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No. 391: Hopi Rock Art (Part Three)

The native paintings at Grotto Canyon near Exshaw are now faint and smudged on the rock face.

While these images are most likely Hopi in origin, they're painted with a medium common to native people across North America.

According to Marty Magne of Parks Canada, ochre is an iron oxide mineral readily found across the plains.

There's a huge deposit of an ochre at the Paint Pots in Kootenay National Park as you approach Radium. You also find iron oxides just in the sandstones that are common in Alberta. In the Paskapoo Sandstones there's iron nodules that are quite common and that could be ground up with water and other media and applied to paint.

Generally, ochre is used for pictographs, sometimes charcoal, but, worldwide, ochre is a ceremonial, spiritual substance that's been used for hundreds, perhaps two or three hundred thousand years across the world as a piece of ceremonial paraphernalia.

According to Hopi legend, the clans travelling in the four directions left paintings of Kokapelli, or the Flute Player, at different places they camped on their big migration. Kokapelli is the main figure pictured at Grotto Canyon.

Then down below him, about a metre to the right, there's a series of anthropomorphs or, as I said, depictions of humans, and they are...with V-shaped bodies, with their legs together, and then their feet splayed somewhat. They have headdresses, are holding sticks - ceremonial items of some kind - with splayed fingers.

And then if you go around the corner a little bit to the right, at one time you could see very clearly a series of animals, like elk and deer, painted in a row as if they're running away, or running toward something.

Unlike western art, the pictographs don't necessarily tell a story, but are drawn with a more spiritual or symbolic intent.

Often when you see this type of image here drawn by Salmon Dudney, where the animal has crisscrosses all over it, these may depict cutting marks or butchering marks, so the animal has been killed and this is the way in which it was slaughtered.

Or it may be a ceremonial thing, where the person is depicting the animal and depicting the places where it would be slaughtered, how it would be slaughtered, helping him fulfill that vision.

While it's no longer visible, the Hopi paintings at Grotto Canyon may also have shown a circular trap to catch the hunted animals.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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