20 August 2021

The Panther Cave (Texas) pictographs

Panther Cave is a rock shelter in Seminole Canyon State Park, Texas, named for a dramatic leaping cat that is the largest of its many pictographs. Copious overpainting indicates the site was used as a canvas by generations of rock painters. Cats, humans wearing headdresses, abstract figures from six inches to more than 10 feet high decorate the rock face. 

The images are predominantly in the Pecos River and Red Linear styles and date back about 4,000 years. Pecos River Style is the oldest, starting around 5000 years ago. Its iconography features monumental polychrome designs of zoomorphic figures and of anthropomorphic figures called shamans. Pecos River art is thought to have had ritual significance, perhaps having been painted for ceremonial religious purposes. Red Linear style is characterized by small red stick figures engaged in a variety of shared activities like hunting, fighting, sex and childbirth. Red Linear figures often incorporated the older large Pecos River animal figures in their scenes...

Acutely aware of the precarious situation Panther Cave and other rock art sites find themselves in, the SHUMLA Archeological Research and Education Center launched the Lower Pecos Rock Art Recording and Preservation Project in 2009... They used 3D modeling software to showcase the natural contours and shape of the cave, then used color enhancement to highlight the stunning complexity of figures that are not clear to the naked eye. The finished product is a riot of color, giving viewers whole new insight into the pictographs that layer the site.
Reposted from 2013 to add some information from the book in the embedded image:
"According to scholar Carolyn Boyd, the mystic artists of these canyons likely conceived many of their visions after consuming potent hallucinogenic plants.  "I do think that what they are painting are experiences they had under the influence of these plants..."

Often called "the peyote tribe," the Huichol had long resisted Christianity, holding true to their shamanic traditions... Each fall, Huichol shamans led a pilgrimage [to the Chihuahuan desert] to collect a small, carrot-shaped cactus: the powerful hallucinogen peyote... To honor this divinity, pilgrims fastened some of the cacti to deer antlers carried along on the quest... 

Certainly the artists painted antlered human forms repeatedly on their rock-shelter walls.  And archaeological evidence suggested they knew peyote well.  While excavating a series of high, painted caves overlooking the Rio Grande... they found scatterings of peyote, which grows only in isolated spots in the region, along the sandy floors.  When radiocarbon-dated recently, two of these specimens proved to be 7,000 years old - the oldest known peyote in the world...

Laced with mescaline, the plant triggers visions both nightmarish and beautiful, and fosters a strong sense of disembodiment.  "No part of my body was subject to the laws of gravitation," reported one experimental subject - a German physician - in the 1920s.  "Extremely fantastic figures appeared before my eyes..."

In Boyd's view, the peyote murals of the region now stand as the world's oldest known record of hallucinogen-inspired altered states.


1 comment:

  1. from a friendly editor:

    "which grows only in isolated spots in the regio, along teh sandy floors."

    ReplyDelete

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