The Rock Art Engravings of the Coso Range

Spring Rebirth & Increase - Herds of Game Animals

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Based on a review of Coso petroglyph panels (n = 359), there are many more healthy, prosperous, and lively sheep than those suffering attacks by Coso hunters or predators (Figure 6).

Many petroglyphs show sheep running or leaping and engaged in notable movement. Such illustrations have been used as a criticism of the “hunting magic” hypothesis. Yet I would argue that these images were made based on a desire for an increase in game animals - to magically ensure a continuous food supply and a plethora of game. This expression is exactly what would be predicted as the intent of the Coso artisans in order to supernaturally increase game and ensure a continuous abundance of animals.

The Coso panels are replete with many scenes showing long lines of sheep emanating from the rocks and crevices of the lava boulders and canyon walls. Numerous depictions show sheep in disjointed arrays, and collections, sometimes with other game animals (including deer or antelope) in eclectic concatenations. It seems reasonable that the narrative elements of these compositions correspond to specific mythology and restoration beliefs imploring the “Master of the Game Animals” to release the unborn souls of the deceased game animals and lead them back to the middle world of the Coso natives (cf. Matheny et al., 1997; Schaafsma, 1986; contra Keyser and Whitley, 2006). Western Great Basin cosmology and oral traditions emphasize the underworld as a secluded place, yet richly endowed and wonderfully adorned, populated by game animals, an idealized copy of life above, from which a culture hero leads the game animals back to middle world humans (cf. Liljeblad, 1986:652; Zigmond, 1980:175-178).

Therefore it seems plausible that the Coso believed (as did a number of other forager people) that the underworld was the source for replenishment of game animals. The animal images in the Coso Range attest to a practice of contagious magic acting on these sacred rocks, tanks, springs (hot and cold), cracks/holes/crevices in the rocks, and canyon walls. Hence the rock pictures may manifest the animistic belief that a revered sky god or animal spirit helper would regularly “recharge” the Coso hunting grounds afresh with a new supply of regenerated bighorns and other animals. This would assure a never-ending cycle of rebirth that would begin anew each year. Coso rock art is then a possible reinforcement for and a depiction of the mythic tradition of an animal or human/animal intermediary and its re-emergence into the middle human world leading game animals to rebirth, fecundity, and fertility (cf. Grant et al., 1968:40-41; Hultkrantz, 1986:633; Keyser and Klassen, 2001:87).


Bradshaw Foundation - Introduction to Coso Rock Art
Dr. Alan P. Garfinkel - About the Author
Dr. Alan P. Garfinkel - Introduction to the Research Paper
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The Coso Range Rock Art Gallery
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