Ten images from this year now passing. Exploring Life and Non-life within the northern Great Basin. TEN 2016 Album
In this Now, this cusp of Then Past and There Future, let’s think a Moment with Elizabeth Povinelli :
Take Life or Nonlife in the Anthropocene and the Meteorocene. Geology and meteorology are devouring their companion discipline, biology. For if we look at where and how life began, and how and why it might end, then how can we separate Life from Nonlife? Life is not the miracle-the dynamic opposed to the inert of rocky substance. Nonlife is what holds, or should hold for us, the more radical potential. For Nonlife created what it is radically not, Life, and will in time fold this extension of itself back into itself as it has already done so often and long. It will fold its own extension back into the geological strata and rocky being, whereas Life can only fall into what already is. Life is merely a moment in the greater dynamic unfolding of Nonlife. And thus Life is devoured from a geological perspective under the pressure of the Anthropocene and Meteorocene.
 Elizabeth A. Povinelli is the Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. Excerpt from the final pages (176) of her recent book Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism. Duke University Press, 2016.
Ten images from this year now passing. Exploring Life and Non-life within the northern Great Basin. TEN 2016 Album
Art engenders becomings, not imaginative becomings - the elaboration of images and narratives in which a subject might recognize itself, not self-representations, narratives, confessions, testimonies of what is and has been - but material becomings, in which these imponderable universal forces touch and become enveloped in life, in which life folds over itself to embrace its contact with materiality, in which each exchanges some elements or particles with the other to become more and other. Elizabeth Grosz 
Grimes Point Archaeological Area, an extensive, fully accessible, and signed field of dark boulders with archaic petroglyphs, is adjacent to Highway 50 east of Fallon.
The locale looks west and south over the Carson Sink, a terminus of the Carson River, in Churchill County, Nevada. Well-managed by the BLM, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Some boulders bear arrays of deeply patinaed cupules. These ancient “conical pits” associated occasionally with lines or grooves led to Baumhoff and Heizer’s in 1958 (and 1962) typing the “pit-and-groove” petroglyph style. They conjectured that this style represented the earliest petroglyphs in a wide expanse of the Great Basin. Though they cautioned their proposal as tentative pending dating, many rock art writers in the ensuing decades reified this style as fixed truth. I do believe these cupuled boulders are, in many of the instances I’ve seen in the northern Great Basin and Columbia Plateau, early Holocene (7,000+ years before present time [BP]). However, the designs and configurations are not rightly constrained as fixed cultural “elements,” while solid dating remains elusive. A worldview beyond grasp. What we have is the beauty of the densely-colored, dimpled desert boulders recalling watery eras – a sensible materiality.
This is one boulder: Point of View
 Elizabeth Grosz. Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth (2008) p.23
It is not uncommon for today’s full moon to be called Hunter Moon. A few nights ago I camped in the tall sage near an old corral. Two hunters crept along, dusk, in their truck down the rocky road. We talked a bit. They, looking for mule deer, outfitted in full dress camo, kindly apologized for having disturbed me. I, seeking landscapes of rock art, in dusty fleece and levied twill, wished them well. Though I don't kill animals. Nor eat meat. We each have our ways of being in this fleeting world, of looking and seeking. What we give and take beyond our grasp. Under the silver waxing moon and golden rising sun, I was lucky. Circles embracing the grain of the moment. Laden, ripe, holding forth.
Two Circles. Petroglyph images in the Washoe-Lassen borderlands, the country northwest of Pyramid Lake.
Great Basin Anthropological Conference (GBAC) convenes this week in Reno Nevada. The 2016 biennial gathering includes 13 presentations on rock art topics.
Notable: Australian scholar Jo McDonald on Arid Zone Hunter-Gatherer Rock Art: a View of the Great Basin from the Western Desert. Professor McDonald’s impressive accomplishments, among them the book Dreamtime Superhighway, can be viewed at http://www.web.uwa.edu.au/people/jo.mcdonald
Angus Quinlan, the accomplished director of the Nevada Rock Art Foundation, will offer a variety of topics including Social Perspectives on Rock Art’s Variable Distribution in Great Basin Archaeology.
Douglas Beauchamp will present a non-rock art topic: Clovis Orange: Traverses and Uncertainties in the Alkali Lake Basin, Lake County, Oregon. To view the images: CLOVIS ORANGE
To view or download the GBAC program: http://greatbasinanthropologicalassociation.org/gbac/2016-program-gbac/
During the misty mid-June day I took this photograph in Case Inlet, an eastern bay of the Southern Salish Sea, the tidal swing was nearly 14 feet. A swing of 18 feet is not uncommon . In the photo the tide begins its rise from a minus low.
A different kind of sea level rise will mark this shore in a profound way in coming decades. As a “mid-range” projection a permanent rise of two feet is predicted by the end of this century . Eventually the boulder’s twenty circles will disappear by barnacle, erosion, and/or inundation. Does it matter? Many lives and species will have been dramatically decimated by that time given current trends. How does this pending catastrophe matter? 
Meanwhile these circles story forth. Messages of cycles we moderns are unlikely to decipher, or indeed heed, except in general speculative terms . To my knowledge this is the only petroglyph in the Puget Sound area that is entirely circles with no apparent iconic referencing . Listen for a moment in this time of change
 By comparison the tidal swing that day in Florence, Oregon, was 7 feet
 Not counting the increasing flood risks. See: http://www.climatecentral.org/ Also: http://www.climatecentral.org/pdfs/SLR-WA-PressRelease.pdf
 The Anthropocene project: virtue in the age of climate change by Byron Williston (2015 Oxford University Press ) is a sharply provocative and convincing examination of the approaching catastrophe. He explores the ethics and morals of choice and denial. https://byronwilliston.com/
 There appears an absence of formal documentation of this and a nearby petroglyph boulder, though a flickering of images appear on the internet without details. Its age or purpose is unknown. Some speculate that this type of imagery in sea-edge or riverine zones is related to abundance, as supplication or as gratitude. Little proof of intent exists.
 Though many of the few Puget Sound petroglyphs are composed of circular elements, often suggesting eyes and faces. There are two locations I’ve visited on the Oregon coast with carved circles on sea-edge boulders: An Oregon coast boulder
Great art has the “ability to simultaneously command attention and confound interpretation. Work like this draws us in but ultimately frustrates our attempt to reduce the experience to anything like a definitive reading. We might call it Zeno’s paradox of meaning: The closer we get, the more numerous and splintered our frames of reference become.” Jordan Kantor, writing about Jackson Pollock, Artforum, March 2016
The Art in Rock Art has been and will continue to be an object of subjective debate. Pointedly, is “it” Art ? Or Not? Or something else? If you are already feeling the déjà vu of circularity, then you know how these discussions usually proceed. You may wonder, Well?
I attempt to see the thingness, the raw materiality of the stone, the carved-away, the pigment, in various ways - as figure or field, as time or place, as mind or heart. Certainly my seeing and imaging is very different from the intent, action, and gaze of the creator-maker – the artist, if you will. Art. I do see and experience some rock art as Art. Some as Artifact. Some as mysterious, or ambiguous, or even random, lines and shapes. I often feel beauty in the relationship of the weathering markings to the aging, stained and patinaed stone, to the lights and shadows, the lichens and mosses.
The materiality of a petroglyph or a rock painting is exactly what it is. It simply is. How it appears visually will alter over time or with varying light and weather. Significantly, how it appears derives from the beholder’s imaginings. The image results from our beholding, culturally and personally engendered. Each of us brings a discrete frame of reference as we discover, look, and gaze. Move closer, embodied, and drift further away. As we frame – literally, as we decide where “it” ends and begins – we may recognize how arbitrary what we think we know and what we expect limits and constrains the elusive truth of the image.
Here's the crux: how I see and label in no way affects the original. It is free and so am I with respect for its inherent integrity and right to be. I will not touch it, I may photograph it (a reductive framing), I will go on my way often moved by what I’ve seen, that is, imagined. Later I may study and meditate on the visual image, with research, share my photo and thoughts with others. I may call it Art.
Regardless, as Robinson Jeffers observes in his early 20th c. poem Credo:
Passes, the eye closes, the spirit is a passage;
The beauty of things was born before eyes
and sufficient to itself; the heart-breaking beauty
Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.
Property and Ideoscape. Landscape and Taskscape. Mother Earth. Investigating land use and how indigenous habitation, modern development, and natural change shape and affect rock art is crucial to understanding. This includes physical and material context, access and preservation, and perception and respect.
Church Rock in Shasta County, California, is exemplary for two reasons. All of the above dynamics play a role in appreciating this extensive site. Second, the historical documentation includes extensive ethnography, old-school on the ground recording, and 3D digital imaging. (Including access to the UC Davis KeckCAVE’s immersive visualization facility.) I know of no site in Oregon with this range of documentation.
Church Rock (CA-SHA-39) is more than a rock. It’s an areal distribution of hundreds of carvings on the surfaces of exposed bedrock near two streams managed as a two-acre “cultural resource protection area” by its owner the City Of Redding.
In remote areas I pay attention to fences, waterholes, dams, and reservoirs, roads, domestic grazing, hunting tracks and blinds, and power lines. In suburban zones and fringes it’s housing, roads again, pipelines, and, of course… Golf courses! 
This cultural “reserve” is downstream from a major private housing and golf course development. Agreement with the development helps control access (Church Rock is not open to the public), foster respect, with an aim toward preservation. (To view a satellite image of the golf links and the petroglyph bedrock is to time-travel. One wonders, how will this appear in the Future?)
 In Cups, Circles, and Golf Links I consider petroglyphs within two golf course developments: Big Island Hawaii and Northumberland England.
Three recommended, well-illustrated references
- Van Tilburg, Frank Bock, and A. J. Bock. 1987. The Church Rock Petroglyph Site: Field Documentation and Preliminary Analysis. Occasional Papers of the Redding Museum No. 4, 1987.
- Millett, Marshall and Ritter, Eric. 2013. "The Church Rock Petroglyph Site: Function, Style, Digital Documentation, and 3D Visualization" in International Federation of Rock Art Organizations 2013 Proceedings, American Indian Rock Art Vol. 40:1017-1040.
- Mary Gerbic. 2015. A Field Trip to Church Rock. In SCAN, Santa Cruz Archaeological Society, Winter-Spring 2015: 5-8.
- Golf Green in the vicinity of Church Rock. Photo Douglas Beauchamp 2016
- Viewing a high-resolution 3D scan of the Maidu Historic Trail and Site at the UC Davis KeckCAVE’s immersive visualization facility. (This not Church Rock; it’s an example of how 3D imaging of the site can be used.)
Tao produced the One.
The One produced the two.
The two produced the three.
And the three produced the ten thousand things.
- Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching: about 2500 years ago 
10000 years in the future. What language do you speak? How do you shape symbols, markers? Gaze back to the Present. How do you witness terrain? What animals and plants do you see? How does the sky appear?
10000 years ago, early Archaic. You are walking, what do you see? How do you signal. Gesture? Gaze forward to this Present. How would you make a Universal Warning Sign?
10000 years give or take, a blip in geologic time. Yet, an elusive temporal imagining for an embodied human. What image/symbol/figuration endures, holds meaning? How to chart it, graph it, digitize it, mark it, so… we get it? As we inquire, we wonder - does it matter? The Ten Thousand Things. The eternal proliferation. Back to square One of The Tao.
Nuclear waste doesn't go away. These are not simple questions with easy answers. Indeed they may be deadly important. When Yucca Mountain, Nevada, was in serious consideration as a permanent disposal and containment site for “high level radioactive waste” (1987-2011) , how to warn future (human?) beings of danger spurred a design competition. A Universal Warning Sign was essential one that would be understood 10,000 years into the future. 
The graphic image above is one part of the submission by Yulia Hanansen.
The first image below is a submission by Southwest Missouri State University's Brandon Alms.
With the 2nd image below, not part of the competition, I offer as a counterpoint: a compelling art poster (1995) by Jaune Quick-To-See Smith. She says, "I chose rabbits as an art icon because there is a cultural universality to them throughout the world."
The 3rd image: a competition graphic by Yulia Hanansen.
The final image: Archaic Petroglyph, Southeast Oregon, photo Douglas Beauchamp.
 Lao Tzu, The Way of Lao Tzu, Wing-Tsit Chan, trans.
 Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository.
 Universal Warning Sign competition (2002) for Yucca Mountain. Universal Warning Sign: Yucca Mountain. Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman (2015), by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, provides a concise overview about the 2002 Universal Warning Sign competition for Yucca Mountain.
Let the snake wait under
and the writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait,
-- through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose. (No ideas
but in things) Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
- William Carlos Williams, A Sort of a Song*
In petroglyphs circles may weave in and out and through gatherings of elements - vague figures, abstract suggestions, ever-abiding. Images loosely pecked or abraded drift, layering with time, softening, fading, weathering. Change whispers its spiraling tale, with it some of what we do not yet know floats before us.
Solstice. Full Moon. Seasonal Rounds. Sharp sight of the Dark. Quick gift of the Light.
Selected circling petroglyphs visited in 2015.
*Appreciation to Jarold Ramsey for leading me to this.
Between the limited volume of water stored in Clear Lake Reservoir, the low inflow forecast, and estimated evaporation and seepage rates, Reclamation cannot make discretionary releases from Clear Lake Reservoir during 2015.
- Bureau of Reclamation, April 2015
A basin in the Modoc country of far northeast California gathers the inflowing water of Willow Creek from some million acres from the south and east. Prior to completion of the Clear Lake Reservoir Dam in 1910 the water flow made a sweeping turn through a lake called Tchápsxo by the Modoc. Magically it became the beginning of Lost River. The river crossed north into Oregon, undulated northerly and westerly for a hundred miles, and eventually flowed into Tule Lake as that basin’s major replenisher. Today, for management purposes over a million acres of Modoc County is known as the Upper Lost River Watershed, a California segment of the Klamath Project.
Rock art of the Upper Lost River is not well-documented or well-understood. In this extreme drought year, I wonder does rock art bear on the future of productivity and well-being –even survival– of the people, animals, and plants of Modoc, Siskiyou, and Klamath counties? Directly, no, it does not. Yet, as a sideways reminder of time and change, seems to me it may. Walking the canyons, standing at the dam, I witness meanderings, a profound circle of season, and the vast cycles of this expansive lava plateau. Feeling time returning in curves immemorial. As with all the clear lakes and lost rivers of our journeys, we ask will it always be so?
 2015 Annual Operations Plan, Klamath Project, Bureau of Reclamation, April 2015, p.3
Note. The immediate Clear Lake area holds a tense and painful historical legacy. Modoc villages for centuries until the mid-1800s. The Applegate Trail crossed to the north in the mid 1800s. Modoc native peoples relocated to the Klamath Reservation in 1864. The last days of the Modoc War in 1873. Carr’s ranch and walls held area, 1870s-1890s. Diversions of Lost River from the 1880s to the dam completion in 1910. President T. Roosevelt proclaimed the Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge in 1911. Lost River sucker and the shortnose sucker listed as Endangered Species in 1988. Into the 21st century: increasing drought as symptom of global heating.
This sensual small grotto, the base of a basalt rim, holds clear, well-executed petroglyphs. At the time of my visit in July to this place in Modoc County, NE California, I did not see rock painting. That morning I was entranced by the rock carvings and the fluid protrusions of the congealed lava of the central stone.
Later as I looked at the photos on my computer I noticed some faint colorations. There is a tint to red ochre distinct from the variety of warm colors appearing in weathered, patinaed, lichened basalt. At such moments, even when faint, intentional marks as applied paint emerge – if you are attuned and lucky.
Intrigued, an enhanced photo revealed an array of applied paints. Traces appeared. It was clear the once-bright ochre had been applied in relationship to and in some instances directly over the petroglyphs. When, why, and by whom, is unknown. Now on public lands, this place is part of the country occupied and traversed by Pit River and Modoc tribal peoples for millennia. It is likely peoples from the Great Basin also moved through this country in times past and possibly bands from the Shasta area or the distant Columbia Basin. A place of intersections. Rock art emerges as traces of those early inhabitants and travelers.
To view larger versions: Grotto Modoc County
As we look with rock art, how do we experience the multiple dimensions? Perhaps start with this from Edward O. Wilson:
“The basic goal of activity mapping is to connect all of the processes of thought – rational and emotional; conscious, preconscious, and unconscious; held still and moving through time – to a physical base.” 
I find this provocative and expansive in a way that challenges me to see-with and perchance open re-cognition. Wilson’s statement references mapping brain activity. It suggests to me a wider landscape of attention.
When we see an apparent two-dimensional human-made image it is always already in the third dimension of material and place. Though flattened and abstracted by the photograph, we can yet imagine this textural and spatial dimension. Further, “held still and moving through time” introduces the fluidity of the fourth dimension – from the action of making to the changes of the stone and its environment, with the possibilities of subsequent markings and narratives. “Connecting all the processes … to a physical base.”
The image below: From a rim edging a seasonal lake-playa in the High Lakes region of Lake County, Oregon. Click for Album
 Edward O. Wilson. “On Free Will.” Harper’s Magazine, September 2014, 49-52.
The eye that sees the things of today, and the ear that hears, the mind that contemplates or dreams, is itself an instrument of antiquity equal to whatever it is called upon to apprehend … and perhaps … we are aware of … time in ways too difficult and strange for the explanation of historian and zoologist and philosopher. -Edward Thomas, writing in 1909 .
Typical of many sites in arid juniper-and-sage basalt uplands in the northern Great Basin, Long Lake is a seasonal shallow lake pan, or playa, bordered on its western edge by a basalt rim, outcrops, and tumbled boulders. Within a six-to-eight mile radius of this place, dozens of other sites hold thousands of petroglyphs spanning many social and environmental phases. Long Lake, a rich and well-regarded rock art location, is located on public lands (BLM) between Warner and Guano valleys, and north of highway 140. (Caution: make sure you have a solid vehicle, lots of water, and optionally, a way to reach the highway by phone or foot.)
Photographers and researchers during recent decades have recorded and studied this terrain, its places, stones, and images, with a variety of approaches and understandings. However, the immensities – and intensities – elude. In part I think because boundaried and linear frameworks can’t contain the cyclic fusing of time and space. An observer may choose to look, then see. Further, may participate. Then, hopefully, with a mind’s eye equal to the apprehension.
 Edward Thomas, The South Country (1909), in the chalk hills of southern England, as cited by Robert MacFarlane in The Old Ways : A Journey on Foot (2012).
What with the World Cup and the (further) disintegration of Iraq, is it surprising “…many Americans perceive global warming as a relatively distant threat” according to a recent Yale study.
Still, time flows on, kind of like a soccer game or a war. Since the end of the last ice age in Oregon’s Northern Great Basin, 12000-14000 years ago, animals, plants, and peoples have been affected by oscillating changes in rain, airflow, heat, and cold. Another variable: volcanic and other geologic activity.
The darkly patinaed markings on this boulder are thousands of years old, likely 6000 years of more. The bright symbol is more recent, perhaps created in the last 500-2000 years. The boulder is near the Owyhee River, which this year is significantly below its historic average flow. With global warming, how will the life of this canyon, the presence of this boulder, change in the next few centuries, in future millennia?
Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change. -IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, March 2014. The effects of climate change, with rising global temperatures, already being felt across the globe, will likely be "severe, pervasive, and irreversible" in the years to come, impacting agriculture, human health, and water supplies across all continents, oceans, and ecosystems. (UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released March 2014)
... At the eastern tip of the backwater of Lake Celilo, the Columbia River impoundment by the Dalles Dam, basalt cliffs rise out of the still water. If you stand on the cliff’s edge, on the Washington shore, you will look south and east at the downriver face of the John Day Dam. Power lines lacing through looming gray lattice towers rise and fall conveying the river’s captured power to distant places. White, tri-bladed wind turbines form their own turgid lines of ascent and descent along all the receding ridges up and down the wide river plain flattened by ice age floods.
This particular cliff-place, with its basalt block columns, offers the largest accumulation of “bear paw” petroglyphs on the Columbia, an estimated 150-180. 
Two realities about these petroglyphs occur after careful viewing. There are very few petroglyphs of any other design at this site. And: an enticing range of design variations on the “paws” motif is found here. What this may mean is purely speculation and conjecture, meaning we simply don’t know. However, I will suggest whatever the glyphs-makers’ specific intents, this site was and is a place of power. If so, the irony is readily apparent. Power - accumulated, distilled, concentrated - moves far and wide. As the animal abides.
It is entirely possible, should human systems collapse in the not-too-distant future, and the concrete abutments, towers, turbines fall silent, the animal markings will move from the stone walls outward, into and through this ever-changing Earth, alive to possibility.
 This site is documented by Loring (1982) and McClure (1978), and mentioned by Keyser (1992.) It is accessible to the public. Photos by Douglas Beauchamp, March 2014: Tower & Fishing Patforms; John Day Dam; "Bear Paws" on basalt.
...A final reflection from Jungian analyst Marion Woodman: The masculine struggle… as a relationship to the feminine, extends into a collective attitude to the planet - Mother Earth - distorting her natural rhythms until she can take no more. This disturbing situation is in large measure the result of a flawed solar myth that confers upon the masculine a heroic status, which now threatens us with extinction. From The Maiden King (1998).
While Western windstorms have always deposited dust on mountains, some recent research suggests that the trend is worsening, likely due to a continuing drought but also to land use in the West that is exposing more bare soil to the wind. -Wall Street Journal, January 7, 2014
Rapid climate change and potential catastrophic impacts are of major concern as they may severely challenge the ability of societies to respond and adapt due to environmental, economic, cultural and geopolitical constrains. 
This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is, This is the common air that bathes the globe. –Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself.
Human activities and population growth accelerate the oscillations of climate patterns. One result: increasing airborne dust from soil exposure and desiccation of the earth’s surface. Three billion tons of dust release into the atmosphere every year - with complex effects.
Dilemma of dust. In a few millennia (sooner?) a few hardy observers and explorers will probe through sedimented layers of dust at the base of boulders and rims. Luckily they will discover petroglyphs preserved though most of humankind will have disappeared along with many plants and animals from the desert west as we know it. Some rock art will live on - a faint glimmer of trust in an unforeseeable future.
Flip side of dust. Dust offers one key to unraveling the past of rock art production. Cycles of airborne dust result in differential deposition. Layered markers worthy of study. Findings help understand how changing climate shapes cultural sequences as peoples come and go, determined in great part by availability of the essential: Water.
In the Kimberley region of northwest Australia, a 1500-year mega-drought beginning about 5000 years BP coincided with the boundary between “the fine featured anthropomorphic figures of the Gwion Gwion or Bradshaw paintings, and broad stroke Wandjina figures.” The dates were arrived at in part by studying the chemistry of airborne dusts deposited in the sediments of a mound spring. 
In the arid western US, Varnish Microlamination (VLM) studies, refined over many years by Ronald Dorn and Tanzhuo Liu, have enabled more fine-grained dating for rock art researchers, David Whitley in particular. Rock varnish is a rock coating we usually refer to as patina. Airborne dust in the form of fine clay minerals comprises the bulk of the sediments that form rock varnish on exposed rock. Notably, Manganese and Iron contribute staining and color - less so during arid times. Hence, discernible lamellae. Whitley has integrated these studies with his extensive research in the Mojave Desert. The result is an important recent paper, far ranging, and provocative. I find Whitley convincing when he says, “The most conservative interpretation indicates that petroglyph production began in the western Great Basin at least 11,100 years ago and that it continued into the last 300 years.” 
Happily, both articles are open access:
 McGowan, Hamish, et al. 2012. Evidence of ENSO mega‐drought triggered collapse of prehistory Aboriginal society in northwest Australia Geophysical Research Letters 39, no. 22. ENSO? El Niño-Southern Oscillation.
 David S.Whitley. 2013. Rock Art Dating and the Peopling of the Americas. Journal of Archaeology, Volume 2013, Article ID 713159, 15 pages.
This 2007 article doesn't mention rock art – or dust – nonetheless a fascinating complement to the topic (PDF): Possible impacts of early-11th-, middle-12th-, and late-13th-century droughts on western Native Americans and the Mississippian Cahokians. Notably, Senior author Larry Benson also led the team which recently established an early Holocene age of the Winnemucca Lake petroglyphs.
The Paleoindian record … is noteworthy for its paucity of unambiguous items of art and ornamentation. The real fluorescence of symbolically laden material culture in North America comes during the subsequent Archaic period, several millennia after the last vestiges of Paleoindian lifeways had disappeared from the archaeological record. -John Speth, 2013
There are four or five sites in Oregon that qualify as Paleoarchaic, that is archaeological components chronometrically dated in excess of 11,500 cal B.P.: Paisley Caves, Newberry Crater, Connelly Caves, and Indian Sands (Curry County) (See Davis et al. 2012 for Paleo discussion.) Rimrock Draw Rockshelter (Harney County) may be considered another.
However, as yet no rock art in North America has been firmed dated to older than the end of what Davis defines as the late-Pleistocene marker of 11,500 BP (cal years), presumably the transition from Paleoarchaic to Archaic or the Early Holocene era.
Benson et al, in their ground-breaking study at Winnemucca Lake (2013), which cites Cannon and Ricks’ (1986) Great Basin Carved Abstract style, conclude, “We consider the Winnemucca Lake petroglyphs to represent an early archaic style characterized by distinctive design elements and motifs created using deeply carved lines and cupules. … specific motifs that are common to both Winnemucca Lake and Long Lake sites are also found elsewhere in the western Great Basin from Oregon to southeastern California.”
As we revel this Newer Year, let's respectfully enjoy this very old Carved Abstract rock art – four panels selected from a site in the southeast Oregon highlands near Long Lake tilting south toward Winnemucca Lake. Settle into the beauty of the rock art itself flowing through times’ mysterious portal. Offer gratitude to the makers who crossed the lands and gazed upon the stones, the bones of the earth, long ago. And to those who explore the measure of human presence in these lands.
Benson, Larry V., et al. 2013. Dating North America's oldest petroglyphs, Winnemucca Lake subbasin, Nevada. Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol 40:12.
Davis, Loren G., Samuel C. Willis, and Shane J. Macfarlan. 2012. Lithic Technology, Cultural Transmission, and the Nature of the Far Western Paleoarchaic/Paleoindian Co-Tradition. In Meetings at the Margins: Prehistoric Cultural Interactions in the Intermountain West, Rhode, David, ed., University of Utah Press, 47:64.
O’Grady, Patrick, Margaret M. Helzer, and Scott P. Thomas. 2012. A Glimpse into the 2012 University of Oregon Archaeology Field School at Rimrock Draw Rockshelter. Current Archaeological Happenings in Oregon 37(2-3):4-7.
Speth, John. 2013. PaleoIndian big-game hunters in North America: are we misreading the evidence? Quaternary International, Volume 285, 197-198.
The immemorial, fixed Earth, which provided the conditions and foundations of our lives, is moving, the fundamental Earth is trembling. - Michel Serres, The Natural Contract (p. 86).
43 cupules on a solitary granite boulder face east beyond the Pacific Ocean’s Monterey Bay toward the hills and the rising sun.
Dense with cuppings, red-colored boulders in the marshlands at the southern terminus of Clear Lake, California’s largest natural lake.
Deep groves forming ovals and circles on schist boulders embedded in the rolling oak hills east of the Russian River.
The rocks, exposed nodes marked and eroding, in motion with our weathering sphere around the sun. As with the stone, softly patinaed and lichened, we feel the old trembling, and the new.
(Photos in the three Northern California albums noted above from November 2013. Below: Spyrock (detail), Mendocino County. Serres quoted by Bruno Latour in “Which language shall we speak with Gaia?” (2013:4). To download this recent essay as a pdf: Gaia
In 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, Jonathan Crary describes 24/7 as “a generalized inscription of human life into duration without breaks, defined by a principle of continuous functioning.” 24/7 means screens ever on, data ever flowing, infinite ever streaming. No turning back.
You peer into this frame and image at once an individual and a bearer of the social. Through lensing, literally and figuratively, I looking-glass the gesture on the stone of the maker - an individual and a bearer of the social. Each of our time-wrought facings curve the moments of who we are.
Sleep? A time of vulnerability, a time to dream, Crary concludes, “sleep can stand for the durability of the social.” Enough to keep you awake. Or open dreamtime. (Petroglyph panel, Lake County, Oregon)
Using individual panels with distinctly different levels of patination helps to focus on time as one of the major factors in the variability of rock art elements. (Her emphasis) -Alanah Woody 1
The desert: the mirage of eternity, or close to it, not really a void only because of the deep calm of the wild waiting patiently to wrap itself around you. -Ariel Dorfman 2
Why do I seek and find inspiration among the cluttered basalt rims and canyons? Or is it insight? In-sight into the expanse of time, beginnings and endings, explicit or elusive.
Three journeys in September to the High Dry Lakes* of SE Lake County, Oregon, have taken me to multitudes of rock rims and multigenerations of petroglyphs, many thousands of years old, deep, dark, imbued with wind and weather. Others, pecked or carved in the last few hundred years, reflecting light, revealing bright stone.
Diversity of this region’s rock art stands out as an almost overwhelming richness of time, place, style, and tradition. Almost? There is a point where I seek to organize the variables into a sensible grasp of this variety. To make sense. Rather than labeling, I offer a series of images representative of this expansive variability: Multigenerations of Petroglyphs
1. Alanah Woody in Layer by Layer: A Multigenerational Analysis of the Massacre Lake Rock Art Site, 1996.
2. Ariel Dorfman in Desert Memories: Journeys Through the Chilean North, 2003.
* The “High Dry Lakes” region I define as the roughly rectangular zone, in SE Oregon and NW Nevada, east of Warner Lakes Basin to Guano Rim. And south from Poker Jim Ridge, on the northern boundary of the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge, crossing the southern Oregon border to the Massacre Lakes region of Nevada.
An important paper is receiving high media visibility this month, for good reason. It is titled: Dating North America's oldest petroglyphs, Winnemucca Lake subbasin, Nevada. The paper by LV Benson, et al., appears in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 40, Issue 12, (December 2013). Highlights, from the Journal's website:
-Petroglyphs in the Winnemucca Lake subbasin, Nevada, were carved prior to 10.5 cal ka.
-A deep lake in the Pyramid and Winnemucca Lake subbasins persisted until ∼9.3 cal ka.
-The designs of the Winnemucca Lake glyphs are similar to those found at Long Lake, Oregon.
Recommended: Robert E. Connick and Frances Connick’s important descriptive and analytic work of this site 20 years ago. They devoted thoughtful consideration to “The Question of Age” and included excellent photographs. (The Hitherto Unrecognized Importance of Nevada Site 26WA3329: A Monumental Site with Southwestern Connections, Rock Art Papers, 1992. #28 vol. 9:73-99, San Diego Museum of Man.)
For selected images, see Winnemucca Lake Petroglyphs
All we presentists get from zooming out to ten-thousand-year time spans is vertigo. -Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock
Walking across interlocked cobble basalt at dawn, the air yet still. Small sounds distant lightly move over the sage. If I am lucky as the sun strikes this morning’s desert the first long golden rays will saturate the rim to glow with an old carving. I will see it as form and shape and this light may help me look deeper into the field of its dwelling. An abstract image residing in the real, this moment, spanning millennia.
The Ah Ha! of apprehension - the seeing, the hearing, the touching of the ground - shape the sensual, physical space between. A third space, cognitive, hovers in both Now and Then. A space-time continuum, remembering and renewing. Present and past with a slim thread to time beyond, the future.
Morning Rim. See: Owyhee Canyonlands
Temporal descriptions and speculation in rock art depart in two dimensions: How Old Is It? And: Where does It Fit in the Sequence of Changing Times?
Because few rock art glyphs, panels, or sites can be securely dated, researchers adopt various time-blocks, ages, and transitions inherited from archaeology, geology, or art history. Archaic, Holocene, Bronze Age, for example.
Happily, in the last dozen years a new and useful descriptor has emerged: Anthropocene. Does this term, with its own conceptual dimension and still hotly debated, clarify or muddy the temporal waters? Briefly, Anthropocene is the period during which human activity has affected the measureable stratigraphy of the geologic record. Some say, that’s 1950, others it’s the industrial age, or, arguably, the transition from hunter-gathers to agricultural complexes, say 10,000 years ago.
Anthropocene sharpens awareness about human impact and duration. Is it possible the oldest rock art has been in place longer than the time the human species may have remaining on this planet? A mind-opening sequence.
More. An engaging 2012 summary by two geologists - Is the Anthropocene an issue of stratigraphy or pop culture? - can be downloaded as a pdf.
Petroglyphs at Cascadia Cave, Oregon, a scientifically dated 8,000 year old heritage site.
… pictures and poetry and music are not only marks in time but marks through time, of their own time and ours, not antique or historical, but living as they ever did, exuberantly, untired. -Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects
The three most significant petroglyph boulders in southern Puget Sound are of the tidal zones. All three are glacial boulders, arriving on the shores millennia before the carvers marked them. Two are granite erratics; another (Agate Point) is fine-grained gray-green sandstone.
Surging tides, flowing water, wave action, and, in one case the physical relocation of the boulder, continue to reshape the markings and how they are seen and imagined. Researchers have also affected physical change through rubbings, castings, and removal of barnacles - indeed, barnacles for decades have encrusted the Agate Point boulder to near obscurity.
Yet the clarity and power of these faces and eyes and other forms convey a compelling presence – … living as they ever did.
Marian Smith (1946), Edward Meade (1971), Beth Hill and Ray Hill (1974), Richard McClure (1978), Klaus Wellman (1979), and Daniel Leen (1981) have all devoted attention to these boulders and published photos or drawings of the petroglyphs. Leen’s overview in particular was a carefully considered and comprehensive summary.
The Squaxin Island and Suquamish tribes have more recently taken strong public interest in the cultural importance of the boulders. One of three boulders, originally from Harstine Island, called the Love Rock by the tribe, is now a centerpiece of the Squaxin Island Tribe’s Veterans Memorial near Shelton.