Ancient Art Archive June 2021 update

Ancient Art Archive June 2021 update

I hope you’re enjoying your summer! It’s been a busy time at the Archive — here’s what’s been going on:

We’ve fully launched work on our massive Mural of America project to build 3D/VR experiences of 10 North American rock art, geoglyph and cave art sites. Last year we created a prototype at Devilstep Hollow cave in Tennessee (360 degree video here website coming soon). We are now expanding the work!

Work is going well. In April, our friends at Shumla Archaeological Research & Education Center and the Witte Museum generously shared the work they are doing around pictograph (painted art) murals in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands of Texas. Shumla is the global leader in rock art research and education, and I am thrilled to report they will be one of our partners for the Mural of America!

Panther Cave, Pecos River Style Pictographs, (Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site), Amistad National Recreation Area, Val Verde County, Texas 3
Panther Cave, Seminole Canyon, TX photo by Alan Cressler

Shumla is examining the cooperation, preparation, and process involved in constructing the giant murals in Seminole Canyon. The artworks themselves are HUGE! For example, some of the individual images are 16 feet high.

They couldn’t be painted without scaffolding. Imagine building sturdy and flexible scaffolding 4,000 years ago in a place that has no trees! Because the resources required to create these painted murals was so substantial — resources that could otherwise be spent addressing basic needs — the paintings very existence indicates a community that highly valued the art.

Shumla’s research has also discredited earlier assertions that the panels were merely a random collection of images. The the images on the White Shaman panel are connected to a common Mesoamerican creation story.

For a deep dive into the White Shaman and the art of the lower Pecos region check out Carolyn Boyd’s beautiful White Shaman book (Amazon Link Here).

In the Pecos, we will be modeling Panther Cave. It contains Red Linear style pictographic images that are approximately 4,000 years old. The site was originally located in a dry canyon, but now abuts Lake Amistad. The low water levels in the lake have made public visitation impossible. In addition to providing access, 3D modeling this cave provides an opportunity to show what its surrounding environment looked like when it was originally created.

The Rochester Panel is a very complex site on Mud Creek in Emery County, Utah. It has Fremont and Barrier Canyon Style elements.

In May, Utah’s BLM welcomed the Archive to another mural, the Rochester Panel. The Rochester Panel is a Fremont and Barrier Reef style petroglyph panel etched into the red-varnished sandstone of the Molen Reef overlooking Muddy Creek. It depicts an enigmatic array of images, including anthropomorphs, animals, concentric circles, rainbow arcs, and wavy lines. Its extraordinary size, complexity, universal appeal, and surroundings make it ideally suited for preservation through 3D modeling.

As you know if you’re an Instagram follower, just a couple of weeks after we finished documenting this site, it was defaced by people scratching their names across parts of the panel.

At the Archive we passionately believe that the best path to preservation is education. Educational curriculum is built into the Mural of America project.

If you’d like to learn more about Utah rock art, I highly recommend Standing on the Walls of Time, by Kevin Jones (Amazon Link here). Kevin is Utah’s former State Archaeologist … and he is also our site expert for the Rochester Panel.

The Great Serpent Mound is a 1,348-foot (411 m)-long, three-foot-high prehistoric effigy mound on a plateau of the Serpent Mound crater along Ohio Brush Creek in Adams County, Ohio.

In June, I visited the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio. This site is a giant geoglyph – more specifically, an enormous effigy mound – of built-up earth in the shape of a snake with an oval at one end. The site is historic Shawnee Indian territory.

While archaeologists still disagree about exactly when the artwork was constructed, they are clear it was built by “the ancestors of today’s American Indian tribes with historic ties to the Ohio Valley.”

Serpent Mound is maintained by the Ohio History Connection. Their Curator of Archaeology, Dr. Brad Lepper, invited me to visit during the annual solstice celebration. Although it’s an annual event, this year was incredibly special: it marked the first time the events were conducted not by the History Connection, but by the chiefs of the two Shawnee tribes with ancestral connections to the site: Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe and Chief Glenna Wallace of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe. The collaboration between the Ohio History Connection and the tribes is also reflected in this recent article co-authored by Dr. Lepper and Chief Barnes.

The highlight of my trip was the opportunity to interview the two chiefs. Chief Barnes explained the site’s sacred nature, describing it as an

“altar where creation was understood, and where human beings came to understand themselves, and their place in the divine.”

Chief Wallace told me she wanted everyone to know that

“our people had intellect, our people had intelligence, our people had spirit, our people had culture, our people had love, and we have those same characteristics today.”

They both spoke of the tremendous pain caused by removal from central Ohio to reservations in Oklahoma (a theme we will explore more deeply in the Mural of America), but, in the words of Chief Wallace,

“We are alive. We love the United States. We are part of the United States even though they were the ones who were responsible for our removal.”

Chief Wallace, Chief Barnes, and Dr. Lepper have all agreed to help guide the Archive’s storytelling efforts around the Great Serpent Mound Site. I am excited to get back to Ohio to work with them to create the models and tell the stories that will allow us and all of the Shawnee, no matter where they are living now, to experience this sacred place.

Thanks for all of your support!

Stephen Alvarez, Founder