Talk given at INAH Balances Conference in Mexico City, September 24, 2012, at Rock Art 2012 in San Diego, November 3, 2012 and at IFRAO 2013 in Albuquerque, May 28, 2013.
This higher resolution map shows the context of the sites in this talk (in blue) within the northern Great Mural area. The sites are in the Sierra de San Juan north of the Sierra de San Francisco. This region has fewer and smaller sites than the Sierra de San Francisco or Sierra de Guadalupe to the south.
Art to the north of the Great Mural area, called the Northern Abstract zone, differs markedly in style and subject matter.
Cueva Pintada, about 60km south of Santa Gertrudis in the Sierra de San Francisco, is a justly famous Great Mural site with imagery typical of these sites.
The character of Great Mural sites, especially when compared to Northern Abstract sites, follows strict conventions in subject matter and style. The subjects are humans and animals drawn in outline using twisted perspective.
Patterns in the placement of figures can also occur. In this talk I describe some patterns I have noticed in sites near Santa Gertrudis.
At Cueva Pintada and other sites in the Sierra de San Francisco rows of anthropomorphs occur. Rows of other figures (animals, fish) are less common, but not unknown: Palmarito is an example. Previous observers have commented on the extensive overlap and over painting in Great Mural art. Some have suggested that the painters had no regard for previous figures. In this talk I demonstrate that position and overlap of figures had meaning for the painters.
Not all Great Mural sites are similar to Cueva Pintada or the sites in this presentation. An example is Cueva El Dipugon in the Sierra de Guadalupe. It has mainly animal and fish figures with much over painting and few obvious patterns.
The patterns I will demonstrate are: (1) Rows of anthropomorphs. (2) Pairs, i.e. two anthropomorphs drawn similarly and placed next to each other so that their arms touch. (3) V shaped groupings of anthropomorphs. (4) Small figures at the bottom of larger figures or in a group by themselves.
Observing patterns that occur in many sites must surely be the first step towards the understanding of a rock art tradition.
The patterns in the art can possibly be used to infer knowledge about the painters. Many of these sites are large enough that they must have been painted over a period of time. Figures were added to panels that contained other figures. This gave rise to rows and V-shaped groups. These patterns reflect a sophisticated culture that had continuity and respected the past. The patterns (or lack thereof) may reflect different cultural practices. For instance community vs. individual art.
The first site is called Bat Caves. It consists of several small shelters in a volcanic formation. I visited the shelters in April, 2012.
This is the center shelter. Main panel is at right.
At the right is an unusual combination of two figures, a V shaped pair. All three of the large anthropomorphs seem related, perhaps painted by the same painter.
Often I will present images enhanced using DStretch. If I do so I will list the DStretch enhancement name on the slide (i.e. DStretch YRD for this slide.)
Another interesting pattern is the placement of paintings of animals or fish above or nearby larger anthropomorphs, but this topic deserves a separate talk.
Below the larger figures are smaller ones drawn in a crude fashion suggesting that they may have been done by children. This slide shows the small figures on the left of the large figures.
This is the right side. The stick figure on top of the second figure from the left is a composition similar to the birds above the head we saw previously. Curiously only the small figures on the right side have been damaged by intentional abrasion.
Intentional cutting of the arms bolsters the theory that crossing of arms has meaning.
One argument against there being meaning in the crossing of arms is that it is just an artifact of the close placement of the figures.
DStretch YBK enhancement shows two black figures at lower left. One is female and one is male. The female arm has intentionally been painted to touch the male.
At lower left of the row of anthropomorphs is this image. Thanks to Eve Ewing for reminding me of this painting.
I have documented the patterns at this site in previous presentations. I will quickly review them here.
The pair on the right is a good example of what I mean by a pair: two similar figures side by side with arms touching. Both figures in this pair are males.
Santa Gertrudis also has small figures near the bottom. Here are two examples which are pairs.
This is another cave that I have documented previously.
There is much over painting and much damage.
At Muerto is a curious grouping of figures shaped as a V.
When I first visited Muerto I noticed this, but did not see any significance to it. Later at Paredones I realized that this pattern was repeated.
I visited this site in April, 2012. Under an overhang is a poorly preserved row of anthropomorphs. This site is nearby the main Los Paredones site which we will document later in the talk.
Closer view of the row of anthropomorphs.
Paired anthropomorphs have similar paint colors.
At left of this pair is a smaller pair of anthropomorphs.
On the right side of the row of anthropomorphs is another pair of similarly painted anthropomorphs.
This panel is found a short distance from the main site.
Close-up of the panel. Faint paint can be seen.
Enhancement shows that there are two figures, both female.
Main gallery. Soft volcanic rock easily erodes. What is left of the paintings is hard to see.
Enhancement is essential to see the figures. DStretch LRE brings out an upper row of large red figures.
A different enhancement (LDS) shows multiple rows of figures. Small figures are again at the feet of larger ones.
The tour of the gallery starts on the left side.
At this site the anthropomorphs are usually arranged vertically.
LDS enhancement shows the existence of a V shaped group at center.
At right center are two rows of anthropomorphs.
LDS enhancement shows the upper row in red and the lower row in red/black.
Moving a bit to the right.
LRE enhancement shows the upper row of anthropomorphs.
LDS enhancement shows the lower row of anthropomorphs.
Close-up of the lower row shows that two form a male pair.
As at other sites these are found at the feet of the larger figures.
Enhancement is needed to see these very faint figures.
Many of the patterns we have seen are repeated here. Arms cross or touch other figures, animal above head of anthropomorph.
Nearby is a most fascinating panel.
Illustrates many of the ideas Eve Ewing has advanced at Museum of Man conferences in San Diego. Unfortunately there is not enough time to delve into this further. The row of smallish fish brings up the question: are anthropomorphs special figures? Could this row of fish represent a similar idea, but using different symbols?
This panel is at one side of the site.
Possible done by a different group. This serves to emphasize the (relative) consistency of the rest of the site.
This image is from Montevideo. In the abstract art to the north there are no obvious conventions or order in the placement of paintings. Each site seems unique. Most Great Mural art has a different, more organized character, but some Great Mural sites seem similarly disorganized.
The difference may be that of community art vs. individual art. Think of adults painting a group history with children at their feet imitating them vs. shamans adding their vision to a sacred place. Last slide.