Robert Bednarik

Interwoven Bednarik Issues

I will start this introductory-page with two quotations. The first, important quotation reads: ‘the perhaps most characteristic feature in Rock Art Research has been the emphasis on open debate: every single contribution (!) appearing in Rock Art research is offered for debate …. (Bednarik 2008b: 248; my emphases).

The second quotation refers to the Bednarik-sentence, I could quibble about the fact that Robert Bednarik once sarcastically corrected me the way I - in one of my papers that I submitted to Rock Art Research, a long time ago - incorrectly used the abbreviation OD (instead of O.D.) by referring to an ‘Overdose of Drugs’. However, that would be petty and detract from the main thrust of my arguments. The main thrust in this section actually concerns the fact that Robert Bednarik proves not be a man of his (printed and published!) words.

Before discussing the Bednarik-issues I would like to explain that I am not an academic or a professional archaeologist. I am a geographer (now retired). I graduated in the Netherlands within the Dutch educational system and I have been teaching geography for 32 years before I retired. Besides a geographer, I am a rock art investigator and as such I am also a scientist and an archaeologist. More than 100 works by me have been published since 1987 (see my personal Bibliography). In the process of publishing I have learned a lot from other people. Robert Bednarik, for instance, rightly insists on publishing verifiable facts only and in several amicable emails he discussed this topic with me. Simultaneously Bednarik was also one of the few editors who allowed me to publish some hypotheses that could not be corroborated by facts. Yet this is a correct attitude of a true scientist! Remember Alfred Wegener.

What I do not have is an academic title, which only means that I did not graduate at a university. Thus I never became Dr. or Prof. and therefore I never pretended to have an academic title. However, having a title (Dr., Lic., or Prof. or whatever) does not mean that what an academic publishes or performs is always scientifically or ethically correct. It also does not mean that he or she can do no (unintended or intended) harm to archaeological sites or to rock art/archaeology/science in general.

On the other hand, several people without any academic title (in archaeology or in any other science) have achieved tremendous success in science; also in rock art research. Illustrative in this respect is Robert Bednarik, a self-taught authority on global rock art, who now edits and publishes a respected Journal - Rock Art Research - and who has written many valuable scientific articles without ever having attended a university or acquired an academic degree. This proves that a non-academic researcher can be a scientist and an archaeologist. In this respect I do not differ from Bednarik. Yet, APAR-Perú refers to Bednarik as  Professor   Robert Bednarik in the list of members of the Consejo Editorial de APAR. Is this a manipulation to give APAR-Perú and Bednarik more status?

The first Bednarik Issue (of five issues)

That indeed Robert Bednarik not always is a man of his word is demonstrated by the fact that he - as an initiated person - sometimes reveals the restricted meaning of Aboriginal rock art images. I speak from my own experiences. When we still were “friends” (his words) and I was - in 2005 - preparing my paper about Mogollon “flute-players” (Van Hoek 2010) he revealed to me via email the meaning of a specific petroglyph from Murujuga, western Australia. On that occasion I asked his advice about certain - general - interpretative issues and as an example he fully explained to me the meaning of a petroglyph from Murujuga (Bednarik 2002: Fig. 2 - right-hand figure). Bednarik was informed by an Aboriginal that the image conveyed a symbolism that was completely different to what was depicted. Yet, he was not supposed to share this information with me; a non-initiated person. As I promised him not to publish this information, I never did. But in this respect (he knows what this means) I did not promise him that I would never mention this practice.

Bednarik, R.G.
2002. The survival of the Murujuga (Burrup) petroglyphs. Rock Art Research. Vol. 19-1; pp. 29 - 40. Melbourne, Australia.

Van Hoek, M. 2010. Mogollon Rock Art and the Status of the ‘Flute Player’. In: Proceedings of the XV World Congress - UISPP. Lisbon. BAR International Series, pp 161-173, Archaeopress, Publishers of British Archaeological Reports, Oxford, England.

second Bednarik Issue

In 2008 Robert Bednarik published an extensive paper about cupules in rock art in Rock Art Research (2008a: 61 - 100). When having read this most informative paper, I found it remarkable that Bednarik did not use/quote or even refer to my extensive paper on the cupules of El Encanto in Chile (2003); a site which he only briefly discussed (2008a: 64). As an expert on the subject matter he should have read (and could -should?- have used) it, especially as by the time of writing he knew of my El Encanto publication.

This latter fact is demonstrated by a following publication in which Bednarik copied part of his own extensive 2008 paper and published it as a ‘new’ paper in another publication (2010). In his ‘new’ paper he did refer to my 2003 publication (2010: 43). More remarkable is the fact that in his ‘new’ paper Bednarik did not refer to his own 2008 paper, nor in his References (2010: 50), as if he wanted to avoid that people would find out that he simply copied an old paper and transformed it into a new one (a practice that is not unusual in the world of rock art publications).

Then I asked Robert Bednarik why he did not criticise my observations about the cupules at El Encanto, Chile (2003). His surprising answer was that he regarded me as one of his friends and that for that reason he did not criticise me. As I had no reason to dispute this latter fact at that time, I found the matter not essential enough to ‘dispute’.

However, the matter became an issue at a later stage, when I submitted to Rock Art Research a brief report commenting on an article by Majeed Khan in Rock Art Research (2008a). Bednarik accepted this report and published it. Khan commented (2008b) on my report, but because I did not agree with his comments, I asked Bednarik if I could submit a sequel. Surprisingly, Bednarik ‘strongly advised’ me in an email not to pursue the issue any further, without any explanation. All later questions about this situation were ignored by Bednarik, as well as by Khan. I still do not know why I was not allowed by Bednarik to further comment on a publication regarding a rock art matter, especially in view of his published statement (see the first quotation above).

It is now important that Bednarik proves to have a different concept of the term ‘friend’ than I do and, more problematic, he also proved not to be a man of his (printed and published!) word (see the two issues above). I will explain this fact when discussing the full Khan-Issue in another web page (click the Khan-tab above). Unfortunately, at the same time and somewhat later more issues between Bednarik and me emerged: the Echevarría López issue, the Núñez Jiménez issue and the Aguada Issue. These three issues will be explained in different web pages.

Feeling very uncomfortable with the (in my opinion) negative attitude of Robert Bednarik, I broke with him and I wrote that I did not want to be involved in AURA and Rock Art Research (I did not mention Bednarik) any longer. Nowadays Bednarik uses that sentence as an argument not to react to my emails and to simply ignore all my publications after 2010. Especially the latter attitude is most unscientific and not worthy of a person who is the convener of the official IFRAO organisation and the editor of Rock Art Research, a fine Journal that also reviews rock art publications. It proves that Bednarik is not capable to separate my person and my publications.

Bednarik, R. 2008a. Cupules. Rock Art Research. Vol. 25-1: pp 61 - 100. Melbourne, Australia.

Bednarik, R. 2008b. The first quarter: an editorial note. Vol. 25-2: pp 246 - 248. Melbourne, Australia.

Bednarik, R. 2010. Discriminating between cupules and other rock markings. In: Mysterious Cup Marks. Proceedings of the First International Cupule Conference. Eds. Roy Querejazu Lewis and Robert G. Bednarik. BAR International Series 2073: pp 41 - 51. Oxford, England.

Khan, M. 2008a. Symbolism in the rock art of Saudi Arabia: Hand and footprints. Rock Art Research. 2008, Volume 25, Number 1, pp 13-22. Melbourne, Australia.

Khan, M. 2008b. Reply to Lombry and Van Hoek. Rock Art Research. 2008, Volume 25, Number 2, pp 223-224. Melbourne, Australia.

Van Hoek, M. 2003. Tacitas or cupules? An attempt at distinguishing cultural depressions at two rock art sites near Ovalle, Chile. In Rupestreweb.

third Bednarik Issue: Núñez Jiménez

AURANET - the home site of the Australian Rock Art Research Association (AURA) on the Internet - includes a large number of web pages. The webmaster of this Internet site, Robert G. Bednarik has also published a paper, called Iconography (n.d), as part of a most comprehensive and informative series of articles about Rock Art Dating. Ironically and regrettably the paper itself is not dated, nor is any of the papers in the Rock Art Dating compilation.

His Iconography paper is most clear and is correct about the many flaws and pitfalls regarding the classifying, interpreting and dating of rock art motifs. In his paper he especially focuses on zoomorphic and anthropomorphic images and specifically stresses how tricky and misleading attempts at classifying, interpreting and dating of such images usually are. For instance he argues that ‘The dating pronouncements they [rock art researchers like Bednarik - my addition] derive from their 'identifications' range from the plausible to the absurd.’

In this respect, I find it extremely absurd that a distinguished rock art researcher like Bednarik offers the reader of the same Iconography paper an illustration of ‘Peruvian petroglyphs depicting hallucinatory imagery’ (n.d. Fig. 1), without first mentioning that this petroglyph boulder is found at Toro Muerto; a huge petroglyph site in the coastal area of southern Peru. Bednarik knew that this petroglyph panel is found at Toro Muerto. Secondly, I also find it very unscientific that the source of the drawing has not been mentioned. It is notably certain that Bednarik did not draw ‘his’ Fig. 1 himself. And there are more issues.

I know that Bednarik visited Toro Muerto in 1988 (his first time in Peru, while he re-visited Peru for the second time in 2012). Therefore his Iconography paper (n.d) probably was written between 1988 and 2012. I also know that Bednarik took photographs at Toro Muerto in 1988 (RAR 2003). He might have seen the panel illustrated as his Fig. 1, as his excursion was directed to the north part of the site. However, Bednarik choose to include a drawing from another source; perhaps he did not see or photograph this panel.

Unfortunately, Bednarik uncritically copied the possibly only drawing available of this panel from the publication of the much-lamented Cuban rock art researcher Antonio Núñez Jiménez (1986: Fig. 2526 on page 465); unfortunately, because I have clearly demonstrated (Van Hoek 2011; 2012) that especially the illustrations by Núñez Jiménez are often (in more than 20%) inaccurate and/or incorrect. Therefore, it would have been wise (and moreover scientifically correct) if Bednarik had mentioned the source of his Fig. 1, and had expressed the possible doubt about the exactness of the rendering by Núñez Jiménez (for instance in the caption).

What I also find absurd is that Bednarik describes the collection of petroglyphs in the caption of ‘his’ Fig. 1 as ‘depicting hallucinatory imagery’, and moreover states in the text that ‘Animal depictions may be based on iconic hallucinations (Figure 1 above), and it is perfectly possible to draw a picture of an animal not existing in one's physical world’. I fully agree with the general nature of the latter statement, but I completely reject the ‘depicting hallucinatory imagery’ and the (Figure 1 above) parts of the quotations. Although Bednarik might be right, what possible evidence does Bednarik have that indeed this petroglyph panel at Toro Muerto ‘depicts hallucinatory imagery’? I agree that hallucinatory imagery may exist in the Andes, as the use of narcotics seems to have been widespread in that mountainous area. But I am unable to separate hallucinatory imagery from other images when only using a drawing. Perhaps Bednarik has unexpected skills that I do not have. I now have two further comments regarding the use by Bednarik of the Núñez Jiménez drawing.

First of all, the Núñez Jiménez drawing is undifferentiated (and actually too small for such a large and profusely decorated rock art panel). This means that the drawing offers no information whatsoever about deep or shallow parts; deeply patinated or un-patinated parts; incised or pecked parts and so on. Also, because of the small dimensions of the original drawing fine details become unrecognisable. Yet, Bednarik claims that all petroglyphs on this large panel ‘depict hallucinatory imagery’ (at least he does not make any distinction between the many petroglyphs). Thus he ignores the fact that the images on the panel may have been manufactured not at the same time and thus may not have necessarily been triggered by the same stimulus (whichever the motivation has been). I agree, some of the zoomorphic imagery on the panel seems to include representations of ‘fantastic’ zoomorphs, but equally this could be the result of a stylistic convention and interpretation of the people once living in this region.

Secondly and more importantly, Bednarik bases his claim on an incorrect drawing by Núñez Jiménez, and the chance that a statement based on an incorrect source will be incorrect as well, is very high, even when it concerns details that are incorrect. The Núñez Jiménez drawing shows twelve incorrectly drawn petroglyphs or details thereof, eleven inaccuracies, while four petroglyphs are missing (Figure 1). Núñez Jiménez even includes a natural rock feature as a groove petroglyph and subsequently so does Bednarik.

Figure 1. Panel Bc-004 at Toro Muerto, Peru. Drawing by Maarten van Hoek, based on a copy of the drawing by Antonio Núñez Jiménez (1986: Fig. 2526 on page 465), showing all flaws and errors. Scale 40 cm. I invite every rock art researcher to make a print-out of Figure 1, visit the boulder (location: Google Earth 2011: 16° 13' 18.47" S / 72° 30' 30.21" W) and to check the correctness of my interpretation.

In conclusion, Bednarik, a popular rock art researcher who often criticises others and comments on others, has used an unreliable drawing to base an absolute statement upon, for which he does not and cannot offer any proof. Moreover he does not mention the source of that drawing and does not show the scale (which is shown in the original Núñez Jiménez drawing). The publication of this drawing by Robert Bednarik (and originally by Núñez Jiménez) and the uncorroborated claim are bad examples of scientific research. Therefore I again articulate my guidance that every modern rock art researcher should be fully aware of the risks when she or he uncritically uses (copies) illustrative material from the Núñez Jiménez (1986) book and should avoid absolute assertions and/or interpretations based on such drawings. It is also better to explicitly express doubt about the ambiguity or unreliability of a drawing of a rock art panel that a researcher has used, but which she or he has not seen her- or himself.

Bednarik, R. n.d. Iconography. Rock Art Dating.

Núñez Jiménez, A. 1986. Petroglifos del Perú. Panorama mundial del arte rupestre. 2da. Ed. PNUD-UNESCO - Proyecto Regional de Patrimonio Cultural y Desarrollo. La Habana.

RAR. 2003. Rock Art Research. Vol 20 - No. 3. Front and back cover photographs by R. G. Bednarik.

Van Hoek, M. 2011. Petroglyphs of Peru - Following the Footsteps of Antonio Núñez Jiménez. Oisterwijk, The Netherlands.

Van Hoek, M. 2012. Cerro Mulato: el caso de Piedra 274. In Rupestreweb.

fourth Bednarik IssueTroncoso & Jackson

In a well reasoned paper, called ‘Images That Travel’, Professor Andrés Troncoso and Dr. Donald Jackson analyse and discuss two biomorphic petroglyphs in central Chile (2010: Figs 4 and 5) that - so they argue - possibly are testimonies of ‘Aguada’ , a ‘culture’ that once occupied northwest Argentina [NOA] on the western side of the Continental Divide that runs across South America. Troncoso & Jackson argue that those two images ‘travelled’ across the Andes.

I agree with Troncoso & Jackson that - in general - certain images indeed travelled across the Andes from north to south and from east to west. Often enormous distances in space and time were involved in those ‘travels’. The authors refer to the ‘Sacrificer’ as an Andean example (2010: 44), but they possibly are unaware that - so far - only one ‘MSC-style’ (Formative Period images - possibly of Manchay-Sechín-Cupisnique origin; see Van Hoek 2011a for a comprehensive explanation) petroglyph depicting the ‘Sacrificer’ (with severed head and knife) has been reported in Andean rock art. It occurs at Alto de la Guitarra in northern Peru (Van Hoek 2011a: 178; Fig 40).

The occurrence of only one single anomalous image in an Andean rock art site does not contradict, however, that the concept of the ‘Sacrificer’ has travelled enormous distances within South America. I have argued (2011a: 185-188) that the same discrepancy goes for another Andean deity, the ‘Staff God'. Moreover, it often proves that the presence of one anomalous image in a rock art site actually demonstrates and confirms contacts between distant areas.

If we would arrange the possibility of ‘travelling images’ on a scale from ‘1’ (absolutely impossible) to ‘10’ (100% proven by verifiable facts), then everybody will agree that the ‘face on Mars’ deserves to be labelled ‘1’, as it is impossible that there is any relationship between, for instance, ‘Aguada’ and Mars. However, as 100% proof is very rare in rock art matters, the label ‘10’ will hardly ever occur. But I consider the possibility of a relationship between ‘Aguada’ and the two aforementioned Chilean petroglyphs to be at least ‘8’. The harsh Andes are notably crisscrossed by many passes and paths and there is ample evidence of contact between and exchange with the much differing regions west and east of the Continental Divide.

I fully agree with the comment by Natalia Carden (Troncoso & Jackson 2010: 51-52) that ‘the presence of jaws with sharp teeth …. is not exclusive to felines’. The two Chilean petroglyphs depicting fantastic creatures described by Troncoso & Jackson only seemingly comprise ‘feline’ characteristics; they might represent an entirely different creature. To illustrate the idea that - when ‘images travel’ - the (symbolic, graphical and biological) content and context of those images is most likely to change, I argue that, in Andean iconography, it is even possible that the teeth of one animal species were incorporated into the head of another animal species, especially when it concerns mythical creatures. For example, recently I have argued (Van Hoek 2011a: 163-170) that many of the (especially purported ‘crocodile’) teeth displayed in the iconography of Chavín de Huántar in northern Peru most likely are not ‘feline’ teeth as is often stated, but most likely represent the teeth of the orca. Images of the ‘orca head with orca teeth’ possibly travelled (most likely on pottery) from the central coast of what is now Peru into the Andean highlands (Van Hoek 2011a: Fig. 154) and ultimately transformed into a mythical creature (often referred to as the ‘Cornice Caimans’ and ‘Tello Caimans’ of Chavín de Huántar).

The Comment by Robert Bednarik

Another matter is the comment by Robert Bednarik, the editor of Rock Art Research, who uses (only) two petroglyphs from Alto de la Guitarra to demonstrate a ‘flaw’ in the reasoning by Troncoso & Jackson (Troncoso & Jackson 2010: 53-56). I could quibble about the fact that the distance that Bednarik used in his comments is not correct. Alto de la Guitarra is not ‘1500 km to its north’, but almost 2500 km NW of the ‘heartland of Aguada’ (I randomly selected the town of Belén in the Catamarca Province [NOA] as the centre of the alleged ‘Aguada heartland’). However, this would be petty and distract from the main thrust of my arguments. The main thrust in this section actually concerns the way Robert Bednarik used two drawings from Núñez Jiménez’ book and also the way he used those drawings to comment on a published work.

Remarkably, Bednarik offers only two examples from the enormous rock art repertoire of the Andes. I now could quibble about the fact that Bednarik fails to mention any of the, and I quote: ‘relevant material on the way (which is plentiful)’, but that would be petty and detract from the main thrust of my arguments. However, I am still curious to hear from Bednarik a number of examples from that ‘plentiful and relevant material’ from the Andean rock art repertoire that would prove his point.

It is moreover most unlikely that Bednarik has ever surveyed the two petroglyphs at Alto de la Guitarra, as to my knowledge, he never visited that site and that is why he uses two illustrations by Núñez Jiménez (1986: Figs 625 and 624 respectively). In 2007 and 2009 I have personally informed Bednarik about the fact that the illustrations of Núñez Jiménez are often highly unreliable or even demonstrably completely incorrect (for different renderings of the Núñez Jiménez Figs 625 and 624 [1986], see Van Hoek 2011a: Figures 52 and 65 respectively). If indeed Bednarik did not visit Alto de la Guitarra (before 2011), and again I doubt if he ever did, he should have mentioned in the caption of his Fig. 1 that he has not seen these petroglyphs in the field at Alto de la Guitarra and, moreover, that the renderings by Núñez Jiménez are often questionable.

Strangely, Bednarik does not seem to have read my publication in Rock Art Research (received and edited by him!) in which I recommend that future authors mention in the text or caption if they have not seen a specific rock art image that they present, whether textual or graphical (Van Hoek 2007: 257). This recommendation applies to every author and thus also to Bednarik, the editor of Rock Art Research.

Yet, Bednarik bases his arguments ‘against’ Troncoso & Jackson on the two illustrations by Núñez Jiménez, while both illustrations by Núñez Jiménez are inaccurate. For instance, it is not at all certain that the ‘appendage’ in the lower creature in Bednarik’s Fig. 1 actually is an appendage, let alone a ‘tongue’. It proves that, in Andean rock art, many examples of ‘MSC-style’ depictions of creatures with a purported ‘feline’ head (Van Hoek 2011a) hardly ever have their ‘tongue out’, as is suggested by Bednarik. In the few cases that an appendage is present in front of the head (that only very rarely has its mouth open), it most likely represents an avian signifier. The upper figure in Bednarik’s Fig. 1 seems to be accepted unconditionally by him as representing a combination of snake and feline (or other carnivore) features, but the actual lay-out of the petroglyph is most uncertain as especially the lower parts have weathered considerably. It is therefore impossible for Bednarik to firmly establish a graphical similarity between the petroglyphs at Alto de la Guitarra and the Chilean images.

I personally find it rather petty of Bednarik when he writes that ‘… perhaps there is more to the Andean connection than Troncoso & Jackson suspected; perhaps the ‘Aguada people’ migrated from Peru?Or vice versa?’. In this way Bednarik belittles the legitimate attempts of Troncoso & Jackson to establish a link between’ Aguada’ and central Chile. In this way Bednarik also ignores the possibility that not the ‘Aguada people’ migrated from Peru (this I find a typical sneer of Bednarik), but that the graphic content of an ancient image travelled (from ‘Peru’? - why not?) across the Andes to ultimately appear in a different style in ‘Aguada’ iconography (and it is irrelevant here whether the ‘Aguada people’ formed a coherent group or not) and then crossed the Andes again to emerge in central Chile. The scenario presented by Troncoso & Jackson is not at all unthinkable or far fetched, especially as in northern Chile more graphical data have been reported (both textiles and rock art) that seem to substantiate the hypothesis by Troncoso & Jackson. A drawing of a petroglyph from northern Chile with possible ‘Aguada’ influence is shown on page 147 of an earlier publication (Van Hoek 2011c).

Moreover, the idea that specific symbols or motifs in rock art can ‘travel’ considerable distances is not new. Some rock art motifs even have an enormously wide distribution. For instance, the stepped design is often found in the ‘Aguada heartland’ (for instance at the Parque Diaguita site and at Talampaya in La Rioja, both in Argentina), in the rock art and geoglyph art of Chile (Van Hoek 2001) and at several sites in Peru (for instance at Cerro Mulato), but the same motif is also ubiquitously present in the rock art of the South West of the U.S.A. (Van Hoek 2004). It would be unscientific to regard all the stepped patterns of each specific region in the Americas to be the result of independent and parallel development. It is, especially in view of the well established long-distance pre-Columbian contacts in the Americas, more logical that the wide distribution is explained by diffusion. Therefore I have argued that there is a specific relationship (mountain-precipitation) between the stepped patterns in the Andes and those in Meso-America and North America (Van Hoek 2004).

The same goes for the even more widespread ‘outlined simple cross’. Notably in the rock art of North and South America a most characteristic type of cross occurs in rock art. It typically consists of a simple, equal-armed cross that has been completely outlined by one and sometimes more (concentric) grooves. Some authors (like Sánchez 2008) call such a cross the ‘Venus cross’, as they suggest that it represents the morning or evening ‘star’ of Venus, although it is not the issue here whether this symbol indeed represents the planet Venus. I am more concerned about the dispersion of this remarkable symbol. The motif notably proves to have an enormously wide distribution. I have seen the outlined cross on rock surfaces in the deserts of Utah and Arizona in the U.S.A.; painted on a rock shelter wall on the tiny island of Bonaire in the Caribbean and engraved on many panels in the Desert Andes and beyond. Interestingly, there are also numerous outlined crosses in the rock art repertoire of central Chile (Sánchez 2008) and western Argentina (see Van Hoek 2011b). When travelling via the island of Bonaire the distance between the northernmost examples in Utah in the U.S.A. and the southernmost example (that I know of) in South America, Guaiquivilo in Chile, (Cofré Muñoz 2007) is more than 10.300 km. But there is more.

There is also a striking concentration of outlined crosses in New Caledonia, an island on the other side of the Pacific Ocean and the distance between the easternmost examples that I have seen at Palancho in Argentina and the westernmost examples reported by Coffman in New Caledonia (2002: Fig. 47) is more than 12.000 km! I do not want to claim any cultural relationship between New Caledonia and the Americas; I do not even wish to argue that the symbolic content of those distance motifs is identical, but I do not want to rule out that the image of the outlined cross indeed travelled considerable distances on those continents.

Finally, I personally think that in his comments Bednarik confuses two levels of reasoning. His ‘broader perspective’ is well underpinned and I am convinced that - in global (rock) art - many examples of ‘similar’ feline-looking creatures can indeed be traced back to some sort of ‘fear-generated’ archetype. But I personally find it too far fetched of Bednarik to even suggest that the ‘Canadian petroglyphs are perfect further candidates for ‘Aguada status’. I personally find that this way of reasoning belittles the initial and sincere intention of Troncoso & Jackson.

The monologue by Bednarik would have been most useful if only he had omitted his ‘Comments’ on the diffusion-issue raised by Troncoso & Jackson (but then his monologue would not be applicable as ‘Comments’). In other words, the archetype-issue is completely different to the issue of ‘Images that travel’ across the Andes. Both issues are legitimate, but as they operate on two different levels, I am of the opinion that in this respect the macro may not be (ab)used to ‘comment’ the micro. Therefore, the idea postulated by Troncoso & Jackson that the two Chilean petroglyphs may be related to the ‘Aguada’ iconography is very legitimate and deserves further (regional) investigation.


Coffman. R. J. 2002. Voyagers of the Pacific: Rock art and the Austronesian dispersal. Rock Art Research. Vol. 19.1; pp 41 - 67. Melbourne, Australia.

Cofré Muñoz, C. 2007. Arte Rupestre de la Comuna de Colbún.

Sánchez P., D. 2008. El símbolo de Venus en el arte rupestre de Perú, Chile y norte de Argentina. In: Rupestreweb.

Núñez Jiménez , A. 1986. Petroglifos del Perú. Panorama mundial del arte rupestre. 2da. Ed. PNUD-UNESCO - Proyecto Regional de Patrimonio Cultural y Desarrollo, La Habana.

Troncoso, A. & D. Jackson. 2010. Images that travel: ‘Aguada’ rock art in north-central Chile. Rock Art Research. Vol. 27, Number 1. pp 43 - 60. Melbourne, Australia. With RAR Comments by Natalia Carden, Dánae Fiore and Robert G. Bednarik; with RAR Reply by the authors.

Van Hoek, M. 2001. The stepped diamond in Andean rock art. Rock Art Research. Vol. 18-2. pp 96 - 100. Melbourne, Australia.

Van Hoek, M. 2004. The stepped-fret motif in American rock art: an attempt at tracing origin and meaning. The Artifact. Volume 42. pp 75-91. El Paso Archaeological Society. El Paso, Texas.

Van Hoek, M. 2007. A re-evaluation of the 'monkey' petroglyph at the Quebrada de San Juan, Peru. Rock Art Research. Vol. 24-2, pp. 255 - 257. Melbourne, Australia.

Van Hoek, M. 2011a. The Chavín Controversy - Rock Art from the Andean Formative Period. Privately published using the BLURB Creative Publishing Service. Oisterwijk, The Netherlands.

Van Hoek, M. 2011b. Banda Florida. An overview of a rock art site in La Rioja, Argentina. In: Rupestreweb

Van Hoek, M. 2011c. Petroglyphs of Peru - Following the Footsteps of Antonio Núñez Jiménez. Privately Published using the BLURB Creative Publishing Service. Oisterwijk, The Netherlands.


The fifth Bednarik Issue: Khan

I will again start this introductory-page with two quotations. The first, important quotation reads: ‘the perhaps most characteristic feature in Rock Art Research has been the emphasis on open debate: every single contribution (!) appearing in Rock Art research is offered for debate …. (Bednarik 2008b: 248; my empahses).

The second quotation refers to the Bednarik-sentence, I could quibble about the fact that Majeed Khan used a confusing (5 cm - 25 cm?) scale in his photo (2008a: Fig. 8). However, that would be petty and detract from the main thrust of my arguments. The main thrust in this section actually concerns the fact that Robert Bednarik did not live up to his own statement (clearly emphasised in the text below). The fact that Majeed Khan never answered any of my emails is unprofessional of him.

Interpretation is one of the most problematic issues in rock art studies. It often is highly subjective and only when directly informed by the manufacturer it is ‘safe’ to say what a rock art image or symbol means. And even then it may be possible that - for whatever reason - the manufacturer intentionally misleads the researcher. Therefore, without being personally informed by a trustworthy manufacturer of rock art, only ignorant or arrogant researchers claim to definitely know the full meaning of a rock art symbol as intended by that manufacturer. However, in most cases there is no informed information available and then only the rock art images, the rock and its environment (including other archaeological remains and orientation) may offer possible clues as to their meaning.

An extra problem in the study of Andean rock art is that until A.D. 1492 no written language existed in the Americas (except perhaps for the Mayan hieroglyphs). Also for that specific reason I tend to be very careful in interpreting (Andean) rock art, especially as ‘essence over appearance’ is one of the major concepts in Andean art and that specific essence often or almost always will escape the modern observer. Yet it is unwise to avoid any attempt at interpretation. Also, it is unwise to avoid discussion about interpretative matters, as long as the way of discussing issues is acceptable and remains open. This also means that - to a certain extent - deviant and non-standard interpretations must be allowed, even encouraged.

The Khan Issue

In this respect I would like to offer the interested reader an example of interpreting rock art images and subsequent ‘open’ debate. In Rock Art Research (2008a: Fig. 8) Dr. Majeed Khan reported a set of petroglyphs on a vertical panel at Sakkaka, Saudi Arabia, which he described as ‘foot marks associated with purported idol-forms together with hands and cupules’. Unfortunately, Khan did not state the bearing of the rock panel at Sakkaka in his paper. In the following issue of Rock Art Research I suggested that this specific set of petroglyphs, together with a second, similar set on the same panel, possibly represented the ‘imprints of a praying person’, and even that this set possibly concerned a praying Muslim (Van Hoek 2008: 222-223). In view of the latter possibility I moreover implied that - possibly - the observer was oriented towards Mecca when looking at the petroglyph panel.

In his ‘Reply’ in Rock Art Research, Khan (2008b: 223-224) expressed his surprise about my interpretation and more or less rejected it. His argument is that a Muslim in the actual praying position only has the toes touching the ground and Khan included a photograph of a praying Muslim to prove his point. In his opinion it would not be possible that the feet would make complete imprints of sole and toes. He further argues that arms and shoulders are not shown on the panel. Strangely, Khan more or less ignored to address the ‘orientation’ issue (see below).

As I did not agree with the “Reply” by Khan, I suggested to the editor of Rock Art Research, Robert Bednarik, that I should write a further comment. Surprisingly, the editor ‘strongly advised’ me via an email not to pursue the issue any further. He did not even ask what my further arguments would have been. Even more strange was that in the same issue of Rock Art Research the same editor stated that ‘the perhaps most characteristic feature in Rock Art Research has been the emphasis on open debate: every single contribution (!) appearing in Rock Art research is offered for debate …. (2008b: 248). However, this proved not to be true in my case. Does there exist a hierarchy of rock art researchers in the eyes of the editor of Rock Art Research? Are all rock art researchers equal, but are some rock art researchers more equal than the others to him? (free after George Orwell 1945: Animal Farm). What is most important in this matter is that the discussion indeed remains open for every serious researcher or reader. I did not get that opportunity from the editor of Rock Art Research and that is why I discuss the case here again. Therefore, I hereby present my further comments to Khan’s ‘Reply’ and again I invite Dr. Majeed Khan to be so kind to comment on the following observations.

The Khan Issue: My Observations Not Accepted by Bednarik for Further Publication

First of all, a rock art image hardly ever is a literal presentation of the real world. It is more likely that it is a metaphor. A zigzag petroglyph may represent lightning, but equally it may symbolise a meandering river or something else. Moreover, it is possible and even likely that also in prehistoric times the ‘pars pro toto’ concept was used. Thus, it is not necessarily important that an image be complete for its essence to be obeyed. Earlier, the editor of Rock Art Research even ‘allowed’ me to publish a paper that partially deals with the concept of the ‘non-visual’ (Van Hoek 2005: 33). To conclude, the set of petroglyphs as drawn by me (Van Hoek 2008: Fig. 1) not necessarily has to represent an exact and complete replica of the imprint that a praying person (Muslim or not) once made in the sand of the desert.

Khan (2008b: 224) argues that arms and shoulders are not shown on the rock. Indeed, the shoulders are not shown in the set of petroglyphs, but as any-one can see in the photo by Khan (2008b: Fig. 1), the shoulders do not touch the ground, so that argument is not legitimate. But in the actual praying position as shown in the photo by Khan (2008b: Fig. 1) the arms indeed do touch the ground. Interestingly, in the photo by Khan (2008a: Fig. 8) is a long rectangular petroglyph surrounded by rows of cupules the longer axis of which is directed to the left hand print and connected to it by a groove. Could this be the ‘left arm’? Unfortunately, the photo by Kahn seems to show only part of the petroglyph panel and thus it is possible that a similar ‘arm’ is present to the right of the set. However, as the set of petroglyphs may represent an instance of the ‘pars pro toto’ concept, I moreover argue that it is not even necessary that the forearms be present on the Sakkaka panel.

I also dispute Khan’s argument that the feet of a praying Muslim would not make a complete imprint, showing the complete sole plus toes, like in the set of petroglyphs. Khan is right, of course, that in his photo (2008b: Fig. 1) the soles do not touch the ground, but how on earth did the praying Muslim get down to earth? It is a fact that every Muslim begins his ritual when completely standing upright. Then, both feet make a complete imprint in the sand. When the Muslim reaches the position shown in Khan’s photo, indeed only the toes touch the ground (and that may be the reason why the toes in the petroglyph are so clearly emphasised). The manufacturer may have chosen to depict his or her interpretation of the imprints in the desert sand onto the rock surface as shown in the illustration. And that decision may have involved the depiction of complete feet.

I argued above that it is not necessary to depict the arms and that the set of images cannot be taken literally. Therefore my interpretation of a ‘praying person’ may be more plausible than the suggestion by Khan of ‘purported idol forms’. Moreover, his interpretation of ‘purported idol forms’ only involves the ‘legs and knees’, features B and C in the illustration (see page 155). What are ‘purported idol forms’ and what do ‘idol forms’ do between imprints of hand and feet? In favour of my interpretation, legs and knees can indeed be found between feet and hands! This may be the explanation why - in the set of petroglyphs - the ‘legs and knees’, features B and C in the illustration, are directly (graphically, physically and orientation-wise) associated with the feet.

Khan also writes in his ‘Reply’ (2008b: 224) that ‘the figures are located on a vertical surface; it is therefore hard to say if the posture is oriented towards Makkah’. Obviously Khan only considers the set of images on the vertical panel and then he seems to be right. However, there are two methodologies that Khan did not take into account. The first method involves the set of petroglyphs that clearly has a longitudinal axis, even on the vertical panel. This set - judging from Khan’s photo (2008a: Fig. 8) - seems to be almost exactly vertically orientated. If - in our mind - we would ‘replace’ the vertical surface of the boulder by a piece of board with the set of petroglyphs on the exact same spot and would push over the board so that it now lies flat on the ground, with the images visible of course, the longer axis of the set of petroglyphs would certainly show an orientation (which could point towards Mecca). It might have been the intention of the manufacturer to express a certain orientation and chose that very panel of that very boulder for that specific reason. Possibly, the manufacturer only wanted to convey an idea, instead of physically and exactly duplicate on the panel the exact matching imprint of a praying person in a 100% correct orientation. The manufacturer possibly only wanted to leave his message on the rock. Although all this is only guesswork from my side, the arguments that I offer here are not impossible or implausible.

However, we do not have to push over the set of petroglyphs on an imaginary board as there is a simpler method to define an orientation. Unfortunately Khan ignores my earlier remark ‘would an observer standing in front of the boulder have his or her eyes directed towards Makkah?’ (Van Hoek 2008: 223). Yet, I am still convinced that - when looking at any vertical panel - there is always question of orientation. When I look at my TV set when sitting in my living room I simultaneously am looking in an easterly direction (and that is what the word orientation literally means: looking east). If Khan would be so kind as to inform me if the rock panel faces in a specific direction (e.g. west) then any rock art researcher can argue in what way the observer is oriented when looking at that panel. I am aware however that this knowledge does not prove in any way that the choice of the manufacturer to place the set of petroglyphs vertically on the vertical face of the boulder was intentional. This knowledge only offers possibilities to consider. Last but not least, it is not necessary that a Muslim prayed at Sakkaka; people with another belief and/or culture may have been involved, as I could not conclude from Khan’s article (2008a) what age the Sakkaka petroglyph panel is. It may be (much?) older than A.D. 600.

I have emailed Dr. Khan about this matter and invited him to further comment on the discussion above. Unfortunately, I never got any response. I am still looking forward to hearing from Dr. Khan, or from any other scholar interested in rock art interpretation. I also hope that the editor of Rock Art Research will so fair as to publish my observations and the comments by Dr. Majeed Khan and other scholars in a future issue of Rock Art Research. So far (2017) they never did.

Comments by Professor Derêgowski - July 2010

Professor Derêgowski has been so kind to comment on the debate regarding the interpretation of the Sakkaka ‘footprints’ and their orientation. Professor Derêgowski only commented on my note (2008) and the ‘Reply’ by Kahn (2008). He did not know of my further comments (as postulated above). I am grateful for his comments and I am pleased to have Prof. Derêgowski’s permission to reproduce his remarks. Unfortunately I have had no reaction from Khan or Bednarik at all and therefore I again invite both scholars to provide their reactions (to be published in Rock Art Research) to both my interpretation and Prof. Derêgowski’s comments, especially because - and I repeat myself - Bednarik once wrote: ‘the perhaps most characteristic feature in Rock Art Research has been the emphasis on open debate: every single contribution (!) appearing in Rock Art research is offered for debate …. (2008b: 248). I again refer to George Orwell.

Simple depictions of objects rely on one of two devices, i) portrayal of the central lines, and ii) portrayal of lines which are most cogently characteristic of the shape of the object, called typical contours (Derêgowski 2005). The former, which leads to creation of pin figures, is of no relevance in the present context, the latter obviously is.

The ‘footprints’ (Fig. 1 of Van Hoek’s note) do convey the typical contours of feet and are therefore very telling representations of feet. The fact that they are not of the shape of

the impressions which a praying man would have made in soft earth is not sufficient to reject van Hoek’s suggestion, for typical contours dominate portrayals to such an extent as to cause incompatibilities within pictures. Indeed Murison’s (2008: Fig. 2) report is embellished with a picture of a chariot showing such an incompatibility. Analogous incompatibilities occur frequently in depictions of animals’ legs which consist of shanks shown in a side view with pendant, as it were, footprints. The well known lion of Twyfelfontein in Namibia illustrates this point, whilst the tip of the lion’s very long and right angled tail bears witness to the sense of humour of the Bushman artist.

The heading of a depiction on the vertical face cannot sensu stricto be said to point in any direction on a horizontal plane and hence to any place on earth, but this is not how the human perceptual system responds to cues presented on a vertical plane. An upward heading arrow presented to an observer facing such a plane is seen by him not only as pointing upwards, but also as pointing ahead in the horizontal plane. A driver of a car does not regard such an arrow as directing him towards the sky. Hence if the surface were in the NE-SW plane and the observer were looking in the NW direction the vertical upward pointing mark on the surface would be interpreted as pointing NW.

Thus it appears prima facie that neither the nature of the depiction questions Van Hoek’s interpretation, nor is his speculation as to the perceived heading of the figure are unreasonable as far as the working of the human perceptual mechanism is concerned.

J. B. Derêgowski, D.Sc.,F.R.S.E.

Department of Psychology

KingsCollege - University of Aberdeen



DERÊGOWSKI, J. B. 2005. Perception and ways of drawing: why animals are easier to draw than people. In: T. Heyd & J. Clegg (eds): Aesthetics and Rock Art. Ashgate, Aldershot.

KHAN, M. 2008a. Symbolism in the rock art of Saudi Arabia: Hand and footprints. Rock Art Research. 2008, Volume 25, Number 1, pp 13-22. Melbourne, Australia.

KHAN, M. 2008b. Reply to Lombry and Van Hoek. Rock Art Research. 2008, Volume 25, Number 2, pp 223-224. Melbourne, Australia.

MURISON R. W. 2008. ‘Towards bringing Saudi Arabian Northern Province rock art out of obscurity’. Rock Art Research. Volume 25, Number 2, pp 225-6. Melbourne.

VAN HOEK, M. 2005. Biomorphs ‘playing a wind instrument’ in Andean rock art. Rock Art Research. 2005, Volume 22, Number 1, pp 23-34. Melbourne, Australia.

VAN HOEK, M. 2008. Possible interpretation of a set of petroglyphs from Sakkaka, Saudi Arabia. Rock Art Research. 2008, Volume 25, Number 2, pp. 222-223. Melbourne, Australia.