Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Kukaniloko Birthing Stones, Wahiawa, Oahu.
Photo: October 26, 2010, Peter Faris.

Located a little north of the old royal city of Wahiawa, Oahu, the Kukaniloko Birthing Stones are a vestige of the old ways, still apparently honored as indicated by the presence of offerings placed upon some of the stones. Kukaniloko was a place of great mana, and it was reportedly customary for pregnant women from the ruling families to come to the site to have their baby lying upon one of the stones in the belief that it will gain great mana from that. The stones are found in a grove of palm trees surrounded by fields of sugar cane and was once part of the Dole pineapple plantation.

Offerings on stones, Kukaniloko Birthing Stones, Wahiawa,
Oahu. Photo: October 26, 2010, Peter Faris.

According to Van James, “this is the first ancient site on Oahu to have been officially recognized, preserved, and protected, thanks to the efforts of the Daughters of Hawaii in 1925.” “The site is believed to have been established by chief Nanakaoko and his wife Kahihiokalani. The efficacy of the stones was attributed to aumakua residing in them.” (2010: 113) “In Hawaiian mythology, an ʻaumakua is a family god, often a deified ancestor. The Hawaiian plural of ʻaumakua is nā ʻaumākua, although in English the plural is usually ʻaumakuas. Nā ʻaumākua frequently manifested as animals such as sharks or owls. Nā ʻaumākua were worshipped at localities (often rocks) where they were believed to "dwell".” (Wikipedia 2010)

Engraving on top of rock. Kukaniloko Birthing Stones,
Wahiawa, Oahu.Photo: October 26, 2010, Peter Faris.
Shadows cast on the engraving on top of the rock.Kukaniloko
Birthing Stones, Wahiawa, Oahu. Van James, Ancient Sites of O’ahu:
Revised Edition, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 2010, p. 114.

Few of these stones have recognizable petroglyphs although many of them seem to be shaped in ways that suggest that they have been worked. Many of them bear hollows like basins that may have been used for sacrifices or divination rituals. Others have channels in the surface like drains, and one extreme stone has a large number of rounded vertical projections around the upper rim. Although to the casual viewer’s eye there are no tool marks on these they seem too extreme to not suspect purposeful working. This stone also has the most obvious petroglyph on its upper surface, four concentric circles. With a low sun, at certain times of the year, some of the projections cast shadows across the petroglyph which has prompted suggestions that this has calendrical significance.

Piko stone, Kukaniloko Birthing Stones, Wahiawa,
Oahu. Photo: October 26, 2010, Peter Faris.

Another stone that has obvious working is identified as a piko stone. A stone into which a number of small pits has been pecked. These were reportedly intended as repositories for the umbilical cords (piko) of children born at Kukaniloko, and Kukaniloko is identified as the piko (navel) of Oahu.

A number of lei offerings on the stones at the time of our visit testify to the continued relevance of this site to the beliefs of some people.


James, Van
2010 Ancient Sites of O’ahu: Revised Edition, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


A recent trend in rock art studies is the partial acceptance of rock art as a legitimate subject for study by academics and professionals. Much of this is made possible by the application of statistical analysis of rock art which lends an air of scientific respectability to what was before a somewhat messy field of study. This is because the statistical analysis provides quantifiable data that can be pointed to as scientifically verifiable objective fact. I have personally never been completely comfortable with this type of rock art study but I had always put it down to the fact that, as an art historian, statistical analysis is seriously foreign territory, something I am not conversant with. My feeling has been that once we have finished the elaborate statistical analysis of rock art elements, and now know which elements are closer to which other elements, what have we really learned? We could have pretty much determined that by simple observation, and learned just as little by doing so.

On July 12, 2010, I published a posting titled The Writing On The (Cave) Wall concerning a recent example of this sort of study which was related in a February 17, 2010, article by Kate Ravilious in New Scientist magazine entitled “The Writing On The Cave Wall” which 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, graduate 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. Having found quantifiable examples of common occurrence of these symbols in conjunction with each other they made the amazing announcement that they represent a form of written communication, and astoundingly the scientific community, including anthropology and archaeology, seems to accept this statement. Why would scientists fall for this? Because, Petzinger and Nowell got their results from a statistical analysis of numbers in a database.

An essay by Tom Siegfried in the March 27, 2010, issue of Science News titled "Odds Are, It’s Wrong: Science Fails to Face the Shortcomings of Statistics", addresses the question of accuracy and truth in science based upon statistical analysis. In a detailed explanation, and with a number of interesting examples, Siegfried points out that all scientific results that have been reached through a statistical analysis are literally only possible explanations, not proven truth. One example he cites is the 2007 meta-analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which attributed an increased risk of heart of attack to users of the diabetes drug Avandia. Siegfried stated that “raw data from the combined trials showed that only 55 people in 10,000 had heart attacks when using Avandia, compared with 59 people per 10,000 in comparison groups. But after a series of statistical manipulations, Avandia appeared to confer an increased risk.” We have since seen much about this in the news including recent hearings by an FDA panel on the subject.

Now, as I stated above, I am not a statistician, and am not personally qualified to pass judgment on statistical work done by others. However, if I was interested in doing statistical analysis of rock art I would certainly read Siegfried’s essay before I tied my reputation to the results.


Siegfried, Tom
2010     Odds Are, It’s Wrong: Science Fails to Face the Shortcomings of Statistics, Science News,
             Vol. 177, No. 7, (26-29). (March 27)

Monday, January 17, 2011


Tracks on cliff, Fremont Indian State Park, Utah. Photo: Peter Faris, 2001.

Native Americans recognized constellations of stars just like other ancient cultures, they just had different names for them. In Stars of the First People, Dorcas Miller (1997:179) wrote “Pueblo farmers kept turkeys, so it is not surprising that they should recognize a Turkey Feet constellation. John P. Harrington, an ethnologist who worked in the southwest and published information about Tewa constellations in 1916, writes that the group is “”an easily learned constellation of the exact form of a turkey’s foot,”” but to the frustration of later readers he does not identify these stars. The shape of a turkey’s foot is similar to that of the Northern Cross, which has also been suggested as the Pawnee Bird’s Foot constellation.” The Northern Cross is the central grouping of the larger constellation Cygnus, the Swan. Looking at star charts for this area of the sky, I find nearby another classical constellation that looks, if anything, even more like a turkey track and that is Aquila, the Eagle. Taken together Cygnus the Swan and Aquila the Eagle would represent a pair of turkey tracks, Turkey would have been walking across the sky.

Star map showing Eagle and Northern Cross constellations.
Miller, Stars of the First People, p.17.

When we find a row of bird tracks on a rock in the Southwest there are a standard few pat answers as to what they represent. In many instances they would be assumed to represent the turkey itself and its role as a food source, or a source of feathers, or even represent a spirit helper. In traditionally ancestral Puebloan areas they might be called clan symbols. What I do not believe that I have ever seen as an explanation however, is that they might represent an archaeoastronomical reference, the constellation – Turkey Tracks across the sky.

Miller, Dorcas S.
1997     Stars of the First People, Native American Star Myths and Constellations, Pruett Pub. Co.,
             Boulder, Colorado.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Red paint smear with petroglyphs,
Photograph provided by Bonnie Newman.

We have all seen them, the meaningless smears of paint two to three feet above ground level on a vertical rock face, often in a rock shelter or overhang somewhere in the American west. The paint often looks relatively new but it is always unrecognizable as any sort of image or symbol, just a smear. Rock art researchers have speculated that these markings were made by sheep which had been marked with paint. This premise has now been confirmed by X-ray fluorescence spectrometry in a project by rock art researchers Bonnie Newman and Larry Loendorf.

Ewes with paint applied to their rumps.
Photograph provided by Bonnie Newman.

“Ewes with painted rumps are responsible for creating some "rock art" panels in central Wyoming. That's what researcher Bonnie Newman, of the Museum of New Mexico's Office of Archaeological Services, and New Mexico State University archaeologist Larry Loendorf discovered when they compared suspiciously abstract paint smears at the Notches Dome site with paint found at a nearby historic shepherds' camp. X-ray fluorescence spectrometer analysis revealed that the blue, green, and red paint smeared onto Notches Dome rock projections was chemically very similar to the paint used in a woman's portrait on a barn wall at the sheep camp. Ewes marked with paint for breeding and branding purposes had probably taken shelter beneath the rock ledges, where they left paint smears later mistaken for rock art.” This marvelous analytical tool was previously discussed here on October 28, 2010.

Close-up of sheep paint smear. Photograph
provided by Bonnie Newman.

Sheep paint on rock surface.
Photograph by Bonnie Newman.

For at least a century pigments have been used to brand sheep, or to match ewes with their infants, as well as which ewes have been bred by which sires. The paint spot for the first purpose would have been applied to the back of the ewe and baby which could be rubbed off on an overhanging rock. The paint used to determine which sire bred which ewe would have been applied on the low chest area of the ram, some of which would have rubbed off on the ewes back or rump when he mounted her. A shepherd with two or more breeding rams could mark each one with a different paint color to maintain records of bloodlines among his flock. Some of this paint could be transferred to the rock by the ewe in the same way as in the other example.
Bonnie Newman and Lawrence Loendorf have pretty much settled the question for us with this cutting edge research.

Bonita Newman is an archaeologist with ICI Corporation, Virginia Beach, VA., and is currently a member of the board of directors of the Colorado Rock Art Association. Lawrence Loendorf is a retired professor from New Mexico State University, and a former President of the American Rock Art Research Association.

Quote from: Archaeology Magazine, Volume 61 Number 1, January/February, 2008.