Saturday, July 24, 2010


On July 18, 2010, I published a posting about a number of reported petroglyphs in the Oklahoma Panhandle recorded by the ubiquitous Gloria Farley. I had been directed to the pictures and an article in the Winter 1978-1979 issue of Oklahoma Today magazine (Vol. 29, No. 1) (link below). This material had been kindly sent to me by someone named Catherine (last name anonymous). The article showed a number of supposed ship petroglyphs that had been recorded by Gloria Farley and interpreted by Barry Fell. Now Barry Fell has been proven to accomplish his interpretations from pretty loosely transcribed inscriptions and has even been known to alter what is there to make his “readings” come out right. I totally disagree with all of his claims and conclusions but I have to accept that others have the right to take this seriously.

I included the first two illustrations of supposed ships as Figures 1 and 2 in that July 18 posting, and I want to continue on this occasion.

Fig. 3. Identified as a Greek Roundship, ca. 500 B.C.

Figure 3 is identified as a Greek roundship of ca. 500 BC. Why is it not a petroglyph of a bird in front of a bunch of lines? With no photo or dating we cannot even adequately judge if the lines are even all part of the same image and of the same age, or represent a case of superimposition of a bird petroglyph over an abstract grid of lines.

Fig. 4. Identified as a Portugese ship, 1st Cent. A.D.

Now image number 4 does look like a ship - yes, even I can see that. However, what I see could have been created at any time up to the present. With no way to date the image all arguments about proof of ancient visitation fall apart. It could have been created the week or month before Gloria recorded it.
Fig. 5. A Rowing Ship, no sails.

Figure 5 – no sign of a ship – no resemblance, this one is just wishful thinking.

Fig. 6. Identified by Barry Fell as a Celtic yawl, 3rd Cent. A.D.

Figure 6 was identified as a Celtic ship by Barry Fell – enough said. I would like to suggest an alternative identity. I see this as an incomplete equestrian figure with an abstracted rider upon the body of an incomplete horse with the tail on the left. It might even have a brand on it in the initials on the body.

As I have explained previously I do not believe that Gloria Farley had any intention to deceive. She was, I believe, an enthusiastic amateur who believed that she was part of a great untold historic epic and that she was contributing to the truth and to human knowledge. I assume the same for Catherine (Anonymous) who sent me this material. And, were these stories of ancient Celtic, African and Middle Eastern expeditions wandering prehistorically around the Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico region actually true it would be a marvelously exciting story to be sure. The major fault for these figments has to be apportioned to Barry Fell who purposely made leaps of “truth” not back up by fact, and falsified data to support it. We have no proof in any of this, only varying degrees of maybe. Ernest Hemingway has been quoted as having said that “an artist needs a built-in crap detector”. That wouldn’t be bad advice for students of rock art either. What do you think?

The link to the Winter 1978-1979 issue of Oklahoma Today magazine (Vol. 29, No. 1): ttp://

Sunday, July 18, 2010


On June 3, 2010, I received an e-mail from a Catherine (last name anonymous) who sent me some photos of petroglyph panels in the panhandle of Oklahoma. One of the panels supposedly contained an ancient petroglyph of an Indo/European ship. As back-up material Catherine included links to an online copy of the Winter 1978-1979 (Vol. 29, No. 1) issue of Oklahoma Today magazine, which includes an article by the ubiquitous Gloria Farley about ship petroglyphs in Oklahoma. Now I have written before about my disagreements with Gloria Farley’s epigraphic interpretations of rock art in the area of western Oklahoma and southeastern Colorado as inscriptions in ancient European, Middle Eastern, and African languages and scripts. Additionally I have confessed my lack of belief in images of ancient gods from ancient Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, in rock art in the area of western Oklahoma and southeastern Colorado.

Let me say this, I am sorry I never met Gloria in person. I had close friends who did know her so I think (I hope) that I am giving her a fair review even if I do not believe with her. I think that I probably would have liked her as a person. On December 19, 2009, I had posted a critical book review about a book by Gloria Farley, In Plain Sight: Old World Records in Ancient America (1994), but this book did not specifically deal with the supposed discovery of ship petroglyphs. In that review I confessed that I almost totally disagree with the epigraphic interpretation of rock art in the region being discussed. But my position has always been that until I can offer a better explanation of the imagery under discussion the question has to remain open. I feel strongly that Gloria had a great imagination and would probably have been very interesting to know.

In the interest of fairness I have decided that I should include some of the supposed ship images in a posting and let people decide on it for themselves.

FIGURE 1 - Supposed Nile Freighter.

Figure 1 is identified as an Egyptian Nile ship. It could be a poor representation of a Nile freighter from the last millennium or so but it has absolutely no resemblance at all to any ship image from ancient Classical Egypt, which was the era of Egyptian naval expeditions and exploration.

FIGURE 2 - A rebus reading 'Ship
of Ra' according to Barry Fell.

Figure 2 should speak for itself. Nothing about it looks like a ship. and without the supposed translation by Barry Fell it would never be proposed as such. As I have stated elsewhere Fell is known to alter images to make them fit his interpretations better. Take another good look at this image. It is obviously a dog sled and proof that ancient Inuit explorers accomplished an expedition to the Oklahoma panhandle.

One obvious problem is that we do not have photos of the supposed ships and we have no way of knowing the accuracy of the drawings. In the end it comes back down to Occam’s razor. I just find it to be much more likely that a Native American killed some time pounding on a rock to make an oval shape with a few of lines than that a crew of Middle Eastern explorers in an Egyptian Nile freighter crossed the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, entered the gulf of Mexico to ascend the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Arkansas River, and followed that to the western Oklahoma panhandle, only to end up carving such a crude and unrecognizable image.

I think that a fascinating thesis project for a psychology graduate student might be to use rock art imagery in a Rorschach test and try to analyze the hang-ups and enthusiasms of rock art enthusiasts based upon their interpretations of the images. In reviewing my responses above I suspect that the psychologist would find that I am intellectually conservative with little willingness to adopt radical or cutting edge interpretations (actually I have done so a time or two but that is a story for another time). I prefer to think of my position as careful.

There are a number of other images which I will post in the near future. Anyway, thank you Catherine for the information and pictures. It is an interesting debate and I, for one, have always enjoyed it.

Monday, July 12, 2010


On February 17, 2010, an article by Kate Ravilious in New Scientist magazine entitled “The Writing On The Cave Wall” made the ambitious claim that writing had been discovered on the walls of the painted European caves. According to this report a pair of scholars at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, student Genevieve von Petzinger and her supervisor April Nowell undertook as a Master’s project a numerical analysis of all the signs found in 146 sites in France covering a date range from 37,000 to 12,000 B.P. The signs were compiled in a database for analysis. They found that 26 of these signs appeared frequently in numerous sites. The most common sign was a line that was found at 70 percent of the sites and across all time periods. The next most common symbols were what they called “open angles” and dots being found at 42 percent of the sites. They had two versions of the so-called “open angle” sign. One, they illustrate as an upside-down “V”, in other words what we often call a chevron, and the other is the “V” with a third line up the center, often identified as a bird track or an arrowhead. At this point we have to ask ourselves if we can assume that a sign which has more than one version and that has been identified as at least three different things by various researcher always has the same meaning, or might all the researchers be correct and this sign represent different things at different times.

Symbol Grouping, Chauvet cave, photo-Jean
Collins, from New Scientist magazine,

Australian rock art specialist Ian Davidson from the University of New England in New South Wales, Australia, believes that these findings show that “these people had a similar convention for representing something.” Davidson, who has found 18 of the symbols in Australian rock art does not believe that they indicate a common origin, but stated that “the creative explosion occurred independently in different parts of the globe around 40,000 years ago.” Well I agree, yes people around the world had similar conventions for representing dots, most of them represent dots by making dots. This tells us absolutely nothing about what they mean by making dots.

Symbol grouping, illustration from New Scientist
magazine, February, 2010.

One illustration accompanying the article is captioned “A Potent Grouping: At the Les Trois-Freres caves in the French Pyrenees, the following four signs are frequently grouped together”. This illustration shows a negative hand print, a grouping of six dots, four short straight lines side-by-side called finger fluting, and a curled line they have dubbed the thumb-stencil and classify as a sub-category of the negative hand print.

I believe that we need to be cautious in leaping to any conclusions from these. To begin with those symbols can be found all over the world in contexts that cannot possibly have anything to do with the cultures that produced them in the French caves. In many instances there have been claims that associated sets of symbols constituted a form of notation or “writing” and the anthropological/archaeological community has previously responded negatively. The main difference as far as I can see is that this time the supposed discovery is being announced by insiders from the anthropological/archaeological community, not outsiders. It is an interesting story which bears watching, but so far I am not convinced.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Among the categories of historic rock art that we find are, of course, the many historic inscriptions that can be found along trail routes of the old west, and images left by the people who worked out in the environment, rock art created by cowboys and sheepherders.

Cowboy rock art, Trinchera Pass, CO.
Photo: 2010, Peter Faris.

Dennis McCown, a college instructor in Austin, Texas, and a part-time cowpoke himself, was interested in tracing the historic route of cattle drives from Texas to the mining districts of central Colorado. McCown particularly wanted to track the route used by the Eddy Brothers who had an enormous cattle ranch in southeastern New Mexico. There were no good routes to drive cattle from Colorado’s eastern Plains across the Front Range to the mining regions of the Colorado mountains, however, herds driven up from the south along the Arkansas River into South Park could summer on the rich mountain grasses and be sold at high prices.

Dennis McCown and cowboy rock art, Trinchera
Pass, CO. Photo: Dennis McCown.

The Eddys intended their cattle for the mostly unexploited market in the mining districts of central Colorado. At first, the Eddys followed the Goodnight-Loving Trail from today's Carlsbad, N.M., to Raton, N.M., and through Raton Pass but “Uncle” Dick Wooten’s ranch blocked that pass and his toll road across the pass charged tolls that the cattlemen considered exorbitant. To this end, cattlemen had scouted for a more easterly route. Before long, they selected a passable route branching off from the Goodnight Trail. Called the "Eddy Diversion" in later years, the new route passed near today's Folsom in northeastern New Mexico. From the Folsom area, the diversion passed through Trinchera Pass on the New Mexico-Colorado border, then headed northwest to a crossing of the "Picketwire," the Purgatoire River, near today's Highway 160 in southern Colorado. From there, the trail crossed today's Comanche National Grassland to the Arkansas River. It's unknown how many cattle were driven up this trail, but perhaps as many as 10 or 12 herds a year--each numbering 1,500 to 2,500 cattle--went through Trinchera Pass in the years 1884-1904.

A geological feature called "the Wall" appeared as the trail broke into more open country at the mouth of Trinchera Pass. A relic of a basaltic dike, the Wall is composed of angular basaltic columns laid on their sides, as if stacked to make a wall. In places, the Wall is at least 15 feet high and 10 feet wide. Some sections are overgrown with juniper and scrub. Long-ago Indians had used the dark basalt on the south side of the “Wall” to make pictographs of animals, insects and symbols. Perhaps 200 Indian pictographs remain, most quite clear to this day. Seeing these, the drovers, cowboys and wranglers were inspired. In a short period of perhaps just 20 years, they left a pictorial legacy of cowboy life unequaled anywhere. They were not artists, they were cowboys. Their drawings are little more than stick figures, but they reveal a charming sense of humor and an eloquent grasp of history. The cowboys themselves knew what made them memorable. Prominent in their drawings are high-heeled boots, 10-gallon hats and six-shooters. One cowboy, perhaps in recognition of the Indian artists who had preceded him, represented himself shooting a bow and arrow. Another overlooks a trail and waves hello to a visitor.

Dennis McCown is a college instructor in Austin, Texas, and a part-time cowpoke on his father-in-law's ranch. His article on the Cowboy Rock Art of Trinchera Pass can be found at p. 56-60, Wild West Magazine, April, 2008. I wish to thank him for helping me make the contact that led to my visit to this site in May 2010.