The Rock Art Engravings of the Coso Range

Animal Funerals & Post-Mortem Propitiation Rites

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Two Coso petroglyph panels (CA-Iny-40 and -43) depict sheep skulls perched atop poles (Grant et al., 1968:39-40). At Parrish Gorge (CA-Iny-43), a person reaches for a weighted atlatl (Figure 3). The man has a fringed basket or hide bag on his back and a wand at his feet. Dots lead from the base of the pole, holding the skull, and trace a path in spiral fashion back to the man’s hands. The weighted atlatl is juxtaposed with a pierced, prostrate bighorn with a second weighted lance piercing the animal’s side.

This glyph seems to depict a post-mortem bighorn funeral and propitiation ceremony. I would argue that the panel clearly supports a hunting magic model.

(Figure 3) This panel is hypothesized to be a depiction of a post-mortem animal funeral and propitiation ceremony. The panel is located in Parrish Gorge and is identified as part of the collection of glyphs at CA-Iny-43. This graphic may be a visual representation of the mythic journey: hunt, death, ascent to the upper world via the sacred pole, and seasonal return/regeneration back to the middle human world, upon being restored, traveling up from the lower world-arising from the land of the dead and ancestor spirits. rock art engravings coso range america

The atlatl appears to be symbolic of the hunt. The pierced bighorn may represent death. The bighorn skull perched atop a pole may indicate the post-mortem bighorn funeral and propitiation ceremony. The spiral dot pattern perhaps shows the path of the animal’s spirit back to the land of the living and into the hands of the Coso huntsmen.

Similar animal rituals have been documented worldwide and have several characteristic elements. They begin with a ceremony for “seeing the animal off” by placing its skull on a sacred pole, orienting it eastward (a metaphor for ascent-toward the rising sun), and “feeding” it with ritual foods.

The atlatl is most likely symbolic of the hunt. The pierced bighorn appears to represent death. The spiral dot pattern might show the path of the animal’s spirit back to the land of the living and into the hands of the Coso huntsmen (cf. Patterson, 1997, 2001). Such an illustration would appear to communicate the central Native American religious theme of the necessity of death to sustain life and to be reborn (see discussion below under The World Pole). This image supports the notion that “hunters and hunt shamans performed propitiatory rituals both to ensure and commemorate hunting success” (cf. Keyser and Whitley, 2006). Malouf (1966:4) identified just such animal ceremonialism, group religious ceremonies, and associated big game hunting rites for Numic groups in the Great Basin (contra Steward, 1940, 1941).
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