The Rock Art Engravings of the Coso Range

Introduction to Coso Religion

This article was written after I completed and published my Ph.D. dissertation research and wanted to make a statement. There had been so much written regarding shamanism and rock art that it seemed to be a monolithic explanation and cover all for rock art in almost every instance and diverse form. However, since Coso Range rock art was one of the original data sets used as a benchmark for the shamanic and trance models of rock art interpretation, it would be a good to revisit this data set. This was especially the case as so much work had been done in general on eastern California prehistory. That research needed to be integrated into a broader discussion of rock art as it complements dirt archaeology studies.
rock art engravings coso range america

Dr. Alan P. Garfinkel

coso rock art anthropomorphic figures

Examining bighorn sheep petroglyphs

My small contribution here was to remind the reader and open minded scholar that there are reasonable and complementary explanatory platforms that provide alternative meanings and functions. Rather than a direct emphasis on shamanism what I intended to communicate was first that there is substantial and compelling evidence that hunting ceremonialism was part of the mix (at certain times) in our understanding of Coso rock art.

Also there is more than meets the eye when we think about shamanism, there is also oral tradition and mythology and central supernaturals that play into this discussion and they just might have figured into this dynamic explosion of artistic expression.

I began to entertain the notion that the PBAs (animal-human conflations or Patterned Body Anthropomorphs [PBAs]) in the Coso Range might have something to do with the role of the Animal Master in revivifying the animal dead. However this was only in an early stage of my thinking and was not fully developed until later.

In another vein I wanted to refresh and perhaps reflesh the old “hunting magic” ideas originally developed by Heizer and Baumhoff and supported by Grant et al. I placed that idea in a contextual understanding of world forager religion and animal ceremonialism. Upon reflection it appeared to me that what we were dealing with was akin to increase rites and world renewal ceremonies. As well fecundity and fertility appeared to me to have a lot to do with those lively and vital images of what I thought to be living sheep running and jumping to escape the hunting efforts of the Coso atlatl and bow men. It also seemed probable that propitiation and rites of passage must have also come to play with the extent of such a cult focusing on a remarkably strong and aggressive animal. My article also served as a testimonial of the importance of integrating the regional archaeofaunal record into rock art interpretation and served to demonstrate that the animals depicted, in the Coso example, were certainly at times an important part of the subsistence base.
Bradshaw Foundation - Introduction to Coso Rock Art
Dr. Alan P. Garfinkel - About the Author
Dr. Alan P. Garfinkel - Introduction to the Research Paper
→ | Coso Sheep Cult - Research Paper | Page |
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The Coso Range Rock Art Gallery
Coso Publications by Dr. Alan P. Garfinkel
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Talking Stone - Rock Art of the Cosos - Documentary Film
American Rock Art Archive
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