Some Celestial Rock Art Motifs at Fremont Indian State Park and Tentative Interpretations of Their Function and Meaning

 In F.S.I.P

Contract Archaeologist, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA


The Fremont culture, Fremont people, or what modern archaeological jargon defines as the “Fremont complex,” got its name from the Fremont River in Utah, where many of the culture’s sites were encountered by indigenous hunter-gatherer tribes and early European pioneers. While the Fremont shared many cultural aspects with their Ancestral Puebloan (formally called the Anasazi) neighbors to the south, which included an agricultural lifestyle reliant upon corn, squash, and beans, several divergent cultural traits exposed key differences from the Anasazi with whom they shared a border. The Fremont complex arose in the fifth century AD, with the rise of small, agriculturally reliant pithouse villages (Janetski 1998, 9-15). Increased reliance on farming gave rise to population growth that reached its apex in the eleventh and twelfth centuries (Allison 2016). Yet Fremont archaeological sites indicate that these once flourishing communities had been fully abandoned by circa 1350 AD—in a manner that resembled the abandonment of contemporaneous Anasazi sites throughout the Colorado Plateau immediately to the south. Although the hub of Fremont society was rooted in central and northern Utah, ancient Fremont archaeological sites can be traced to eastern Nevada, southern Idaho, extreme southwestern Wyoming, and western Colorado. The Fremont were coterminous and contemporaneous with the Ancestral Puebloan peoples—especially along the Colorado River; the latter often accepted as the dividing line between the Fremont and Anasazi cultures (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: The five main cultural assemblages of Southwestern Archaeology.

Ancestral Puebloan Cultural Affiliation

Even when Southwestern Archaeology was in its infancy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, central and northern Utah artifact assemblages retrieved in survey and excavation revealed some distinct differences from that of the coterminous Anasazi, or Ancestral Puebloan, peoples. Key distinctions included: the use of moccasins (as opposed to the Anasazi’s use of sandals), a unique form of basketry labeled one-rod-and-bundle, a drab form of gray-ware pottery, a distinct style of rock art, the use of clay figurines in the cultural ideology, and a more heavy reliance on hunting and gathering than the Ancestral Puebloan villages (Alison 2016; Janetski 2008, 1998, 9-15). It was this amalgam of differences that led Noel Morss to assign the name Fremont to the cultural assemblages north of the Colorado in Utah which in many ways resembled the Anasazi, but displayed the differences just mentioned (Morss 1931).

Yet even before Morss designated the Utahan artifact assemblages “Fremont,” Southwestern archaeologists were beginning to conceptualize the Fremont as a “Northern Peripheral District” of the more southerly Anasazi (Kidder 1962 [1924], 244-253). Despite the apparent similarities with the Anasazi, many twentieth century archaeologists adhered to the belief in a distinct separation between the Fremont and Anasazi (i.e., Ancestral Puebloan) cultures (Cordell & McBrinn 2012, 36, 38, 81-82). Ironically, in spite of twentieth century archaeologists’ artificial separation of the Fremont from the Anasazi, some modern descendants of the Ancestral Puebloan peoples—particularly the Hopi Indians of Arizona—have always acknowledged the Fremont people as “them”; mostly from the Hopi’s claimed ability to decipher or “read” the enigmatic rock art left by the Fremont (Waters 1986 [1963], 108). The murkiness of Fremont ethnicity has been cleared up in recent years via the demonstrated Fremont genealogical relationship to the Ancestral Puebloan people through DNA analysis (Carlyle,, 2000); with Fremont haplogroup frequencies placing them among the Ancestral Puebloan stock, and most closely related to the occupants of Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico (Ibid., 93), whom speak the Towa language.

Present archaeological, genetic, and ethnographic data are all beginning to accord with the modern Pueblo Indians’ assertion that the Fremont were a northern periphery of the Ancestral Puebloan peoples whom shared a similar religious ideology (Allison 2016). Thus it is unsurprising that the Fremont abandoned their villages at about the same time as the Anasazi; whence they presumably migrated southward until being integrated into the modern Pueblo villages found in Arizona and New Mexico.

Therefore, although we cannot ascertain the Fremont peoples’ language(s) or their precise ethnic affiliation at present, we can say with a sound degree of certainty that the Fremont are culturally affiliated with the Ancestral Puebloan peoples of the Southwest, whose descendants occupy the present-day pueblos of Arizona and New Mexico. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries much ethnographic research was done at those pueblos, and overall findings indicate that astronomical, solar, and lunar knowledge were embedded in and viewed through the lens of religious conviction (Munson, Bostwick, & Hull, 2014; Carlson & Judge 1987; Patterson 1992; Krupp 1987, 148-152, 231-236; Williamson 1984, 59-150).

Thus the following assessment of the celestial iconography found in the artifacts and rock art at Fremont Indian State Park (FISP) will commence from the premise that cultural continuity exits between the ancient Fremont people and the inhabitants of the modern pueblos of Arizona and New Mexico. In some cases archaeologists have shown that the latter were the recipients of vast waves of immigrant populations during the fourteenth century AD (Cordell & McBrinn 2012, 247-277), the implication being that immigrating Fremont and Anasazi whom had abandoned their villages in Utah (and the greater Four Corners area) then moved southward where they were incorporated into the large, protohistoric pueblos of Arizona and New Mexico. Thus, there is a high likelihood that the ancient Fremont artists embraced some of the beliefs, practices, and perceptions recorded in the ethnography from the modern Pueblos.

All Pueblo Indians share the conviction that agricultural success and tribal harmony depends upon a positive reciprocal relationship with the deities and supernatural spirit-beings (Eggan 2000, 7-16; Adams 2000, 35-46; Schaafsma 2000, 63-79; Waters 1986 [1963], 125-247). These spirit-beings, called kachina by the Hopi Indians or shalako by the Zuni, serve as interlocutors with the weather-gods, thereby ensuring that the proper amount of precipitation falls upon the maturing crops in the parched landscape of the American Southwest (Ibid.). The spirit-beings (whom I shall henceforth refer to by their Hopi appellation, kachina) are believed to return to earth during the portion of the year that was crucial to crop growth, i.e., winter solstice through late July. During this timeframe Puebloans perform a cycle of ritual dances in which spiritually elite tribal members (usually male) impersonate their kachinas and gods. This impersonation utilizes elaborate masks and costumes, which underscores the Pueblo Indian conviction that the human impersonators become the kachinas and deities they impersonate. Moreover, the successful execution of this ritual dance-cycle was—and still is—believed to insure bountiful moisture, agricultural abundance, and societal harmony.

Thus, the Ancestral Puebloan Fremont people presumably shared in the custom of ceremonial impersonation of kachinas and deities as a means of achieving horticultural prosperity and village congeniality.

Artistic Similarities and Their Relationship to Astronomy

The Fremont peoples’ Ancestral Puebloan heritage and its relationship to modern Pueblo inhabitants of Arizona and New Mexico are most evident in the myriad rock art panels that dot the Fremont landscape (Schaafsma 1990 [1980]). Petroglyphs and pictographs depict what appear to be masked, supernatural beings quite similar to the deities and spirit-beings impersonated in modern Puebloan kachina dances. This was especially evident in an anthropomorphic Fremont pictoglyph at FISP (Fig. 2a,b) (Baker & Billat 1999, 108, 109 Fig. 2.99; 135-137). We should note that the anthropomorphic image in Fig. 2a,b assumes a prototypical Fremont form, which is often armless, broad-shouldered with tapering waistline, and with horned, bucket-shaped head and earbobs (c.f., Schaafsma 1990 [1980], 163-181).

  1. a) b)

Fig. 2a,b: Photo and sketch of Fremont pictoglyph (i.e., a petroglyph that has been painted like a pictograph). Notice that this supernatural figure is armless, wearing earbobs, and displays “rakes” or “combs” where one would expect legs.

Also noteworthy is that “rakes” or “combs” are commonly portrayed on supernatural beings in Southwestern rock art, and the ethnographic data reports that they indeed depict rain (Patterson 1992, 165). James Farmer makes a strong case for their representation as the ephemeral waterfalls or pour-offs that cascade from steep canyon ledges following thunderstorms (Farmer 2008, 9-16). Such an interpretation seems quite plausible in light of the high reliance on agriculture—a subsistence strategy that depends on rainfall—displayed by the Fremont people at FISP.

The similarities between the Fremont supernatural image in Fig. 2a,b and the deity depicted in the Zuni pueblo’s Wood-Society (Thle’wekwe) altar are remarkable (Fig. 3); despite the fact that the latter displays a slightly more rounded head, does not wear earbobs, and displays feathers in place of the “rakes” seen on the Fremont pictoglyph if Fig. 2a,b.

Fig. 3: Altar of the Wood-Society/Thle’wekwe (Note 1).

Also notable is that the upper wall of the Wood-Society altar portrays the seven stars of the Big Dipper, below which appear snakes that embody the colors of the sacred directions. The implication being that the Big Dipper, which points to the pole star, Polaris, somehow played a role in assisting the Zuni priest(s) in orienting towards the sacred directions, Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest, which are themselves derived from sunrise and sunset observations at the solstices (Martin, Rinaldo,, 1962, 69 n. 1).

Puebloan ethnography indicates that the sun was conceptualized as a deity, and that solar observations of the solstices and equinoxes, are made by the Sun-priest; a functionary known at Zuni Pueblo as the pekwin (Williamson 1984, 77-111; Krupp 1983, 152-156; Parsons 1939, I 122-123, 493-549, II 554-556) (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Sketch of the Zuni Pueblo Sun-watcher priest or pekwin, as he appeared in 1896. (Note 2)

All this becomes even more intriguing at FISP from the perspective that a vast majority of the rock art was intentionally pecked and painted on naturally occurring cliff outcroppings that point southeast or southwest, i.e., two of the sacred directions and, specifically, the direction the sun rises and sets at the winter solstice. Presumably, the Fremont had their own version of the Sun-watcher shown in Fig. 4.

Ethnography also indicates that although the rituals and associated dances in the Puebloan calendar were tied to the solar year, each ritual and dance commenced according to a specific lunar phase; thus observing the Moon-god was also an integral part of the calendar (Parsons 1974, 142; Parsons 1939, I 497-507; Cushing 1981, 250-251). The practice of timing rituals according to specific lunar phases becomes pertinent with regard to a Fremont pendant discussed below.

Celestial Iconography and Its Potential Meaning and Function

During the author’s somewhat random perusal of FISP rock art (Baker & Billat, 1999) and review of the artifact assemblages reported in the Clear Creek Canyon Archaeological Project housed at the FISP Museum (Talbot, et. al., 2000), one artifact in particular appeared to be encoded with celestial meaning.

Pendant with Lunar Iconography

FISP Museum holds a disk-shaped, rhyolite pendant that is centrally drilled and measures 3.9 cm in diameter and 0.3 cm in thickness (Talbot, et. al., 2000, pp. 440, 449, Fig. 7.8(g)). It was found in the fill of a large pithouse at Five-Finger Ridge, labeled Pithouse 57, whose roof beams yielded a radiocarbon date of circa 1295 AD (Ibid., 121). Most conspicuous are thirteen, circular notches that form a semicircle around the outer edge of the pendant (Fig. 5). Also noteworthy are two distinct crescents that run along the right and left edges of the thirteen semicircular notches (Fig. 5). The crescent on the viewer’s right conspicuously resembles a waxing crescent moon at its first visibility during a lunation; while the crescent on the viewer’s left resembles the final vestige of a waning crescent moon at the conclusion of a lunation. The thirteen, circular notches correspond with the thirteen lunations that are commenced during the 365¼-day solar year (however, only twelve lunations are completed during the solar year).

Fig. 5: Pink-lavender rhyolite pendant with centrally drilled hole dating to the 13th century AD. The two crescents are reminiscent of the waxing (right) and waning (left) lunar crescents which commence and complete a lunar month. The semicircle of thirteen small, round notches along the pendant’s circumference are suggestive of the thirteen lunations that are commenced during the 365¼-day solar year. (Note 3)

Moreover, as we mentioned above, Puebloan religious ideology identified the Moon as a deity, and the various lunar phases were used to time the commencement of ceremonies and dances. Thus, in Puebloan religious practices, the Moon was worshipped as a god whose ever-changing appearance was systematically observed to time the numerous religious rituals, ceremonies, and dances that were deemed essential for agricultural success and tribal well-being. In light of these Puebloan lunar perspectives, it seems likely that this pendant represents the Moon-god—the two crescents depicting the waxing and waning crescent moon at its first and last visibility during a lunar month, and the semicircle of thirteen notches along the outer edge representing the thirteen lunations that are commenced during the 365¼-day solar year.

Dual-Suns-with-Crescent-Moon Iconography

While reviewing the documented FISP rock art panels catalogued by Shane Baker and Scott Billat in Rock Art of Clear Creek Canyon of Central Utah, a small, unremarkable but unequivocally celestial motif caught the author’s eye (Baker & Billat 1999, pp. 82, 85, Fig. 2.73). The petroglyph depicts two interlocking circles with radiating lines that are positioned above a crescent (Fig. 6a,b).

  1. a) b)

Fig. 6a,b: Photo and sketch of petroglyph depicting two interlocking “Suns” above a crescent “Moon.” (Note 4)  

The image prompts for the interpretation of the two circles with radiating lines as “Suns” or “Sunbursts”; making it plausible that the crescent represents the “Moon.” The latter interpretation becomes far more conceivable from the sketch of this image shown in Fig. 6b. Furthermore, although Baker and Billat define the petroglyph’s style as “unknown aboriginal” (Ibid. 85), the extensive weathering alone suggests that it was not pecked in historic times by a Paiute, Ute, or Navajo artist; but was instead executed by a Fremont Indian sometime during that culture’s agrarian occupation of nearby homestead sites circa 500-1300 AD. The author’s claim of a Fremont date for the petroglyph is bolstered by the fact he found what appears to be an ancient Fremont corn cob positioned within approximately ten feet of the petroglyph (Fig 7; Note 5).

Fig. 7: Two-and-a-half inch Fremont corncob found in association with Dual-Suns-with-Crescent-Moon petroglyph.

Clearly, the interlocking Suns motif must represent something mythical, since it does not conform to anything that was visible in the natural world. Interestingly, the azimuth (i.e., degree of deviation eastward from true North) reading for this petroglyph was approximately 210º. And while the petroglyph’s 210º bearing lies thirty degrees lower than the expected 240º winter-solstice-sunset azimuth for a flat horizon, the mountainous terrain that comprise the petroglyph’s horizon-backdrop will reduce the degree-of-azimuth reading for the winter-solstice-sunset. In other words, due to the altitude of the horizon line, the actual winter-solstice-sunset will lie far closer to the Dual-Suns petroglyph’s 210º azimuth reading (Note 6). The point to be had here is that some Fremont Indian sun-priest chose to peck Dual-Suns with a Crescent-Moon on a natural rock outcropping that roughly mirrors the position in which the Sun-god stops on his southerly motion and then begins to creep incrementally northward again.

The ethnography indicates that the winter-solstice was an exceedingly solemn moment in Puebloan religious life. Among the Hopi tribe it was called Soyal, (“All-[the]-Year”), which “accepts and confirms the pattern of life development for the upcoming year..,” since “The sun, reaching the southern end of its journey at the Winter Solstice, is ready to return and give strength to budding life” (Waters 1986 [1963], 154). Frank Waters, whom lived with the Hopi for three years, reports that the timing of the winter solstice was based upon rising-sun observations at some of the Hopi villages, and at setting-sun vantage points at other villages (Waters 1986 [1963], 154, n.; Williamson 1984, 77-111; Krupp 1983, 191-194; Parsons 1939, II, 554-590 passim).

Regarding the winter solstice at Hopi-land, Waters writes:

Now all is ready for one of the two great moments of the year. It is time for the Winter Solstice, when the sun has reached the southernmost end of its journey and must be turned back on its trail to bring ever-lengthening days of light, warmth, and life for plants, animals, and men. It is time for the rituals that give Soyal its great validity. (Ibid., 159, italics added; c.f., Parsons 1939, I, 496, II, 895; Titiev 1944, 142-154)

As can be inferred, the purpose of Soyal was to enact ceremonies that stopped the Sun-god’s southerly motion and coaxed him back to his northerly station at the summer-solstice. Regarding Pueblo Indian conception of the winter solstice and affiliated rituals, Ray Williamson writes, “Winter Solstice ceremonies at all the Pueblos, though they differ in detail, are uniformly designed for the purpose of turning the sun around and setting him on his true northward course (Williamson 1984, 79). From her ethnographic research at the Hopi pueblos, Mischa Titiev comments, “… the main purpose of the Soyal [ceremonies] is to perform compulsive magic at the winter solstice, so that the sun may be induced to start back towards its summer home and thus bring suitably worm weather to permit the Hopi to plant their fields. At the same time, the ceremony aims to ensure plentiful crops and general prosperity and good health for the next season” (Titiev 1944, 146).

And, although not pictographically represented at the modern Pueblos, Parsons recounts how, on the fourth day of a Soyal (i.e., Winter Solstice) ceremony a sun-symbol is placed on a kiva roof only to be replaced the following dawn (Parsons 1939, II, 704-705). Parsons’ interpretation of this replacement sun-symbol is quoted and reiterated by Titiev, “[it] dramatizes … the placing of the new sun in the sky …” (Ibid. 705-706; Titiev 1944, 149). The author contends that Parsons’ inference here of a “new sun” coming from the winter solstice stopping point is what the Dual-Suns petroglyph may be conveying. That is, the “old sun” has reached its home on the southern horizon and a “new sun” is being reborn as it glides slowly northward on the horizon.

Intriguingly, both Waters and Elsie Clews Parsons note that the Hopi Winter Solstice ceremony, Soyal, takes place during Kelmuya, ‘the dangerous moon,’ the moon that the Hopi ‘have got to mind’ (Parsons 1939, I, 504; c.f., Waters 1986 [1963], 154; Titiev 1944, 145, n. 22). Parsons emphasizes that numerous societal taboos are enacted during Soyal, including proscriptions against visiting, idle conversation, grinding foodstuff, and communal rabbit hunts (Parsons 1939, I, 504-505). These are, in part, grounded in the conviction that the Moon-god may kidnap a child at this time of year, a Puebloan concept connected with the belief that child-sacrifice compelled the Moon to move in its path across the sky (Ibid., 208, 241 n.; Titiev 1944, 145, n. 22). Waters reveals how the Moon-god’s appearance timed the Soyal ceremony, stating that “Dangerous-Moon”/Kelmuya, “is scheduled to take place during Soyal [Time of the Winter Solstice], the period between the first appearance of the first-quarter moon and the last appearance of the last-quarter moon (Waters 1986 [1963], 154, italics added).

Thus, the Dual-Suns-Crescent-Moon petroglyph faces the approximate position of the winter-solstice sunset, and incorporates the image of a waxing crescent moon. In light of the Puebloan ceremonial preoccupation with turning the Sun-god’s movement northward again from its winter solstice point, along with the belief that the Winter-Solstice Moon is one of danger and foreboding, the author would like to suggest that the Dual-Suns depicts the Sun-god doing just that. Namely, the solar disk on the left marks the Sun’s most southward setting at the winter solstice point, with the overlapping solar disk on the right indicating that the Sun-god has turned and has now begun setting on a more northerly course along the horizon (Fig. 6a,b). The Crescent-Moon in this petroglyph may underscore that the Winter Solstice Moon was imbued with trepidation and dread relating to child kidnapping and sacrifice. Although the nondescript waxing-Crescent in this petroglyph varies slightly from Waters’ first-quarter (i.e., half-full) moon at the Hopi Pueblos, the latter’s native informants divulged this time-reckoning wisdom in the cultural milieu of twentieth-century mechanized society fully equipped with watches and wall clocks. One would suspect that Ancestral Puebloans such as the Fremont—devoid of mechanized time-keeping devices—would have been more attuned to utilizing the Moon-god’s immediate time-keeping capabilities inherent in his first and last visibilities, i.e., the waxing and waning crescent.

For the aforementioned reasons the author argues that the Dual-Suns image in Fig. 6a,b depicts the Sun-god’s “turn-around” at the winter-solstice sunset; while the waxing crescent emphasizes that this phase of lunation was crucial to the timing of ceremonial functions, and may indeed embody a “Dangerous-Moon” fraught with potential misfortune that could be countered through the practice of societal taboos.

Bighorn-Sheep-with-Sunburst Icon

The author came across three somewhat similar petroglyphs that appear to depict solar iconography and may be encrypted with underlying solar meaning. All involve a Bighorn Sheep petroglyph standing in a tableau with a Sun or Sunburst glyph (Figs. 8a,b; 9; 10; Note 7). Notice that the Sheep in Fig 10 has what appear to be “Sunbursts” tethered to its horns.

  1. a) b)

Fig. 8a,b: Photo and sketch of Bighorn Sheep touching a Sun with definitive plant (corn?) glyph at the upper right. The historic graffiti, done in axle grease, in part reads “GIOUT, BAKER, FEB 14, 1896,” and has been omitted from the sketch. (Note 8)

Fig. 9: Bighorn Sheep beneath a Sun glyph. Noteworthy is that a “Star” glyph appears at the lower right of the Sheep.

Fig. 10: Dual “Sunbursts” tethered to the horns of a Bighorn Sheep.

A most striking aspect of all these Bighorn-Sheep-Sun glyphs is that the Sheep is facing west, i.e., the direction the Sun moves across the sky.

Figs 8 and 10 unequivocally portray images that do not occur in the natural world, i.e., Bighorn Sheep never appear “touching” the Sun as in Fig. 8, nor are Sunbursts ever found tied to their horns as seen in Fig 10. One could argue that Fig. 9 depicts an ancient artist’s eyewitness experience, as the Sun glyph appears to be separated from the Sheep by a small “horizon” line. Yet such an interpretation pales with regard to the “Star” image pecked to the lower left of the Sheep. Even the recorders of the site, Baker and Billat (1999, 65), report: “Panel 11-In the upper left portion is a sunburst, below it is a mountain sheep. Over to the right and down is a star burst.” Taken together, the images invoke the notion that some kind of knowledge or concept was being conveyed. But what?

Because these three petroglyphs are of Fremont origin, and the later was encompassed within the religious milieu of the Ancestral Puebloans, some ethnographic clues may impart a tentative answer.

First, animals served as metaphors among the Puebloan peoples. Waters recounts how Skunk represented the Sun-god in a kiva mural at the circa 1350-1500 AD site of Pottery Mound (Waters 1986 [1963], 92-94). More pertinent to the Bighorn Sheep-Sun petroglyphs are the comments of anthropologist J. Walter Fewkes, who recounts how the Bighorn Sheep came to serve as the image of the “Two-Horned” deity Alosaka, whose cult has an active following in the western Pueblos (Fewkes 1899, 532 n. 2, 544; c.f., Branson 1992, 183-184). Fewkes emphasizes that Alosaka “is intimately associated with the sun” (Fewkes 1899, 534), a point emphasized in a kiva screen depicting beside the Sun-god’s face (Fig. 11).

Fig. 11: Kiva screen depicting Alosaka. The face-like image at the viewer’s lower right depicts the Sun. (Note 9)

All this again becomes pertinent to the Bighorn Sheep-Sun petroglyphs when we find that the functional role of Alosaka in ceremonies was as an escort (Ibid., 524-525). In other words, the most prominent ceremonial function of the Pueblo Indians’ Bighorn-Sheep deity, Alosaka, was that of an escort for other esteemed spirit-beings and gods; and this Bighorn-Sheep god was indeed intimately connected with the Sun-deity in Puebloan ceremony.

In light of the vast number of horned supernatural anthropomorphic figures found in the rock art of FISP, and the fact that the Bighorn-Sheep-Sun glyph shown in Figs 8-10 face westward (the direction in which the Sun moves across the sky), the author suggests that the Bighorn-Sheep-Sun glyph is metaphorical, i.e., the Bighorn Sheep is serving as a directional “escort” which conveys the meaning that the Sun-god glyph is indeed “moving westward.”

Of course, a potential interpretation of what this “westward movement” signifies can only be derived from further research on the petroglyphs in question, and more specifically, the tableaux within which they occur.

One-Armed-Anthropomorph-with-Waning-Moon  Motif

This article’s final piece of iconography focuses on a one-armed anthropomorphic figure depicted beneath a crescent shown in Fig. 12 (Baker & Billat 1999, 96, 99, Fig. 2.86). Regrettably, due to the precarious nature of the route to the ledge upon which this petroglyph occurs, the author was not able to directly photograph the panel. Hence the following assessment is made solely from Baker & Billat’s 1999 Rock Art of Clear Creek compilation and sketch, shown in Fig. 2.86 on p. 99 (Note 10).


Fig. 12: The image at left depicts a one-armed Anthropomorph with waning Crescent Moon. Notice that the legs are abducted.  

At first glance one might suspect little celestial significance in Fig. 12—save that the crescent could be interpreted as a waning crescent moon. Yet mythological stories associated with Puebloan iconography divulge inklings which suggest that the One-Armed-Anthropomorph-with-Crescent-Moon may indeed depict an astronomical motif.

Antiquarians of the prehistoric Southwest are well aware of the region’s ties with Mesoamerica and Mexico—both utilitarian and spiritual (Cordell & McBrinn 2012, 22, 61, 129-154, 181, 275-276; Parsons 1974; Beals 1974a, 1974b; Thompson 2000; Young 2000). Corns, beans, and squash were initially imported from Mesoamerica, and Puebloan religious cults bear striking similarities to those in Middle Americas (Ibid.). M. Jane Young writes, “there is no doubt that the extensive although intermittent contact between the peoples of Mesoamerica and the American Southwest has resulted in a number of striking parallels in world-view and religious practice, as well as in the more practical domains of agriculture and textile and pottery production” (Young 2000, 107).

One aspect of similarity in the religious realm comes in the form of Puebloan-Mesoamerican heroes known as the Warrior-Twins, the older embodied in Venus at western aspect; the latter Venus in the east at predawn (Ibid. 113-115, 109, Table 10.1; Schaafsma 2000b, 125-127; Williamson 1984, 62-65, 99; Brew 1974, 68-71). Marc Thompson has shown that numerous Mesoamerican motifs appear in Mimbre Phase pottery motifs of the Mogollon culture (Fig. 1) dating to 1000-1150 AD, one being the Warrior-Twins/Venus (Thompson 2000, 93-105). Moreover, several Mimbre Phase bowls depict an avian Giant battling with an Anthropomorph beside a missing arm (Fig. 13). Thompson has traced the “Missing Arm” motif to the Mayan Popul Vuh, in which the older War-Twin has his left arm torn off in a battle with a giant named Seven Macaw, the younger War-Twin engaged in killing the Giant and retrieving the lost arm (Ibid., 99; Tedlock 1985, 92-94; Fig. 13). Puebloan mythology recorded in the Keresan-speaking Pueblos (Zia, Santa Ana, Laguna, and Acoma) recount a similar mythical battle, with the exception that Seven Macaw has been transformed into a mythical Bear or Giant called cko yo (Thompson 2000, 100).

Fig. 13: Mimbres Mogollon bowl (circa 1000-1150 BC) depicting the younger War-Twin upon the back of the avian Giant, Seven Macaw. Notice the detached arm of the elder War-Twin below the Giant’s mouth. (Note 11) 

The aforementioned iconography raises some big questions. The Crescent in the FISP One-Armed-Anthropomorph-with-Crescent-Moon petroglyph resembles at waning crescent-moon; at this phase of lunation it is therefore hovering over the eastern horizon in the early morning hours. This is precisely where Venus periodically appears during its meandering circuit through the ecliptic. If the One-Armed-Anthorpomorph depicts the older Warrior-Twin in his aspect as Venus, then it is possible to argue that the One-Armed-Anthropomorph depicts the War-Twin/Venus on the eastern horizon, the missing arm serving as testimony to battle he once waged with a mythical Giant.

However, there are some obvious dissimilarities between the One-Armed-Anthropomorph-with-Crescent-Moon petroglyph and the armless elder War-Twin in the Mayan Popul Vuh myth. Most glaringly, the latter loses his left arm. Hence, unless the One-Armed-Anthropomorph in the FISP petroglyph has his back to the viewer (which seems unlikely), it is his right arm that is missing. One mitigating circumstance invokes the fact that oral Puebloan mythology displays myriad variations of a single core leitmotif. Thus each of the Pueblos possess their own variation of any singular creation story or myth. One could argue, therefore, that the One-Armed-Anthropomorph displays just such a deviation; thereby depicting the elder War-Twin/Venus, whom, through the inherent modifications that occur in oral transmission, does indeed depict the one-armed Warrior-Twin/Venus described in the Popul Vuh; whom now has lost his right, rather than his left, arm

That said, the author has found little in the way of direct cultural connections between the Mimbre-Phase Mogollon and Fremont to promote such a claim. The present dearth of evidence in favor of the One-Armed-Anthoropomorph in Fig. 12 as a representation of the elder War-Twin/Venus of Mayan mythology—if proof exists at all—can only be rectified with subsequent analysis and research.

The author has encountered a more plausible explanation in a similar stone effigy retrieved in the excavation of an Anasazi kiva not far from the Hopi Pueblos in Arizona (Fig. 14).

Fig. 14: Sacred stone image (approx. 12 in.) that had been intentionally inhumed in a floor crypt of a 13th century AD Great Kiva from the ruins of an abandoned pueblo in Arizona. (Note 12)

This stone effigy, about 12 inches tall, was found in a crypt that had been dug into the floor a Great Kiva at the Hooper Ranch Pueblo, with radiocarbon dating placing the context at circa 1230 AD (Martin & Plog, 1973, 137). Moreover, the excavators emphasized the extinct pueblo’s structural similitude with the Zuni Pueblo of western New Mexico about sixty miles to the northeast (Ibid.). Pertinent to its identification was that it was painted in stirpes of yellow, blue, red, and black, and was interred with a “painted miniature jar that contained black and white stone beads” (Ibid.; Martin, Plog,, 1962, 69-74). The painted colors conform to those the Hopi and Zuni Indians assign to the sacred directions, i.e., North (yellow), South (red), East (white), West (blue-green), Zenith (black), Nadir (Martin, Plog,, 1962, 69-71). The excavators also stress that, “The right arm is missing. Broken off in ancient times” (Ibid. 69).

The stone effigy’s (Fig. 14) resemblance to the One-Armed-Anthopomorph petroglyph (Fig. 12) are obvious: both are missing their right arm, and both have abducted legs. One conspicuous difference is that the One-Armed petroglyph’s left arm is sticking out at his side, unlike the stone effigy’s left arm which is upraised and bent at the elbow.

Auspiciously, Waters was working at the Hopi Pueblos when the stone effigy was excavated in 1960. He and his Hopi informants actually went to the excavation, where Hopi elders provided much insight regarding what the stone effigy might mean. Hopi tradition identifies this ancient pueblo as the village of Wenima, and they contend that the stone effigy is the wu’ya (clan deity) or tiponi (clan fetish) of their Deep Well Clan, whom they identified as Panaiyoikyasi, “Short-Rainbow” (Waters 1986 [1963], 59). Waters recounts, “Such figures were always left as ‘cornerstones’ to attest the village’s occupancy by Hopi clans and to welcome them back if they ever returned. According to tradition wu’yas were left in abandoned villages near the four highest points surrounding [the Hopi town of] Oraibi … the wu’yas left in the ruins about each guarding the land about the central point of Oraibi (Ibid. 61). Hopi leaders contend that Panaiyoikyasi/“Short-Rainbow” possessed a beneficent power (to make it rain) as well as a malevolent power. When he was buried in the crypt that the archaeologists excavated, “Panaiyoikyasa’s right arm was broken off so that the Hopi people could never use his destructive power” (Ibid. 62).

At present the author has found no ethnographic data to corroborate the Hopi claim that the stone effigy excavated from the Great Kiva at the legendary Hopi Pueblo of Wenima (i.e., Hooper Ranch Pueblo) is Panaiyoikyasa/“Short-Rainbow.”

Despite the confident interpretation given by Waters’ Hopi informants, the Associate Curator of the Chicago Natural History Museum, John B. Rinaldo, writes that “The wuya (a clan protector, clan symbol, or clan ancient) finds so little expression in the literature that we found nothing specific to tie to and felt at a loss to pursue the matter further” (Martin, Plog,, 1962, 71). The implication being that Rinaldo and his colleagues fostered concerns that the Hopi identification of the stone effigy as Panaiyoikyasa/“Short-Rainbow” may have been founded on mid-twentieth century Hopi practices alien to the Ancestral Puebloans that deposited this statue over seven centuries earlier. He then imparts, “There is a closer degree of likeness between the stone image and the figurines of the cult deities which appear on the altars in the Marau [Women’s Society] and Wuwutcim ceremonies of the Hopi. This seems to be particularly true of versions of [the cult deity] Talatumsi and [the cult deity] Marau-mana” (Ibid. 72). Rinaldo states that the feet of the latter are usually spread apart (abducted), like the stone effigy, and that the latter’s predominate color, yellow, is a “female” color associated with female cult deities in kiva wall murals who also display upraised arms like the stone statue in Fig. 14 (Ibid. 72-73).

Ethnography confirms that the stone image of Tuwapongtumsi/“Earth-Altar-Woman” and the goddess of all living things, was stored in a niche in the kiva floor, while Talatumsi,/“Dawn-Woman,” who is also the Goddess of Childbirth, was stored in a stone shrine in the cliffs; a mid-twentieth century practice that may have deviated from her storage in the niche, or crypt, in the kiva floor like Tuwapongtumsi/“Earth-Altar-Woman” (Ibid. 73; Titiev 1944, p. 131, pl. 3, b; Branson 1992, 191; Colton 1959 [1949], 83). Noteworthy is that these female cult deities are underworld deities, hence their placement in a niche/crypt in the kiva floor.

All this becomes pertinent to the One-Armed-Anthropomorph-with-Crescent-Moon petroglyph because the Crescent-Moon in that glyph verifies the time and locality: “dawn” on the eastern horizon. Thus, if that petroglyph depicts the Fremont people’s conception of the Hopi cult deity, “Dawn-Woman”/Talatumsi, then the rock panel may have functioned as a way of entreating the blessing of the Dawn-Woman’s child-bearing aspect, thereby reigning fertility down on the ancient Indians that once inhabited FISP. The missing right arm may have conveyed that the Dawn-Woman deity’s potentially malevolent powers could not be invoked or misused—a practice described above by Hopi elders.

And while the author finds the later interpretation enticing—as the Fremont presumably had a apotheosized personification of Dawn like all other Puebloan peoples—only future perusal of Pueblo Indian ethnographic data and direct analysis of the One-Armed-Anthropomorph-with-Crescent-Moon petroglyph will yield clues that lead to its true function in Fremont society.


Presented above have been the author’s preliminary interpretations relating to some of the more intriguing celestial motifs found in the rock art of FISP. Future research hopes to expound on these preliminary explanations, present and explore newly discovered astronomical imagery, and gradually begin to elucidate the Fremont Indians’ relationship to and conception of the glimmering, celestial crystals that bespeckle the pristine, dark sky of Fremont Indian State Park.


  1. Author’s sketch of Plate IV in: Parsons 1939, I, p. 322.
  2. Author’s sketch of Plate XVIII, Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnography, 1901-02, Smithsonian Institution (Smithsonian Institution Press).
  3. Author’s sketch of the “Moon” pendant from: p. 6, Simms & Gohier 2010.
  4. What the author refers to as the “Dual-Suns-Crescent-Moon” panel goes by the archaeological designation 42SV1928, Area A, Panel 2 (Baker & Billat, 1999, pp. 82, 84 Fig. 2.73).
  5. The author informed Fremont Indian State Park Curator and archaeologist, Amy Ramsland, of the ancient corn; which she intended to retrieve and catalogue soon thereafter.
  6. The author and research partner, Dr. John Lundwall, plan on observing this Dual-Suns panel at sunset during the solstice of 2018, an observation that will provide more conclusive evidence.
  7. Fig. 8a,b is catalogued as archaeological site 42SV1918, Area B, Panel 2 (Billat & Baker 1999, 57, Color Plate 9); Fig. 9 is catalogued as site 42SV1923, Area B, Panel 11 (Ibid., 65);

Fig. 10 is located at Newspaper Rock, which is catalogued as site 42SV1928, Area B, Panel 50 (Ibid. 99-100, 103, Fig. 2.91). Notice that the sketch of Fig. 10 shown in Baker & Billat, 1999 (Fig. 2.91, p. 103) bears an omission, as it shows only one “cord and sunburst” connected to the Bighorn Sheep glyph, not two.

  1. The author confides that, due to the historic defacement, he does not have a great deal of confidence in the accuracy of the geometrical and linear images sketched between the Sun glyph and the Plant (Corn?).
  2. Author’s sketch of Plate XXVI in: Fewkes, 1899.
  3. The archaeological designation for this panel is: 42SV1928, Area B, Panel 32. This panel will be directly photographed at a future date to confirm that the sketch in Fig. 12 is an accurate representation of the One-Armed-Anthropomorph-with-Crescent petroglyph.
  4. Author’s sketch of: Fig. 9.2b, p. 101 in Thompson, 2000.
  5. Author’s sketch of Fig. 42, p. 70 in: Martin, Rinaldo,, 1962.


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