Sunday, March 19, 2006

From Vinland to 'Celtic America' - Part 5

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Barry Fell's America BC and subsequent books revived interest in American epigraphy, the study of inscriptions allegedly left by pre-Columbian explorers andtraders from across the Atlantic, whether Celtic, Phoenecian, or whomever.

One of his key collaborators in the Southwest was Gloria Farley, who had identified a number of what she believes are pre-Columbian inscriptions along the Arkansas River and is tributaries in Oklahoma and SE Colorado. When she connected with Fell in 1975,she felt justified and encouraged, and Fell gained access to all her work. (Her conclusions are collected in her 1994 book, In Plain Sight: Old World Records in Ancient America.)

McGlone and his Utah-based collaborator, Phil Leonard, and another Coloradan, Ted Barker, assembled their own catalog of "interesting" inscriptions, building on Farley's connections. They produced several books:

McGlone and Leonard, Ancient Celtic America, 1986

McGlone, Ancient American inscriptions: plow marks or history?, 1993

McGlone, et. al., Petroglyphs of Southeast Colorado and the Oklahoma Panhandle, 1994

McGlone, et al., Archaeoastronomy of Southeast Colorado and the Oklahoma Panhandle, 1999.

If nothing else, these men and other southeast Coloradans who helped them assembled the most complete catalog of rock area in the area ever made. Petroglyphs, in particular, is a picture book showing samples of rock art ranging from the prehistoric past up through mid-twentieth-century carvings by cowboys, sheepherders, surveyors, and others.

Of all these hundreds of carvings, only half a dozen or so were probably Ogham, McGlone told me. He showed me some sites, and M. and I were present one spring equinox sunset at "Anubis Caves," the Oklahoma Panhandle site where the sun's shadow seems to move in a meaningful sequence across a series of inscriptions and astronomical markings.

I still treasure a hand-drawn map to rock-art sites south of John Martin Reservoir that he gave me years ago.

See for yourself

Scott Monahan, a Denver television producer, created a 1986 documentary which showed on public television, History on the Rocks. It included a panel discussion featuring McGlone and then-state archaeologist John Gooding, who called McGlone a "racist" for even suggesting that some inscriptions might have been made by non-natives. (What a way of shutting down rational discussion!)

Twenty years later, Monahan has updated his documentary with a great deal of new footage. Now called Old News , it is available on DVD, and you may view clips online. I recommend it.

So where are the Pagans in all this?

So we have people making cogent, if not widely accepted, arguments for the creation of European Pagan religious sites in Colorado and Oklahoma at least 2,000 years ago, according to both astronomical and high-tech rock-art dating methods.

I'm not an archaeologist, although I enjoy watching the battle from the sidelines. In my one quasi-archaeological publication, "Colorado Ogham: Exploiting an Archaeological Anomaly," a conference paper published by British Archaeological Reports in 2001, I talked about first, how the struggling High Plains community of Springfield, Colo., created an Equinox Festival around the inscriptions, and second, how the Colorado Pagan community generally ignores them.

I am still not sure why.

In the paper I argued that one reason was geographical: Most Colorado Pagans live in the urban Front Range corridor, and the best-known "Colorado Ogham" site on public land is far away in un-trendy Baca County.

Another reason might be a desire to avoid the political discussion of whether the carvings really are Celtic or were made (somehow) by American Indians. Anglo Pagans generally tip-toe around Native-rights issues.

A third could be that American Pagans seek other avenues to religio-political legitimacy than the presence of ancient monuments.

Scott Monahan's other archaeoastronomy site, with its graphic calendar of the eight solar festivals, generates a lot of emails from Pagan, he tells me. Some complain that the astronomical sabbats are not "traditional." The solar Beltane is not May 1, for instance. "Do they worship the sky or the paper calendar?" he asks.

I would say that "worship" is not the right word, but I see what he is getting at.

A word of skepticism

Frankly, I'm still of two minds about "Colorado Ogham." If the translations are correct, then the inscriptions do convey astronomical information, just like the more famous, larger-scale megalithic monuments of Europe.

But why here? Don't be fooled by the tracings of a possible river route in the video. We must assume that these ancient, Q-Celtic speaking explorers first

1. Sailed the Atlantic
2. Crossed eastern America or else sailed the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi
3. Came up the Mississippi to the Arkansas
4. Traveled up the Arkansas into SE Colorado.

While the Arkansas is a river in eastern Oklahoma, in Colorado, fed by mountain snow melt, it can be a raging torrent in May and a trickle in September. There was a reason that the Santa Fe Trail traders used covered wagons and not boats--it is not a navigable river.

Norsemen may have collected furs in Canada for trade, as well as timber for the treeless Greenland settlement, but what did SE Colorado offer? No gold, surely, and few if any natives to trade with. If one was looking for furs, why not go somewhere else closer?

Yet making astronomical observations implies inhabiting a place for a period of time, and why this place, with its blazing hot summers, dry winters, low potential for agriculture, lack of easy mineral wealth, few inhabitants, and so on?

Why make the trip? It makes no sense, whereas sailing from Greenland to Canada does make sense. All I can say is that more study is needed!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Charles:
Why this place, you ask. I propose that the ancient Ogham (and other)inscribers were indentured (or volunteer) employees of metal suppliers and/or prospecting companies of European base(s). These early explorers were no doubt encouraged by the successes of the previous wave of seekers.
At a young age, I would have risked it, wouldn't you?

2:55 PM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...


Your comment presumes that there were international European prospecting companies 2,000 years ago. You need to review the history of capitalism.

3:48 PM  

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