June 28, 2021 - Comments Off on Ancient Art Archive June 2021 update

Ancient Art Archive June 2021 update

I hope you’re enjoying your summer! It’s been a busy time at the Archive -- here’s what’s been going on:

We’ve fully launched work on our massive Mural of America project to build 3D/VR experiences of 10 North American rock art, geoglyph and cave art sites. Last year we created a prototype at Devilstep Hollow cave in Tennessee (360 degree video here website coming soon). We are now expanding the work!

Work is going well. In April, our friends at Shumla Archaeological Research & Education Center and the Witte Museum generously shared the work they are doing around pictograph (painted art) murals in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands of Texas. Shumla is the global leader in rock art research and education, and I am thrilled to report they will be one of our partners for the Mural of America!

Panther Cave, Pecos River Style Pictographs, (Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site), Amistad National Recreation Area, Val Verde County, Texas 3
Panther Cave, Seminole Canyon, TX photo by Alan Cressler

Shumla is examining the cooperation, preparation, and process involved in constructing the giant murals in Seminole Canyon. The artworks themselves are HUGE! For example, some of the individual images are 16 feet high.

They couldn’t be painted without scaffolding. Imagine building sturdy and flexible scaffolding 4,000 years ago in a place that has no trees! Because the resources required to create these painted murals was so substantial -- resources that could otherwise be spent addressing basic needs -- the paintings very existence indicates a community that highly valued the art.

Shumla’s research has also discredited earlier assertions that the panels were merely a random collection of images. The the images on the White Shaman panel are connected to a common Mesoamerican creation story.

For a deep dive into the White Shaman and the art of the lower Pecos region check out Carolyn Boyd’s beautiful White Shaman book (Amazon Link Here).

In the Pecos, we will be modeling Panther Cave. It contains Red Linear style pictographic images that are approximately 4,000 years old. The site was originally located in a dry canyon, but now abuts Lake Amistad. The low water levels in the lake have made public visitation impossible. In addition to providing access, 3D modeling this cave provides an opportunity to show what its surrounding environment looked like when it was originally created.

The Rochester Panel is a very complex site on Mud Creek in Emery County, Utah. It has Fremont and Barrier Canyon Style elements.

In May, Utah’s BLM welcomed the Archive to another mural, the Rochester Panel. The Rochester Panel is a Fremont and Barrier Reef style petroglyph panel etched into the red-varnished sandstone of the Molen Reef overlooking Muddy Creek. It depicts an enigmatic array of images, including anthropomorphs, animals, concentric circles, rainbow arcs, and wavy lines. Its extraordinary size, complexity, universal appeal, and surroundings make it ideally suited for preservation through 3D modeling.

As you know if you’re an Instagram follower, just a couple of weeks after we finished documenting this site, it was defaced by people scratching their names across parts of the panel.

At the Archive we passionately believe that the best path to preservation is education. Educational curriculum is built into the Mural of America project.

If you’d like to learn more about Utah rock art, I highly recommend Standing on the Walls of Time, by Kevin Jones (Amazon Link here). Kevin is Utah’s former State Archaeologist … and he is also our site expert for the Rochester Panel.

The Great Serpent Mound is a 1,348-foot (411 m)-long, three-foot-high prehistoric effigy mound on a plateau of the Serpent Mound crater along Ohio Brush Creek in Adams County, Ohio.

In June, I visited the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio. This site is a giant geoglyph – more specifically, an enormous effigy mound – of built-up earth in the shape of a snake with an oval at one end. The site is historic Shawnee Indian territory.

While archaeologists still disagree about exactly when the artwork was constructed, they are clear it was built by “the ancestors of today’s American Indian tribes with historic ties to the Ohio Valley.”

Serpent Mound is maintained by the Ohio History Connection. Their Curator of Archaeology, Dr. Brad Lepper, invited me to visit during the annual solstice celebration. Although it’s an annual event, this year was incredibly special: it marked the first time the events were conducted not by the History Connection, but by the chiefs of the two Shawnee tribes with ancestral connections to the site: Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe and Chief Glenna Wallace of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe. The collaboration between the Ohio History Connection and the tribes is also reflected in this recent article co-authored by Dr. Lepper and Chief Barnes.

The highlight of my trip was the opportunity to interview the two chiefs. Chief Barnes explained the site’s sacred nature, describing it as an

“altar where creation was understood, and where human beings came to understand themselves, and their place in the divine.”

Chief Wallace told me she wanted everyone to know that

“our people had intellect, our people had intelligence, our people had spirit, our people had culture, our people had love, and we have those same characteristics today.”

They both spoke of the tremendous pain caused by removal from central Ohio to reservations in Oklahoma (a theme we will explore more deeply in the Mural of America), but, in the words of Chief Wallace,

“We are alive. We love the United States. We are part of the United States even though they were the ones who were responsible for our removal.”

Chief Wallace, Chief Barnes, and Dr. Lepper have all agreed to help guide the Archive’s storytelling efforts around the Great Serpent Mound Site. I am excited to get back to Ohio to work with them to create the models and tell the stories that will allow us and all of the Shawnee, no matter where they are living now, to experience this sacred place.

Thanks for all of your support!

Stephen Alvarez, Founder

June 10, 2021 - Comments Off on Rochester Rock art panel vandalized!

Rochester Rock art panel vandalized!

Three is more bad news for rock art in Utah. The Rochester rock art panel was vandalized last month (May 2021). We were recording images of the panel for a coming VR model May 4-7, the vandalism happened after that (here) and a news report (here).

We have updated this 3D model to show the location of some of the graffiti.

The Rochester Panel is a Fremont and Barrier Reef style petroglyph panel depicting human and animal figures and geometric designs etched into the red-varnished sandstone of the San Rafael Swell overlooking Muddy Creek. 2,000 years to 700 years before the present. Iti s an enigmatic panel in terms of size, style and location.

Given the tremendous visitation the panel receives it is surprising that someone was alone at the site long enough to vandalize it at all. If you are reading this you don't need to be told, but please visit rock art sites with respect. They are not only great works of art, but they are also the living heritage of the descendent communities.

April 29, 2021 - Comments Off on Two acts of vandalism in Moab, Utah

Two acts of vandalism in Moab, Utah

Two acts of vandalism happened to rock art near Moab last week.

Birthing Rock before the vandalism, Image by Alan Cressler

Near Moab a climber intentionally bolted through a rock art panel. This has been widely reported on social media and in the outdoor recreation world. The climb is called the Sunshine Slabs. The bolts were removed by other climbers, but the holes that remain and will hasten erosion of the rock art panel.

The offender’s defense was that he was trying to make the very easier (5.3) climb even more accessible. It is important to note that even though this happened on public land, it is illegal make permanent changes to the public land without permits. It’s the same as mining for gold or building a road without permits, its illegal. The culprit is known and is presumably being dealt with by the BLM who manages the site. Read more (here).

A much more egregious act of vandalism also occurred near Moab. Birthing Rock, a well-known and extraordinary panel, was tagged with a white supremist slogan and pornography. There aren’t words to express the outrage we feel at the Archive over this desecration.

The Birthing Rock vandal is not known, and the BLM has offered a $10,000 reward for information (here).  

That both acts of vandalism happened near Moab is upsetting but not particularly surprising. Moab has experienced an explosion of visitation but funding for land management has been at best flat. There is a lack of resources for enforcement in the BLM Moab field office. It is easy for bad actors like these two vandals destroy important cultural heritage with relative impunity.

As more people go into the desert incidents like these will be more common. The only reasonable thing we can do is record the sites now and try to educate people about their importance.

April 7, 2021 - Comments Off on “Irreplaceable” 1,000-year-old rock art vandalized in Georgia

“Irreplaceable” 1,000-year-old rock art vandalized in Georgia

The Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia is reporting that the Track Rock Gap rock art site has been vandalized (USA Today). Track Rock Gap is one of 3 heavily engraved soapstone petroglyph sites in the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina.

The sites are tied to the Cherokee and Creek nations. The best known of these soapstone sites is Judaculla Rock, seen here as a 3D model.

Judaculla Rock, Jackson County, North Carolina by Ancient Art Archive on Sketchfab

All pre contact story written on the landscape are irreplacable. Vandalism at Track Rock Gap is deeply sad.

Rescources:

Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest Track Rock Gap page

Judaculla Rock, NC

Alan Cressler's photos of Track Rock Gap

April 2, 2021 - Comments Off on Altamira Cave, Spain

Altamira Cave, Spain

Spain's Altamira is known for some of the most pristine examples of Paleolithic cave paintings. The bulls painted on the ceiling are at least 14,000 years old, and with new dating techniques, archaeologists have determined that painting first started in this chamber more than 34,000 years ago.

Stephen Alvarez takes photographs of a team dating the paintings inside Altamira cave.
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March 20, 2021 - Comments Off on Shooting the Milky Way and Rock Art

Shooting the Milky Way and Rock Art

A Paranagant anthropomorphic figure at Shaman's Knob at Mt Irish Archaeological District.

One of the most common questions that I get asked about photography is how do you shoot images like this where you can see the Milky Way?

The Shooting Gallery Archaeological District in the Basin and Range National Monument. The Shooting Gallery was an archaic kill site. Begining 5,000 years ago the enclosed valley was used to drive game animals into and harvest them in large numbers.

How do you make images where you can see the rock art but also stars and the milky way, images like the time-lapse sequence on our home page?

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March 14, 2021 - Comments Off on Chauvet Pont d’Arc the discovery of 36,000-year-old art

Chauvet Pont d’Arc the discovery of 36,000-year-old art

27 years ago, a team of explorers lead by Jean-Marie Chauvet squeezed through a tiny rock opening in the gorge of the Ardèche River in Southern France.

An aerial view of the gorge of the Ardèche with its natural bridge. Chauvet cave is in the cliff on the left side of the abandoned oxbow.

Inside, they discovered a previously unknown cave.

A portion of the Horse Panel in Chauvet Cave, France.

Unknown to modern humanity, that is.

A detailed photograph of 2 woolly rhinoceros on the wall of Chauvet pont d'Arc cave in France.

They obviously weren’t the cave’s first human visitors, for artwork of unimaginable antiquity covered the walls.

a 3D model of the lion panel of Chauvet cave

They stood in awe, surrounded by paintings, charcoal drawings, and etchings of transcendent artistic beauty.

Read more

March 7, 2021 - Comments Off on NASA algorithm helps us see faded art

NASA algorithm helps us see faded art

Hundreds, thousands of years exposed to the elements often leave ancient art hard to see. Famous sites like Chauvet, Altamira and the Great Gallery are well preserved but some important rock and cave art sites are weathered almost beyond recognition. How do we see rock art that is mostly weathered away? Mathematics, NASA and rock art enthusiast Jon Harman have a solution. It is an image analytic program Harman developed called DStretch.

Barrier Canyon Style Petroglyphs in a side canyon of Ferron Creek. Emery County, Utah. See what it looks like after DStretch on the next page.

The program uses a method called decorrelation stretch, which was originally used by NASA to improve remote sensing images of Mars. DStretch takes the NASA algorithm but optimizes it for rock art. The program analyzes photographs of rock art sites, and then shifts the images’ color to highlight designs and patterns that have faded away or otherwise become invisible to the naked eye by providing more contrast within the image. The program is especially useful when it comes to faded colors, particularly reds, yellows, blacks, and whites, but it is also works on etchings and other rock art forms. The results are a false color image that is often much more detailed than the original.

 

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March 7, 2021 - Comments Off on Unnamed Esplanade Poylchrome site

Unnamed Esplanade Poylchrome site

Esplanade Style Polychrome Panel, Mojave County, Arizona

This is the type site for Esplanade style polychrome rock art. Known from only 25 sites it is some of the most enigmatic and beautiful prehistoric art in North America. There are fewer than 25 examples of Esplanade style rock art all are located in Mojave County Arizona. As such it is one of the least studied types of North American rock art. Age estimates range from archaic southwest (8,000 BCE) to pre-Fremont (500 BCE).

The style stands out for its tremendous detail. See the close-up image of part of the panel below. Some of the anthropomorphic figures are presented in "x-ray" style. Eyes often have lashes. The images are finely rendered. 

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March 5, 2021 - 1 comment.

Dating Rock Art, How Old Is It?

Artists who created the ancient masterpieces that we appreciate today—cave paintings, murals on cliff walls, countless carvings, and other artifacts—left no written records about the worlds in which they lived. This often makes it difficult to know when they lived. Fortunately, modern technology has helped scientists develop several dating methods to accurately date ancient art sites.

Scientists used carbon 14 dating to determine that the charcoal used at Chauvet was over 30,000 years old

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