation by using their supernatural powers to grow corn to maturity in four days at the ancient time when their tribe was migrating in search of their permanent home. Dragonfly song is believed to warn men of danger and resembles the Hopi word for water: twee,tsee,tsee." (

Shaman Rock near Helena,
Montana. Photograph by Julie

"In the Hopi and Pueblo tribes, the dragonfly was considered a medicine animal, associated with healing and transformation, whose spirit was often called upon by medicine men and women. Killing a dragonfly was considered highly taboo in the Pueblo tribes. To the Navajo tribe, the dragonfly is a symbol of water, and dragonfly images frequently appear in sacred sandpaintings to represent the element of water. In Plains Indian traditions, dragonflies are symbols of protection or even invincibility, and pictures of dragonflies were often painted on war shirts and tepee covers to ward off danger and injury." (

By the time the Native peoples learned that the symbol carries by the Spanish priests was not, in fact, their dragonfly, and did not mean shared beliefs and mores, it was probably too late, and the conquest of the New World continued apace. It is, however, and interesting example of a single symbol meaning completely different things to two peoples, and a conundrum which we now face, which is it - cross or dragonfly?


Bahti, Tom
1970 Native Religions and Foreign Influences, Southwestern Indian Ceremonials, KC Publications, Las Vegas.

Native American Dragonfly Gods and Spirits, 

Ryder, Julie,


Saturday, February 10, 2018


Ain Sakhri Lovers, calcite. 
Ca. 11,000 BCE.
Photo: Public Domain.

This charming little sculpture, known as the Ain Sakhri Lovers, is credited to the Natufian culture from the Near East. The "Natufian culture existed from around 12,500 to 9,500 BC in the Levant, a region in the Eastern Mediterranean. The culture was unusual in that it supported a sedentary or semi-sedentary population even before the introduction of agriculture. The Natufian communities may be the ancestors of the builders of the first Neolithic settlements of the region, which may have been the earliest in the world. Natufians founded Jericho which may be the oldest city in the world. Some evidence suggests deliberate cultivation of cereals, specifically rye by the Natufian culture, at Tell Abu Hureyra, he site of the earliest evidence of agriculture in the world. Generally though, Natufians exploited wild cereals. Animals hunted included gazelles." (Wikipedia)

Ain Sakhri Lovers, calcite. 
Ca. 11,000 BCE.
Photo: Public Domain.

Found in the 1930s by Bedouin shepherd boys, it was sold to the French Fathers at Bethlehem. The French counsel and prehistorian Rene Neuville attributed it to the cave of Ain Sakhri where he excavated and found Natufian material. "Although the source area of the figurine is not in doubt, its association with Ain Sakhri is unproven. - Although unique in showing a couple, simple phallic carvings are known from other Natufian sites. The natural shape of a calcite cobble has been used to represent the outline of two figures making love face to face in a sitting position. Their heads, arms and legs appear as raised areas around which the surface has been picked away. The figures have no faces. The arms of one hug the shoulders of the other and its knees are bent up underneath those of the slightly smaller figure." (British Museum)

Archaeologists have dated this piece to the Stone Age, approx. 11,000 years BCE. It is called the earliest known depiction of people making love. (British Museum)

Although lacking facial features, at least one of the figures shows an indicated hair line. It portrays a tender moment of love with none of the salacious nature of many other pornoglyphs. Not only did the Natufians create this sculpture which is sometimes called the first portrayal of sex, they are also considered the first people who brewed beer. I wonder if they also had rock and roll?

NOTE: Images in this posting were retrieved from the internet after 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.


Saturday, February 3, 2018


A few days ago I was visiting rock art sites on the internet when I came across a site I had never seen before. It was an RSS feed that included many of my postings from RockArtBlog. In scrolling through them I found one posting that seemed odd to me. While I did remember writing it for the blog, in thinking back I did not remember any entries for it in the cloud index at the bottom of RockArtBlog. I went to the blog and searched the index and could find no references to this particular posting. So next I went to my Blogspot dashboard and searched the accumulated history archives of past postings. I would have supposedly been posted on July 28, 2012, so I could look for an entry for that day. The strange thing was that it was not there; there was no posting at all for July 28, 2012. I know I did not delete it, and its presence on the RSS feed site proves it once existed. Someone had deleted it without informing me. Anyway, here it is again (below), reconstituted, and restored to keep the record complete. 

Possible buffalo soldiers with a Ute
or Comanche horse, near Vernal,
Uintah County, Utah.
Photo: Peter Faris, September 1989.

I photographed the panel illustrated in September, 1989, on a private ranch near the town of Vernal, in Uinta County, UT. While the petroglyph panel includes a number of historic images done by Ute Indians (the graceful horse in the center is certainly Ute or Comanche in style), it also contains prehistoric images that suggest a considerable age span. Indeed, in the upper right we can see (barely, it is very hard to make out) the torso of an anthropomorph which seems to exhibit characteristics of the much earlier Barrier Canyon Style. This part of the state certainly contains a large amount of Barrier Canyon Style rock art and, although the greater portion of that is painted, Barrier Canyon Style petroglyphs are  known.

Close-up of possible buffalo
soldiers with a Ute or Comanche
horse, near Vernal, Uintah
County, Utah. Photo: Peter Faris,
September 1989.

The ranch owner stated that this panel had been visited by professors from the University of Utah and that they had identified the historic figures in this panel as buffalo soldiers, based upon the facial features and hair portrayals. Given the inaccuracies often seen in rock art I must admit that I feel that is a risky supposition, but based upon history it certainly does seem to be possible.

According to Will Bagley in the Salt Lake City Tribune (8/19/2001) “The 9th Cavalry (buffalo soldiers) joined four companies of the 21st Infantry in 1886 to found Fort Duchesne in the Uinta Valley. They were sent to keep an eye on the Ouray and Uinta reservations, a fact not appreciated by the Utes, some of who probably remembered fighting the Buffalo Soldiers at Milk River in 1879.” - Their first commanding officer had been Major Frederick Benteen, a survivor of the Custer Massacre ten years earlier. - “Except for six months during the Spanish-American War, the 9th Cavalry and its Buffalo Soldiers garrisoned the fort from September 1892 until March 1901. Benjamin O. Davis Sr., an officer who served at Fort Duchesne, became the first black general in U.S. military history. -The last Buffalo Soldiers left the fort in 1901, ending another surprising chapter in Utah's history.

History suggests that this identification just might be right.