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: http://www.ca.blm.gov/cdd/crmhmpg.html http://www.ca.blm.gov/cdd/blythe1.gif 2. Check out: http://www.hotwired.com/rough/usa/southwest/az/regions/central/west.html 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 Nevada. 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 Vegas. 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 telephone. 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 indifference. 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 mortals. "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 said. Despite the assault on so many fronts, little is being done to protect the intaglios. "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 job.' 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 them."