The following paper was written when Barry Fell supplied the author with a copy of ANCIENT AMERICAN INSCRIPTIONS, PLOW MARKS OR HISTORY? for comment. The book contained negative reviews of some of Dr. Fell's work. He declined to respond to the "unacceptable" appraisal given his reading of a Kufic inscription from INY-272 by the authors of the book. The author of this particular section was not named. It was Dr. Fell's opinion that none of the authors were qualified to make such a judgement. It is my opinion that the determination presented was generated with insufficient study of the actual inscription and without the knowledge of the supporting historic, graphic and physical data. This article was originally scheduled to be printed in Volume 23 of the Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers. Prior to his sudden death, Dr. Fell had cooperated with its preparation and approved the piece for publication. It was removed without notice by the new editors, Jon Polansky and Donal Buchanan.
Roderick L. Schmidt
Ancient American inscriptions, Plow Marks or History is a book published in response to the work of Dr. Barry Fell. The participating authors attempt to refute some of Dr. Fell's epigraphic findings. The case they make against the Inyo Zodiac and accompanying Arabic inscription is addressed herein.
My search for research materials concerning the INY-272 petroglyph site exposed the little known work of Clifford Park Baldwin, ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXPLORATION AND SURVEY OF SOUTHERN INYO COUNTY.(1) This was the source for much of the Eastern California material published in Heizer and Baumhoff's PREHISTORIC ROCK ART OF NEVADA AND EASTERN CALIFORNIA.(2) In an oversight, Clifford Baldwin was not credited in the publication. It was copies of Baldwin's drawings that Dr. Robert Heizer provided Dr. Barry Fell to work from as better sketches of the material presented in the Rock Art book. One page of Baldwin's work has become the center for quite a controversy. He labeled it fig. 5 and in a reduced form the same drawing appears as Fig. F-19 a, on page 358 of Heizer's Rock Art book.
Please excuse my notes. They were written while exploring
Inyo, long before I was aware this controversy ever existed.
Dr. Fell had recognized the upper two lines of the drawing to be a badly drawn, not quite illegible, script of Arabic origin called Kufic. The lower two lines of the drawing appeared to be an eight segment zodiac. He published his findings in the popular book, SAGA AMERICA(3) and a paper in the EPIGRAPHIC SOCIETY OCCASIONAL PUBLICATIONS.(4) A recent publication, ANCIENT AMERICAN INSCRIPTIONS: Plow marks or History?(5) (AAI) by McGlone, Leonard, Guthrie, Gillespie and Whittall takes exception to Dr. Fell's findings and rejects his decipherment as "unacceptable". One of the editors of ESOP, Jon Polansky, is listed as a contributor. It is of interest to note however, that the Arab professors of the University of Tripoli did not question the decipherment. They included it in the Arabic language edition of Saga America which was awarded the Arab Prize for History in 1980. (9)
In the process of making a negative appraisal of the decipherment, the work of Clifford Baldwin comes under particular scrutiny. The appraisal constructed in AAI was made without the knowledge that the Eastern California Museum in Independence, California had the relevant and site specific field notes of the Baldwin expedition. Clifford Park Baldwin was an archaeologist who was hired by the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, California. In 1931, Inyo County and the Southwest Museum cosponsored his explorations in the southern portion of Inyo County. On October 30, he and his party spent the morning and early part of the afternoon exploring and recording Inyo, a petroglyph group near Keeler, California. He called it the Swansea Group. He and his assistants recorded what he labeled as fig. 5 and described it (combined with figures 6, 7 and 8) as being located "...on the cliff face and on nearby boulders scattered about."
Once Dr. Fell published his decipherment, a search was made to locate the inscription. At the time, the original source of the work had been forgotten and the existence of the field notes was unknown. Several casual attempts to locate the inscription were made and finally in 1984 L. J. Dewald assisted by Burrell Dawson, Vincent Yoder, Dave Scott, Roger Cox and Tony Wright located the upper two lines of what was drawn in Baldwin's fig. 5. Dewald's 1985 submission to The Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications(6) confirms the existence of the upper two lines and suggests that the zodiac may not exist as shown in Figure F-19 a, but be a record of individual designs located in the area.
Without the benefit of the Dewald teams experience (or Baldwin's field notes), I located the Kufic portion of the inscription in 1989. It was immediately apparent that whomever made the sketch had, for the sake of neatness or space, arranged the patterns into two rows. In reality, the inscriptions meander from near ground level on the right edge of the wall to six feet high on the left. Not only that, but there appeared to be more inscribed areas on the wall than presented on the drawing, a lot more. Confusing the issue, portions had been refreshed and/or modified but not in modern times. The wall appeared to have been worked and reworked several times. Even the reworked portions showed signs of weathering and long exposure. The antiquity is simply undeniable.
I found the Eastern California Museum's copies of Baldwin's manuscripts in 1990 and quickly recognized the sketches as the source for the Heizer and Baumhoff material. The presentation made in the Rock Art book was scaled down and difficult to work with, but the original sketch was much better detailed and defined. With a good copy of Baldwin's fig. 5. I went back to Inyo to try to figure out just how he had made his determination. It was not coincidence that I returned on October 30.
The inscription is pecked on a grey to beige dolomite marble wall, sculpted and worn by wave action long ago. The wall is patinated with a rough crystalline surface and has a granular texture acquired by the erosion of softer surface stone exposing harder crystal structure. Most of the numerous inscribed areas share the same coloration and texture as the eroded surface. In late October the morning light sidelights the inscribed work making shadows on the edges and increasing the visibility of the petroglyphs considerably over direct (afternoon) lighting. Comparing the newly acquired sketch to the actual wall it was obvious that Baldwin was quite selective in what he sketched.
Of all the items on the wall, why had Baldwin chosen to record what he did? The authors of AAI ask the same question and leave it unanswered, but the answer is quite simple. Baldwin viewed the mass of work present and chose to record the items (or patterns) that shared the same pecking marks. The texture created in the pecking process was relatively undisturbed by the later abraded refreshing that had occurred to portions of the inscribed areas. Apparently, he also used the width of the pecked lines as an additional determinate. This selectivity allowed him to separate the different ages of work and record what he believed to be a single identifiable series. He called them, "...interesting designs..." He had no idea as to the real significance of his record. Thankfully, he was patient and reasonably accurate.
Nearly 50 years passed then Dr. Barry Fell deciphered the upper two lines of fig. 5 to read, "WHEN THE RAM AND THE SUN ARE IN CONJUNCTION, THEN CELEBRATE THE FESTIVAL OF THE NEW YEAR". The alphabet and language were Arabic. The astrological reference of the ram and the sun equate to the timing of the vernal equinox. Later, Jon Polansky and Alan Gillespie were investigating the possibility (suggested by Dr. Fell's decipherment) that the site may be a solar observatory. Both had prior experience with archaeoastronomical observatories. They discovered a six line design that interacted with a sunlight and shadow display at sunset. This was a marker that clearly noted the equinox. It is remarkably precise. Additionally, they discovered a May/August cross-quarter marker and another display that appeared to celebrate the summer solstice. The site was clearly a significant solar observatory. Eventually, markers were identified that celebrate the entire eight segment solar year.
One detail, unnoticed by prior researchers, was a small sunsymbol of a rising sun. This escaped Baldwin's drawing because it was clearly of a different style and construction. I believe this is additional messaging to direct the viewer that the event is to take place at sunrise. It is an excellent example of symbolism used for communication. It works regardless of language. The panel itself is the result of attempts to make the message of the morning equinox display available to as many People as possible.
Several items that Baldwin chose not to record (or just plain missed) from the wall he worked on have proven to be significant and by observation, validates the decipherment made by Dr. Fell. In 1985, Ann and Vincent Yoder accompanied by Margaret and Burrell Dawson and Jon Polansky discovered a second marker that celebrated the equinox using a sunlight and shadow display interacting with a pecked design. Located just a few meters south of the Kufic wall is a low rounded nub of partly buried boulder with a series of what appears to be roughly concentric circles and other inscriptions pecked on it. What happens on the equinox is simple, yet elegant. Sunlight filters through a natural fracture first as a sliver of light, then as the sun rises it develops into a recognizable image created from sunlight. The solar image actively interacts with the man inscribed work. This is an important discovery and the usage and content demonstrates the religious belief of the age of Aries and is unique in construction, application and timing. It is significant and noteworthy. (See Analysis of the Animation elsewhere in this presentation.)
The issues raised with concern for letter shapes, words and definitions by the authors of AAI are themselves seriously questionable. Allow me to quote a source independent of the controversy, but related to the issue: "However, Arabic writing at that period [ca. 650 A.D. Ed.], like early notations in Western music, allowed considerable interpretation; the letters were, in fact, prompters for those who knew the text. Not only were vowels not written (so that for example, the first part of this sentence would be read "nt nl wr vwls nt wrttn" [ or "nttrw tn slwv rw ln tn" Ed.]), but no distinction was made between a number of consonants (for example between n, t, d, th, y, and b)." (7)
Arabic writing didn't improve much until nearly 1200 A.D. when Saladin (Salah-ed din Yusuf ibn Ayub) standardized the usage of the modern script. Prior to that time, both scripts were used and often mixed. Additionally, letters of unique design and abbreviations were frequently used. Lastly, spelling, in voweled or unvoweled forms, varied greatly owing to the phonetics employed and lack of dictionary.
The real key in the last quotation was "...prompters for those who knew the text." Barry Fell was intimately familiar with the text. It was similar wording to what he deciphered from the Davenport stele.(8) That trilingual stone document gave Dr. Fell knowledge and familiarity, enough to make the recognition from what he saw in Baldwin's presentation. It is very likely that the phrase concerning the ram and the sun had a widespread use in North Africa and North African influenced Iberia. One must recall that Egypt controlled North Africa and was subject to the influence of Persian and Babylonian philosophies for many centuries. The maritime trading ventures and subsequent transmittal of this information by ancient voyagers is evident in finding this text at the Inyo location.
It should be noted that the authors of AAI selectively quoted Saga America. Dr. Fell addressed the issue of legibility quite well: "However after the conquest of Tripoli by invading Islamic forces from the east, in 646 AD., most Arabic writers in North Africa adopted the Kufic alphabet ... It has numerous variant forms, and inscriptions are sometimes very carelessly written, in other cases (especially on mosques and royal tombs) engraved with exquisite artistry...". My research suggests that the script was probably introduced to North Africa significantly in advance to the spread of Islam by traders and travelers. The spread of Islam was along well traveled trade routes, by land or sea.
The inscription under discussion was the first Arabic found on the site. It is clearly pre-Islamic in content and context. Another inscription was found by this author and submitted to Dr. Fell for translation. He reported it to be the signature of Zaiid Mohammed. The name implies a post-Islamic timeframe. But, the "Z" was backwards according to my references. This was most curious. Then I saw the same style backwards Z coming from an Arabic alphabet from an island off the coast of India. The alphabet of the Inyo inscription was obviously maritime and transmitted by ship.
I have in my possession five different alphabets called Kufi (Kufic or Cufi) and many more samples of the script ranging from drawings of petroglyphs from Yemen to photographs of the walls of a Spanish mosque. The range of style is every bit as great as Dr. Fell states. What was recorded by Baldwin at Inyo contained just enough literacy to deliver to Dr. Fell an understandable message.
Above are four pages prepared by Dr. Fell. He took a lot of unnecessary abuse over his Saga America presentation (center two images). Because he had not visited the location personally and no photographs of the location were available, he created a mock petroglyph to illustrate his point. The replica was faithful to the sketches provided by Dr. Robert Heizer who had had vouched for the authenticity and accuracy of the sketches. Problems arose when researchers could not locate the material on the Inyo location. Much site destruction had taken place since 1931 and it was feared that the Baldwin Zodiac may have been destroyed. Later it was resolved that everything was there, just not in the order drawn. This partially invalidates the Inyo Zodiac. It is a panel with a clear zodiacal reference intended in the message and ties to other inscriptions on the location by content and context, but it isn't a true Zodiac.
If the good doctor was still with us, the only linguistic items I might question is his translation of the words "new year." I suspect that the more proper language might have been "annual renewal." But this is nit picking, a matter for linguistic specialists and none of the authors of AAI qualify to address the issue. Archaic languages are far broader in definition than modern languages. Additionally, I might challenge his assessment of the prospective age of the writings. The age of the work on the wall is probably more than 2,000 years old. This is significantly older than Dr. Fell's assessment based on letter styles. At the foot of the wall we found a sunsymbol buried in antiquity. Coating the sunsymbol was a rind of calcium carbonate. Dr. Alan Gillespie carefully removed a small portion and had it dated. He reported that the rind formed about 2,000 years ago when the sunsymbol was buried. How much older than that it may be is an unknown.
This panel was quite likely the source for portions of Baldwin's sketch. Examination of the work provides visual evidence that the panel has been reworked several times. The patina, or coating over several of the designs has been removed by abrading. The original work appears to have been pecked rather than abraded. The reworking is credited to the Owens Valley Shoshone. (See Dr. Gillespie's article in the Epigraphy section of this presentation.
The zodiac presents a unique problem. The damage, vandalism and looting at the site make nothing certain. However, there are clues given in Baldwin's sketch. On his original sketch below each of the upper two lines of designs he drew an arrow and labeled it "group". He didn't do this below the lines Fell identified as a zodiac. Baldwin's notes state that the design was assembled from details "..on the cliff face and on nearby boulders scattered about." This validates the conclusion reached by Dewald. Even in this case, Dr. Fell recognized the zodiacal, hence the astrological (read astronomical) affinities of the ancient work and in this he is correct. The proof is carved in stone.
Notes specific to the preceding article
1 Baldwin, Clifford Park ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXPLORATION AND SURVEY IN SOUTHERN INYO COUNTY 1931 unpublished manuscript Eastern California Museum, Independence, California
2 Baumhoff, Martin A. and Heizer, Robert F. PREHISTORIC ROCK ART OF NEVADA AND EASTERN CALIFORNIA 1962 University of California Press Berkeley, California
3 Fell, Barry SAGA AMERICA 1980 Times Books New York, NY
4 Fell, Barry AN ANCIENT ZODIAC FROM INYO, CALIFORNIA The Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications Vol. 8 no. 179 November 1979
5 McGlone, William R. ; Leonard, Phillip M.; Guthrie, James L.; Gillespie, Rollin W.; Whittall, James P. Jr. ANCIENT AMERICAN INSCRIPTIONS: PLOW MARKS OR HISTORY? 1993 Early Sites Research Society Sutton, MA
6 Dewald, L. J. THE INYO, CALIFORNIA, ZODIAC 1985 The Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications Volume 14 no. 377 September 1985
7 Polk, William R. THE ARAB WORLD 1980 Harvard University Press Cambridge, MA
8 Fell, Barry America B.C. 1976 Simon & Shuster, NY, NY
9 Fell, Barry, personal communication; The section in italics was an addition suggested by Dr. Fell.
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