Zuni Rock Art Blogging

Steve and Matt love birds (as do I!) and I have been wanting to share one of my favorite petroglyphs – the owl seen above – with them for some time. This petroglyph is located near Zuni Pueblo in west-central New Mexico and is in a cluster of panels of prehistoric petroglyphs and very striking historic pictographs. I took photographs of many of them years ago and recently had them digitally scanned so I can share them in future posts.A more detailed run-down of Zuni rock art can be obtained in this book by M. Jane Young. According to Zuni informants, a common folk-tale describes the owl as a friend of the Zuni, who would fly at night to spy for them. The zig-zag line seen to the right of the owl above is said to represent the path of his flight as he flies over the enemy Navajo and returns to tell the Zuni of their numbers and location.Another image on the same panel located a couple of feet below the owl is this corn plant with
the single ear standing up. I have always thought that this semi-stylized portrayal was elegant and charming.

As I said earlier, now that I have some of these images scanned, I will drop more in from time to time.

Indian Whaling

Reid asked me what I thought about this NYT story about the Makah and their attempt to return to their whaling tradition. Did I think it comparable to tribal use– and sometimes abuse– of eagles in the southwest?

I replied:

“Hmmm– I think I have a rather different take on the Makah. There is an excellent book by Robert Sullivan called A Whale Hunt covering their whole attempt to revive the hunt, and I think it can be justified. They use the whole whale, it( the gray) is far from endangered, nobody else wants them– they just think whales are holy and that nobody should touch them. It is significant that the major opponent is the HSUS, now a die- hard fanatical animal rights group. There is no commercial market, the way there is for eagle feathers…

“The “anti” groups come off very badly in Sullivan’s book, and I think he started as an ordinary reporter with no brief for hunting”.

Incidentally: some of the Amazon commentary on Sullivan’s book is priceless– not reviewing the book but savaging it from every point of view from that of “Gandhi’s grandson”– yeah, there’s an authority on Indian whaling (no comments on that please)– to Indian activism to alleged (I didn’t notice, and I do) bad editing. Makes me ever less hopeful of our bridging our divides. Can’t we ever leave anyone alone?

Only a bureaucracy..

… could come up with a situation this convoluted.

I sympathize with the sheepherders, and with– maybe– the lower- level feds. But when you start shooting endangered species to save them–?? Earth to bureaucrats: THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!

Biologists, not politicians, should sort this one out pronto.

So- called “environmentalist”…

… and perennial sufferer of foot- in- mouth disease Ted Turner apparently only cares about environment that he owns. He was caught on tape by Wolf Blitzer making an unusual number of fatuous statements, even for him. Not only does he apparently think the North Koreans are good guys *; when told that they could reach Alaska with nukes, he said:

(Blitzer) ” There are some estimates, by the way, that could reach Alaska.”
(Turner): “Well, what, the Aleutian Islands? There’s nothing up there but a few sea lions.”

Please, environmentalist friends– DO NOT give this man any more money!

*Blitzer: “But this is one of the most despotic regimes and Kim Jong Il is one of the worst men on Earth. Isn’t that a fair assessment?”
Turner: “Well, I didn’t get, I didn’t get to meet him, but he didn’t look, in the pictures that I’ve seen of him on CNN, he didn’t look too much different than most other people.”
Blitzer: “But look at the way, look at the way he’s, look at the way he’s treating his own people.”
Turner: “Well, hey, listen. I saw a lot of people over there. They were thin and they were riding bicycles instead of driving in cars, but ah-”
Blitzer: “Lot of those people are starving.”
Turner: “I didn’t see, I didn’t see any, I didn’t see any brutality in the capital or out in the, on the DMZ”.

“Discovered, Described, and Eaten”…

.. was the heading Odious sent me referring to this New Scientist article about a new creature form the ever- surprising and fruitful mountains of Laos.

“It was for sale on a table next to some vegetables,” says conservation biologist Robert Timmins, “and I knew immediately it was something I had never seen before.” People in the Khammouan region of Laos know of the species, and prepare it by roasting it on a skewer…”

The most surprising thing about the new rodent is that it is not closely related to any living species, and may be close to the root of divergence of Old and New world species.

Now let’s just hope the Chinese don’t eat them all for medicine…

Thanks also to Cronaca.

Slow blogging

Matt is dealing with refugees and hawking; Reid finishing a report; and me? Just LIFE. Lib’s ribs are recovering well, but other complications like the need to make a few bucks keep intruding, not to mention the total breakdown of my second vehicle– nothing like being truckless, that is, without motorized transportation, just as the dogs and hawk(s)– more on that in a minute– are getting revved…

I am also trying to get up to speed on the Siberia book, do a proposal for another book that may take me to Russia, retrofit the house with a wood stove, get a broken chain saw working– and now it looks like one of my house’s main @#$%^ WALLS is crumbling. Last night I was awakened by something crawling on my leg. I threw back the covers, smashing a TV remote in the process, to find a three inch paying mantis advancing toward my crotch (It never even woke peaceful Libby!) Having disposed of the predator and drifted off to sleep, I was awakened again by a walnut- sized rock falling on my head. When I investigated I found that it had fallen from the juncture of the ceiling and the wall. Visitors to Casa Q will recall that it is a rock house, 120+ years old, and has things like permanent leaks with buckets centered beneath by tape markings, so rocks falling on heads from cracks are Not Good Things.

Regular programming will at least begin to resume. Meanwhile, here is the “new” hawk, moved here to rescue a friend in dire straits. His name is Goblin, he is a first year gyrfalcon- saker cross (which is to say he is a domestic Altai falcon) and he is huge for a male. he will be formidable if I do right by him.

On the other hand, notice the deer- in – headlight stare of the falconer….

Meth Addicts and Site Looting

Steve pointed out this strange item to me which confirmed a story that my sister told me she’d seen in the Jonesboro (AR) Sun. It seems that methamphetamine addicts in Arkansas have taken to collecting arrowheads and other Indian artifacts. Walking around in fields looking for artifacts fills their need for activity while they are up for days at a time wired on the drug. One addict in the story sold his collection for $1250 to help pay his lawyer.

This is doubly sad. First for the people in thrall to the drug and second for the loss of valuable archaeological information. In many cases it isn’t so much the loss of the objects themselves as it is the loss of the locational information about them. Artifacts are of little use to archaeologists if we don’t know where they came from. That is the true pity of looted sites.

I am a sixth generation Arkansan (my great-great-great grandfather John Huggins Reid moved there in 1845) who started in archaeology there and am familiar with its prehistoric resources. Arkansas is rich in sites that date from the late Paleoindian Dalton hunters who roamed the banks of the Mississippi when it was a braided stream choked with sediment from melting glaciers to the large Mississippian chiefdoms that De Soto saw in the 1540s. One thing the state doesn’t need is this threat to the record of that history.

Condors in Prehistoric California

After Steve’s post on possible late condor presence on the Northern Plains, I had to jump in with something on their importance to Native Americans in California. Condors featured in the religion of virtually every known tribe in the state, but I will talk mostly about the Chumash here in Southern California with which I am more familiar.

The pictograph above is of a condor painted on a rock face in the Santa Barbara area. You can see its red head and the feather elements and feet are rendered in white paint. The bird is painted on top of a petroglyph of a bear paw. Double magic?

One Chumash legend states that the condor was originally an all-white bird. The primeval condor was flying over the original Chumash village on Santa Cruz Island and was intrigued by the fire that he saw burning there. He flew too close to the fire and many of his feathers were singed, which accounts for why today’s bird is all black with only two white patches under its wings.

The condor was very important in Chumash ritual. As it is a carrion-eating bird, it was often linked in mourning activities and renewal ceremonies. Condors were often sacrificed and their skins and feathers were used for ceremonial paraphenalia such as capes or feather bands. Condor bones were carved and used as flutes or sucking tubes as seen below.
The use of these paraphenalia by shamans gave them special powers. The condor bone sucking tubes enabled a shaman to suck supernatural poisons out of a sick person and cure them. As condors have keen eyesight, taking on their familiar power enabled a shaman to find lost objects or missing people.

Condors and eagles were also associated with cosmic events. Either a condor or eagle was sacrified based on which celestial body was prominently visible during a particular ceremony. Eagles were used in ceremonies associated with the planet Venus and condors in those associated with Mars. The condor pictograph at the top of this post is located in a site identified as a winter solstice observatory.

Condors are not uncommon in Chumash rock art and some show figures with anthropomorphic traits that have been interpreted as humans in condor dance regalia – shamans taking on the power of their condor familiar. The photo below shows a natural sandstone outcrop that resembles a condor’s head located in the Carrizo Plain.
This has been identified by Chumash informants as a sacred place of power. Red pictographs can still be seen in the protected areas under an overhang. It is likely that the entire “head” was originally covered in red making it look even more like a condor’s head.

The post by Prairie Mary that Steve links below speculates that some of the old Blackfoot medicine bundles contained condor feathers. At the end of the Pleistocene when their range was continent-wide, it is interesting to speculate what role condors played in the rituals of the Paleoindian megafauna hunters.

Photo credit to California State Parks

“Genetic Pollution”?

I am reading the wonderful new monograph The Gyrfalcon . On page 229 I came upon a passage which may say more about the Scandinavian mind than falcons, and I found it both funny and disturbing. I am curious what readers might say– I think (Russian) author Eugene Potapov, who is both an ornithologist and a falconer, found the incident as odd as I do.

I quote, but without all the references (italics mine):

“There was panic in Sweden in 1999 when an escaped male Gyrfalcon x Peregrine falcon hybrid from Denmark paired with a native Peregrine female in Bohuslan, the male identified by its leg ring. The pairing made the headlines of Swedish newspapers. Falconry is, in general, prohibited in Finland, Sweden, and Norway, and so the public reaction to this event was negative because of the potential for genetic pollution of the native species. The case was termed the “birds of prey scandal” by the Swedish Ornitholoigical Society. Officials from Naturvardsverket (the Swedish Ministry of the Environment) killed the chicks produced by the pair and shot the hybrid. They also wanted to kill the female as her willingness to mate with a non- pure bird caused a concern that should another escape happen the bird might be equally willing a second time. However the female escaped and remained at large”.

Isn’t this rather… creepy? I mean, even apart from the fact that the descendants of Vikings have turned into a bunch of handkerchief- wringing wussies, the Nazi- like assumptions inherent here are disturbing. I should add that Potapov was not worried.

You may also be relieved that, in Potapov’s next section, Norwegian authorities did NOT kill a lesbian cross- species Gyr- Peregrine pair that they found brooding their infertile eggs in a seabird colony there. I never knew that birds of prey had such interesting love lives.


The Alpha Environmentalist speaks some hard truths on why the Roadless Rule is important (and reminds us of the necessity of not letting only one party “own” an issue). Jonathan says:

“As a Republican, 4×4 owner, and hunter lumped in with those neo-Druids, I wonder if the Tribune could stop pandering to lumber and mining companies long enough to get the facts straight.

Hard Green! (And no, I don’t think it has all the answers either. Nobody does).