Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Petroglyph National Monument

    Petroglyph National Monument in  Albuquerque consists of three sites with many petroglyphs pecked  into the desert varnish of volcanic rock. I suspect the Indians of New England would have also created this type of art if  they had had access to soft, two-toned rock instead of granite.
     The Rinconada Canyon section has a trail one  mile long that follows the base of a slope covered with jumbled boulders. Here is a large rock with a bird, what might be a bird spirit, and a horned head.

     The same bird spirit petroglyph appears again  next to this  propped slab.  There's nothing on the face of the slab.  This does look like it was done recently, perhaps by  local Indians, or more likely by  vandals who chisel out petroglyphs for black market art sales.

The petroglyphs face to the  south or southeast.  The park's explanation is that  they were carved in winter and the south-facing rocks would have been warmer and free of ice.
     Here is a whole human figure, that seems to be dancing.

 This horned snake is related to the horned and plumed snake of Mesoamerica.

Here and at Bandelier are petroglyphs of macaws, indicating  trade with Mesoamerica.

There are many other images  such as horned toads, antelope, rats, human faces, dancing figures, hand and foot prints, stars, and  spirals.
     This very familiar shape is a sacred symbol.  One interpretation is that it represents a mountain, the source of  game animals and water. According to Adolph Bandelier in The Delight Makers, this is a cloud, which is the ladder to heaven.

Whatever the true meaning of this sacred design, it  was adapted into mission churches.  Here is San Geronimo Church at Taos Pueblo.
Also present at Petroglyph are some carved out stones.  I have seen these described on a blog as "medicine stones".  The park explanation was that stone tools were ground against these stones to form and sharpen them. 

A pleasant surprise was this  enclosure on top of the mesa at Boca Negra Canyon, facing east towards Sandia Peak.  The caption describes it as hunting blind or temporary shelter, later used by Spanish sheepherders. The trail up to this mesa is heavily decorated with petroglyphs, including  dancing figures, suggesting this enclosure had some spiritual use.
To the east, Sandia Peak rises above the sprawl of Albuquerque.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chaco Canyon

While I was on vacation in New Mexico, I visited Chaco Canyon.    Photographs can't convey the massive scale of the ruins, each of which would cover city blocks.  Chaco Canyon was a ceremonial center of Southwest Indian culture, and was abandoned by 1250 AD, probably due to climate change.  There are several huge pueblos with many kivas, and some of these structures have astronomical alignments.   There is no point repeating everything in the excellent "Living the Sky" by Ray A. Williamson, which was recommended to me by Helen.
     The first sight upon entering the National Monument section of  Chaco Canyon is  Fajada Butte. Unfortunately, it is now off limits.  This site has a large spiral petroglyph behind stone panels with small slits between them.  The light from solstices forms sun daggers on the petroglyph.
  Probably the most famous ruin is Pueblo Bonito, a huge D-shaped pueblo with many kivas, hundreds of rooms, and a large plaza.  The alignment of the pueblo with the winter sun may have allowed the walls to act as solar collectors, absorbing heat during the day, and radiating it at night.

Pueblo Bonito, although 3 stories high, is dwarfed by the surrounding canyon walls.
The plaza at Pueblo Bonito.  Visitors can walk through the pueblos, and enter some of the rooms. Below are some of the walls at Pueblo del Arroyo.

One of the later constructions was Casa Rinconada, a huge kiva standing alone on a hill overlooking the canyon.  This is a central kiva, as opposed to the smaller ones, which were used by families or clans. The support posts are aligned to the four directions, and the light from summer solstice falls on specific niches.
The trough like structure is thought to have been an entrance for dancers, that concealed them from the audience.
The  view towards Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito from Casa Rinconada.
Although the Chaco Canyon pueblos were abandoned around 1250 AD, there is plenty of evidence of continuing  use of the site.  The canyon walls have many petroglyphs, and many of them are spirals or human forms.
This horse petroglyph was obviously made after the Spanish reintroduced horses to North America.  Nearby, someone has carefully scratched in a warning that what is forgotten is lost.
Near the petroglyphs, I noticed a shallow cave in the canyon wall.
I doubt the cave was used by the Chacoans as a sacred site, since they used kivas.  It could have been a food cache or a temporary shelter for a  later group, such as the Navajos.
About 630 feet west of  the cave is this propped boulder.
I have seen so many of these in both the Northeast and Southwest, I suspect they were constructed as landmarks or boundary markers. The placement of this propped boulder, and the ones at Bandelier, is interesting. In both cases, they are near ruins built by Ancestral Puebloans or Anasazi, which means "ancient enemies" in Navajo.  Depending on who built them, they could be memorials or warnings.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bandelier National Monument

Last week I took my annual vacation in New Mexico, stayed in Albuquerque, and visited several fascinating sites.  One was Bandelier National Monument, near Los Alamos.  There's plenty of information about it at and some good downloadable publications at Also, Adolph Bandelier's books about Pueblo Indians are available in several e-book formats on  
     Pueblo Indians occupied the Frijole Creek valley up to 1550 AD, and then migrated to the Cochiti and San Ildefonso Pueblos.  The probable cause of migration was extended drought.  In this valley is Tyuonyi,  a large circular pueblo ruin with a kiva.  The walls had no doors, since entry to the rooms was through the roof.
The nearby cliffs are of soft volcanic rock, and are riddled with small caveates that were dug out and used as dwellings.
Some of them may be entered using ladders.   Inside one caveate is a dome-shaped room about 6.5 feet high at the center and 10 feet in diameter.  The gouge marks are still visible in the smoke-stained ceiling.
Stone houses were built against long sections of the cliff, and the caveates were the back rooms. The small holes in the cliff wall held the logs that formed roofs and floors.
As I approached this cliff, I noticed three propped boulders along the trail.
One or two propped boulders might be a coincidence, but the ones in the above photo seem to be deliberately propped and facing southeast.  There are other stone structures along the trails.
     This is the famous Alcove House site, previously known as Ceremonial Cave.  It contains a reconstructed kiva, and the caveates and log holes from old dwellings.  Access is a 140-foot climb up four long ladders, definitely not for those afraid of heights.

At the mouth of the cave  are two squarish boulders facing directly west.

These definitely look like they were placed this way. I'll see if I can find anything about them in Bandelier's books.
     On the way back, I spotted this bent tree about 300 feet from Alcove House.  The bend points towards Alcove House.  500 feet further is this slope with rocks and a possible cairn. These rocks are all about the same size and shape.
On top of this slope, 150 feet beyond the cairn, is this propped boulder with an oddly gouged surface.  The slope faces southwest over Frijoles Creek.

So, who propped these boulders?  I  don't imagine these have been standing since 1550, or they would have been buried over time or disturbed by excavations.  The  Pueblo Indians consider these ruins to be sacred, so maybe they placed them more recently.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

King Philip's Seat

King Philip's  Seat is a hollow in the side of an outcrop, that is thought to have been used by Metacomet as a council meeting place.  The area, now Mount Hope in Bristol, RI,  was once Metacomet's summer encampment, Montaup.  I visited it in August 2008, on the last day the Haffenreffer Museum was open to the public.  Since then, the grounds are strictly private property.
The seat faces east.  The outcrop has some interesting features.
Directly in front of the outcrop is a small spring, reputed to be the site where Metacomet was slain. I don't think the PVC pipe was there then.
This site has a commanding view of Mount Hope Bay,  Tiverton, and Fall River.
Unfortunately, it was raining.
There was a wetu (wigwam) on the grounds.  This became a handy model for painting reconstructions.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Face Rock

Somewhere in northern RI is this dirt road that passes overgrown farms along a lake.  This road was once the main road to Connecticut, but horses and coaches no longer pass by.
On the south side of the road is a wall extending into the lake.  Since the lake is dammed, the end of the wall is now underwater.  This wall has some very unusual features.
There are some platform cairns near the shore, where the wall enters the water.
Returning to the road, I notice an outcrop on the north side, with this perched boulder.
And here is the other side.
Tool marks are visible around the eye sockets. I doubt this is vandalism, since it would have been a lot of work, and would not have been visible from the road.  Besides, vandals usually use paint. As I mentioned in the last post, I suspect  Indians created some of these large effigies once they obtained metal tools.  The face is oriented to about 150 degrees, and is looking at this view.
There don't seem to be any other structures on or around this little hill.  So why is this face staring from an outcrop? 
On the map, the road is in black, the wall in blue, and the cairns represented by a red dot. The stone wall has a 73 degree bearing facing uphill, suggesting alignment with summer sunrise.   The face rock, in yellow,  is on a direct line (yellow dotted line) with this wall.  Perhaps it was a marker for summer solstice sunrise, and the face had some mythological significance.