Texas Rock Art Speaks

Texas Rock Art Speaks


The stylized red dots identified by Texas State University archaeologist Carolyn Boyd as representing speech-breath in Pecos River Style rock art were rendered in a number of different forms. Some dots issue from the mouths of figures as thick streams of speech-breath, others as large, distinct circles. Some figures seem to direct speech-breath at other human-like forms, perhaps depicting efforts to energize or support them. Others seem to be talking with each other or singing together. The exact meaning of each instance of speech-breath may never be understood, but the photographs and drawings of Pecos River Style figures below leave no doubt that the artists creating them imagined their subjects speaking, singing, debating, and perhaps even bellowing—breaking the stillness of the canyon lands of what is now southwest Texas. All photos are courtesy Shumla Archaeological Research & Education Center and all drawings are courtesy Carolyn Boyd. To explore Boyd’s work in more depth, go to “Reading the White Shaman Mural.” Her article describing speech-breath in Pecos River Style rock art is available in its entirety at Latin American Antiquity

  • A human figure from the site of Panther Cave features what scholars call “ecstatic hair” extending from its head and a series of red dots coming from its mouth that typify what Boyd calls speech-breath.
  • This digitally enhanced photo of a rock art panel at the site of Rattlesnake Canyon shows two figures with their arms raised. Thick streams of red dots issue from their mouths and cross one another.
  • A drawing of the panel at Rattlesnake Canyon depicting two figures with streams of speech-breath coming from their mouths
  • A drawing of a panel at the site of Fate Bell Shelter shows two figures standing on either side of a larger, central figure. Elongated red dots representing speech-breath coming from their mouths seem directed at the central figure and may represent an offering in the form of song or prayer.
  • A drawing of a panel at the site of Frost Felines shows two feline-like figures exchanging large red dots representing speech-breath that may depict ritualized speech or singing.
  • A drawing of a panel at the site of Rattlesnake Canyon shows a small, red, human-like form aiming a forceful stream of speech-breath at a taller black-and-red figure who wields an atlatl or spear-thrower. In turn, gentle streams of red dots issue from the taller figure’s mouth and from the point of its spear.

Source: archaeology.org

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