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  • By Crook or by Hook: Abstract petroglyph motifs in Lake County

    A simple and distinctive motif appears at a number of sites in the playa lake-basalt rim plateaus in southeastern Lake County, generally east of Lake Abert to the Guano Valley.

    Its form is a widely pecked and/or abraded vertical line terminating in a half-circle downward curve. It appears to be a highly intentional form, as if meant to be a hook, crook, or cane. Yet it is may not be representative at all. It may be a symbol or icon with a specific meaning, perhaps a holder of place, bearer of power, or a kind of sign-as-indicator.

    The motif, though unusual given the thousands of petroglyphs in this region, is always part of a complex panel. Sometimes the “crook” seems to be clearly older or more recent than the accompanying designs, part of a petroglyph panel comprised of traditions spanning centuries, perhaps millennia. The carver may have intended to augment an already marked stone, or its presence may have attracted later markings. As such it appears as a production within a sequence of traditions.

    Crooks are usually discussed in rock art literature as a staff-like design associated with an anthropomorph. Sally Cole discusses crooks in the Basketmaker tradition as commonly depicted and related to fertility [1]. She illustrates a solid pecked crook suspended near a “copulating” couple “graphically emphasizing a symbolic association between crooks and fertility.” Alvin McLane considers a variety of crooks in southern Nevada and Arizona [2]. The discovery on an actual southern Great Basin crook is the focus of a report by Musser-Lopez drawing on the ethnographic work of Carobeth Laird [3].

    [1] Cole, Sally J. "Iconography and symbolism in Basketmaker rock art." Rock Art of the Western Canyons (1989): 59-85.

    [2] McLane, Alvin R. "The Cane Man Petroglyph, Esmeralda County, Nevada." Nevada Archaeologist (1998): 31-29.

    [3] Musser-Lopez, R. A. "Yaa? vya's Poro: The Singular Power Object of a Chemehuevi Shaman." Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 5, no. 2 (1983).