The Rock Art Engravings of the Coso Range

The World Pole

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The pole, in cross-cultural perspective, signifies the world pillar connecting three worlds (the human world, upperworld, and underworld). This “world pole” is a prominent element of reconstructed, ancient, Great Basin cosmology, hearkening back to an Archaic circumboreal ideology (Hultkrantz, 1981). Ute (Numic) mythology and animal ceremonialism, although central to the bear, manifests remarkable parallels. The pole, originally a deciduous tree, is a metaphor representing death and rebirth as the tree goes through a process of “dying” (shedding its leaves and going into a relatively dormant state in the winter) and coming to life again in the spring. The pole is also a means of travel, a road for the Animal Master, helping to provide a safe return, means of reincarnation, and an aid for leading game animals back to the tribal hunting grounds in the spring (Hultkrantz, 1987a, 1987b; McNeil, 2002, 2005).

Pantomime dances, mimicking animal behaviors, are conducted and associated with reviving the slain creature. The latter are an enactment of the mythic journey. That journey includes: the hunt, death, ascent to the upper world via the sacred pole, and seasonal return/regeneration back to the middle human world, upon being restored, traveling up from the lower world - arising from the land of the dead and ancestor spirits (Hallowell, 1926; Hultkrantz, 1981, 1986, 1987a; McNeil, 2002; Rockwell, 1991).

The animal is fed in hopes of sending messages to deceased ancestors. Finally, ritually drawn images of animals are created for the purpose of restoring game to life and returning the animal medicine back to the tribe (Hallowell, 1926; Hultkrantz, 1981; McNeil, 2001, 2005; Rockwell, 1991).

Coso Rock Art Hunting Scenes


rock art engravings coso range america Coso rock art shows armed hunters chasing mountain sheep. Dogs are also illustrated driving and attacking the sheep (Figure 4 left). Complex scenes left depict archers with dart throwers (atlatls), spears, bows and arrows, impaled game animals, and mountain lions (Figure 5). Mountain lions are a logical metaphor for success in the hunt since the large cats are known as keen hunters of bighorn. Mountain lions may also be illustrative of spirit helpers, invoking a desire by hunters to be as skilled as lions in their attempts at killing sheep.

coso rock art hunters and sheep coso rock art armed hunters attacking sheep rock art engravings coso range america coso rock art mountain lions

5a 5b 5c 5d

(Figure 5) Bow and arrow armed hunters attacking sheep. A is from Sheep Canyon and B is found in Renegade Canyon. Mountain lions attacking sheep. Mountain lions are often rendered with tails that are nearly as long as or longer than the animals torso and that sometimes curves backwards over their back. Both images C and D are from Renegade Canyon.

rock art coso mountain lions

Coso Mountain Lions



Bradshaw Foundation - Introduction to Coso Rock Art
Dr. Alan P. Garfinkel - About the Author
Dr. Alan P. Garfinkel - Introduction to the Research Paper
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