Variation of Pecos River Style Antlered Anthropomorphs
By Charles Koenig and Amanda Castañeda
Over the course of the Alexandria Project one of our primary objectives is to identify repeated rock art attributes, figures, and/or motifs. As we explained in the Iconographic Inventory blog, we are recording a limited number of rock art attributes at each site we visit. Of the 30-plus attributes we collect information on, perhaps the attribute that gets the Shumla Research Team the most excited are anthropomorphic figures with antler-rack headdresses.
Based on Carolyn Boyd’s research at the White Shaman site (Boyd 2003, 2016), antlered figures depicted within Pecos River Style rock art were an important symbol for Lower Pecos hunter-gatherer culture. For instance, the antlered figure at White Shaman arguably represents the fire god, sun god, deer god, and Venus; the antlers represent flames, and the dots on the ends of the antler tines represent water and Ancestors — which are also peyote and deer! Antlers are incredibly significant symbols, and the more examples we document the more we can learn about the meaning of antlers within Pecos River Style rock art.
Although this blog focuses on antler-rack headdresses, it is important to state that these adornments are uncommon on Pecos River Style anthropomorphs. However, the symbolic importance and the limited number of examples are part of the reason why the team gets giddy when we find a new example!
Variation of Antlered Anthropomorphs
Going into the Alexandria Project we knew of 12 anthropomorphs with antlers, and since the start of the Alexandria Project we have identified six additional examples. With the increased number of examples, we are beginning to see patterns in the way these antlered figures are portrayed. Below are just of the few common attributes shared by antlered figures.
Black Dots and Black Tips
Early during Carolyn’s dissertation research she noticed the unnatural attribute of dots painted on the end of antler tines. Interestingly, we have identified some figures that have black antler tips rather than black dots. We suspect that the black dots and tips share the same symbolism, but it is interesting we are observing two different methods for portraying these unique antlers.
Curved Versus Straight Antlers
The main beams of most antler-rack headdress we have documented are curved; however, we have now observed at least two examples of straight main beams. Interestingly, each of the straight main beam examples are located at sites along the Devils River.
Double Antler Racks
We have documented two figures with double antler racks. Carolyn argues in her new book that the figure with the double antler rack at White Shaman represents a specific deity, and we are excited to begin comparing the attributes between the two figures.
Antlered Anthropomorphs Associated with Other World Journey Motifs
Many of the antlered anthropomorphs we have documented thus far are associated with Other World Journey motifs, or OWJ. OWJs consist of an anthropomorph “passing through” a portal. The portals can take many different shapes, but in each example the anthropomorph is above, below, or within the portal. The two most common representations of portals we have documented are arches or what we call “box with legs.”
Antlered Anthropomorphs with Wings, Upraised Arms, Mask, and “Bear Ears”
One of the surprises we have found is that anthropomorphs with antler-rack headdresses not only share antler attributes, but also share other body characteristics. For instance, we knew about three examples of antlered anthropomorphs with wings from Fate Bell and Raymond’s Shelter. In addition to an antler-rack headdress, each figure has wings, upraised arms, a mask (black or negative circle within the head), and “bear ears” (if you have been following our #motifmonday posts on Facebook these figures will sound familiar). We were very excited to identify another example of this type of figure at a site we recently documented! The newest figure is in very poor condition, but the head shape, antlers, and upraised arms suggest this figure also had wings when it was originally painted.
Continuing Research into Antlered Anthropomorphs
Below are images of of the 18 antlered anthropomorphs in real-color and DStretch enhancement (just click on each image to go between real-color and DStretch). There are many more shared similarities between the antlered figures than can be discussed in this blog, so be sure to check out all 18 antlered anthropomorphs documented thus far to identify shared traits for yourself. Antlers are only one of the attributes we are researching as part of the Alexandria Project. Each new site we document contains new information to help us better decipher the meaning of repeated images, and further contributes to our understanding of Lower Pecos rock art.