Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Old World Graffiti Along the Arkansas River

***This is a presentation which I recently gave. I have not yet visited these sites.***

My interest in petroglyphs began when I was a child growing up in the San Luis Valley where petroglyphs seemed to be everywhere. As I aged and began to delve into art, my interest in petroglyphs continued. I found it interesting to see how ancient peoples viewed their world and described it in the artwork they left behind.

The majority of the petroglyphs found in the southeast corner of Colorado are in and around the Comanche National Grasslands and they are quite unique. They're believed to be Pre-Columbian and of European Origin. SE Colorado is an area of short-grass prairie with canyons and hoo doos carved out by the waterways which bring the essence of life to the area. The Arkansas River flows through here on its way to the Mississippi. But the Arkansas isn't alone - the Purgatoire River & Apishapa River along with numerous smaller waterways feed the Arkansas. This area was frequented by various people through the eons. Some might have been nomads, simply following the herds. Others could have been explorers, looking for ore to mine or new land to populate.

The mesa tops provided a place to scan the plains for buffalo or antelope while the canyons offered shelter from the unrelenting sun or sudden storms. The river bottoms provided fertile land for agriculture. It is amongst these caves and other niches that the people who visited this area left their mark. Graffiti of sorts. At least that is what it would be called today. But this Graffiti wasn't made with cans of paint but rather by scraping and carving the rock, leaving behind Rock Art. These people were determined to record events, thoughts, ideas for posterity. 

pecked petroglyph
carved petroglyph
Rock art can be petroglyphs or pictographs. Petroglyphs are symbols which have been carved into stone - they can be pecked resulting in round indentations as well as scraped or carved into the rock resulting in a more defined glyph. Carved glyphs last longer. When creating a glyph, the patina or rock varnish, is scraped off leaving the bare rock face exposed. Depending on where the glyph is located - area of the country, location on the rock - a glyph may remain readable for centuries. Petroglyphs should not be confused with pictographs - pictographs are painted on.

SE Colorado map
C - Crack cave   S - Sun Temple   P - Pathfinder
There is an abundance of rock art here but there are three specific sites of interest. Crack Cave, Sun Temple and the Pathfinder Site. These sites have the typical rock art attributed to the Native Peoples of Colorado but they also have some unusual markings which have been determined to be an ancient form of writing found in the British Isles and Iberia - all locations where the ancient Celts lived. This writing is called Ogham. 

Ogham writing on rock in Ireland
Ogham is the oldest form of writing in Ireland and Scotland. It can still be seen inscribed on hundreds of large and small stones, on the walls of some caves, but also on bone, ivory, bronze and silver objects. The Ogham script was especially well adapted for use on sticks. And sticks were always in ready supply and easier to carve on than rocks. Ogham writing has been discovered at Stonehenge dating to 2200BCE.
The true origin of Ogham is unknown. A 7th century Irish text states that the origins of Ogham should be sought in the Near East. It may have originated in Libya.  It is believed that the Phoenicians came from the region which encompasses Libya and they settled the areas of Spain where the early Celts lived. The Phoenician later expanded their journeys to include Ireland and later Scotland and England. As these skilled seamen settled in new areas, they brought their customs, knowledge and beliefs with them. The Ogham found in Europe is usually written vertically while the Ogham carvings here are written horizontally. This may be because it was easier to find long uninterrupted horizontal surfaces on the rock walls. Irish monks, centuries ago, translated Ogham into Gaelic which has enabled Ogham to be translated into English.

Stonehenge - the most well known Archaeo-astronomical site

All three of the sites I’m going to tell you about are archaeo-astronomical sites. Archaeo-astronomy is the study of how sky watchers of the past understood the phenomena in the sky, how they used these phenomena and what role the sky played in their cultures. Often the people relied on sunlight and shadow plays striking and passing across targets and designs which were aligned with Equinox, Solstice and Cross Quarter sunrises and sunsets. The celestial cycles of the moon, Venus and Mars captivated their attention, as well. Knowing seasonal durations and transitions was vital to their success in hunting migratory prey and planting and harvesting crops. Archaeoastronomy draws on several scientific disciplines, primarily astronomy, archaeology, anthropology, psychology and epigraphy (the decoding of ancient inscriptions).

***Part 2 tomorrow!***


the dogs' mother said...

Instructive! I've been to Stonehenge - both the original and the copy here in WA state

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Fascinating! We have petroglyphs here in Alberta at Writing-on-Stone provincial park. They are amazing to see.

Is ogham writing somehow related to Norse runes, do you know? Or is the connection purely Gaelic?

Jeanne said...

t.d.m. - How cool! I didn't know there was a Stonehenge copy in WA!

Debra - Actually there is a train of academic thought that says that Ogham writing is related to the 'cipher or encoded' version of runes. But the scientific community is having a hard time finding the hard evidence of the writing evolving from Ogham to Runic. Here's a link to some interesting info http://www.ancientscripts.com/futhark.html

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Thanks for the link, Jeanne!