Ten negative handprints in Fish Canyon, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah
If there is a single symbol that could stand for all of humanity it is the negative handprint. I've seen the negative handprint reproduced on 6 continents and across all ages of human creativity. From the Paleolithic to modern times the images persists in our visual vocabulary. They may well be the very first artistic expression. To me, they are the original 'selfie' the very first way that people recorded their passage. That urge to leave a visual mark that says "I was here" is uniquely human.
An article published today in the Journal Nature Human Behavior (here subscription requited) establishes the date of some of the Kimberly rock art paintings as 17,000 years ago.
Rock art is notoriously hard to date. The authors of the study took radio carbon dates from wasp nests built on top of paintings to establish minimum dates. One painting in particular is dated to between 17,500 and 17,100 years ago by dating material in overlying and underlying nests.
We just updated a 3D model of a site on the San Rafael Swell in Utah. It is now optimized for VR viewing inside an Oculus or phone-based headset.
Barrier Canyon Style artwork as is shown at this site is some of the most evocative and mysterious pre-Columbian art in North America. Preserving and sharing sites like this in a responsible manner that does not endanger the artwork is what led me to create the Ancient Art Archive.
Three years ago today President Barak Obama designated over 1.3 million acres of federal land in San Juan County Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument. The land was set aside to protect a landscape that is sacred to many of the Native American peoples who live in this part of the southwest today. The original Monument contains over 100,000 archaeological sites. Monument designation was the culmination of years of grassroots work by a coalition of Native American groups who worked together across tribal lines to preserve a landscape that is important to all of them.
In December of 2017 the Monument was slashed by presidential order. It is now 85% smaller.
Two groups are playing a leading role in restoration of the original monument boundries. Utah Dine Bikeyah did much of the original grassroots organization and the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition put forth the original monument proposal. Both groups deserve need support.
The Gallery below provides just a hint of the extradinary artwork contained in the original monument's boundries.
There was big news from Indonesian earlier this month. A multinational team has identified the oldest known figurative paintings in the world on the island of Sulawesi. The new dates 44,000 years BP are in line -yet older- than other dates from Sulawesi and Borneo. In their paper in Nature Maxime Aubert has identified not just animals but therianthropes
“abstract beings that combine the qualities of both people and animals.”
(there is an excellent discussion of the article in Smithsonian)
Therianthropes are incredibly rare in paleolithic cave art. The most famous example is the transforming bison from Chauvet made famous by Cave of Forgotten Dreams and there is a lesser-known anthropomorphic figure from Tito Bustillo in Spain.
Aubert’s find further confirms that creativity and storytelling did not develop in Europe. Instead, it appears that they formed with us as our species developed in Africa.
It is our view at the Archive that the ability to make art
is humanity’s first true innovation and that by the time our species expanded
from Africa to rest of the world we had a complete artistic toolkit built into
Master platinum-palladium printer and Guggenheim Grant winner Pradip Maldeproduced an exquisite, limited-edition print to support the Ancient Art Archive. Pradip and I chose a photograph of the Head of Sinbad rock art site on the San Rafael Swell in Central Utah for this print. The paintings are Barrier Canyon Style and thought to be between 2,000 and 4,000 years old. I shot the image this spring with Pradip’s printing in mind.
March 5, 2019 - Comments Off on Good News for the San Rafael Swell
Those of you who have been following the Ancient Art Archive's work are familiar with our efforts to document Barrier Canyon Style (BCS) artworks. BCS is one of North America's most enigmatic and evocative styles. It is known, primarily from the San Rafael Swell of Central Utah.
In general conservation news has been bad in Utah for the past few years. Both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monuments were significantly reduced. However, last month a mammoth public lands bill passed both the House and Senate that will increase protections on many National Lands.
Among many other things the bill adds 660,000 acres of wilderness designation to Emery County Utah, home of much of the San Rafael Swell. You can read more here.
A Pahranagat representational style petroglyph in the Basin and Range National Monument.
Pahranagat representational style anthropomorphic figures are unique to the Pahranagat Valley of Southern Nevada. There are two types of figures; pecked oval bodies with large hands and box shaped, line drawn bodies. The later are sometimes depicted with atlatl spear throwers. Bow and arrow replaced the atlatl more than 1500 years ago in this part of the country so this offers a clues as to the images age.
A Pahranagat style anthropomorphic figures in Lincoln County Nevada. This style of anthropomorph is unique to the Pahranagat Valley and its immediate drainage.
Not knowing an engravings exact age is one of the mysteries of rock art. This style is particularly intriguing because it is such a localized phenomenon. It is interesting that there are other styles of art represented in the area including Great Basin Carved Abstract and Freemont. Why are these images limited to this valley? We will likely never know. For more information about Nevada Rock art visit the Nevada Rock Art Foundation.
January 16, 2019 - Comments Off on Barrier Canyon Painting, San Juan County Utah
Barrier Canyon rock art in San Juan County Utah. BCS panels are believed to have been created during the archaic period (probably late archaic) and are estimated (from direct and indirect carbon 14 dates) to be somewhere in the range of 1500 to 4000 years old.
An enigmatic and evocative piece of Barrier Canyon Style (BCS) rock art in Southern Utah. Rock art is notoriously hard to date but his style of painting likely comes from the late archaic period of Southwestern Archeology (1500-4000 BP). There are a large handful of sites across Southern Utah (also into Colorado and Arizona) with a similar style. The large scale anthropomorphic figures that are often finely painted.
This is one of the smaller BCS panels in the area. Big sites like the Great Gallery cover hundreds of feet and many complex paintings.
BCS is one of my favorite styles of North American rock art. The scale and attention to detail speak to me. The figure in this panel is human-sized.
A detailed view of Barrier Canyon rock art in San Juan County Utah.
I'm working on a @natgo grant looking at rock art in some of our western public lands. It’s a project sponsored -in part- by the National Geographic Society. However, most of the funding is provided by donors to the Ancient Art Archive.
I visited Grotte Pair-non-Pair last week with a National Geographic travel group. I knew about the cave and its Aurignacian era engravings but honestly did not think that the engravings would be very impressive. Wow was I wrong!
The entrance door to cave Pair-non-Pair. It contains engravings of mammoth, horses, ibex and Megaloceros. The cave was identified in 1881 by archeologist François Daleau.
Pair-non-Pair is small, little more than a rock shelter but it contains a remarkable collection of engravings. Horses, aurochs, ibexes, mammoths, and a megalocerosare all engraved into the walls. There are faint remnants of red and black pigment on the engravings reminiscent of the Venus of Lassel. What is more remarkable is that the cave was also a living area. Fireplaces, stone tools, and discarded bones indicate that Pair-non-Pair was occupied for a period of 60,000 years. First occupants were undoubtedly Neanderthals beginning 80,000 years B.P. who were replaced by humans by the start of the Aurignacian 30,000 years B.P. Artwork in a Paleolithic living area is very rare.
The cave itself was found quite by accident in 1881 when a farmer went to recover a cow whos foot had become lodged in a hole in the pasture. Upon investigation, he found the chamber containing the engravings and called in archeologist François Daleau.