Betataki Cliff Dwelling is located at what is now the Navajo National Monument. Rand McNally, who kindly alerted me to its presence, won’t allow me to post a copy of a page from their atlas. However, if you want to find this somewhat out-of-the-way place, head north from Phoenix on I-17. Continue north as the highway becomes 89, then get off at the turnoff for 160, signs for Tuba City. 160 cuts northeast across Navajo country. About 75 miles past Tuba City (and just before Kayenta), you’ll see signs for the Navajo National Monument. It’s on the north side of the road. Like every good national park, there is a small museum/gift shop/information center, where you can obtain maps for walking the various trails.
The trail to Betataki is a short, easy hike: about an hour round trip to and from the overlook. You cannot approach the cliff dwelling itself, but there is a viewing platform that allows you to look across the canyon. When you do, this painting is roughly what you will see.
Here is a crude, cell-phone-picture close-up of the cliff dwelling. As you can see, it’s under the large arch on the left side of the painting.
We were there on a grey, snowy day. I didn’t plan it this way, but I love the contrast the snow and the cold grey colors of sky and vegetation make with the red-rock desert.
For those keeping track, Kachina Bridge is about one day’s drive north of Betataki. It’s in Natural Bridges National Monument in southeastern Utah. This is simply a huge culture area.
This children’s book is based on actual events. At the age of eleven, Naya Nuki and her friend Sacajawea (yes, that Sacajawea) were kidnapped during a raid and marched about 1,000 miles to the east, into what is now North Dakota, to serve as slaves of the more prosperous Minnetare.
Naya Nuki determines to escape. She begins preparing before the outbound journey is even over, memorizing landmarks and so on. (Luckily, in order to get back to her home country, she basically just has to follow the Missouri River.) She then busies herself being a model prisoner, while also obtaining and hiding the things she will need for her journey, such as a buffalo robe (basically, a winter coat/sleeping bag), moccasins, extra food, and even a knife.
Sacajawea isn’t interested in trying to escape, being fairly sure that the girls will be quickly run down and killed by their captors. Shortly before Naya Nuki’s escape, Sacajawea tells her that she has been sold to a white man. (I knew Sacajawea was married to a Frenchman, and I’d always wondered whether it was a romantic interracial love match. Turns out, not so much.)
Naya Nuki cleverly waits for a stormy night to escape. She travels by night at first in case she is being tracked and continues to think like a fugitive throughout her journey. Once she gets well out of range of her captors, she then “only” has to deal with things like illness, snowstorms, and even a grizzly bear.
This little eleven-year-old girl walks all the way back to her people. She seems so capable throughout most of the book. It’s not until the end, when she and her mother are crying and embracing, that she seems like a little girl again. Her people change her name to Naya Nuki, which means Girl Who Ran. We don’t know what her name was before that, so Thomasma calls her Naya Nuki throughout the book.
Four years later, Sacajawea shows up at the Shoshoni camp again, this time in the company of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and carrying the baby she had with her French husband, Charbonneau.
I’ve always admired Sacajawea for making that journey with a baby, but Naya Nuki … wow.
Here are some charts I’ve created to illustrate my reaction to this true story.
Naya Nuki, while a lot physically stronger than yours truly, is still an eleven-year-old girl, not a grown man. She doesn’t have unlimited strength, speed, or endurance.
All night Naya Nuki ran at a steady pace, with short periods of walking that served as rest periods. At every stream she drank small amounts of water. She ate no food and would go without food as long as possible. As a Shoshoni Indian, she was used to having only three or four meals a week when times were hard. Now Naya Nuki would call on all her past experiences to help her survive her long and difficult journey back to her people.
Naya Nuki, Shoshoni Girl Who Ran, by Kenneth Thomasma, p. 61
Kachina Bridge is huge natural stone bridge located in southern Utah. It has petroglyphs dibbled onto it. I was able to visit it last November, took a million pictures, fell in love. Here are some views of it from the back.
The more vibrant colors in the painting are closer to how I remember it looking real life, especially the warm glow.
Now, zooming out from the arch, let’s go down the path behind it, turn, and look back:
In the upper left corner of this painting, you can see the portion of the arch that the earlier paintings are close-ups of.
The Maya flourished between approximately 1000 BC and 1500 AD in Central America. Their civilization was centered in the Yucatan Peninsula and the lowland and hilly regions south of it. Their sites are found in what are now the countries of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.
There is so much to learn about the Maya. I have barely dipped my toe in it. As always when learning about a new culture or civilization, I was met with the thrill of the exotic followed by a creeping feeling of familiarity. Though the Maya are very unique, in their own distinctly Mayan way they also epitomize certain things about human beings. In some sense, the more unique they are, the better they epitomize it.
They Are Surprising to Other People
I don’t know why, but people always get excited when they discover other people. (Animals get excited too: “Oh goody! A person!”) And we are always discovering other people, in the most remote corners of space and time, where for some reason we did not expect to find them, though you would think we’d have learned our lesson by now.
The Maya were particularly hard to find because of the geography of the region they inhabited. Jungle is not kind to the preservation of buildings or artifacts. It destroys things quickly, grows over things and hides them, and can make the region impassable.
A really thick jungle allows no roads through it, and once they arrived, here is what some of the archaeologists found:
“The rain was incessant,” Charnay complained. “The damp seems to penetrate the very marrow of our bones; a vegetable mould settles on our hats which we are obliged to brush off daily; we live in mud, we are covered in mud, we breathe in mud; the ground is so slippery that we are as often on our backs as on our feet.” Once Charnay awakened to find 200 “cold and flat insects the size of a large cockroach” in his hammock, 30 of which clung to his body and bit him painfully.
The Magnificent Maya, p. 22
They Got Romanticized
In the early 1500s, during the Spanish conquest of the region, Spanish priests managed to preserve some Mayan cultural data – vocabulary lists, transcriptions of myths, and a few codices (books) – at the same time they were brutally wiping the culture out. These records remained obscure until, 300 years later, there was a resurgence of interest in the Maya. Explorers, hobbyists, and artists who happened to have the time, money, and fortitude to brave the jungles started unearthing Mayan ruins and making sketches and watercolors of them. In some cases, these sketches are the only record we have, since the jungle has continued its destructive work in the 200 years since.
Once European academics started getting interested in the Maya, they realized there was a very elaborate system of numbers and pictographs that they could not read. Thus began a long, haphazard process of rediscovering old codices and cross-checking them with symbols found on the monuments, as recorded in photographs and drawings. The number system was easier to decipher – dots for ones and bars for fives, for example – and so the first thing that got decoded were dates and astronomical cycles,
… which led many experts to conclude that Maya writing was limited to such matters. As late as the 1950s this was still the most prevalent view, and its chief spokesmen were the American archaeologist Sylvanus G. Morley of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., and J. Eric S. Thompson, a British archaeologist also affiliated with Carnegie. Thompson drew a picture of the Maya as a peaceful, contemplative people, obsessed with the passage of time, and guided by priests who watched the movements of celestial bodies and discerned in them the will of the gods. Maya cities were ceremonial centers, he believed, not bastions of the worldly power.
The Magnificent Maya. p. 33
Over the next few decades, through the work of several brilliant code breakers, about 80 percent of Mayan glyphs were deciphered. Turns out they are a combination of ideograms (an image representing an idea) and phonetic units (an image representing a sound). As this work went on, researchers have been able to read more and more of the Mayan myths and history, which in turn has helped us better to interpret their art. They started to discover that the 19-century “noble savage” characterization of the Maya was badly mistaken.
They Were Shockingly Cruel
First of all, the Mayan society was indeed hierarchical, with battles for succession and kings of city-states engaging in (perhaps ritual?) warfare. Discoveries during the 1990s confirmed that this hierarchy was present hundreds of years earlier than previously guessed. (Archaeologists’ preconceptions might have had something to do with these inaccurate guesses. See my post about Serpent Mound for a critique of the 19th-century idea that civilizations always develop along certain lines, from hunter-gatherers, to villages, to cities.)
But warfare was only the beginning. There was also the bloodletting, the torture, and the human sacrifice.
Apparently, Mayan royalty were expected to offer blood to their gods. During these bloodletting rituals, they would have visions. There are pictures and statues of both men and women doing this. Women would draw a stingray spine through their tongue to produce the blood. Men would draw blood from their tongue, earlobes, or genitals. (Yikes.) They would allow the blood to be absorbed by sheets of bark paper, which was then burned, the smoke being a way of getting the blood to the gods.
If a culture is going to have a painful ritual, it’s good that it should be done by the royalty. That’s certainly better than having a royalty that is unwilling to suffer for their duty and their people. If this were the only painful ritual the Maya had, I’d kind of admire it. But it wasn’t.
The Maya were big on human sacrifice. Decapitation was popular, or they might throw the victims into a sacred cenote (large natural limestone hole filled with water) if one was available. High-born victims, captured in war, would be mutilated and displayed before the community before being offed. Later, perhaps under the influence of the feathered-serpent cult of the Toltecs, Mayan priests would cut out the victim’s heart, offer it (and its steam – ew!) to the sun, and then kick the body down the steps of the temple. This ritual was still being conducted at Uxmal in the 1500s, which is why we know about details like the kicking of the body (Magnificent Maya, 139 – 140). Chacmools, which were obviously built to hold something, may have been made to hold human hearts.
Then there were the ball games. Did I mention that the Maya were big sports fans? Like, really big. You have probably heard of this game, where the players would use their hips and buttocks to bounce a large, heavy rubber ball off the sloping walls of the court. Apparently, the Maya took their sports so seriously that the losers of this game might be sacrificed, either by one of the methods above, or by being trussed up and used as the ball until they died (94 – 95). This very ball game features in the Mayan creation story, the Popol Vuh, where the Hero Twins play the game against the inhabitants of the Underworld. The reason they are obliged to do so? The rulers of the Underworld “covet [the brothers’] sporting gear and want to steal it” (56 – 57). This story, too, features a lot of torture.
Cruelty is always shocking, which is why the heading for this section says “shockingly cruel.” But it should not shock us to discover that a previously unknown civilization featured widespread, institutionalized atrocity. Every single human culture has something like this. Cultures can have good historical moments when the human evil is comparatively restrained, and they can have bad historical moments when it is encouraged. You could argue that in the case of the Maya, it had really gotten out of hand, and I think you’d be right. But I don’t think that makes the Maya different from any other people in their basic humanity. In their uniqueness, they epitomize what human beings are capable of. People are extremely creative, and they have often used their creativity to dream up ways to torture one another. This is why we have the expression, “Man, the glorious ruin.”
They Were Jaw-Droppingly Smart
And now we get to the glorious part. No matter how depraved, broken, fallen, or ruined they may be, human beings never stop being made in the image of God, which means they will keep on being creative and clever and productive. It has long been a theme on this blog that ancient people were smarter than modern people expect. This is because they were people, and people are always surprising other people – because the other people are proud – with their cleverness.
The Maya were advanced mathematicians. They had the concept of zero, and the idea of place value, which the Romans did not have. They had calculated the solar year at 365.2420 days (the modern calculation is 365.2422), and the time of the moon’s orbit at 29.528395 days (modern figure is 29.530588). They had figured out the average synodical revolution of the planet Venus (the amount of time it takes for Venus’s orbit and the earth’s orbit to sync up so that Venus is rising in the exact same spot in the sky). This average happens to be 583.92 days, and they had figured out how to reconcile this with their “sacred year” (13 months of 20 days each) and with the solar year, by adding days every certain number of years, similar to our leap year. Bringing all these interlocking calendars into sync then allowed them to calculate mind-blowingly distant dates without losing accuracy.
All the above information is from Graham Hancock in Fingerprints of the Gods. Hancock then quotes Thompson, the romanticizer whom we met a few sections ago. Studying the Mayan calendar, Thompson had reason to be impressed:
As Thompson summed up in his great study on the subject:
“On a stela at Quiriga in Guatemala a date over 90 million years ago is computed; on another a date over 300 million years before that is given. These are actual computations, stating correctly day and month positions, and are comparable to calculations in our calendar giving the month positions on which Easter would have fallen at equivalent distances in the past. The brain reels at such astronomical figures.”
Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods, p. 162
Hancock, being a bit of a snob, questions why the Maya “needed” to develop these calendrical and mathematical tools. He speculates that the Maya had inherited “a coherent but very specific body of knowledge … from an older and wiser civilization.”
“What kind of level of technological and scientific development,” Hancock asks, “was required for a civilization to devise a calendar as good as this?” (158 – 159)
Of course, he is asking these questions because he’s heading in the direction of civilization having dispersed from a “mother-civilization.” That’s fine with me, but in asking these questions he also betrays a worship of science and technology that is distinctly modern and that, when applied to ancient peoples, makes us shortsighted. Why should mathematical genius exist only in the service of technology? The Maya were smart, and they wanted to make these calculations about the celestial bodies and about dates in the distant past and future. Isn’t that enough? Furthermore, they actually recorded why they were so obsessed with these calculations. Their cosmology held that time proceeded in predictable cycles of disasters, and they were pretty concerned with knowing when the next one was coming. That was the purpose of the Long Count calendar, as Hancock himself points out on page 161. It was a doomsday clock. That may also have been a big part of the reason for the horrifying sacrificial system.
The Long Count calendar is what everyone was talking about when they were saying the Maya had predicted a cataclysm for Dec. 23, 2012. It didn’t happen – phew! – and, frankly, for obvious reasons I don’t completely buy in to their cosmology. Although we do need to consider the possibility that in converting the dates, we made a mistake in interpreting their extremely complex system.
Bottom Line, the Mayans are People
I can’t say that I find the Mayan – or the Toltec, Aztec, or Olmec – myths or aesthetic particularly attractive. I dipped my toe in because as part of the research for my books, I need to at least know my way around the ancient Mesoamerican mindset. As the research proceeds, I find myself becoming increasingly fascinated with these people. But I still wouldn’t want to have lived as one. This has been true of virtually every ancient culture I’ve studied.
So, taking it in reverse order, here is what we have learned about the Maya, and here is what we have learned about humans.
Humans are smart.
Humans are evil.
Humans are wonderful.
Humans are everywhere.
Hancock, Graham, Fingerprints of the Gods. 1995, Three Rivers Press, Random House, Inc., New York, New York.
Reader’s Digest books, editors, Mysteries of the Ancient Americas. 1986, The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., Pleasantville, New York.
Matthew Stirling, Chief of the American Bureau of Ethnology, [says] ‘Among the plants developed by these ancient botanists are maize, beans (kidney and lima), potatoes, and sweet potatoes, now four of the leading foods of the world. Manioc, extensively cultivated by the natives of tropical America is now the staff of life for millions of people living in the equatorial belt. Other important items, such as peanuts, squash, chocolate, peppers, tomatoes, pineapples and avocados might be added. In addition, the Indian was the discoverer of quinine, cocaine, tobacco and rubber …’
Kenneth Mackoman adds to this list, the custard apple, strawberry, vanilla bean, chickle, and cascara, besides a number of others less familiar. His whole list of important plants made up by Indian’s agriculture is impressive, for it contains 50 items, not one of which is an Old World species … The Indian devised a useful method for extracting a deadly poison (cyanide), from an otherwise useful plant, manioc, without losing the valuable starch it contained.
M.D.C. Crawford gave a list of vegetables which were cultivated by the American Indians prior to 1492, which adds the following: Aloe, Alligator Pear, Arrowroot, Star Apple, Cacao, Chili pepper, Jerusalem Artichoke, Cotton, Pineapple, Prickly pear, Pumpkin.
‘The pineapple … originated in America and was the unknown to the people of the Old World before its discovery.’ Just where the Indian found the original plants which they improved upon to produce modern pineapples, we do not know. None of the existing [wild] varieties compares with the domesticated plant … This was … a deliberate and intelligent breeding process … we cannot now retrace the steps by which it was first accomplished.
Arthur C. Custance, Noah’s Three Sons, Zondervan 1975, pp. 166 – 168
Building a fire is really stinkin’ hard. Even with matches. When I was 11, I attended an environmentally-focused school that taught (or attempted to teach) survival and camping skills. For one project, we had to build our own fire, using grass for tinder, and keep that fire going long enough to boil a 2-minute egg in a coffee can. (Remember coffee cans?) We were allowed matches, but even so, it was a challenge.
Fire-Building in Books
I think I could do it now, assuming there isn’t a ton of wind, or wet, or any other thing that makes fire-building really difficult. In Jack London’s classic short horror story To Build A Fire, the man is equipped with matches but not with brains, and he ends up freezing to death. The moral seems to be, Don’t go out in the Yukon when it’s 75 below.
Without matches, it’s a whole different ball game. The two main ways to do it are by striking sparks (the “percussion method”), or with a bow and drill. For both, you need a pile of tinder and good dry kindling handy. In the YA survival classic Hatchet, the 13-year-old hero Brian figures out by accident that he can strike sparks by throwing his hatchet against the wall of the cave in which he’s sheltering. Even then, it takes him a long time to get the sparks to catch in his “spark nest” of tinder. Once he does get a fire going, he realizes that his best bet is to keep it going at all times. That is how many people handle it. I’ve been told that some Native Americans used to carry a live coal in a small leather bag rather than try to start a fire from scratch, which is frankly genius. In my books, I have my characters do the same because I don’t have time for them to be unable to start a fire whenever they pick up and move camp. And also, they’re not stupid. That’s part of the point.
Bow and Drill
A drill, of course, is even harder. The drill may be rotated by the use of a thong, or a thong attached to a bow.
The thong-drill is rotated by a cord passed round it in a simple loop. The two hands of the operator pull on the thong in such a way that the [drill] stick repeatedly changes its direction of rotation … Obviously there is a necessity for the drill to be held upright in firm contact with the hearth [the bottom piece] by pressure from above, and a small socketed holder of wood, bone, or stone, or even the cut end of a coconut shell, is provided for this purpose. This socket-piece may be held down on the top of the drill by an assistant, or if its shape is suitable, as it usually is in the Eskimo appliance, it may be gripped in the mouth of the fire-maker.
H.S. Harrison, quoted in Rudgley, p. 161
The White Man has not introduced a single item of environmental protection in the Arctic which was not already used by the natives, and his substitute products are not yet as effective as native ones… Eskimos are described as very ‘gadget-minded’ and are able to use and repair machinery such as motors and sewing machines with almost no instruction.
Dr. O. Solandt and Erwin H. Ackerknecht, quoted in Custance, p. 159
If the thong is attached to a bow, it becomes possible to hold the drill on top with one hand and rotate it with the other hand by pulling the bow back and forth. If all goes well, the drill will produce on the hearth (bottom wood piece) “a little pile of wood-dust which smoulders and can be blown upon to make it glow, at which point it can ignite the tinder” (Rudgley p. 160). Obviously not an easy process.
Fire in the Stone Age and Before
Both these methods – percussion, and wood friction – are attested in Stone Age times, as noted by Richard Rudgley. A site in Yorkshire has yielded flint and iron pyrites from Neolithic times. Various kinds of bows and drills, because made of wood, are less likely to be preserved for millennia than stone artifacts. However, the bow-and-drill’s wide distribution around the world indicates that it was a very old invention (or that people, wherever they go, are clever, and that the same thing was invented multiple times). An intact bow and drill was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen, though he is comparatively recent on the time scale we are discussing. The Maglemosian culture, a culture from Mesolithic Scandinavia, has left stone and antler hand-rests from fire drills, as well as a fire-bow made from a rib. Also, many Stone Age objects have been found with drill-holes in them, so clearly Stone Age people were familiar with the drilling process. (Rudgley 161 – 162)
In Europe, objects reported to be lamps have survived from the Upper Paleolithic onwards. Examples get more numerous as we come forward in time. As with the Venuses of a previous post, we don’t see an evolution from “cruder” to “more sophisticated” lamps; rather, both kinds exist together, with the simpler ones being more common (146). By 25,000 years ago, there is evidence of different kinds of pyrotechnology, from hardening spear points in a fire, to oxidizing ocher, to heat treating flint to make it easier to work with, to metallurgy, to pottery.
For Palaeolithic man to have used such pyrotechnology [heat-treating flint] successfully he would have had to master a number of skills. Detailed knowledge of a range of materials, as well as a very accurate sense of timing and temperature control and maintenance, would have been essential. In these three fundamental aspects of Stone Age pyrotechnology one can see key elements that are found in the subsequent industrial activities of firing pottery and smelting metals.
Rudgley p. 149
In other words, as I’ve been saying, ancient people were a heck of a lot more capable than me, and probably than you as well.
There is evidence from Dordogne, France, that Neanderthals had fire about 60,000 years ago. “The Neanderthals seem to have deliberately chosen lichen as their fuel.” Rudgley adds, “At this site there is no evidence that any cooking took place … The indications are that the cave was used only as an occasional haven from the outside world, as signs of long-term use were lacking. Compared to the rock-lined hearths and excavated fire pits that were made by Upper Palaeolithic people, these fireplaces are rather basic” (p. 145). However, it seems a little hard on the Neanderthals to assume that they had no hearths and did not use for fire for cooking, just because there is evidence of neither at what Rudgley admits was probably a campsite.
Going even farther back, sites have been found with traces of human habitation and of fire that are believed to be 400,000 years old (Suffolk, England); 1.42 million years old (Chesowanja, Kenya); 1.8 million years old (Xihoudu, China); and 500,000 years old (Zhoukoudian or Choukoutien, China). For me personally, when the dates invoked are this ancient, the imagination fails and skepticism about the dating methods starts to set in. But regardless of the exact dates, I can accept that these are some of the oldest human sites that have been found, and that they seem to have used fire. Of course, sites from this far back (or even half this far back) are by their nature so fragmentary, and their interpretation requires so much conjecture, that if you don’t believe early “hominoids” had fire, it’s extremely easy to cast doubt on whether these ashes were caused by people.
The Binfordian hypothesis of minimal cultural capacities for Pleistocene hominids [proceeds by] imposing impossibly rigorous standards of evidence on archaeological assemblages and postulating elaborate natural alternatives (lightning-caused cave fires, spontaneous combustion, chemical staining).
Geoffry Pope, quoted in Rudgley, p. 144
But in Zhoukoudian (the supposedly 500,000-year-old, Homo erectus site), “the case is seen to be particularly strong, as burnt bones and stones, ash and charcoal have been found in each and every layer of the site” (Rudgley p. 144). As someone who believes that people have always been people and never merely “hominids,” I have no problem with the idea that the use of fire goes back to the very beginning of mankind.
Pyrotechnology in Ancient America
It’s an old saw that whenever archaeologists don’t know what a find was used for, they attribute to it some religious function. This proved to be the case with a mound near Indian Creek, Illinois, at the base of which was a “deposit of 6,199 flints … covered with a stratum of clay, 10 inches in thickness, and on this a fire had been maintained for some time” (Rudgley 150 -151). Most of these flints are unfinished. There was speculation, at first, that they had been buried as grave goods or, for some reason, to hide them from enemies. But it is now believed that this is a large-scale example of heat-treating flint. “It has now become clear that the use of heat treatment in aboriginal North America can be traced back to the Palaeo-Indians … This, in conjunction with the fact that the practice is known from the upper Palaeolithic period in France, and has been reported from Aboriginal Australia, South America and Japan, shows that it is of … considerable antiquity” (151) and that the story of the world is that of an outward spread of already sophisticated peoples.
Custance, Arthur C. The Doorway Papers I: Noah’s Three Sons. Zondervan, 1975.
For those uninitiated to book blogging, a tag is when another book blogger assigns you a series of questions or prompts. For each one, you name the book that it makes you think of. And rant about it, if you so desire.
Complete the questions with books you want to have read but don’t want to read
Tag some people at the end to do the tag next
OK? OK. Let’s get to the prompts …
A book that you feel you need to read because everyone talks about it
Twelve Years A Slave. Obviously that is going to be a heavy read.
Also, the Federalist Papers. Maybe “everyone” doesn’t talk about them, but people who seem to know what they are talking about keep mentioning them. Obviously there is some very important stuff in there that I need to know.
A book that’s really long
I mean, look at it.
I think there are seven of them now.
But I really need to get to these some time, if only because readers of George R.R. Martin might also be interested in my series some day. And I won’t make you wait decades either!
A book you’ve owned / had on your TBR for too long
A few years ago, when my boys and I were studying American History, this novel was recommended as supplemental reading. I had all the more reason to want to read it, because Naya Nuki is Shoshone and when I lived in Idaho for a few years during my teens, it was near the Shoshone/Bannock Indian reservation. Our local library didn’t have it. I ordered it through interlibrary loan, but it never came! Must have been a long waiting list.
Fast forward three years. We have now moved back to Shoshone/Bannock country. I go to the local library here, and not only do they have Naya Nuki, they have the entire series by this author! Only problem is, the kids and I now have other required supplemental reading, and we’re working through that. I figure I’ll just zip through it by myself and return it to the library. But the due date approacheth, and I never do.
While still in this uncomfortable situation, my husband brings me home a surprise gift from his travels. It’s my very own copy of Naya Nuki! He thought it looked like something that would interest me. I’ve gone from not being able to get my hands on a copy, to an embarrassment of riches.
So I was free to return the library copy … but you guessed it, my gift copy is still sitting there unread. Why? Why???
A book that is ‘required’ reading (eg, school text, really popular classic – something you feel obligated to read!)
Everything by Freud and Nietzsche.
A book that intimidates you
Maps of Meaning by Jordan Peterson. He spent, what, decades on it? Rewrote every sentence at least 50 times? It sounds like it would be heavy going. A really thorough student of archetypes would read it, but I feel like this was the book where he developed his ideas, and now we can get the highlights of those through his class lectures on YouTube and through Twelve Rules for Life.
A book that you think might be slow
I know this one is slow, because I started it. I still think I might end up really liking it. Actually, I hope I do, because it’s sort of the same genre that I write in. But it requires a lot of attention during the first several chapters, as you have to learn a lot of different characters and figure out to who root for. It’s not the kind of book you can pick up and dive into for 20 minutes while eating your lunch, which is what I need right now.
A book you need to be in the right mood for
Circe. The main reason I haven’t read this is that it hasn’t shown up at the library yet, and I am too cheap to order it online. But there’s another reason as well.
I love the heroic age of Greece. As a teen I spent several years, off and on, immersed in this milieu. At one point I was going around telling people, “The Iliad is taking over my life!” (I also, when reading The Odyssey, had a crush on Odysseus. *blushes* Because who wouldn’t? I mean, the man can shoot an arrow through the centers of 12 ax heads lined up in a row!)
So I’m frankly super jealous of the author for having immersed herself in these books and written what everyone agrees is a fantastic novel that is true to the tradition. If I’m going to read it, it will put my head right back in that space, and I have to be ready for that.
Call, and raise you The Song of Achilles.
A book you’re unsure if you will like
Oh, so many. Pick any YA fantasy with a mermaid, vampire, or young woman on the front. I “ought” to be reading more of these, because they are fantasy and we are supposed to Read Widely In the Genre … but I just don’t find them appealing usually. Especially if the back cover copy deals with how mean everyone is to the young woman, or how she’s a member of an ostracized group.
And lest you misunderstand, I don’t say this dismissively. Probably some of these books are as meh as I expect, but no doubt others are gems. Maybe it’s even half and half. I’m not being superior. I just … can’t … get … interested …
People I Want to Tag but Also Don’t Want to Tag
Honestly, tagging activates my social anxiety. What if you’ve already been tagged for this? What if you don’t want to be tagged? What if I leave someone out? Gaaah!
I’m tagging you anyway. Don’t take it personally. If you hate the tag but want to please me, just do a super perfunctory and sarcastic tag like Bookstooge did that one time.
I’m tagging people who post frequently, because if you want something done, ask a busy person. So, if you post infrequently and didn’t get tagged and want to do this, go for it!
Sometimes you want to see something with your own eyes.
My Dinosaurs in History post includes a link to a web site that discusses an Anasazi petroglyph that looks an awful lot like a dinosaur. Even on the web site, you can tell that the original petroglyph is very, very faint.
It’s on Kachina Bridge, which is in Natural Bridges National Park in southern Utah. So when I learned I would be passing through southern Utah, I thought I had better go and look at the thing myself. Do my due diligence. How could I live near this thing, drive right by it, and not try to get a glimpse?
Getting to Kachina Bridge
Here’s how to get to Kachina Bridge. First you drive to Natural Bridges National Park, which is about 35 miles from the main highway. The road is very good, but it is so twisty, with so much climbing, that the 35 mile drive took us about an hour.
We checked in at the Visitors’ Center and showed our national parks pass. From there, you drive your car around a one-way loop that takes you past all the major overlooks in the park. From the loop, you can park your car and access the trail heads. Kachina Bridge is down in a rocky canyon. The trail is about 1.5 miles round trip, but it’s basically vertical. It’s a combination of stone steps, scrambling over red rock following a trail marked by little cairns, scrambling down red rock faces aided by handrails the park has installed, and, in one case, a short climb down a wooden ladder.
It’s a beautiful hike, but despite what the Defending Genesis web site says, this trail would not be easy to navigate while carrying something bulky such as a ladder. In our case, it was made more beautiful and more perilous by the presence of snow and icy patches.
(By the way, could I just pause here and express how grateful I am for our national parks. Someone has created and maintained a fantastic road to get out to this place, then a driving loop and parking places, and then a trail with carved steps, handholds, etc. Because of all this, I (and even my kids!) are able to access this remote and beautiful spot. Without all this, we would have no reason to go there, no way to get there, and probably no idea that the place existed.)
Anyway, finally we were on the canyon bottom. We followed a gravel path beside a stream, and eventually we emerged and – ta-da! – there was the bridge before us.
When you first get to the bridge, your natural instinct is to approach it and then walk under it. Consequently, I at first walked right past all the petroglyphs without even noticing them. Or actually, I walked right under them.
The biggest group of petroglyphs is on the side of Kachina Bridge that faces you as you approach it. They are on a relatively flat, vertical strip of canyon wall, about 10 or 15 feet up, with a ledge protruding below them. To get a close look at them, you would need to scale the ledge using rock climbing equipment or a ladder. If you stand right underneath them, the ledge partially blocks your view. So if, like me, all you have is a stupid cell phone camera, you have to back way up and then use the zoom to get grainy “close ups” of the petroglyphs.
Some of these petroglyphs are really famous, but some of the most famous ones are the hardest to see. They are made up of dibbles in the rock which itself has an irregular surface. I imagine that the best time to photograph them would be morning or evening when the slanting light would help pick them out. (We were there at noon.) And to use a professional camera with a good zoom lens maybe.
Me, Trying to Photograph Them Anyway
So I wandered around in the snow and took about a million photos of the different sections of the wall with my cell phone, hoping that I might photograph the dinosaur by accident and be able to find it later. There were so many petroglyphs, and many of them overlapping each other, and I had no idea where in this composite mural the supposed dinosaur might be.
I also took some photographs of the whole scene from a distance to give a sense of context of the petroglyphs.
As I stumped around in the frozen red mud, I thought to myself. These are so hard to get to and photograph. How hard must they have been to make? What would motivate anyone to make all this art (or language) in this hard-to-get-to spot? It’s a similar question to cave paintings. Of course, there is lots of good information out there about what these spirals and zigzags and blocky figures tell us about probable Anasazi cosmology. The only thing I could undeniably tell that the original artists must have been saying, though, was,
“We were here!”
I Did Photograph It! But You Can’t See It
When I got home, I tracked down the web site and tried to identify which section of the wall the dino petroglyph occupied. Turns out I did photograph that section of wall! Here it is.
Of course, you can’t see the dino at all. So I cannot verify that the thing is there. Certainly you can’t see it with the naked eye, from a distance, at noon on a winter day. But then, that goes for many of the petroglyphs.
Further evidence that the dino glyph is actually there: Senter and Cole went out of their way to analyze it and disprove it. They seem to be able to see it, I guess. Enough that it bothers them.
My Kids Trying to Help Me Find the Dinosaur
Sometimes another pair of eyes helps, so before we left I asked my kids (who had spent the previous hour scrambling over red boulders and breaking ice in the stream) to see if they could spot any dinosaur.
They didn’t spot the dinosaur, but they did point out a number of glyphs that could have been dinosaurs (or, from that distance, anything).
Here are some clearer ones on the other side of Kachina Bridge. I don’t know what the situation was like when these were first made, but now, they are on a sheer wall that looms directly over the deepest part of the icy stream.
This one, which a dispassionate observer has called “Chicken Man,” could be a large bird. Or (just a thought here), it could be a T-Rex if we are assuming there are multiple glyphs of dinosaurs. At any rate, the 3-toed, bird-like foot, long neck, and fat body on 2 legs are clearly visible.
This one, which my son suggested as a possible dino, looks more like a giraffe to me, but who knows. Or it could be pure symbol, not meant to represent an animal at all. As you can see, it’s near the giant chicken.
So that’s my fail. I can tell you that there is not, on Kachina Bridge, a dinosaur petroglyph that you can’t miss and that unmistakably leaps out at the lay person.
I can tell you that there are many interesting symbols which are hard to discern and need to be (and have been) photographed and analyzed by experts who are familiar with Southwestern archeaology and anthropology.
And that, like everything having to do with ancient man and with dinosaurs, the process of interpretation is more art than science and is hugely influenced by our assumptions.