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Reproductive Symbolism in Great Basin Rock Art: Bighorn Sheep Hunting, Fertility and Forager Ideology

  • Alan P. Garfinkel (a1) and Donald R. Austin (a2)


Coso Range rock drawings are a central subject and focus for debates positing alternative meanings and agents responsible for animal depictions in Great Basin prehistoric rock art. We present new evidence offering a middle ground between the divergent views of the ‘hunting religion, increase rites and overkill’ and the ‘shaman, visions and rain-making’ models. We argue that rock-art images, in general, possess multivocality and manifest imbricated conceptual metaphors operating on a variety of scales simultaneously. We recognize that Coso pictures, in one sense, metaphorically represent increase and renewal, human and animal fertility, and game animal magnification. Evidence for that perspective is presented including Coso bighorn with up-raised tails, ‘spirit arrows’, animals giving birth, those that appear pregnant, and an abundance of animals evidencing vitality and movement. Ritually adept shamans also appear to have often been the religious specialists or agents responsible for Coso rock art and the sources for fashioning these images were frequently visionary experiences.


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Cambridge Archaeological Journal
  • ISSN: 0959-7743
  • EISSN: 1474-0540
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-archaeological-journal
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