Archive for February 17, 2016

Paradigm Shifts, Rock Art Studies, and the “Coso Sheep Cult” of Eastern California

Revised and Updated:

By Alan P. Garfinkel, Ph.D. 

December 2014


Originally published in: North American Archaeologist, Spring 2007 Edition

Alan P. Garfinkel, Ph.D.

Principal Archaeologist

UltraSystems Environmental


Founder and Director

California Rock Art Foundation




One of the more spectacular expressions of prehistoric rock art in all of the Western Hemisphere is the petroglyph concentration in the Coso Range of eastern California.  These glyphs have played a prominent role in attempts to understand forager religious iconography.  Four decades ago, Heizer and Baumhoff (1962) concluded that Great Basin petroglyphs were associated with hunting large game and were intended to supernaturally increase success in the hunt. Similarly, in their seminal work Grant et al. (1968) concluded that the desert bighorn sheep drawings of the Coso Region bolstered the “hunting magic” hypothesis.

However, this hunting magic hypothesis has become increasingly marginalized by a prevailing view that considers most rock art as a nearly exclusive, expression of individualistic shamanistic endeavor.1  This paper explores comparative ethnologic and archaeological evidence supporting the hunting magic hypothesis.

I place this explanatory framework in a fuller context based on a contemporary understanding of comparative hunter-gather religion and the complexity of forager symbolism.  The paper argues that the preponderance of Coso images are conventionalized iconography associated with a sheep cult ceremonial complex.   This model is not entirely inconsistent with models interpreting the Coso drawings as metaphoric images correlated with individual shamanic vision quests. A synthetic framework applying both models is suggested. 



Four decades ago, Heizer and Baumhoff 2 concluded that Great Basin petroglyphs were associated with the hunting of large game.  This “hunting magic” hypothesis was based on the distribution of rock art sites found along game migration trails.  The researchers posited that the primary animal being hunted was the bighorn sheep.  In their work on the Coso Range drawings, Grant et al.3 concluded that the realistic sheep drawings bolstered that hypothesis (Figure 1).

Yet over the years the hunting magic model has not fared well.  At best, this interpretation has lost “traction” and is currently classified as an “out-of-favor” theory4.  The hypothesis has become increasingly marginalized by researchers worldwide5 and has been replaced by a prevailing view that most rock art is a nearly exclusive expression of shamanism6.

Any concept that purports to account for all, or even most rock art of a given style or motif, I would argue, is inherently suspect.  One would expect to find that different sets of environmental, cosmological, religious, artistic, and social factors influenced the creation of rock art at various times and places.  Nevertheless, the manner in which hunting magic has been specifically framed does not provide a clear and full picture of the context and implications of that particularly important model.  Such treatment minimizes the role that ritual and symbolism plays in animistic hunter-gatherer societies7.   It also implies a rather monolithic notion of the eclectic manifestations of ritual behavior identifying them under a singular and somewhat ambiguous term of “shamanism” 8.


Figure 1.  Location of Coso Range rock drawings.  The largest petroglyph concentrations are located within the named canyons identified on the map.  Boundary of the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station and location of the station within the state of California is depicted on the inset map.  The concentrations of Coso rock art are found excusively on the North Rase.  The North and South Range of the China Lake Installation makes up an area containing over 1 million acres.

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Ships of the Giants?

by, William Olivadoti

In general, a work, by an amateur, which  attempts to show parallels and similarities between distant and diverse cultures, in both time and space, culminating in which appear to be evidentiary clues in both  archival and geographic form, which could be postulated to possibly substantiate those connections of cultures. In particular, a pattern of anomalies in a certain area in the Adirondack Mountains surrounding Pharaoh Mountain within a radius of  3 miles and a second similar pattern within a radius of 25 miles.

The amateur writer endeavors to present aspects of discoveries of anomalous lakes and ponds therein, which appear to reflect similar mathematical patterns throughout, with  the hope that others would search and find further anomalies analogous to those in the book. A history of several diverse cultures are presented, including Native American and  ancient Mediterranean.
The author was born and raised 12 miles from Pharoah Mt. and 7 miles from the nearest water anomaly. He traveled the local mountains extensively in  his youth and heard many stories handed down to his grandmother and relatives concerning Native American legends and myths.

The author presents the sum of those archives, traditions and geographical anomalies for the curiosity and thought-stimulation of the reader.  The book contains aerial and satellite photographs of  lakes and ponds which can be taken, upon viewing, appearing to be  arrowhead-shaped,  ship-shaped, animal-shaped  and other. Five tabular data sections present the mathematical and other numerical attributes associated with up to 16, 18, 56, 60  lakes and ponds,  resp., 18 of which are close to Pharaoh Mountain. Petroglyphs and rock anomalies in  the nearby mountains are also displayed in the work.

Title: Ships of the Giants?

128 pages

language: English

166+ photos and pictures color mostly

21 maps  color mostly

85 footnotes

110 bibliography

5 tables

The book comes in either paperback $49.99 + $5 shipping or hardcover $59.99 + $5 shipping.

author: William C. Olivadoti

[The author has no training nor experience in archaeology.]

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