Heritage, Volume 5, Number 3, Autumn 1987 Page: 21
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Mexico from about AD 900 until 1140,
give or take a decade. They brought
ceramic artwork to a level seldom
attained before or since-and they left
the traces of their passing all over the
Mogollon area, that part of our Southwest
extending from the center of New
Mexico eastward to cover the western
tip of Texas. They disappeared mysteriously
around AD 1140, leaving behind
a rich legacy of art, a distinctive style
recognizable the minute you see it.
The Storyteller Woman sat gesturing
from the north end of the mural that
first-time day, one arm raised for attention,
one foot tucked beneath her leg.
The story she tells seems to sing of
four migrations of the people. They
traveled between mountain range and
riverland, stopping for a long time at a
volcano whose location is a mystery.
Burden bearers march toward you
out of the mother rock, resembling the
burden bearers of the Hopi migration
myths. There are mountain sheep and
antlered deer-and, high on the upper
edge, Coyote, the Trickster of Indian
Coyote is the bringer of bad mediine,
and the lightly pecked-in figures
below him seem to bear this out.
An Apache friend told me once that
figures lightly pecked meant "there is
no more." A rectangle denoting a dwelling,
its center lightly covered in peck
marks, means "no one lives here anymore."
With animals so treated, "the
mountain sheep are gone, the deer have
Bad things had happened to the
people on their four-migration trek, and
Coyote was the culprit.
But a shaman appears now, hands
held over his head-and from that moment
on things get better.
A pregnant mountain sheep bears a
solidly pecked kid. Figures with
strange headdresses appear, and deer,
and more mountain sheep, all connected
by spirit lines running from one
figure to another.
At the far south end of the panel
stands another Storyteller, this one with
a hump back, standing in profile with
both hands held out in front, telling you
"The story now is ended."
You'll find other Storytellers pecked
on panels at Site Four. Uphill, on
the east side of the huge rockfall hold
ing the Storyteller Woman, is another
panel with a sad tale to tell. A hooded
and masked Storyteller, this one definitely
male, indicates a deer pierced by
an arrow. Above the deer is a bow, and
above that, a prone human figure.
Figures shown upside down or
prone are dead, and so the story of this
panel is clear: the hunter died in an
accident and the sad Storyteller is
telling us all about it.
Downslope to the south, you squeeze
though a narrow niche to find yourself
in a tiny grotto, top open to the sun. A
female we dubbed "The Mermaid" is
seated here, her feet crossed at the
ankles, her arms raised in seeming
fright. Threatening her is what is the
first "mean" petroglyph we've ever
seen-a figure wearing a shaman's cap
and with a double hump on his back.
His right arm, swollen with spirit
power, holds an Enigmatic Object.
When you don't know what something
is, it's an Enigmatic Object. If you
really don't know what it is, you call it a
Ceremonial Object. And if you don't
have the slightest glimmer of what the
material is, you call it, simply, Chert.
After the ground survey is done and
the maps are drawn fixing one feature
in relation to another, you take photographs.
In the case of Site Four's Panel A,
the Storyteller Woman panel, we began
at the north end and shot a series,
head on, of overlapping frames, each
one identified with a sign giving the site
number, this particular panel and the
date. Following that, sheets of 4-mil
polyethylene film (pliofilm) were secured
to the rockface with masking tape.
Once the pliofilm is placed over the
petroglyphs, you follow the peck
marks, using a Marks-A-Lot (or equivalent)
felt pen with non-water soluble
black ink. The ink forms a permanent
bond with the plastic. (We've also used
other colors to identify anomalies such
as cracks, spalls, lichen, etc.)
You carry a permanent record on
pliofilm back to the lab. The advantages?
Many times, you'll run into conditions
where you just can't photograph
properly-the light's not right, it rains,
a norther blows in . . . or worse, you
reach in the bag and there's no more
film; you shot it all up getting to the site.
And the most futile words in man's
vocabulary are "We'll come back and
do it next time." "Next time" is as far
off as manana, and mariana can be
weeks or months or years away.
We've only scratched the surface of
Site Four-there are other panels, the
ancient pecked designs leaping out at
you from every rock surface . . . and
many more sites out there in this fingerland
mesa country, waiting to be found.
How can we sum up the richness of
this treasure house of prehistoric art,
this gallery not 70 miles from downtown
El Paso? It's more than a "national
treasure," it merits inclusion on the
World Heritage List as a priceless and
irreplaceable cultural resource.
The possibility that low-level radioactive
waste may be dumped nearby
leaves us with mixed feelings. We
know the dump site will be as safe as its
designers and engineers can make it,
but there's an emotional loading to the
issue that gives logic very little chance
to enter. People just don't want that
atomic bugaboo around.
There is a bright side: if they do
place the dump there, idle weekenders
will be afraid to cross the tainted
ground, and this will help preserve the
sites a few years more.
Even with atomic waste lying buried
near the road, how safe is Alamo
Canyon from harm? How safe are any
of our historic places or our wilderness
Archaeological site or historic building-all
our treasures of Yesterday -
are in constant danger. Recreationalists
and vandals, both the unthinking kind
and the deliberate, have destroyed
much of our cultural heritage in recent
years, and the pace shows no sign of
Because they are relatively remote
and hard to get to, the sites of Alamo
Canyon have remained relatively untouched.
We hope they may remain that
way, to the benefit of generations to
Alex Apostolides is an archaeologist, and
the writer and producer of The Edge of
Texas radio show in El Paso, Texas.
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 5, Number 3, Autumn 1987, periodical, Autumn 1987; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45439/m1/21/: accessed May 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.