The Rock Art Engravings of the Coso Range

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Paradigm Shifts, Rock Art Studies , and the 'Coso Sheep Cult' of Eastern California

Alan P. Garfinkel

One of the more spectacular expressions of prehistoric rock art in all of North America 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 mountain sheep drawings of the Coso region bolstered the “hunting magic” hypothesis. However, this hypothesis has become increasingly marginalized by a prevailing view that considers most rock art as an expression of individual shamanistic endeavor (cf. Lewis-Williams and Dowson, 1988; Whitley, 1994; Whitley and Loendorf, 1994). This article explores comparative ethnologic and archaeological evidence supporting the hunting magic hypothesis. I place this explanatory framework in a larger context based on a contemporary understanding of comparative religion and the complexity of forager symbolism. The article argues that the preponderance of Coso images are conventionalized iconography associated with a sheep cult ceremonial complex. This is inconsistent with models interpreting the Coso drawings as metaphoric images correlated with individual shamanic vision quests.

Reproductive Symbolism in Great Basin Rock Art

Reproductive Symbolism in Great Basin Rock Art:
Bighorn Sheep Hunting, Fertility and Forager Ideology
Alan P. Garfinkel & Donald R. Austin

Coso Range rock drawings are a central subject and focus for debates positing alternative meanings and agents responsible for animal depictions in Great Basin prehistoric rock art. We present new evidence offering a middle ground between the divergent views of the ‘hunting religion, increase rites, and overkill’ and the ‘shaman, visions and rain-making’ models. We argue that rock-art images, in general, possess multivocality and manifest imbricated conceptual metaphors operating on a variety of scales simultaneously. We recognize that Coso pictures, in one sense, metaphorically represent increase and renewal, human and animal fertility, and game animal magnification. Evidence for that perspective is presented including Coso bighorn with up-raised tails, ‘spirit arrows’, animals giving birth, those that appear pregnant, and an abundance of animals evidencing vitality and movement. Ritual adept shamans also appear to have often been the religious specialists or agents responsible for Coso rock art and the sources for fashioning these images were frequently visionary experiences.

Sounds and Symbolism from the Netherworld

Sounds and Symbolism from the Netherworld:
Acoustic Archaeology at the Animal Master’s Portal
Alan P. Garfinkel and Steven J. Waller

In the traditional worldview of the Kawaiisu, Yahwera, or the Master of the Animals, is a bird-human who lives and reigns over the Animal Underworld. The entrance to his subterranean abode is a natural feature on the landscape, a named, limestone rock portal upon which a rock painting depicts Yahwera. Kawaiisu oral narratives emphasize sound qualities attaching to this supernatural figure. Narratives also associate the “sound of the deer in the rock” with this sacred place. Indeed, the limestone monolith can be induced to exhibit acoustical attributes, specifically, multiple echoes that would seem to offer an impression of hoofbeats. Drawing on varied data, this study seeks insights into the meaning of the Yahwera narratives and the relationships of sound to elements of Kawaiisu cosmology.

Great Basin Bighorn Ceremonialism

Great Basin Bighorn Ceremonialism
Reflections on a Possible Sheep Shrine at the Rose Spring Site, Alta California
Robert M. Yohe II and Alan P. Garfinkel

In the early 1990s, a bighorn ram skull cap with intact horn cores, set atop a stacked rock cairn, was discovered at the Rose Spring site (CA-INY-372), located on the edge of the Coso Range at the southwestern corner of the Great Basin. In this article, we describe the character of the discovery, date the feature, and posit its meaning and function. The feature is intriguing since it might represent a prehistoric manifestation associated with Coso Representational Rock Art. The context for understanding this discovery and other prehistoric bighorn features documented in the Desert West is explored. A review of ethnographic accounts, native oral tradition and cosmology, and bighorn figurative sculptures and rock art, help us explore the religious and ceremonial significance of this animal to the aboriginal people of the region.
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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