Message #53:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Desert Intaglios
Date: Tue, 06 Feb 96 12:45:00 MST
Encoding: 214 TEXT

1.  Check out:

2. Check out:
About twenty miles south of Lake Havasu City, clearly signposted from 
Hwy-95, the Colorado River Indian Reservation (daily 8am-sundown; $3) has a 
collection of prehistoric giant rock figures, or intaglios, made by 
"carving" the desert floor, shedding the darker top layer of rock to reveal 
the lighter layers of sand beneath. The figures are so huge (up to 160 feet) 
that it's hard to tell what you're looking at, but gaze long enough and you 
can discern a four-legged animal, and a human and spiral design.

3.  AZ Republic article
Sprawling figure a mystery - Fisherman believed to be done in past 70 years
By Clint Williams, Staff Writer The Arizona Republic, Saturday, February 3, 
1996, Page A27

Answering the prayers of his people, Kumastamho the Creator traveled north 
to the Rocky Mountains to find water.
He drove his spear into the earth four times before the water burst forth 
and flowed southwest toward the desert home of the Yuman-speaking tribes. 
 He then used his spear to scratch the course of the Colorado River.
The myth, told in a giant earth figure called the Fisherman, explains the 
origin of the Colorado River.  The Origin of the Fisherman isn't as clear.
The Fisherman is one of more than 200 huge figures, some more than 100 feet 
long, scratched into the desert floor along the Colorado River from southern 
Nevada to the Gulf of California.  The sprawling figures of men and serpents 
and lizards can only be viewed from high above: art for the gods.
For most of the figures, the myster is in the meaning.  But when it comes to 
the Fisherman, an elaborate figure northeast of Quartzsite, the mystery is: 
Who made it ?
The Fisherman, an animated giant walking on water and aming a quartz-tipped 
spear at two fish, most certainly was made by Native Americans, one expert 
says.  But another scholar speculates that the figure was carved by a 
reclusive, Avant-garde sculptor.
Whoever made the Fisherman, it apparently was created recently.  Although 
some geoglyphs are more than 5,000 years old, the Fisherman may be no more 
than 70.
Ron Dorn, a geography professor at Arizona State University, has dated the 
Fisherman by using an experimental technique that measures the amount of 
lead deposited on rocks.
"The Fisherman must have been made since people started driving around in 
cars with lead in the gasoline," Dorn said.
Leaded gasoline first went on sale in 1923.
Other figures Dorn has dated through other methods are as old as the Bible 
and considered equally sacred.  The figures, also known as intaglios, are 
believed to have been carved by shamans of the Mohave, Chemehuevi, Kumeyaay 
and Quechan tribes as a form of prayer.
Some figures are ceremonial dance circles, some representations of 
Kumastamho and his evil twin brother.
Boma Johnson, an archaeologist with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in 
Yuma, said the geoglyphs "are a flow of thought between the earth people and 
the sky people."
The land near the Colorado River is paved with dark river rock deposited by 
ancient waterways over thousands of years and coated with a varnish of 
desert minerals.  To make an intaglio, this pavement was scraped away to 
expose the lighter soil underneath.
The artists most likely worked without tools.  Nothing resembling a hoe has 
been found in the area.
"The easiest thing of all is to get down on your hands and knees and scrape 
with your hands," Johnson said.
So the Fisherman, which covers an area 50 feet long and 38 feet wide, could 
have been made by one person.
Jay von Werlhof, who has studied earth figures in the Arizona and California 
desert for 20 years, said he long suspected that the Fisherman wasn't made 
by an ancient medicine man.
"The way it was stylized, it didn't quite fit in," said von Werlhof, a 
retired instructor at Imperial Valley College in El Centro, California.
Most geoglyphs of humans are little more than gigantic, akwardly 
proportioned stick figures.  The Fisherman, discovered by von Werlhof and 
farmer and pilot Harry Casey in 1984, shows a man in motion, raising a spear 
as if ready to strike one of the fish in the water below.
Also, von Werlhof noted, the Fisherman is about 25 miles from the Colorado 
River.  Intaglios are usually closer to the river.
"I seriously doubt any Indian made the Fisherman," von Werlhof said.
He speculates it was the work of Michael Heizer, son of reknown 
archaeologist Robert Heizer.
Michael Heizer learned about ancient petroglyphs, or rock carvings, and 
geoglyphs, or earth drawings, while traveling with his father to 
archaeological sites in Bolivia, Peru, California and Nevada.  He very 
likely would have the knowledge necessary to carve a geoglyph consistent 
with ancient mythology, von Werlhof said.
In 1968, the younger Heizer "made several trips to California's Mohave 
Desert, where he created a group of impermanent sculptures, ground paintings 
and drawings," according to a 1986 article in Smithsonian.  Could he have 
made a more permanent geoglyph in nearby Arizona during the same time ?
 - See SPRAWLING, page A28
 - SPRAWLING, from page A27
Heizer, born in 1944, has since achieved a measure of fame as a pioneer of 
the earth-art movement and as a creator of massive earth works, including 
Double negative, two long trenches cut on oppsite sides of a canyon in 
Since 1972, he has been working on City, a 16-acre complex of massive 
earth-and-concrete sculptures on his ranch near Hiko, Nevada, north of Las 
At the ranch, a woman who identified herself only as Jennifer denied that 
Heizer carved the Fisherman, but she refused to put the artist on the 
And don't bother trying for an in-person interview.
"If you came by here, you'd be breaking the law because there are big 'no 
trespassing' signs posted on the front gate," Jennifer said.
Johnson, of the BLM, doesn't think Heizer carved the Fisherman.
"There are aspects about the Fisherman that make it obviously not the 
product of white people," he said.
Johnson notes details in the geoglyph, which tells part of the story of 
creation for the Yuman-speaking tribes.  The images of the sun and of a 
serpent near the head of the Fisherman identify the figure as Kumastamho, 
Johnson said, "and that combination, in my mind, almost assures it was done 
by native people."
Few white people would know the significance of that combination of symbols, 
he said.
Johnson agrees that the Fisherman may have been made since the 1920's, but 
because the desert vavement around the figure has reformed and now looks 
undisturbed, he says it has to have been made before the late 1960s, when 
Michael Heizer was practicing his craft in the area.
"I don't have any doubt about that," Johnson said.
[ Photograph shows man standing next to geoglyph of the Fisherman.  Photo 
caption says: "The Fisherman, a rock carving of a man raising a spear, was 
discovered by Jay von Werlhof, a retired teacher, and farmer and pilot Harry 
Casey. ]

4.  Arizona Republic article
Desert Etched Geoglyphs Endangered -  Intaglios damaged by sprawl, vehicles
 Arizona Republic, Saturday, February 3, 1996  Page Al

 By Clint Williams, Staff Writer

 The origins of giant earthen figures scattered across the deserts of 
Arizona and California are lost
 in time, but their future seems certain.
 And bleak.
 "I think they'll all disappear eventually," said Boma Johnson, an 
archaeologist with the U.S.
 Bureau of Land Management in Yuma.
 The sprawling sculptures scraped into the desert flanking the Colorado 
River are being erased by
 development, off-road vehicles, wild burros, ground squirrels and academic 
 Although many are thousands of Years old, the earthen figures were largely 
undiscovered until
 this century. The first-known discovery was in 1932, when an airplane pilot 
 -see GIANT, page A28
 ... spotted the huge figure of a man just north of Blythe, California.
 Because of the medium and the size, the geoglyphs generally are simple and 
characterized by
 irregular lines and proportions.
 But the figures, messages to the gods and ancestors, weren't intended for 
viewing by critical
 "I can't think of a single one where you can stand on a hill and look at 
it," Johnson said.
Intaglios are hard to see.  Even an observant hiker can walk blithely past 
one, and that has
proved their best protection.  It's hard to destroy something you don't know 
is there.
 But some geoglyphs have inadvertently been damaged by off-road vehicle 
drivers, including
 World War 11 tank drivers preparing for the invasion of North Africa. 
 Other figures have been
 damaged or destroyed by erosion, construction, vandals, the hooves of wild 
burros and the
 tunneling of ground squirrels.
"Ground squirrels have been doing more damage than people lately," Johnson 
 Despite the assault on so many fronts, little is being done to protect the 
 "We need to develop more sound protective measures," said Jay von Werlhof, 
a retired instructor
Jay von Werihof, a retired instructor at Imperial Valley College in El 
Centro, California, who has
studied the geoglyphs for 20 years.
 Most of the earthen figures, maybe 70 percent, are on BLM land, von Werlhof 
said, but "the
 BLM has always cried poor."
 "They don't have the money to patrol, they don't have the money to put up 
fences," he said.
 "The very people who are supposed to be protecting them by law are saying 
they can't do the
 But Johnson said there isn't much his agency can do.
 "The only thing we can do is fence them, and that isn't practical," he 
said, adding that in 1975,
 motorcycle riders lifted their bikes over a barrier at one remote site and 
marred the figures.
 The only way to preserve the intaglios is to educate people "with a sense 
of respect for things of
 other cultures and other times," Johnson said, adding, "I don't think that 
is ever going to happen
 in this world."
 Meanwhile, recording and eciphering the ancient artworks is left to 
Johnson, who is eight years
 from retirement, and von Werlhof, now 73.  Few other archaeologists take 
any notice of the
 strange scratchings in the desert.
 "There is a serious lack of attention to the entire field of rock art in 
American archaeology," said
 Ron Dorn, a geography professor at Arizona State University who has 
developed a method for
 dating the intaglios.
 Dorn said archaeologists in the United States focus more on buried sites, 
sites that are protected
 by the earth that covers them.  Meanwhile, the earthen figures and other 
rock art are exposed to
 vandals, erosion and development.
 "The rock-art sites in the Western United States are disappearing," Dorn 
said, " and
 archaeologists should have their buns out there recording and studying