Saturday, August 27, 2016


De Beque Canyon, Mesa County, CO.
Photograph Peter Faris, Aug. 1981.

I return to the subject of vandalism of rock art sites; the shameful practice of adding initials, words, names, dates, or anything else to the rock art that is there, or altering, removing, or otherwise defacing it. Recently, while reflecting on vandalism, I found myself wondering about the most vandalized/defaced rock art site.

DeBeque Canyon rock art site, Mesa County,
CO. Photograph Paul and Joy Foster.

The question of the most vandalized/defaced rock art site I can remember seeing is easy - it is found in DeBeque Canyon, along the Colorado River in Mesa county, Colorado.

"In the spring of 1884, Dr. W.A.E. DeBeque and three close companions explored the hills  surrounding what is now the Town of DeBeque. They were searching for a suitable place to form a ranch. Others followed them quickly, and by 1890 there were 31 ranches in the area." (

The town continued to exist as a ranching center and an annual market for wild horses rounded up on the adjacent Roan Plateau. As you can see from the illustrations a major local entertainment seems to have been vandalizing this panel of Uncompahgre Style rock art. If you take the time to look at it closely you can make out the beautifully detailed quadrupeds they left.

So, this is my candidate for the most vandalized/defaced rock art site, what is yours? Send it to


Saturday, August 20, 2016


The Ancient Skier carving before it
was damaged. (Nordland County)

At this time of the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro we have a story on vandalized rock art with an Olympic connection. On 4 August, 2016, ran a column by Danny Lewis about the vandalism of a petroglyph of a figure on skis on the Norwegian island of Tro. This image, dated 5,000 B.P. is famous as the earliest portrayal of what we now classify as a winter sport, and inspired the symbol for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

""It's a tragedy, because it's one of the most famous Norwegian historical sites," Bård Anders Langø, the mayor of the nearby Alstahaug Municipality - "It is one of the most internationally known symbols of Norway."" (Lewis 2016)

""As the oldest-known image of a person on skis, the stone age symbol is often seen as an iconic part of Norwegian culture. In addition to an important glimpse into the lives of ancient humans, the carving inspired the logo for the 1994 Norway Winter Olympics in Lillehammer."" (Lewis 2016)

The Ancient Skier carving after
damage. (Nordland County)

Two boys, visiting the site, decided to touch it up to make the lines more visible. They also decided to improve a nearby petroglyph of a whale.

" The news of the damage - broke when a person staying in the area informed Tor-Kristian Storvik, the official archaeologist for Nordland County, that the petroglyph had been damaged. - Storvik investigated and found that in addition to the damage done to the famous carving, a nearby etched whale had also been harmed. The boys have come forward and publicly apologized for the incident. Officials are keeping their identities secret to protect the minors from potential abuse." (Lewis 2016)

Apparently Norwegian officials are considerably more lenient in cases of vandalized rock art than our current social sentiment demands. Cases of such vandalism in our country nowadays usually end up in trials and fines if the perpetrators are discovered. While I applaud such generosity and sympathetic treatment, I also see this as a teaching opportunity missed. In this case only two individuals have learned a lesson from this vandalism, not the whole society. We must find ways to get the word out and promote an understanding throughout the whole society that rock art is irreplaceable and must not be altered, defaced, or damaged.

You can read the whole story at


Lewis, Danny, 2016

Saturday, August 13, 2016


Fig. 28.11, Sunburst with nine points,
Sinmo Khadang, Tibet. Photograph
from John Vincent Bellezza. 

In our quest to locate the rock art at the highest elevation, Peter Jessen has again come through with another candidate, this time from Tibet. Pictographs at the site of Sinmo Khadang were found at 4,720 to 4,740 meters which is about 15,576 to 15,642 feet above sea level (that is high altitude in anybody's book).

Fig. 28.2. Interior of Sinmo
Khadang, Tibet. Photograph
from John Vincent Bellezza.

Jessen forwarded to me an article by John Vincent Bellezza from 2015 (please see references below) detailing a number of rock art sites in Tibet, and conveniently each site listed has its elevation above sea level given. The highest elevation listed for a site in this article is that of Sinmo Khadang (4,720 to 4,740 meters/15,576 to 15,624 feet above sea level).

Fig. 28.1. View from the south mouth
of Sinmo Khadang overlooking the
Spiti River valley, Tibet. Photograph
from John Vincent Bellezza. 

The rock art sites of Spiti.
Map by Brian Sebastian and
John Vincent Bellezza.

Sinmo Khadang is an 80 meter long large cave, situated just below a summit dividing the main Spiti river valley from the tributary valley of Kibbar. The name Sinmo Khadang translates as "Gaping Mouth of the Cannibalistic Fiend." Spiti is located in the Western fringe of the Tibetan Plateau (see the map above).(Bellezza 2015)

Fig. 28.8. Swastika, crescent moon,
and bell-shaped form. The swastika
and moon are one composition, the
bell-shaped form was painted
separately. Photograph from
                     John Vincent Bellezza.

Fig. 28.12. Swastika and anthropomorphs.
Sinmo Khadang, Tibet. Photograph from
John Vincent Bellezza.

"The repertoire of rock art at Sinmo Khadang is comparable with the other pictographic sites of Spiti. In addition to trees, suns, moons, swastikas and anthropomorphs, there are two paintings of ibexes and a raptor pictograph in the cave. The pictographs of Sinmo Khadang were made by many different people. They primarily date to the Protohistoric period but some may possibly have been made subsequently in the Early Historic period. There is also a more recent red ochre pictograph consisting of a clockwise swastika with four dots painted inside its arms, as well as an obscured inscription in the Uchen script." (Bellezza 2015)

Fig. 28.14. Tree and swastika on
east wall of Sinmo Khadang, Tibet.
Photograph from John Vincent Bellezza.

Uchen is an upright, block style of the Tibetan alphabet. The name means "with a head" and it is the style of writing used for printing and formal manuscripts. Uchen is used to write both the Tibetan language and Dzongkha, the official language of Bhutan. (Wikipedia)

Fig. 28.10. West wall of Sinmo Khadang,
Tibet. A large sunburst in middle, above
it a pair of anthropomorphs flanked by
swastikas forming a single composition.
Photograph from John Vincent Bellezza.

It is hard to imagine any rock art at sites higher than this, but people certainly at higher elevations in Tibet, and it is likely that there may still be rock art sites that have not been recorded. It is going to be hard to beat 15,642 feet but let's all keep looking, and let me know of your candidate for Highest Elevation Rock Art.

NOTE: For further information about rock art of Tibet please refer to Tibet Archaeology and All Things Tibetan, (see below).


Bellezza, John Vincent
2015   Flight of the Khyung (Part 3), in Tibet Archaeology and All Things Tibetan,


Saturday, August 6, 2016


Symbols consisting of variations on
the cross, Mesa Prieta, New Mexico.
Photograph Peter Faris.

In the portions of the New World that were settled by the Spanish a symbol commonly found in historic rock art is the Christogram. "A Christogram (from Greek Khristos, Christ + -gramma, letter or piece of writing is a monogram or combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ, traditionally used as a Christian symbol. Different types of Chrostograms are associated with the various traditions of Christianity, e.g. the IHS (also JHS, IHC, or IHΣ) monogram representing the Holy Name of Jesus or ICXC representing "Jesus Christ". Since early Christianit, the related term Chrismon (from Greek Khristos, Christ + -mon, one or single, from Late Latin monogramma, monogram) has traditionally referred to any symbol or figure reminiscent of the name of Christ, by contrast with the basic Christogram consisting of plain letters typically implying the presence of some kind of calligraphic ornamentation." (Wikipedia)

Chi-Rho Christogram,
public domain.

"One of the oldest Christograms is the Chi-Rho or Labarum. It consists of the superimposed Greek letters chi (X) and rhoh (P), which are the first two letters of Christ in Greek." (Wikipedia)

The most commonly encountered Christogram in English-speaking countries in modern times is the letter X (or more accurately, the Greek letter chi), representing the first letter of the word Christ, in such abbreviations as Xmas (for "Christmas) and Xian or Xtian (for "Christian")." (Wikipedia)

Monogram for the name of Jesus based
on the Cross, Public Domain.

Many of the known Christograms include representations of the Cross, symbolizing the crucifix and the crucifixion of Christ. This leads to the distinct possibility that elaborated crosses found in historic rock art of the American southwest were intended as Christograms. Even if the person who produced the image did not know the concept of Christograms their intention to produce a reference to the church of Jesus Christ allows us to classify these as probable Christograms.

Purgatoire Canyon, Bent County, CO.
Photograph Peter Faris, June 1991.

A concentration of these symbols is found in the northern New Mexico, southern Colorado area historically inhabited by the Penitente Brotherhood, and are assumed to have probably been their creations. Others can perhaps  be credited to sheepherders or Hispanic cowboys. In some instances they demonstrably mark a shrine, while in other instances they are just found on a rock surface with no other cultural remains to be seen. In any case they represent a message of someone's strong devotion to their Christian religion and should be viewed with the respect due a sacred symbol.


Blaine, Dean
2015    Mysteries of the Brotherhood, Archaeology, May/June 2015, Vol. 68, No. 3, p. 42-7.

Faris, Peter
2015     Penitente Rock Art,