Archive for Coso Range

Projectile Point Petroglyphs of the Coso Range: Chronology and Function

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Alan P. Garfinkel, Ph.D.

Principal Archaeologist

UltraSystems Environmental

agarfinkel@ultrasystems.com

avram1952@yahoo.com

 

Founder and Director

California Rock Art Foundation

http://www.californiarockart.org

 

http://www.dralangarfinkel.com

 

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By: Alan P. Garfinkel and J. Kenneth Pringle

2015

Alan P. Garfinkel Ph.D., Principal Archaeologist, UltraSystem Environmental, agold@ultrasystems.com

  1. Kenneth Pringle, formerly with the China Lake Naval Weapons Station Ridgecrest, California. Co-author of Rock Drawings of the Coso Range, Maturango Museum Monograph Publication 4, 1968

 

Identification and analysis of a series of corner-notched  and basal notched projectile point images and those rendered in association with human and animal-human supernatural figures are located in the Coso Range of eastern California.  These images when considered in detail appear to date to the period when Elko and Humboldt Series points were in use.  Two direct, experimental XRF dates made directly on two of the images support this determination. 

The XRF dates provide a mean age of 2,750 plus or minus 700 calendar years before present for these images (and also provide an indirect basis for dating the other similar figures).  The dates provide a general age range for these corner notched and basal notched point depictions.  The age is consistent with the well documented and radiocarbon supported ages for Elko Series dart points and Humboldt Basal Notched thrusting spears, knives and dart points. 

Therefore we believe those dart point depictions and XRF dates place the Coso projectile point drawings during a range of time from about 2000 BC to AD 1.  The latter age range is synchronous with the a period of dart and atlatl use and is coterminous with the earliest accepted dates for the initiation of Rose Spring Series arrow points (ca. AD 1).

Also some surprising new observations associate the feminine gender with at least two of the projectile point petroglyph images.  Both figures are either animal-human or human hunter (shamanistic?) depictions.  Alternative suggestions are included for understanding this apparent paradoxical relationship of male weaponry with the feminine gender.

 

The depiction of realistic renderings of projectile point forms is an unusual feature at a handful of prehistoric rock art sites in the United States. This rare occurrence has only been documented at a few archeological sites in North America (Callahan 2003; Keyser and Klassen 2001; Riggs 2001; Sutherland and Steed 1974; Thomas and Thomas 1972).

Campbell Grant and his associates initially recognized a number of such projectile point petroglyphs within the Coso Range rock art tradition (Grant et al. 1968:37). The authors mention them briefly and only devote a single paragraph within their 147 page monograph. However, even after mentioning them and providing pen and ink sketches of these elements and figures they did not attempt to date them.  Neither did they comment on the character of the figures or their possible meaning and function of the images of the projectile points themselves.

For this study, we relocated many of the Grant et al. projectile point sites, discovered some new ones and attempted to correlate the most common corner-notched and basal notched forms with temporally diagnostic (time sensitive) southwestern Great Basin point styles to help date these specific petroglyphs (Figure 1). This study was limited to the area within the confines of the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station and the glyphs at Little Lake. Other examples of Coso Style petroglyphs are known outside that area including those in the El Paso Mountains, Panamint Mountains, Argus Range and north of the base at Centennial Springs. Those other areas were not included in this research.

 

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Figure 1.  Location of Coso Style rock art area

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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

agarfinkel@ultrasystems.com

avram1952@yahoo.com

 

Founder and Director

California Rock Art Foundation

http://www.californiarockart.org

 

http://www.dralangarfinkel.com

 

 

ABSTRACT

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. 

 

Introduction

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.

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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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